Author: Daniel A. Lublin
In my last column, I offered my five favourite human resources errors. Here are the top five mistakes employees can make at work:
Not reviewing an employment contract: Do you wish to give your employer the contractual right to demote you, slash your salary, dismiss you without reasonable notice, or even banish you to a far-away location – all without legal recourse? Obviously not! Employers present new employees with contracts they have prepared. As a result, the contracts are usually loaded with language protecting their own legal position. Despite laws that construe ambiguous terms in the employee’s favour, if the contract has been reviewed and executed before employment begins, an employee is often held to the deal that was made, whether it is fair or not. Review employment contracts with a lawyer before signing your name.
Protest disciplinary letters or negative performance reviews: Unless you challenge discipline or negative appraisals, your employer’s view of the events lurks undisputed in your human resources file, waiting to be used should the need later arise or if your employer is predisposed to build a case for cause. Unless you agree with both the fact and content of the discipline you have received, respond immediately – by asserting your view of the events and any mitigating factors. While the punishment imposed is unlikely to be reversed, your campaign will assist in future negotiations or in rebutting the presumption that you had done something wrong.
Negotiate termination packages: Employers welcome the chance to deal directly with a just dismissed employee, unsophisticated in the contents and strategy of negotiating reasonable severance. While employees are seldom deprived of the opportunity to meet with a lawyer – and often encouraged to do so – not all heed this advice. My initial demand letters on behalf of dismissed employees usually seek five or six concessions. Practising exclusively in this area, I customarily find that three or four of those items were unknown to the employee, prior to my involvement.
Don’t rush to judgment: When a B.C. court recently found that it was cause for dismissal for an employee to turn to the courts while he was still employed, gung-ho employees have had to think twice before calling on their lawyers to communicate with their employer. When they do, the counsel I sometimes provide is to consider a mediation or resolution before proceeding to sue. If anything else, demonstrating a sincere intention to resolve the dispute at the outset will pay dividends in a future legal action.
Misusing email and Internet: Have you checked your personal email or your portfolio while at work? Most employees have. My inbox is full of emails from weary employees concerned if they can lose their jobs for on-line misdemeanours. The answer is a resounding yes! Employees who believe that their workplace computers, blackberries or PDAs are safe from the eyes of their employer are mistaken. Employers own the equipment and systems and can review on-line habits at their pleasure. If you want an assurance that you’re not crossing the line, review any computer use policies in place and use discretion when logging in.
Employees should think twice