What is happening in the workplace? Although the employment rate appears to be increasing, in my experience, employees are getting fired from their jobs at an alarming rate. Many of the employees getting fired are long-term employees. Others are short-term employees, whose performance appears to be golden one minute, and the next minute they are being fired for some allegedly reprehensible, and often false, reason. My Office is always dealing with a myriad of issues involving employment and civil rights matters as they pertain to employment. We represent employees and employers at any given time. Since the recession is over, employers don’t seem particularly concerned about retaining their employees and employees don’t seem to care about leaving one job to take another.
On the employee side we are assisting clients by trying to maintain their jobs, helping them make accommodation requests under the Americans With Disability Act, arranging leaves under the Family Medical Leave Act, assisting them with short-term and/or long-term disability claims, defending them against sexual harassment charges, making certain they are receiving the progressive discipline and appeal rights their handbook or company policies entitle them to receive, assisting their unions, requesting their unions to better assist them as the employees are not pleased with the representation their unions are providing, representing employees at unemployment compensation hearings, and/or negotiating severance packages offered by either the employer who wants the employee to leave for one reason or another, or by the employee who wants to leave for one reason or another.
On the employer side we are discussing with employers how to best discipline employees, how to lay off employees, how to terminate employees, what types of severance packages to offer employees, if any, and what language should be included in a written release of rights, representing employers at unemployment compensation hearings, defending employers before government agencies who investigate discrimination cases and licensing agencies, and negotiating settlement agreements with these same agencies.
The practice of law involving employment and civil rights, is very difficult. That is because most states, including Pennsylvania, are at-will states, which means that employers don’t really need a significant reason to discharge an employee, and employees don’t need a valid reason to leave their employment. However, in general, we have been able to achieve some wonderful, and even remarkable, results for our clients. Of course, every case result depends on the facts, the people involved, and the opposing lawyer involved. However, if reasonable minds prevail, difficult situations can be for the most part negotiated and resolved, lessons can be learned, and life goes on.
To employees I have some advice:
- Consult with an attorney even if you think you have no legal rights.
- Consult with an attorney even if your employer threatens you that they will withhold some benefit or severance if you do so.
- Keep your head about you at all times, especially when you are at combination social and business gatherings, because what you say and do, even not on the job, especially when you have had a little too much to drink, can definitely come back to haunt you.
- Be reserved on social media. Everyone does not have to know what you are always doing, what you are always thinking, or what you think of them or others. People say and do things on social media they would never think of doing at the workplace, and their actions can get them terminated from their jobs.
To employers I have some advice:
- Make certain you are following your written policies and procedures, and in some cases, your standard patterns and practices when dealing with employees.
- Make certain that your actions are not violating the law before you take those actions.
- If it is your policy to conduct investigations of workplace problems, then conduct a broad and fair investigation. There are always two sides to every story, and be careful that the side you are listening to is not being influenced supervisors who have their own agenda.
- Do not volunteer information or provide documents to government agencies without consulting a lawyer first.