Both businesses and employees ask us at times to take the lead in workplace intercommunications. Their thought is that if we just “send a letter,” are mentioned in or copied on a letter or email, or make an appearance at the workplace, the employment conflict will evaporate. That hopeful thought is understandable. Yet, in my experience, bringing lawyers into the workplace as an act of bravado is often unhelpful. As a rule, we advise these clients to keep us on the sidelines where we can provide good counsel and strategic support to strengthen their message and position. Employers’ and employees’ ability to talk with each other up and down the chain of command is necessary for workplace efficiency, productivity, morale, and loyalty. Without direct communication, the relationship just won’t work.
Experienced human relations managers at large companies know this and can effectively deal with most day-to-day issues on their own. Smaller operations without a human resource expert may need legal advice by telephone more frequently. Most individual employees will never need to seek legal advice on employment issues. However, there are some workplace matters that are best handled with legal advice or representation from an employment lawyer to save time, energy and money by avoiding litigation altogether or strengthening your position should litigation develop.
- Complaints, threats of complaints, or demands from lawyers on behalf of an employee, applicant or employer on employment-related matters.
- Employer-employee disputes over compensation or contract.
- Notices of a pending employment-related claim or investigation from a third party governmental agency.
- Internal investigations especially of claims involving discrimination, harassment, or wage and hour issues that are more appropriately kept privileged and confidential.
- Complicated day-to-day employment questions where the answer is unclear, like medical leave due to an on the job injury which creates employer responsibilities under the Worker Compensation Act, Family Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Conciliation of longstanding deep-seated disputes between employees as a last chance effort to work out differences and continue employment.