Q: Only two of us remained employed after five others in our department were laid off. The company experienced a loss of business within the last six months, so when we didn't have orders to fill, we were asked to do other menial tasks, which made sense since we were still receiving our regular salaries. The orders were fewer and fewer as time went on.
The owner came in a couple times a week and walked the premises to check on the employees working. He was known for his foul moods and anger when anyone made a mistake, no matter how minor it was. I had witnessed him venting and using foul language at really good employees. I can understand his being upset with his company's decline, but everyone was on edge when he was present. One day when he was in, I made a minor mistake that would not have been detectable once repaired, but my supervisor told me he had no choice but to report it.
I don't often make mistakes, in my 25-year career, I have never been fired and never made a mistake that had to be reported. Had the owner not been in that day, my supervisor would not have even disciplined me for it. I apologized to the owner who proceeded to tell me it was a bad mistake and a report had to be filed about it.
The next week he called me into his office and the HR representative was present. After a good performance record for four years of working there, I was fired without benefits. I had never received a reprimand in that time. Someone told me my termination might not be legal.
A: You need to consult an experienced employment lawyer who represents employees and not the corporations. But once you find a lawyer, make sure you give him or her information on you, your resume or entire work history, knowledge of how similar incidents were typically handled at the company and everything that could help your attorney. People often forget to include facts they think are minor, but an attorney must know everything to successfully represent you.
Though lawyers are supposed to represent clients to the best of their ability, it always helps when a lawyer believes wholeheartedly in the client. Regardless of a person being in the right, one's integrity and solid record will help to gain an attorney's trust and confidence. It's human nature to want to go the extra mile to help a person, whether it's a breached contract or a wrongful termination case.
Your supervisor's and HR's personnel files will show how the company regularly handled such situations. It may help if your attorney shows your termination was handled differently and punitively compared to past situations where employees were fired due to mistakes, perhaps you will be able to either return to your job or receive severance benefits awarded to those terminated due to the company's workforce reduction. Technical differences and legal interpretations of your state's labor laws are the reason experience is necessary when seeking legal representation.
Email all questions to workplace and life coach Lindsey Novak at [email protected] For more information, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com and follow her on Twitter @TheLindseyNovak and Facebook at Lindsey.Novak.12. For past columns, visit www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.