Monthly Archives: June 2008

Employer Anger = College Money for Lawyers’ Kids

Employers who are angry wind up paying more in legal fees.  A lot more.  This is old news to employment attorneys, but perhaps not to the angry employers themselves.  Sidetracked by anger and the idea of chasing “principle,” they may not be listening to what their own attorneys are saying.  (I should mention that many employees I’ve run into are angry as well, and I warn them of their own risks).

On several occasions, during seminars and personal discussions, I’ve heard employer-side attorneys acknowledge that angry, “principle”-chasing employers are making financially-unwise decisions, but the attorneys claim (which is true) that it isn’t the attorneys’ fault.  On three different occasions, when I heard such an attorney acknowledge that angry employer clients tend to pay large legal fees, the attorney followed up with a statement to this effect: “but hey, I’ve got kids to put through college.”

Why do employer defense attorneys bring up their kids’ college funds when talking about employers who are angry or chasing “principle”?  Because angry employers are a treasure-trove for legal fees, that’s why.  Angry employers usually extend litigation a lot longer, and pay a lot more legal fees, than do employers who are more objective and rational about the risks they face.

Are you an angry employer?  Do you think of your anger as a source of college funds for attorneys’ kids?

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Filed under Philosophy - Employee Rights

Are You In “Survival Mode?”

An employee (client) remarked to me that when she worked for her former employer- which had a difficult manager and stressful environment- workers there lived in “survival mode.”

This phrase rang true to me.   I talk to many employees in bad work situations, who are painfully aware they are miserable, and dread going to work each day.  Their goals are immediate: to avoid the boss’s wrath, to survive the next tirade, to survive the day.  Such employees usually hold onto some sort of abstract hope that things will improve, but when the day-to-day details play out, there are no tangible steps toward improvement and no positive changes are underway.  Each day is just patching a different hole in the dam.

So what keeps employees at these environments?  Often, it is money.  Or, the lack of better opportunities.

But most often, it is the employees’ perception they can’t make decent money elsewhere, or find better opportunities and work conditions elsewhere, that keeps them locked in place, stuck in “survival mode.”  Too often, when I ask a troubled employee “have you looked for a different job?” the answer is something like “I won’t be able to find another job that pays this much,” or “No one will hire someone like me.”

Many employees come to believe (whether consciously or subconsciously) that the way everything is, is the way it HAS to be.  It doesn’t.

Employees really can control our own destinies.  We can proactively: (1) identify what our dream job’s characteristics are; (2) identify how we can get to, or make, those characteristics a reality; and (3) make it happen.

Or… we can choose to peruse job ads, find a job, discover that job provides a hellish existence, and believe ourselves to be stuck there, living our work life in “survival mode.”

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Filed under Philosophy - Employee Rights

Don’t File or Prolong a Lawsuit “Out of Principle”

This is a tip not only for employees, but also for employers and anyone else who is thinking about litigation.

If you are thinking of filing a civil lawsuit, or gearing up for a vigorous defense of a lawsuit (e.g. “we’re not going to pay that s.o.b. a dime”), you should know that starting or prolonging a lawsuit is only good for a select few things (see below).

What a lawsuit is NOT good at doing is proving a “principle,” or obtaining any type of emotional satisfaction.  To the contrary, the longer the litigation goes, both parties in a lawsuit usually become more and more emotionally-drained.  Usually, both parties, and especially the defendant/respondent, become more financially-drained over time.  (This disadvantage does not apply to the parties’ lawyers, who often get paid more the longer things go).

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Filed under Employee Tip - Considering a Legal Action, Philosophy - Employee Rights

Dating a Coworker? We’ll Need You Both to Sign This “Love Contract”

Some employers, concerned about workplace romances and sexual harassment lawsuits,  require that dating coworkers sign “Love Contracts.”  (see article here; free registration required).

That’s right: a contract that sets terms on love.

The Contracts require dating employees to agree, among other things, that their personal relationship is consensual (e.g. to admit their relationship does not involve a supervisor misusing his authority and coercing a subordinate to date him).

A bit intrusive, you might say?  In practical terms, yes.  But in legal terms, no.  While I feel employers often go WAY overboard with intrusive maneuvers (viewing employees’ emails and internet use, using PIs to spy on injured workers, etc.), I actually agree with employers’ use of “Love Contracts.”

Why?  Because employers have reason to be concerned.  Sexual harassment is a very real risk in worker-dating situations, and liability for a sexual harassment lawsuit can be staggering.  Most dating-relationships end without marriage, and many end with hard feelings.  And many jilted people do irrational things.  These realities are painfully evident to employers, likely even more so than to love-struck coworkers who are blinded to common risks and future contingencies.

It only makes sense that employers ask dating coworkers to acknowledge that their relationship is personal, is of their own free will, and that it’s not the employer’s fault if things go sour.

After all, love hurts.

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Opportunity in Conflict

If you’re in an employment dispute, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in negativity: finger-pointing, petty arguments, defensiveness, close-mindedness and rash judgments.  I’ve made these mistakes myself, as an attorney who is not a personal party to these disputes– I can only imagine how hard it is for the disputing parties to set aside hard feelings.  But it can be done.  Ultimately, conflicts get resolved.  Sometimes, through a legal judgment.  More often, through settlement– that is, through an agreement reached at some later point when the parties come around and work together.  Why not work together sooner?

When feeling negative, I try to remind myself to look at conflict as an opportunity.  An opportunity to DO several things.  To be courteous when the situation makes it hard to.  To state my position in a manner that is factual and not offensive.  To follow the Rules- and look to them as a beacon in times of turmoil and stress.  To, when upset, count to ten (or one hundred).

Conflict also presents an opportunity to NOT do things.  To refuse to take the bait, when insulted.  To, as Will Rogers once said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”  To refuse to lose one’s cool.

Of course, all of this is easier to say than do.  But I believe that someday, I’ll reach a point where I consistently maintain this approach.  What about you?

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Filed under Philosophy - Employee Rights

“Negotiate?!” Acme Co. Doesn’t “Negotiate” Our Non-Competes

A little story for those of you considering a new job where the employer is asking you to sign a non-compete agreement.  Particularly, if they are giving you the vibe that their non-compete is a take-it-or-leave-it sort of dealeo…

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Employee Tip: Dealing With Sexual Harassment

If you are an employee in Wisconsin and feel you are (or were) being sexually-harassed, you should know the following:

(A) Know how the law defines sexual harassment;

(B) Keep proof (documentation or recordings);

(C) Learn your employer’s policies before complaining or taking action;

(D) Do not act angrily or righteously;

(E) Before complaining, consider the risks of retaliation;

(F) Proactively arrange for Plan B (e.g. a new job, or transfer to different boss); and

(G) Don’t quit because the employer tells you to.

This information is described in more detail below.

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Filed under Employee Tip - Considering a Legal Action, Employee Tip - Problems at Job