Monthly Archives: August 2009

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Employees Make In Employment Disputes

Do Not -----?
Image by Observe The Banana via Flickr

Below are the top 5 mistakes I see employees make in employment disputes.  And, I should note, in my own work experience, dating back to the junior high paper route, I have made many of these mistakes.

Please know these are general opinions, and do not give legal advice for any particular situation.  If you find yourself in an employment dispute and want legal advice, you should contact an employment attorney.

Having encountered thousands of employment disputes, here are the top 5 employee mistakes that I observe.

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

About to Complain to Management? Think Big Picture.

If you are gearing up to give management an earful tomorrow about all the wrongs they have been committing, please give some thought to the big picture before you head off to give your speech.  Especially if you are right, and you have stacks of documents proving you are right.

Being right is not enough.  If your employer thinks the sky is green, and fires you because you insist it is blue, you may be right but you are still fired.  And if you intend on proving (to the point of a legal judgment) that the sky is in fact blue, you have at least a few years of litigation, and a few years of significant expense, to look forward to.  

Most companies know this.   They know they hold your cards– they hold your job and income, and they can take it away.   Abruptly.  If they fire you, they know you will have no income, and that you’ll probably need income if you wish to enforce your legal rights.  They know litigation takes years to complete, and they know they will likely have much more money to pay toward litigation than an individual like you does.

Are you thinking about all these dynamics when you’re planning to confront your manager?  

Now, it’s true that if you complain about your employer’s wrongdoing, there are laws that protect against retaliation.  There are also laws that prohibit speeding and Bernie Madoff-ing, and you can see how effective those laws are as applied to reality.  Sometimes those laws are effective– sometimes wrongdoers get caught and don’t squirm out of a significant legal penalty, but too often the real-life penalties do not turn out like the wronged person would like to think.

Before you give your manager an earful, make sure you have a back-up plan if they fire you.  A real back-up plan.  A new job lined up.  A large nest egg saved up.  Advice from a competent and value-conscious attorney, telling you what potential legal claims and options you have.

But if you believe that simply being right is enough, you are rolling the dice.

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

Want to Post to a Message Board About an Employer? Think Twice, and Count to Ten

If you are thinking about all your problems with your employer, and want to tell the world- or, tell Facebook, listservs, and/or public message boards- you should think twice and count to ten before posting.

It is understandable to feel highly frustrated by an employer who has underpaid you, harassed you, fired you, or otherwise treated you unfairly.

But don’t let your frustration cause you to make careless postings of public information about all the hurt and anger you feel, and all the details and opinions on your mind. Once you post specific identifying information (employer’s name) and alleged conduct, you are crossing into a threshold where negative consequences can occur.

When people are hurt, they tend to communicate in an emotional, and often counterproductive, manner.   An employee posting negative information about an employer could cross the line, and post something that the employer would claim is false or damaging to the employer’s reputation or business.

In some instances, an employer could bring a lawsuit for defamation against the poster. 

There is no use for fightin’ words in the legal world: the facts are what matter, e.g. facts about the worker’s termination.

And the facts only matter if they are communicated to the right place: to an attorney, to a legal decision-maker, or to someone else who can help.

Information that is posted on messages boards and the like is posted to everyone- to some people who could possibly help you, but also to some who could possibly hurt you.

If the employer reads negative information and details that you post about the employer, the employer could decide to make an issue, or a lawsuit, out of your post. The legal focus could shift from the core issue (unpaid wages, termination, etc.) to the issue of the comments you posted about the employer, and whether they were necessary, professional, or true.

Yes, truth is a defense to a defamation claim. But no defense is guaranteed. And even if you had a winning defense to a defamation claim, you would still have to pay for defending yourself in court, in all likelihood, if a lawsuit were filed. The best plan is to avoid the risk altogether, and not make negative message board posts in the first place.

If you want to fight an employer, make sure the fight is in the right forum (e.g. communicated via an attorney or legal proceeding, not via a message board), and fight with the facts rather than emotional adjectives or opinions. If a party is making negative comments on message boards, that party runs the risk that in later legal proceedings the party may be viewed as unprofessional or not credible, even if they are in the right.

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