Fired, Laid Off or Forced Out

1.Employment rights are still a sort of myth in so many ways, after years of fighting for them. Why is it that employees seem to feel themselves so helpless in the workplace?

Employment at will is still the prevailing condition in 49 of the 50 states. Unless you fit within one of the 'pigeonholes,' which principally include rights that have been created on account of protected class status or protected activity, you will have little legal leverage.

2.Your book deals with everything from defusing volatile situations through disciplinary action and getting fired. Obviously, you saw a need to cover the employment rights area thoroughly?

Over thirty years of practice in the field has given me the benefit of experience with virtually thousands of situations in the workplace, and hopefully some insight into how to make things better for the employee in distress.

3.The US is currently seen as a strange combination of contradictions, particularly in employment, where the executive culture is some kind of saint. What's this mix of elements doing to the US workforce?

If you are referring to the wide disparity in pay and benefits between those at the executive level and others, to comment on the sociological and psychological effects of that disparity is outside my area of expertise. If you are referring to the exalted status given to some executives in some management settings, that only heightens the tendency for executives who are given to feel 'above it all' to abuse their power. Legally, executives are often employees at will, too, and are subject to the same rules as others. Some are fortunate enough to have the leverage to demand individual employment agreements that give them additional protections, and benefits.

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4.Workplace culture can be a tricky navigational exercise. How do you protect your rights, but stay out of the way of the social bullets?

Whole chapters of the book are devoted to that subject. The question is too general to answer without refinement. Are we talking about an executive, an hourly worker, a commissioned salesperson, a first line manager? Are we talking about someone who is being harassed, or is being written up, or threatened with termination? If harassed, by a boss or a co-worker? Survival strategies differ given the situation, and are covered in the book.

5.Your book includes a lot of very interesting material about terminations, in quite a lot of detail, and how to handle the issues arising from them. Your advice is that people shouldn't handle these things on . Why, and what are the risks?

Unintelligible ('...shouldn't handle these things on').

6.Stress and related compensation is a big perennial workplace issue.What are the employee's rights, and what benefits can be gained by claims for stress?

Your question appears to confuse workers' compensation stress claims, and claims for emotional distress attendant to a civil claim for damages. With respect to workers' compensation stress claims, each state has its own set of rules as to what constitutes a compensable injury in the workplace. Mental as well as physical injuries are compensable. If the conditions of a state's workers' compensation stress claim law is met, an award will typically include medical benefits for treatment, time loss, and if the injury is permanent, some 'disability' award. No fault on the part of the employer need be proven. In contrast, if an employee can prove they were wrongfully terminated, the law provides that they can recover not only economic loss, but also emotional distress damages. Typically the damages recoverable in a civil case for emotional distress do not require medical proof. Damage recoveries in civil cases for emotional distress can be quite significant.

7.How effective is litigation with employers? Does it put employees at risk, or is it the way to fight?

If a case has merit, it can provide compensation a litigant considers sufficient for the injury that has been suffered. Certainly there are pros and cons to consider when making the decision to litigate, including the impact on one's marketabiility. Some people like to wait until they find their next job before initiating litigation. Sometimes health considerations override all others and make some persons unsuitable candidates for litigation.

8.What protection does a person suing an employer have?

There are laws that prohibit retaliation against employees who have brought a claim for discrimination against their employer. Even a post-termination poor job reference has been held to constitute an illegal retaliatory act by an employer.

9.Workplace relationships and social strategies have received a lot of attention, but your book goes into detail, like Do Not Be Afraid to Socialize with Your Boss, and Make Your Co-Workers Feel Good about Themselves. How many workplace issues, including who gets hired and fired, who gets laid off and who doesn't, are really social issues?

Most persons will not have a legal case, and it is helpful for them to know that, so that they can appreciate that in the great majority of situations they will need to apply the full measure of their personal skills to get along and advance in the corporate climate.

10. Is this a new Dark Ages for employment rights, or is the New Economy forcing employee rights to be reexamined?

On the contrary, until the 1960's, employment relationships were classified in law libraries under the heading, 'Master and Servant.' It wasn't until the 1964 Civil Rights Act that judges began to become comfortable scrutinizing events in the workplace. 'Employment Law' as a legal specialty did not exist when I first started practicing. In the past quarter century hundreds of laws at the state and federal level have been passed to broaden the protections to an ever increasing host of protected classes. There is a long way to go, but we have come a long way.