2011 was the year of the employer as this column was replete with examples of employees wrecking their own cases, often through ignorance of the law, indifference, or worse, poor advice.
In light of these multiple failures, here is an offering of my top dos and don’ts for employees in 2012.
Written documents do not lie. People do. If you find yourself in a workplace dispute, take steps to document and then preserve your version of the events. Most court cases are resolved based on credibility so do not leave yours to memory.
The single biggest problem in workplace law is that employees quickly sign contracts that reduce or eliminate their legal rights. Courts uphold these agreements even if they are one-sided, so avoid signing them or at least negotiate on the more unfavourable terms.
Many employees believe that off-duty conduct cannot justify discipline. They are mistaken. Off-duty conduct that, in one way or another, demonstrates a revelation of poor character or is injurious to an employer’s interests can result in dismissal. Similarly blog postings, social networking and emailing among coworkers are likely being monitored. Be careful what you write, otherwise it may follow you back to your desk.
These documents are neglected by employees, often to their detriment. There were a number of court cases in 2011 that were ultimately decided in favour of employers on the basis of obscure language in their policy manuals, without any regard to what was otherwise fair. Read your policy manuals carefully.
Challenge workplace changes
An employer cannot unilaterally change any important working conditions without your consent. Many try to anyway. If you do not approve of the change, then you must protest it. By doing nothing, you will be deemed to agree.
Don’t tolerate abuse:
2011 saw many high-profile harassment cases played out in the media and the courts. While judges may have previously been unsympathetic or reluctant to become involved in harassment claims, this is no longer the case. Employees with legitimate grievances should not remain ‘in the closet’ with their claims.
• Daniel Lublin is an employment lawyer with Whitten & Lublin LLP.