Employment Law SHAQs:
That's right, SHAQs. Not the pro basketball player (and New Jersey native!) Shaquille O'Neal, known to all as Shaq. Rather, "Should Have Asked Questions." Not the commonly asked basics that you'll find in most FAQ listings, but important, behind-the-curtain things that you need to know to put yourself in the best position to protect your interests.
Q: Should I try to negotiate a better severance deal with my employer before going to the trouble and expense of hiring an attorney?
A: Well, we can't stop you from trying this, but I wish we could. We've had a few clients try it over the years. Normally they get nowhere or at best get an offer of a token increase. That almost always means that, even when an attorney gets involved, it's already too late and the negotiation stage is over. You're heading into litigation mode. That's a lengthy, expensive, and nerve-wracking experience that you'll be living with for the next few years. You wouldn't try to self-diagnose an illness instead of going to a doctor. Your bodily health is too important for that. It's no smarter to try it with your financial and professional health.
Q: Should I try to resolve a workplace discrimination or harassment complaint through a federal administrative agency like the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)?
A: All of you folks in NJ pay special attention to this one. In many states federal law is the only employment law in effect. And that means you must go through the EEOC because the laws require that you first given the agency a chance to resolve your complaint. Not so in NJ. We have a separate law, called the Law Against Discrimination or LAD, which covers much the same subject matter as the federal laws, but with important twists. First, there's no requirement to go through a proceeding before an administrative agency --- in NJ the Division on Civil Rights --- before you can take your case to court. Second, the remedies that are available to you under the LAD are usually greater than those under federal law. Chances are that you'll simply do better in state court. While there are sometimes good reasons to go through the agency process before going to court, make that decision with a qualified employment attorney, not on your own.
Q: Ask “how will I pay for your services,” not “what's you hourly rate?”
A: If you're coming to us for help with an employment problem, you're probably uncertain and worried about the future. It's not comfortable to have your income cut off. How will you be able to afford to pay for legal help? For many years hourly billing has been the de facto standard for the legal profession. Sometimes it's a good option for clients, but often it's not. Simple documents reviews and an associated conference can be done for a reasonable flat fee. The negotiation of an enhanced severance agreement can be done under a hybrid arrangement that combines a modest flat fee with a reduced contingency fee that is keyed to the amount by which we are able to enhance the employer's opening offer. In this scenario we share risk with you and are rewarded for getting you a good result. On appropriate occasions we may consider taking a lawsuit on a pure contingency fee. So there are options that are designed to make our services affordable for our clients. Please ask us to explain them. Our goal is always to give you the help you need on financial terms that are fair and reasonable for you.