What to Expect When You Consult an Employment Lawyer

Aug 30 2019

Most people who come to our office seeking an employment lawyer have concerns about the actions of their employer.  These concerns involve issues that are wide-reaching: termination, harassment, demotion, discriminatory comments, inequitable salaries.  The list goes on.

Despite the wide variety of issues we see, people usually have one thing in common — they don’t really know what to expect when they walk into a lawyer’s office.  People typically wonder whether they have any legal claims.  And if so, what are their options?

Let’s assume what the employer has done to you is unlawful — that is, actionable under the law.  This Employee Rights Blog post is designed to give you an overview of the basics about your options going forward.

“I have an employment problem, and I’m still employed.  Do I talk to my employer?”

You may be experiencing ongoing harassment at work, and you haven’t talked to your employer.  Or, you may have recently received a negative performance review and you’re not sure what to do.  Under some circumstances, it can be a good idea to talk to your supervisor or Human Resources about your perspective and experience.  But this prospect can be daunting or downright scary, especially if it is your supervisor who is creating the problem.  We can help you figure out what to say (or not say) and give you advice about what to do if you notice “red flags” during the meeting.  In addition, we can help you figure out whether it’s better to attend the meeting alone, with a support person from work, or with a lawyer.

“I have just been terminated.  What do I do?”

As a background, the word “termination” just means separation from your employment —including, for example, a job elimination, a layoff, or a firing.

It is not uncommon for an employer to give an employee a severance package (also called a separation package) on termination.  If this applies to you, you may not be sure whether you should sign it.  Severance packages typically have a deadline in which you must sign; do not panic if you feel like the deadline is fast approaching.  Counsel can help you decide whether it makes financial and legal sense for you to sign the severance package, reject the severance package, or try to negotiate a better deal.

When we review severance packages, we will sometimes conclude that our client should not sign the agreement.  This could be for many different reasons, including because we believe your employer violated your rights.

If you hire us to represent you concerning your severance package and you decide with our advice not to accept the severance package that your employer proposed, there are a few different paths that your situation is likely to take.

Path A: Direct negotiations.  We will often communicate directly with in-house counsel or the employer’s retained outside counsel to attempt to negotiate a better deal for you.  This process usually starts with a letter and ends with a series of telephone calls.  Employers and employees are often able to make deals with the two lawyers talking directly to one another, and that can be an excellent outcome if you feel the severance package that is ultimately negotiated is fair.

Path B: Private Mediation.  If you and your former employer are far apart in your negotiating positions, or if direct negotiations are unsuccessful for some other reason, the parties will sometimes hire a mediator to assist them in trying to resolve the dispute.  A mediator is a neutral person who is not involved in the dispute — often a retired judge or a very experienced employment lawyer — who is trained to hear both sides of a case and, as a neutral party, facilitate the parties’ arrival at a middle ground.  Mediations give both parties the “opportunity to be heard” and to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of their position from the perspective of a third-party neutral.  While there are often costs associated with mediation, we often suggest this process because it is highly effective and, on balance, cost- and time-efficient.

Path C: Litigation or arbitration.  If mediation does not result in a settlement or if it appears as if the two parties are too far apart to reach an agreement at an early stage, our client may choose to initiate a formal claim against the employer.  Depending on the type of case, the employee may be required to first bring the claim to an agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or, in Connecticut, the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO).  After the agency process, you can then file your case in federal or state court, or, if you are subject to an arbitration agreement, in arbitration.

Litigation in employment cases is often complex, so it requires a more detailed explanation at another time.  While most employment cases settle at some point before trial, the entire life cycle of the case — from filing with the agency to the end of trial — could last for two years, sometimes even more.

Remember that litigation does not foreclose your ability to participate in negotiation or mediation.  We frequently settle cases through direct negotiations or through mediation even after litigation has begun.  But it is important to be realistic about the time and energy it takes to litigate a case, and you should begin the process with eyes wide open.

At the end of the day, you are the client, so you are in the driver’s seat.  But the road can be windy, and it is our job to help you navigate.  If you want to explore your options, we at Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. are ready to meet with you. Contact us to discuss the options that are best for you.

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