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 If the job offer is withdrawn after you seek accommodations, you might have a discrimination case.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.

1 comment:

  1. Lining up a job before quitting isn't always the best route - going into a new job burnt out and worn down from a nightmare boss or unbearable work situation can be a recipe for disaster. Not to mention you would be going into your new position carrying this heavy weight of why you abandoned your former employer with no one to share it with. In some cases, especially if you have documented the sudden adverse changes to your employment in response to a recent complaint or reasonable request, you may fair better by quitting with good cause. The standard isn't as impossible to meet as the employer-sponsored articles on the internet would lead you to believe. In cases where there are systematic changes or actions against you and you have documented it, it may be better to quit and immediately file for unemployment. There are two caveats - and critical ones: a) you must address the problem in writing and b)you must detail, professionally, the valid reasons for which you are quitting in writing and even provide the employer with an example of how you tried to address the situation. This is a powerful "quit with good cause" email - and every employee should be learn to write them. Far too often, employees quit on "good terms" even after being shafted. Don't fall for that trick. Swallow your pride, be your most professional you, and fight for your rights. Switching jobs isn't always the best option.


I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.