Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Dear Employees and Job-Seekers: Stop Making These Career-Killing Mistakes

As someone who has handled employee-side employment law for many years, I run into the same frustrating mistakes over and over again. I thought I'd touch on a few that are common so that maybe I can stop you (or a friend or family member) from destroying their career.

Here are the most common career-killing mistakes I see in my practice:

  1. Complaining about harassment: This is really the number one problem I see. If you write a long email to HR or your boss complaining that you are being "harassed," you aren't protected against retaliation. While harassment due to race, age, sex, national origin, religion, disability, or another legally-protected category is illegal, just plain "harassment" is not. So reporting it that way doesn't protect you against retaliation. When I ask why people didn't report that they were being treated differently than coworkers of a different race, sex, etc. they usually say something like, "I didn't want to go there." Well, if you'd gone there, firing you for your complaint would have been illegal. But firing you for saying you were harassed or bullied: not illegal.
  2. Disclosing pregnancy or disability during interviews or applications: So many people think they have to disclose a pregnancy or disability right up front when they're job hunting. And I know many misguided TV shows portray failing to do so as somehow dishonest. But disclosing pregnancy or disability before you get a job offer mostly means the offer will never happen. You need to disclose after you get the offer, and only if you need accommodations such as time off for doctor's appointments. If the job offer is withdrawn after you seek accommodations, you might have a discrimination case.
  3. Failing to put in for intermittent Family and Medical Leave: If you have worked at least a year and your employer has at least 50 employees, odds are you qualify for FMLA. If you need periodic time off for doctor's appointments, to care for a family member, to adjust your medications, or other medical reasons, then put in for intermittent FMLA. That way, you are legally protected against having those absences, latenesses, or leaving early held against you. I'm not sure why many employees are so hesitant to put in for FMLA when they or a family member have a serious medical condition. FMLA is there to protect you. Use it.
  4. Failing to report sexual harassment in writing: If the boss or a coworker is hitting on you, making inappropriate comments or touching you, report it under the company's sexual harassment policy, but do so in writing. Otherwise, I find that HR will almost always denied that you made any legally protected complaint. They'll claim you complained about unfair treatment or harassment or bullying but never mentioned that it was sexual harassment. 
  5. Failing to get out of a toxic environment: If you have a workplace that is making you physically or mentally ill due to bullying or other toxic conditions, get the heck out of there. But do it on your own time. Start looking and keep working. The mere act of job hunting will frequently make the terrible job more bearable.
  6. Quitting without having a job lined up: If you let a sexual harasser or workplace bully run you out of a job before you have something lined up, they win. You're letting them put you in an even worse situation. When people tell me the workplace is too stressful and they have to get out, I ask them if they will be more stressed staying in the workplace or whether they will be more stressed being unemployed for 6 months or a year. It's way easier to get a job if you have a job. If you're in physical danger, then get out no matter what. Otherwise, unless you have enough savings to last at least a year while you're job hunting, try to stick out the bad situation while you're looking. Having a large resume gap is often a career killer. Oh, and nobody can actually force you to resign.
Hopefully I've just stopped you from making one of these career-killing mistakes. Tell a friend or a family member. Spread the word.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Avoid Employers With White House Level Turnover

As much as potential employers might try to lure you in with big promises, one major red flag that indicates an employer to avoid is high turnover. Bad employers will give all kinds of excuses for why so many have left or been fired, and none of it was their fault, of course. It's all bad luck, bad employees, bad fit, but never, ever, that they're a bad employer.

I mention this, of course, in light of the White House's mind-blowing record-setting turnover rate that is rising as fast as I can type (two more today and counting). An employer with a 40+% turnover rate in a year is a bad employer. I guarantee that.

At some point, any reasonable employer has to take responsibility for the fact that they can't keep employees. Once the turnover rate is over 20% for an employer with at least 20 employees, that employer should start looking inward and addressing the problems causing people to leave.

