Some of these situations are obvious, but some are not. If you have been terminated for a reason that makes no sense, or is just outright retaliatory or discriminatory, the necessity is clear. But what of the other situations that raise an eyebrow or specter of concern? Do you just wait it out and hope for the best? Many do just that, but others take a more proactive approach.
Consulting an attorney in the early parts of a potential problem could help preserve your job, avoid a confrontation, and/or prevent retaliatory behavior by an employer. Most people agree and understand that companies have given their managers and human resource persons legal training. Many of these companies have inhouse counsel to advise them. Most have some sort of outside counsel to advise and train them on legal matters. So why do most employees try to handle situations on their own?
Certainly the reason will vary, but two of the main reasons are a fear of the unknown and cost. When I ask clients why they didn't come sooner, they usually say “I never had to deal with an attorney before,” or “I didn't want this to turn into a big thing.” Regardless of what you hear, attorneys are not usually intimidating or abrasive. We are in this business to help people. Experience has taught me that people bring a great deal of emotion and discomfort into their cases due to what they have gone through. Good attorneys are educators and advocates. It is important for us to listen and understand our clients before we advise. We want our clients to feel comfortable speaking with us and know we are on their side. The next question is why spend money on a case before it is a real case? Well, there is a value to addressing a problem before it snowballs and becomes a situation with few good options. Everyone has their own opinion of what that value is, but let me suggest a legal consultation is the better way to educate yourself and understand the value of early legal intervention. A career is an investment of both time and money. Only you know the investment made in your career and can therefore assess the value of early legal intervention.
What does early legal intervention look like on the employee side? Education as we have seen above is the first step. This may involve discussing what rights you have in your situation, how you should address them with the employer, and who you should talk to and when? The actions taken after that can be any one of a number of things, such as:
- Reviewing an employment agreement or non-compete;
- Helping in responding to troubling email or correspondence;
- Preparing a statement when requested by an employer;
- Assisting with the proper way to request accommodations or family leave;
- Reporting harassment;
- Responding to a PIP; or
- Negotiating a resignation where there are onerous restrictive covenants in the employment agreement.
Every case is different, as are it's needs. Sometimes the attorney is just making sure all the pieces in place for the inevitable litigation. If an employer is trying to get rid of you, they are seeking legal advice and planning their actions. If you only wait and “hope for the best”, it works to their advantage. Don't help them by doing nothing, and instead take a proactive approach by scheduling a consultation to learn your rights.