Do I Need An Employment Attorney?
Do I Need an Employment Attorney?
Regrettably, most working professionals who need an employment attorney either do not engage one or wait until the employer has gained too much of an advantage over a situation before hiring one. A qualified employment attorney can assist working professionals in a variety of ways outside of the obvious–litigation. The majority of employment disputes are not litigated. Rather, they are resolved between the parties–the employer and the employee. In employment disputes, it is a given that the employer has qualified counsel. I know because I have been in that role. Thus, it is important for the employee to see the need to level the playing field and to also have qualified counsel. Many employees get intimidated thinking the cost of counsel is out of their reach. Or worry that getting counsel will upset their employer and lead to retaliation of some sort. But when one considers what is at stake–one’s livelihood–it is difficult to see what can be a more important investment than qualified counsel to protect their professional reputation and ability to continue earning a good living. Often, counsel can work in the background advising an employee without the employer ever knowing the employee has counsel.
Employees sometimes think they have no options if they face adverse action. Although it is true that in most states an employer does not need cause to terminate an employee, exceptions have swallowed the rule. A qualified attorney will quickly identify these exceptions and go to work for the employee. Such exceptions can provide for bargaining power in negotiating severance or benefits from the employer. In addition to monetary outcomes, other creative outcomes are equally important to achieve: an agreement that the employer not contest unemployment, release from a restrictive covenant, obtaining a letter of recommendation, payment of the employee’s COBRA for a set amount of time, agreement to inform prospective employers that the separation was a reduction in force, outplacement services, etc.
The following events are ground-zero triggers for when an employee should retain counsel:
- Negotiating a job offer (think about all the pesky paperwork that has enormous ramifications down the road including incentive pay structures, retirement pay, restrictive covenants, assignment of inventions, protecting the contact list you brought to the employer, etc).
- When your workplace conduct or performance is addressed by management.These conversations typically lead to more down the road. If you receive a written warning always ask to have counsel review anything you are asked to sign even if you are told your signature does not indicate assent to the contents but only verifies receipt of the document.
- If you or a family member has an illness or chronic health condition that might require time away from work or reasonable accommodations to allow you to work.Various laws protect you and require your employer to explore if an accommodation can be made. Additionally, various laws require your employer to restore you to your job upon return from certain leaves of absence.
- Pregnancy: If you are pregnant or a father expecting a child and deciding how and when to make the announcement to management various laws protect you from adverse action.
- Inappropriate conduct: If you believe a manager, co-worker, vendor, or client are subjecting you to inappropriate conduct;
- If you are terminated.
- If you are informed your position is being eliminated as part of a layoff.
At the end of the day, you have to take charge of your professional destiny and empower yourself legally. The workplace has changed dramatically in the last two decades with mass layoffs becoming the norm and short term employment situations overshadowing long term employment situations. When things start going wrong it is crucial to curtail the professional fallout especially if you plan to continue to work.