Category Archives: 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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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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Employee Tip: Requesting Your Personnel File (Employee Records) from Your Wisconsin Employer

Wisconsin law requires that an employer provide an employee, upon his or her request, with a copy of the employee’s file, also called a “personnel file.”  A Wisconsin employer must provide the personnel file to current and former employees upon their request.

This post describes how a Wisconsin employee can go about requesting his or her personnel file.

Please note (1) this post is not referring to any State’s requirements other than Wisconsin’s: many states outside Wisconsin have their own particular personnel file requirements; and (2) this post does not provide legal advice- if you want legal advice, you should contact an attorney and discuss your specific circumstances. If you are interested in legal assistance from attorney-author Michael Brown for your Wisconsin unemployment matter, you can contact Mr. Brown and his law firm DVG Law Partner here:

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Learn ALL About Your Rights Before You Give Your Employer An Earful About Them

On various occasions I have received calls from employees who became aware of various legal rights (e.g. ADA discrimination law rights) from information they found on the internet (e.g. EEOC’s website pages about ADA rights).

While it is a great thing to educate yourself, please do not make the mistake of assuming the information you learned is comprehensive, or means what you think it does.  And please, please don’t rush to your employer, and admonish them based on your internet-based understanding of your rights (e.g. “EEOC’s website tells me you’re a bad employer and violating ADA law because you won’t give me the reasonable accommodations I asked for!!”).

There are many, many problems that can arise when an employee avoids talking to an attorney and takes a do-it-yourself analysis of legal rights based on internet research or other incomplete information.

For example, you may learn from internet research that the ADA provides the right to a “reasonable accommodation” for employees who have disabilities.  What you may not have read on the internet is the fact that many federal courts have determined, for many employee-litigants, that their serious physical conditions (e.g. cancer, diabetes) did not meet ADA’s legal definition of a “disability.”  If you have cancer, a court may or may not find that your cancer may qualify as a “disability” under the ADA definition.  Only if your condition is found to be an ADA disability, would you be legally-entitled to any reasonable accommodation.  Moreover, in order to get a legal decision, you may have to expend a good deal of time (possibly years) and expense (e.g. some medical experts will charge hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour to testify whether your condition is a disability).

These are the things that an internet search usually won’t tell you, that a competent employment attorney can.  (Please note: there are some good things that could happen from you pursuing your legal rights that an employment attorney could tell you about too; but the purpose of this post is to tell you how to prevent bad things from happening).

Before you rush to admonish your employer about any legal right, you should strongly consider talking to an attorney.  Many employee rights attorneys will provide free initial consultations over the phone, and even a single consultation should educate you about some wrong assumptions you made based on internet information, and could save you from making some serious mistakes in your future conduct with respect to your employer.

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Three Words You Should Never Say in an Employment Dispute

The late George Carlin famously spoke about seven words you can’t say on TV.

Not one to miss a chance to co-opt, I will offer you three words you should NEVER utter in an employment dispute.

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Link of Note: “5 Questions That Will Change Your Life”

Employees, employers, retirees and everyone else should check out this outstanding post by Professional Life Coach Tim Brownson: “5 Questions That Will Change Your Life.” Mr. Brownson arms readers with 5 questions that you should ask when facing any important life decision- I should note, these questions directly apply to any employment dispute or litigation that you are considering.

The magic questions are these:

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Employee Tip: Save Important Documents, and Don’t Write On Them!

If you have an important document relating to a dispute with your employer- for example, a termination letter or a pay stub showing underpaid wages- please save that document. (You can read more here about keeping good documentation).

Just as important, please do not write on the document, or otherwise alter it.

Keep in mind that important employment documents may later be used in legal proceedings. For example, if you want to use your termination letter as an exhibit at an unemployment hearing, you don’t want to show the judge a letter that has your added, handwritten notes across it, saying things “This is a f#$% LIE!!!!” (I only exaggerrate slightly- I’ve had clients who marked up documents with notes reflecting their frustrations in similar terms).

Bottom line: hold on to important documents, and don’t mess with them.

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Surveillance and Distrust

There is an interesting article at law.com about employers who spy and use surveillance on employees who are on medical leave.

The employers’ main argument boils down to this: many employees abuse medical leave, and surveillance is needed to bust the wrongdoers, some of whom are busted while bowling or otherwise doing highly questionable things while on medical leave.

The employees’ main argument: surveillance of employees is over-intrusive, and just because an employee on medical leave is “caught” doing an everyday task (e.g. mowing the lawn) doesn’t mean the employee is faking a medical condition (e.g. faking the panic attacks that the doctor recommended a week off of work to attend to).

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Employee Tip: When Employment Trouble Arises, Start Work on the Plan B Safety Net Immediately

Does your job:

  • Make you do things that you think are unethical?
  • Subject you to abuse (verbal, physical, sexual harassment, etc.)?
  • Rip you off (e.g. underpay you, deny your obvious need for medical leave, etc.)?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, then you may well have a legal claim against your employer.  You may call a lawyer and check into that.

But more importantly, you may want to question why you put up with it, continuing to get slapped by the hand that feeds you.  There are other hands out there.  If you are fired or treated too adversely, you will be forced to find a new employer.  So why not start the job search now, when it’s already clear to you that your employer is acting against your interests?

I get phone calls from employees all the time who describe legitimate, painful hardships inflicted upon them by their employers.  So then I ask, “Are you looking for a new job?”

Disappointingly, often the answer is “No,” or “Not yet, but I plan on it,” or “No, because no one else would hire me.”

As these answers show: many employees who are being treated unfairly do not react proactively.  When obvious trouble arises, they do not react by planning for the worst and sending out resumes, etc.  Rather, they spend a great deal of time: (1) internalizing the employer’s irrational criticisms (e.g. “Maybe I really am a lousy employee for getting cancer and having to take leave from work”); (2) futilely trying to debate the employer’s irrational criticisms (e.g. “Why are you giving me a ‘final warning’ for an ‘attendance problem’ when I’m taking leave for chemotherapy?  I’m going to file my third grievance against you guys if you fire me”); and/or (3) avoiding a job search, because they believe that no other employer would hire them anyway.

Such self-tormenting is sympathetic and understandable.  A conscientious person wants to examine criticisms and actions against them, to examine if the criticisms have merit, and if the person can improve things.  This is the natural reaction of a conscientious employee.  But it’s the wrong reaction.  If you encounter unfair conduct and see the writing is on the wall, you should not stick around to analyze or debate it.  Nor should you become paralyzed by self-doubts, such as “No one would want to hire someone like me, because I [fill in the self-defeating blank].”

You HAVE to get hired somewhere else.  So get over your doubts, NOW, and go and start doing the many things it will take to get hired.

The moment you recognize your employer has turned against your interests, get going with Plan B immediately.  Send out resumes and prepare a safety net to land on.  The same employer who unfairly denies your cancer leave may also unfairly decide to fire you.

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Employee Tip: Document, Document, Document (And SAVE Documents!)

If you are an employee with concerns about your employer, or you think you may pursue a legal action someday, please know that the documentation you keep is critical.  Do not assume the employer or others will keep important documents and produce them to you later, or will agree with your undocumented recollections of events.

More about documentation…

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