Employment relationships will have their ups and downs. As an employee, when things at work start to sour, it’s important to be mindful of your specific situation. Sometimes issues come up that are isolated one-time events. However, sometimes, issues may be more persistent and long term and start taking a toll on your mental and physical well-being. These can include incidents of workplace harassment, bullying, mistreatment, or reprimands that may seem unjustified. Significant changes to your duties, hours, pay or bonus structure may come up as well. These are only a few examples of countless situations an employee may face.
One of the biggest enemies faced by employees in a difficult employment situation may not actually be their work environment itself. It turns out, in many cases the biggest culprit is employee silence.
As I often advise my clients, the law comes down to proof—not necessarily truth.
Different parties to a legal dispute may have their own “version” of the truth. This is why it’s very important to anticipate where a difficult situation may end up months or years down the road.
One thing that will remain certain is that in the heat of an employment dispute, parties will conveniently deny or “fail to remember” certain conversations, or the sequence of key events in the lead up to the problem.
Conversations and meetings to discuss various issues can be a great way to sort out problems but proving those conversations later on is never easy.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. The following are some tips to assist employees who are experiencing workplace difficulties to better prepare for future legal disputes that may arise.
- Diarize Events: Keeping track of the dates, times and specific conversations that were had, is a great way to stay on top of key details which will be invaluable later on. Over the course of months or even years, having a notepad to go back to can be very helpful in providing key context that will assist you and your lawyer. Patterns may emerge that may become apparent over a longer period of time. Having these tracked is invaluable.
- Confirm Concerns in Writing: Verbal conversations may seem like the natural solution to working out a problem. However, following up those conversations in writing is important to ensure that there is a record of what has transpired. Since key topics that might come up in conversations can be forgotten or denied later on, it’s very difficult for denials or memory lapses to be as persuasive when it’s confirmed in writing a short time after. You will want to be as clear and specific as possible regarding your concerns. This can be invaluable later on. Your failure to express concerns in writing (even if discussed verbally) may still be interpreted by a court as if you had no concerns if it cannot be proven.
- Don’t Silent Your Concerns for too long: Depending on the situation, the longer you wait before expressing your concerns, the more difficult it may be to correct the problem. For example, a significant change to an essential term of your employment that you waited too long to address may be seen as you having “accepted” the change.
- Obtain Witness Support: If you are able to obtain previous or current employees or other staff involved to provide a letter to support your concern, that could assist with your burden of proof. For example, if a supervisor was allegedly mistreating you and another employee would be willing to provide a written statement to back up your claim, that could assist in making your case.
- Print out E-mails: E-mails that you have sent or received can be helpful evidence to support your case. If you are able to forward key emails to yourself or print them out at work for your future reference, that could be very helpful, especially because you will lose access to your company e-mail at the end of your employment in case the dispute continues on past that point.
- Respond to Written Reprimands: If you are provided with written warnings, or disciplinary letters that you don’t agree with, it will be very important to provide a written response as to why you do not agree with the characterization of the letter. Employers will often try and build a case up against employees to establish “just cause” for termination. Accusatory letters, sometimes unjustified may come along with that strategy. Having a thoughtful and clear response can help refute the employer’s attempt to build their case against you. In fact, it may actually help you build a case against them if need be.
Employment like anything else in life has its challenges. However, being equipped to deal with the challenges properly when they arise is crucial.
At Hennick Law, we assist employees with navigating legal disputes.