Here are just some reasons employers have a mass exodus:

  • Bullying: Allowing bullies to run rampant a la the White House leads to brain drain.
  • Sexual harassment: Sexual harassment goes hand in hand with bullying, because sexual harassment is about power, not sex. Harassers are bullies with a specific agenda. Allowing harassers to run amok causes low morale and a frat house atmosphere, such as the Fox debacle. The harassers accelerate their behavior like Weinstein. Good people leave.
  • Poor training: If an employer is claiming lots of employees are poor employees, just not getting it, don't have the requisite skills, the training may well be the problem. Throwing folks in without training and then complaining about it is the employer's fault, not the employees'.
  • Financial trouble: Employers that don't pay people, pay late, cut benefits, have lots of layoffs, are in trouble. You don't want to give up a job to go to a place that will be out of business or doing another round of layoffs as soon as you start.
  • Indentured servitude: Some companies have little or no work-life balance. They think salaried employees=indentured servants, and should be working 24/7. This is a great way to burn people out quickly.
  • Poor hiring: If many people are let go because they "aren't a good fit," then poor interviewing, poor background checks, poor job descriptions, or other poor hiring processes might be the cause.
  • Poor management: Ignoring staff, providing no growth opportunities, giving little feedback, messing with or freezing pay and benefits, credit hogging, general chaos, all can lead to people leaving in droves.

These are just a few reasons why an employer might have high turnover. Avoid employers with high turnover like the plague. Do your due diligence. Ask about your predecessors. How many people have held the position in the past 10 years? The past 5? What happened to them and why? Ask similar questions about the staff in your department and upper management. Check Glassdoor. Ask around in the industry.

No matter how much an employer tries to sweet talk, explain away, or convince you things will be different, don't fall for it. You won't be any different from the ones before you. I run into people who think they're superstars and it won't happen to them, or who fall for b.s. lines from bad employers. Or they think the job is too good or too prestigious to pass up (think White House or Cabinet).

So if the White House calls, don't be a sucker. Keep on looking.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Inclusion Riders Are A Good Idea In All Types Of Employment Agreements

Frances McDormand made an impassioned plea during her Oscar speech for more diversity. She mentioned the term, "inclusion rider" at the end of her speech. So what is an inclusion rider, and can it be used in non-Hollywood employment agreements?

The idea of the inclusion rider is that stars with lots of negotiating power can help those with little or now power by protecting them in the stars' contracts. So including things like equal pay for costars, diversity in cast and crew, and other clauses to protect coworkers can bring about change in Hollywood.

But would it work in other employment agreements?

I think that it could work for folks who are highly sought-after and who have lots of leverage to negotiate. While those people are rare, they do exist. If you have special skills or recognition in your industry that make you a desirable property, then you could put your money where your mouth is and negotiate to protect your coworkers.

Here are some things you could demand to be added to your employment contract if you are one of the superstars with leverage, and that could make a huge difference in workplace fairness:

  • Diversity: While you probably can't demand any particular percentage of racial, gender, LGBT, disability or other diverse employees, because that would also be discrimination, what you can do is demand that your employer recruit in places that provide a more diverse pool of applicants. Recruiting at colleges? Include those schools with a majority of minority students. Placing ads? How about placing ads with AARP, NAACP, and other organizations that have diverse members in addition to the ones in more traditional media?
  • Noncompetes: You can negotiate to not have a noncompete in your own contract, but what about your team? You can insist on a clause in your agreement that noncompetes won't be imposed on your coworkers.
  • Fair pay: What about a clause that requires pay to be reviewed for your colleagues annually and compared to similar positions in the industry? That requires all colleagues holding the same job title and seniority be paid the same? Prohibiting inquiries about prior salary in job interviews?
  • Sexual harassment: You could force the company to take sexual harassment complaints seriously. Include a clause that people making a harassment complaint will be entitled to a full investigation, including interviews of the accused harasser's former subordinates/coworkers. State that the victim will be entitled to be told the full results of the investigation and what, if any, steps the employer took to make sure the harassment won't recur. Include that any retaliation, including ostracism, transfers, demotions, firing, harassment of the victim will result in swift punishment.
  • Bullying: Make them adopt and enforce a policy of zero tolerance for bullies. That alone would make a huge difference in your new corporate culture.

These are just a few possibilities. Get creative. So, what issues are important to you? If you talk the talk of diversity and inclusion, and if you are a superstar with negotiating power (don't even try this if you're an entry level worker or someone with no leverage), then you can put your money where your mouth is and negotiate a contract that makes sure your coworkers have fair treatment at work. Wouldn't that make your workplace so much better?