How Lawyers Can Protect Your Employment Rights

Numerous legal professionals spend their entire career protecting employment rights of workers.  In many cases, workers will seek legal assistance if they have exhausted all of the internal, administrative, and other legal procedures to resolve a workplace dispute before deciding to file suit.  Other times, an employee will retain the counsel of an attorney before an employer even realizes a dispute existed.  Every situation is different and your course of action depends on what you stand to lose or gain from a dispute, the financial feasibility of a protracted legal battle, and strength of your case.  Consulting with a lawyer can generally give individuals an immediate and concise course of action regarding their dispute, which many times will entail actions much different from those employment disputes seen in Hollywood movies and other courtroom dramas.

Employment Dispute Arbitration and Mediation

Alternative dispute resolution via mediation and arbitration is generally a wise strategy for a single employee challenging an employer. Both employers and employees involved in a dispute can benefit from alternative dispute resolution.  The ADR process is notoriously quicker, less expensive, and more informal than courtroom litigation.

Employees should note that there are major differences between mediation and arbitration, and your employment contract may already contain clauses that specify one or the other in resolving employment disputes.  For mediation, the employer and the employee will utilize a neutral third party to mediate their conversations and help bring about a mutually accepted outcome.   Arbitration occurs when opposing parties agree about the exact matter in dispute, but cannot reach a conclusive resolution to the issue.  In comes the arbitrator, who acts informally as judge or a panel of judges, who decide the outcome of disputes, albeit much more cost-efficiently than courtroom litigation.

Small Claims Court and Workplace Disputes

Small claims court offers individual employees recourse to address disputes over economic factors that do not warrant the expense of filing a regular lawsuit.  Individuals can use small claims court to file suit against their employer for owed economic assets.  The benefits of small claims courts are the relatively low expense and ease of filing these suits, which by law generally must entail disputes of less than $2,000 to $5,000 depending on your state.

Class Action Suits by Employees against Employers

Class actions suits are sometimes allowed by federal circuit courts to address multiple lawsuits filed by individuals against the same named defendant for similar damages under similar laws.  The benefits of filing a class action suit with other employees suffering due to actions of their employer is the shared legal costs, which most individual employees could not handle alone.  Filing a class action suit, however, will almost undoubtedly require legal counsel and representation, who may work on a contingency or pro bono basis in some cases.

How Do You Hire a Lawyer?

Depending on a number of factors, you may feel that a lawyer will bolster your chances of winning a favorable outcome in a legal dispute with your employer.  This is most certainly true, but the definition of “winning” usually breaks down into one thing for most people: money.  Assuming you are not able to locate legal assistance pro bono, the costs of hiring legal counsel to dispute with your employer, any applicable filing and court fees, the potential for lost income, and other personal factors all must be added up to establish if it is really worth pursuing.  To know this, individuals need to assess what their ideal outcome would be in a given employment dispute situation.  If you are looking for an apology or for something easily changed in your workplace, try dealing with it internally, but firmly.  If your employer is involved in illegally withholding wages from you for multiple years, the economic advantages of a favorable outcome in a suit may prove worth having legal counsel.  Then there are the sticky areas of ethical behavior, where an employee stands to gain no monetary assets from filing a claim against an employer.  In essence, moral, civic, or ethical duty requires the employee to file a claim, which may require them to pursue in a lawsuit that can prove much more costly than their potential personal damage award.  Hard to say if it is worth it, but the federal government and other entities have protocol in place to ensure the voice of one employee is not entirely drowned out by companies with droves of legal counsel.

Locating Lawyers for Free

Depending on your case, the federal government offers a host of departments and committees that are in place to ensure all employment and workplace laws are adhered to by companies.  These Departments have strong legal backing and often times take cases of proven injustice or other employee abuses to federal courts. 

Other organizations notable for defending employee rights pro bono include the ACLU, local legal clinics, GLAAD, NAACP, and other national level civil rights interest groups.  In addition, some lawyers may represent your employment law case on a contingency basis.

Choosing between Multiple Lawyers

Selecting the right lawyer is confusing and difficult, but some of the following suggestions might help.  For starters, look for an attorney that specializes in your area of law that the dispute is covering.  In some states, any lawyer can claim to practice a given area of law.  However, does your attorney really possess the necessary applicable experience?  What is their past success and failure record with these cases?  Other important factors include:

  • Was the lawyer prompt in staying in communication with you
  • Does the lawyer express a sincere  personal interest in your case
  • Did they take the time to fully understand all aspects of your case
  • Can an attorney establish a clear billing method that you can easily track
  • What does the lawyer expect to deliver for you
  • Has anyone or any special interest group referred you to this lawyer
  • Are you comfortable being around and working with a given lawyer

This information is all-important when choosing a lawyer.  Your lawyer should keep you actively informed about all aspects of your case, including any decisions that will need to be made.  Additionally, you must participate actively in your case, helping the lawyer at any possible juncture. Many persons involved in employment suits may consider seeking a second opinion during points of critical juncture during a legal proceeding.  This is a smart move; however, if you elect to change your legal counsel during the suit, you might be required to inform the judge presiding over your suit about your intention to do so.

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