The Hidden Costs of Legal Hotlines

If you have ever seriously considered taking action against your employer for some wrongdoing on their part, there is a good chance that you have been told to call the Labour Board.  It is, after all, free, so it couldn’t hurt, could it?  Daniel Lublin’s article in the Metro this week cautions callers to remember the difference between information and advice.
Scott Seltzer called the BC Ministry of Labour for advice following his termination.  He was given three weeks severance and a letter of release that, if signed, would give him additional compensation.  The trade off – he would forfeit the right to sue his employer for damages.
Can someone sign their legal rights away? Technically no, which is what the Labour Board told Seltzer.  So he signed the papers and cashed the cheque.   Telling someone they cannot sign their legal rights away is great “armchair advice”, but sadly, not very useful in practical application.
Because Seltzer treated the information from the Labour Board as legal advice, he was unsuccessful in his preliminary trial hearing for his human rights claim.  The real crime here is not that the company paid a small fee to avoid a potentially larger one; it is that governmental call centre agents have a certain verisimilitude that is often used at their own discretion.
The Labour Board is a useful resource for information, but no replacement for sound legal advice.