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December 2011 Archives

Severance Agreements

Whether you are taking a 'package' offered at your company for retirement, your position is being elimated or you are part of any downsizing you should know what you are signing before you do. *Click the Title / Photo for Information*

The Company's Defense

If you are being discriminated or treated differently at work because of your race, gender, age, disability or some other reason, you have certain options available to you.  You might consider the situation too oppressive to continue to work at the company, you might decide to file an EEOC charge or you might decide to file a complaint with HR.   You might notice this adverse treatment even if you have not raised the discrimination issue yet.With options 2 and 3, you must think through what the company's next step will be.  First, a good HR person will document the discussion and soon legal counsel will become involved, first to ascertain the strength of your complaints and next, to develop the company's defense.  If your complaint is that you were denied a promotion or some other benefit because of your age, race, gender, or disability, the company's defense is that you were denied that benefit because you weren't qualified for the position or that your performance was deficient in some other way so as to justify not giving the job to you.You might notice that you are being written up for things others are not, being excluded from meetings, being criticized in public or treated disrespectfully.  You should also expect that your past performance will be scrutinized together with your emails and your computer activity.    If you notice an increase in this treatment after you have filed your complaint, you must document this with HR as it is the grounds for a retaliation complaint.  Often, this part of the complaint is stronger than the initial discrimination charge.If any of this sounds familiar, it would be a good time to find an attorney. 

Suffering from Work Place Discrimination?

This guide will walk you through the steps to consider when you suspect that you are suffering work place discrimination. Please note that these are just general suggestions and you should contact an attorney for the best level of protection.

Step 1: Review Your Company's HR Manual

You must check your employee handbook to figure out the complaint process, i.e. whether you need to file a written complaint and whom that complaint should be filed with. You must follow your company's complaint procedure and this is especially important if you are a union employee. You will not be able to bring a credible claim if you have not followed the procedure outlined by your Company's or the collective bargaining agreement.

Step 2: Keep a Journal

Keep a written journal of the harassing/discriminating events, dates and times, witnesses to the events, letters, notes, emails from the harasser etc. You need to gather evidence in real time while it happens to have the clearest and more accurate record of the harassment. Once you have been terminated, keep a very detailed journal of the conversations which led to your termination, the people who were present in the meeting, and the reasons given to you for termination. It is also extremely important to keep a clear record of all of your job search efforts after termination. You are required to mitigate your damages and hence, you need to be actively looking for a job and applying for unemployment compensation benefits.

Step 3: Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

In Pennsylvania, you are required to file a charge with the EEOC and the Pa. Human Relations Commission before you are allowed to bring a case in court. You are required to file the charge within 180 days of the discriminatory event, such as termination, denial of promotion, unequal pay rates, or other clear instances of harassment or discrimination. If you do not file the charge within this timeline, you will not be able to sue for damages on those particular events unless they are a part of a continuing course of conduct.

Step 4: Call a Lawyer

This is a murky area and you should have competent legal counsel to navigate these waters. You can be certain that your employer is making full use of their general counsel and outside counsel in setting up and executing your termination. You need to be equally protected and the best time to contact an attorney is before you are terminated or suffer some other negative employment treatment.

Step 5: DON'T SIGN ANYTHING!

I repeat, DON'T SIGN ANYTHING! If you are presented with a separation package or severance agreement at termination, no matter how much you are pressured, do not sign anything. You have a right to have this agreement reviewed by an attorney and should do exactly that. DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING! (Can't say it enough)

Additional Resources

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website www.eeoc.govPa. Human Relations Commission website www.phrc.state.pa.us/Visit www.ayeshahamiltonlaw.com for more information.
 Please accept the content of this Blog for informational purposes only. This Blog is not meant to provide legal advice on your specific circumstances but rather, to give employees a general understanding of the legal issues affecting them. If you believe you have suffered discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination in the work place, you must contact an attorney for advice on your specific facts.

Are you being discriminated against?

