DO I HAVE A CASE AGAINST MY FORMER EMPLOYER?
As an Employment Law Attorney, one of the most frequently asked questions that I hear from potential clients is: “Do I have a case against my former employer?”
The person is usually calling shortly after they have been terminated. They feel that they’ve been treated unfairly and that the employer should not be allowed to get away with treating people this way. They’ve had the rug pulled out from beneath their feet. They are worried about feeding their family and paying their bills. I understand their anxiety and frustration.
In order to answer their question properly, I need to gather a lot of information. Some of the information I seek may seem personal, but it is necessary because I’m trying to determine whether the potential client fits into a protected class or whether they’ve engaged in any legally protected activity. For example, I need to know:
- Who the employer was, how many employees?
- How long were they employed and what job were they doing?
- Were there performance issues? Attendance Issues?
- If the potential client missed a lot of work, was it due to an illness or disability?
- What race and age is the potential client?
- What race and age was their supervisor?
- Did they complain about safety or file a workers compensation claim?
- Was there a dispute about wages?
- I need to know the circumstances that led to their termination?
- What reason were they given for their termination and did they believe it?
Sometimes I have to tell people that “unfair” does not always equal “unlawful.” Unfortunately, there is no law against your boss making a bad management decision. However, if the employer has engaged in unlawful discrimination or retaliation, then there may be a legal claim to pursue.
If you think you are being unlawfully targeted at work, it’s important to gather as much information as you can before you are terminated. Don’t leave your performance appraisals in your desk – take them home. Get copies of any discipline that is issued. Forward emails to your private account. If you complain, PUT IT IN WRITING! Too often people stick their head in the sand hoping things will get better, but they don’t. You don’t want to find yourself in a “he said, she said” situation because the employer always has more witnesses.
For the business owners out there – you have to understand that employees most often call attorneys because they have been treated unfairly and with disrespect. Most of the people who call me have NEVER hired an attorney before. It is never easy to deal with employee issues, but some fundamental rules apply: 1) Treat people with respect; 2) Handle all discipline and counseling privately; 3) Communicate your expectations clearly and provide frequent feedback about how the employee is performing; 4) Keep it about the job – not personal issues; 5) Favoritism and cliques have no place in the work environment; and finally, 6) Don’t discriminate – it sounds simple, but every employee (or candidate) should be treated the same regardless of race, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. Educate your supervisors and weed out the ones who don’t understand that discrimination has no place in the modern workplace!