It got me thinking about a top 10 list for employees. As an employment lawyer, I often meet with potential clients after they have experienced a negative employment outcome – they’ve been terminated, demoted, discriminated against, or abused at work. The damage is done and they want a lawyer to help set things right. The problem is that they haven’t done the groundwork required to protect their legal interests. Here are 10 things an employee should do before an adverse employment event takes place.
Save your paperwork. You may receive an employee handbook when you start working at a new job. Keep a copy of it. Do not rely on your employer to provide a copy after they fire you. Keep any revisions to the handbook and any other written policies you receive. Read the employee handbook carefully. It may have information about leave, pay, and benefits that you will need to know. It may also explain the dispute resolution or grievance policies you will need to follow.
Document everything. If something at work makes you uncomfortable, start keeping a journal about it. Record the date when it happened, who was there when it happened, where it happened and the details of what took place. Think also about what proof you have of the incident – are there emails, memos, photos, phone logs, video surveillance…You might believe that you will remember these specifics later, but the details are likely to get confused as events continue to progress.
Get it in writing. I can’t tell you how often people report to me about promises their employer made verbally with no written record to support it. If you can’t negotiate in writing, bring a witness to the conversation, or send a follow-up email to confirm the content of the conversation.
Talk to your union. If you are a member of a union, or there is one associated with your field, talk to them about what representation they provide. Ask about how to file a grievance and who your local point of contact should be. Find out if the union has a legal defense plan included in membership; it might.
Know your arrangement. Unless you have a written contract that specifies a duration of time, or one that states you are not “at-will,” you are an at-will employee. Also, know whether you are an hourly or salaried employee, and whether or not you are exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Lawyer up early. If you feel that you are being discriminated against, or that something bad is about to happen at work, call an employment lawyer to discuss it. You don’t need to wait until you are fired or have tangible proof in hand. Having guidance throughout the process may keep you from making a simple mistake that ends up costing you big in the end.
Know your protected status. Discrimination based on age, race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, and certain other categories is illegal. If you believe you have been discriminated against because of one of these statuses, you may want to talk to a lawyer. Similarly, if you believe you have been terminated for reporting a violation of state law, or for refusing to violate state law, you may want to talk to a lawyer.
Phone a friend. Under the National Labor Relations Act, private employees have the right to talk with each other about the terms and conditions of employment. If something is amiss at work, you may want to find out if anyone else feels the same.
Choose your witnesses. Think carefully about who will be your witnesses if there is a trial or a deposition. You want people who are willing to tell the truth, whose knowledge is relevant, and who will present a credible image to the listener.
The above is not intended as legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact an attorney.
If you have questions about your employment rights, call an attorney here at Robaina & Kresin, PLLC at 602-682-6450.