What to do when you are being discriminated against.You know you are being treated differently because of your sex, race, age or disability-now what?As a private, non-union employee, your first stop is the employer's employee handbook.  You must follow the proper complaint procedure and allow the employer the chance to do the right thing.   Make sure you keep copies of everything you give to HR, including your emails documenting the discrimination or harassment.   Please be careful when having discussions with your HR representative.  Recognize that this person is paid by your employer and isn't really representing your interests.  However, you need to speak with them to inform them of the situation that you are experiencing in your job.  This will guide you on what the company expects of you in reporting this abuse, i.e. filing a verbal or written complaint with your HR representative or contacting a particular individual.If you are a unionized employee, it is especially important to follow the procedures set forth in your union's Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Pay special attention to the deadlines for filing a grievance and the steps that you need to follow before you are able to file suit.  Usually you have a very small window of time for filing a grievance and if you miss it, you won't be able to sue your employer.If the act of discrimination is significant, i.e. termination, demotion, loss of working hours, substantial change in schedule, change in pay, being put on a performance improvement plan without justification, etc. you will need to file your EEOC and PHRC charge within 180 days of these "discrete events."  You should consult an attorney at this point to evaluate whether you have a claim.  If you don't file your EEOC/PHRC charge within 180 days, you will not be allowed to file a case against your employer in court.Go to the EEOC link to get more information on the filing procedures.The time when the discriminatory act takes place is the most important time of your case and will determine whether you get to proceed against your employer or not.  Be careful about what you say and do and get help.  Please accept the content of this Blog for informational purposes only. This Blog is not meant to provide legal advice on your specific circumstances but rather, to give employees a general understanding of the legal issues affecting them. If you believe you have suffered discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination in the work place, you must contact an attorney for advice on your specific facts.

Navigating the EEOC/PHRC

In Pennsylvania, you are required to file your claim with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the PA Human Relations Commission (PHRC) when you suspect that you are suffering from discrimination on the basis of your gender, age, race, disability, pay or some form of retaliation.  If you do not file your claim with either or both of these agencies within the applicable statute of limitations, you are forever barred from bringing a claim against your employer.Filing with the EEOC means you can later bring your case in federal court while filing with the PHRC means that you will bring your claim in Pennsylvania state court.  Filing in either venue has different implications that you will need to consider before filing suit.  However, as a preliminary matter, you should file your claim with both agencies.You must file your claim with both of these agencies within 180 days of the discriminatory.  The court will look at "discreet acts" such as being fired, demoted, denied promotion, given unequal pay, receiving a negative review, etc.  You have to be prepared to file your charge within 6 months of one of these types of discriminatory events or accept that you will not be able to sue on that particular event.You are protected by the law once you file a complaint with any government agency regarding your employer.  For instance, if you file a claim with the EEOC or OSHA, your employer could be held liable for any negative action taken against you following this filing if you can show that the action was motivated by some retaliatory animus.  Note that you must file another EEOC/PHRC charge detailing the retaliation that occurred after the filing of your original charge.With the EEOC, you are required to wait six months to allow them to conduct a fact finding investigation.  After this period has elapsed, you are permitted to ask for your "Right to Sue" letter regardless of whether this fact finding investigation has occurred.  Once you receive your "Right to Sue" letter, you only have 90 days to file suit in federal court.  Again, if you miss this deadline, you will be barred from bringing the claim in Federal Court.As you can tell, it is extremely important to adhere to all of these timelines or you will forever be barred from holding your employer liable for their discrimination.  Please visit the EEOC and PHRC websites for more information.Please accept the content of this Blog for informational purposes only. This Blog is not meant to provide legal advice on your specific circumstances but rather, to give employees a general understanding of the legal issues affecting them. If you believe you have suffered discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination in the work place, you must contact an attorney for advice on your specific facts.

Do you have an employment discrimination claim against your employer?

You sense that something improper is happening at work.  However, not all work place injustices fit the requirements for a claim of discrimination against your employer.To have a sustainable claim against your employer, you should have the following:
  1. You must be in a protected category of gender, race, age, or disability.  You may also have facts which indicate that you are being retaliated against or have suffered some other form of wrongful termination.
  2. You must have suffered some "adverse" employment action-i.e. you must have been terminated, suspended, demoted, denied essential benefits of your job, put on a performance improvement plan without justification, etc.  Note that you must file your EEOC charge within 180 days of this event.
  3. The employer is not able to show a legitimate business reason for the employment decision.  This means that you should not have given the employer a good reason to fire you because of your performance or the employer cannot point to statistical data which shows that you are not the only individual being terminated.  Performance based reasons can sometimes be fabricated but you must be in the position to prove that that is the case.
  4. There is a consistent pattern of you being treated differently from others in your department or at your position.  This is the key element-disparate treatment.  You must be able to show that you are being treated differently from peers or others in your department and that the reason you are being differently is because of your membership in the protected category.
If you are experiencing something that fits these categories you may have suffered some form of discrimination at work.  Look at the other blog posts on what to do next and call an attorney.In many instances, you may not have been terminated yet but you might be in a better position to negotiate a separation agreement or evaluate the strength of your case.  At the first sign of something amiss, you should start paying careful attention to how you are being treated differently from your peers.  Are they being allowed opportunities that you have asked for and have been denied?  Does your supervisor over look your peers performance deficiencies but write you up for yours?  Can you prove it?  This is really the most important question of all.  While many employment cases are a "he said, she said" you should think about the scenarios where you feel you have been treated differently and think about what documents might be able to show the difference in treatment.   Your strongest case is proved through written documents like emails, company memoranda, prior performance reviews, etc.At this very difficult time, beware of HR.  Regardless of what they say, consider who they work for when deciding whether your HR representative or generalist is truly your ally at the company.  They may claim to do an investigation into your complaints of discrimination or disparate treatment but the only person they are looking to protect is the company.  Be careful in all of your communications with HR and assume that everything you say will be used against you.Please accept the content of this Blog for informational purposes only. This Blog is not meant to provide legal advice on your specific circumstances but rather, to give employees a general understanding of the legal issues affecting them. If you believe you have suffered discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination in the work place, you must contact an attorney for advice on your specific facts.

