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For Employees

GET EDUCATED ABOUT  YOUR EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS

QUESTION #1: IS "GOING LEGAL" WORTH IT?

Choosing whether to take on your employer legally is a hard decision. Here are some basic questions that you should consider as you decide whether confrontation is a road that you want to take.

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW:

HAVE A CLEAR OBJECTIVE

Do you want a better severance agreement, damages for financial, physical, or emotional loss, to fight for a principle, or something else?

DETERMINE YOUR TOLERANCE FOR CONFLICT

Litigation is not sport, and it is not fun. For some people the best option, depending upon temperament, is to drop the dispute and move on with life.  For others taking on the fight is the right path.  Sometimes you may have no choice.  Which type are you?

GET INFORMATION & BE REALISTIC

Most people tend to over-estimate the value of their case. Web sites may help here, but the best way get an accurate assessment of the value of your case is to speak with an employment lawyer who is experienced in your state. 

QUESTION #2: WHAT ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS?

You've lost your job. Now what? For most people, the first step is to file for Unemployment Insurance benefits so you can pay the bills.

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW:

ACT QUICKLY

Apply as soon as you can. The sooner you apply, the sooner you can begin to collect your benefits. If  your application is denied, you can always appeal. You may win the second time around.

DETERMINE THE GROUNDS

The grounds on which you can be denied benefits are limited. Common ones are severe “misconduct” and “voluntarily quitting” your job. These terms have precise legal meanings, but sometimes employers use them incorrectly to oppose UI benefits. Don't take their word for it.  

SPEAK TO AN ATTORNEY

You can handle your unemployment hearing yourself, but an attorney may be able to help by representing you in a difficult case or prepare you to represent yourself. A reasonable flat fee may be available if you choose an attorney's help.

QUESTION #3: SHOULD I GO TO THE EEOC?

When people think of employment law, many think of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. The EEOC is a federal agency charged with enforcing United States law, and going there is a necessary first step in many states. New Jersey is different, which is a good thing for employees. New Jersey has an employment rights statute called the Law Against Discrimination, referred to as the “LAD.”  Under the LAD there's no need to make a first stop at an administrative agency like the EEOC.  And the remedies under the LAD are more employee-friendly than the remedies under federal law.  For very good reasons, most employment cases in New Jersey are brought in state court under the LAD, without an intermediate stop at an agency.

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW:

IN NJ THINK STATE COURT FIRST

While there can be good reasons to start with the EEOC or its state counterpart agency, here known as the Division on Civil Rights, in New Jersey this may not be advisable. Unless you are certain that you want to follow this path, talk to an employment lawyer before deciding whether or not to file.

TIMING IS IMPORTANT

If you want to file with the EEOC, or  its New Jersey counterpart known as the Division on Civil Rights, or DCR, in New Jersey you have 300 days to do so. In some states, the time is just 180 days. To preserve your rights you must file on time.  The same goes for filing a complaint in state court.  In NJ the usual time period is two years, but it can also be one year or six, depending upon your claim. 

KEEP YOUR OPTIONS OPEN

Even if you decide to file with the EEOC, do not rely just on the agency to help you. You may not get the result that you want. Continue to look for a lawyer.

QUESTION #4: HOW SHOULD I HANDLE A HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT?

You're working, but you think that you‘re being subjected to a hostile work environment. This has a specific meaning in the law. It does not mean just that you have a difficult or unpleasant boss. A hostile work environment is a kind of employment discrimination. It is often seen in cases of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, but it can arise in others as well, like race discrimination. If you think that you are suffering from a hostile work environment, take action to protect yourself.

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW:

REPORT MISCONDUCT IMMEDIATELY

Tell a supervisor or Human Resources and confirm it in writing or email. Having a paper trail of documented events can help build your case.

DOCUMENT EVERYTHING YOURSELF

Document what's happening. Make your own notes.  A paper notebook is fine, and so are notes made on your own computer or in a personal email account.  But do not use a company-owned computer or computer system. You can not simply rely on your employer to keep this information. Take charge and keep your own records.

TALK TO A LAWYER

If you fear that you will lose your job, consult with an employment lawyer immediately. A lawyer probably cannot save your job but may be able to help you get positioned for a severance payment or lawsuit.

QUESTION #5: WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU GET FIRED?

If you've lost your job, or think you're about to, here are some things you can do to protect yourself.

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW:

DON'T SIGN ANYTHING

If your employer offers you a severance agreement it will contain a waiver or release of your legal rights. Sign it and you will agree, in exchange for money, to give up your right to sue your employer. If you have reached your 40th birthday, your employer is legally required to give you 21 days (in some instances 45) to consider the severance agreement, to advise you to consult with an attorney about it, and if you do sign it, then another 7 days to revoke your acceptance. Just remember that signing and revoking can change the dynamics of any subsequent negotiation with the employer, so do not look at the right of revocation as a “free pass.”

DON'T TAKE ANYTHING THAT ISN'T YOURS

Generally speaking, you can print out your e-mails and similar information. But for heaven's sake don't take confidential information or go into areas that you're not entitled to access. If your employer has issued you a laptop, never forget that it belongs to the company, not you. We hear people continually call the company's laptop “my laptop.”  It's not theirs, but many times they don't want to give it back. Take this one to the bank: keeping or modifying (i.e., deleting files from) a company laptop is one of the fastest ways known to man to escalate a manageable employment termination into a small war. And wars are both expensive and uncertain.

DON'T YELL, THREATEN, OR BREAK ANYTHING

Your mom taught you this. She was right. Although losing a job is a difficult and emotional experience, rise above the moment. Keep your cool. Be professional.  Be civil.  Losing your temper will do nothing but give your employer ammunition to use against you. In some cases, it can get you arrested.

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