This past week, the sports world was rocked by the news that a federal judge vacated the suspension of New England Patriots* quarterback Tom Brady in the fallout over Deflate-gate, Ballghazi, or whatever puntastic name you have given to the scandal. The ruling was a major coup for the NFL Players’ Association and the team, who successfully challenged the authority of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. How Goodell and Brady, one of the league’s most recognizable faces, move on to do business together remains to be seen.
Even for companies without the visibility of the NFL, learning how to move forward with an employee who has beaten the company in a lawsuit, grievance, or regulatory hearing is crucial to mitigating risk going forward. The problem is that the filing of lawsuits and most regulatory actions is protected conduct under most state and federal laws pertaining to retaliation. Even if a victorious employee comes back to the workplace with a boastful spring in their step, it is illegal to take reprisals against them, no matter how hard that feeling are hurt. The simple rule of thumb in these situations is to treat them no differently than before the protected activity. Sticking by this rule will prevent one bad situation from becoming a second bad situation.
In the case where the bad blood is simply too much, consider settling the employee’s action with a promise of a resignation. While this will likely require a substantial cash outlay, it is the only fail-safe insurance against a future retaliation suit.
No matter how thorough a company’s human resources policies are, legal actions will arise. Moving on from an unfavorable outcome requires maturity, discipline, and a resolve to ensure that the victorious employee does not get a second bite at the apple.
*Editor’s Note: In the interests of full disclosure, the author is a long suffering, die-hard fan of the New York Jets. In his humble opinion, any penalty short of stripping the Pats of their Super Bowl win (as well as additional other public shaming) was grossly inadequate.