A Great Book!

with a bonus!I want to tell you about an author I have discovered. Debra Snider wrote "A Merger of Equals" which is a story about a woman navigating the man's world of an investment banking firm. This could easily be a law firm setting. Much of the book involves conversations between Jane and her mentor Charlie and contain key bits of wisdom and advice which I wished I had had at the start of my career. Charlie is someone that we should all have in our lives.The book follows Jane through many scenarios that women in law, business and corporate America will find familiar. The twist is that she and Charlie come up with productive and constructive solutions which further Jane's career. This book should be mandatory reading for all first year law students, male and female alike.But I have discovered that it isn't too late for me. Since reading the book, I emailed my comments to the author back in January 2011, she had taken the time to have long phone calls with me every couple of months. Not only has Debra served as my mentor providing important "Charlie" like advice, but she has become a great friend. She is someone who genuinely dedicates herself to mentoring and sharing the lessons and experiences she has gained from her climb to the top. This intelligent and dynamic woman has made a big difference in my life and I encourage you to read her book and start a dialogue with her. It will be the best $15 you will ever spend. Visit www.debrasnider.com for more information about her and her books.Please accept the content of this Blog for informational purposes only. This Blog is not meant to provide legal advice on your specific circumstances but rather, to give employees a general understanding of the legal issues affecting them. If you believe you have suffered discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination in the work place, you must contact an attorney for advice on your specific facts.

THINK BEFORE YOU SEND

Email is such a great convenience and would appear to have made our lives easier.  One of the unfortunate side effects is that we have greatly reduced our response time.  We receive a email and quickly fire back a response, most likely without the contemplation and thought that would go into a letter or a conversation. When in doubt, when in the heat of anger or frustration, when analyzing a tricky work issue, when joking about your boss...get up and deliver the message in person.  Think twice before you hit send.  Consider whether you want to see your words used against you in an unflattering light as an exhibit to justify your termination.  More food for thought.  Please accept the content of this Blog for informational purposes only. This Blog is not meant to provide legal advice on your specific circumstances but rather, to give employees a general understanding of the legal issues affecting them. If you believe you have suffered discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination in the work place, you must contact an attorney for advice on your specific facts.

SOCIAL MEDIA in the Work Place

As an employee, have you thought about what your Facebook page says about you?  Are you careful about what you say in the 140 characters of a tweet.In this current age of social media, you are putting a significant amount of very personal information out there and you would be naive to think that your current and prospective employers don't have access to this data, and more importantly, are using this information to their advantage.  In fact, some employers are asking to look at Facebook pages as a part of the interview process.   What will they see?  Pictures of you at the beach?  Holiday parties?  Complaints about your former boss?Your social media entries may create a version of you which is incompatible with your image as an efficient and competent employee.Be careful about what you say about your job, your supervisor, your co-workers.  Even after you have been fired and you are upset, be careful about what you say, especially after you seek legal counsel and may have started the process to file an EEOC charge or court complaint against your employer.  Don't discuss the legal action or advice that you have received with your friends.  Employers and their attorneys are using the internet to find information on prospective, current and former employees.So, beware of what you post and assume that it will come back to bite you.Please accept the content of this Blog for informational purposes only. This Blog is not meant to provide legal advice on your specific circumstances but rather, to give employees a general understanding of the legal issues affecting them. If you believe you have suffered discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination in the work place, you must contact an attorney for advice on your specific facts.

Wrongful Termination

Fired? You are not alone. If you think or know you have been wrongfully terminated from your position here are 3 things you need to know and do to protect your rights. *Click the Title / Photo for Information*

Business Conflicts

Business Conflict. Partnership Disputes. Client or Customer Contracts. Legal matters happen daily. At the end of the day you and your business should be protected. *Click the Title / Photo for Information*

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