December 10, 2012

Discrimination at Work - Surviving Financially

Michelle Singletary with the Washington Post had an informative article, Saving strategies, before and after a job loss, with advice for what to do financial if you fear losing or have lost a job. It is worth reviewing if that is the position that you find yourself in. In sum, for those who are still employed, she advises cutting expenses and holding off on any spending or aggressive debt payment until you are in a more stable position. For those who are without a job and looking to get back on your feet, she suggested patience as you try to rebuild yourself financially.

I have a couple of more tools to consider if you are still employed or just on your way out the door.

If you are the victim of discrimination or suspect wrongdoing, let your boss know it.

Telling your boss about discrimination or wrongdoing at the company may buy you as much as 6 more months of employment. Most courts will presume that your employer is retaliating against you if they fire you right after you complain about mistreatment. So, speak up and buy yourself some time.

Get a severance agreement

Employers are not required to offer you a settlement agreement, but they often will. If you have or can point to discrimination or other wrongdoing at work, you have leverage to ask for severance. Your employer will want you to sign a waiver in which you give up your right to sue. Your employer should pay for it. In addition, or in the alternative, if you have been at your employer for a long time and have built up goodwill, your employer will have incentive to treat you well on the way out the door. How much is reasonable? One to two weeks per year of employment is standard. If you have been the victim of wrongdoing, you may be able to get more.

Ask for your employer not to oppose an application for unemployment

Some employers, even if they are not willing to offer a monetary settlement, may agree not to oppose an application for unemployment.

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Go to the EEOC or state civil rights agency

This applies even if you have been shown the door without a severance. Employment and civil rights statutes often have short deadlines for filing a claim. For instance, in most instances you have 180 days to file a claim of racial discrimination or you lose the right to bring even slam dunk claims. Don't lose the right to bring a claim. With all that goes on after you lose a job, take a few hours to visit the EEOC or . . .

See a lawyer

I am a bit biased in this respect, but I think it's time (and perhaps money) well spent to talk to a lawyer about any employment matter. In Virginia, you will want a lawyer with federal court experience, as that's were most employment law cases in the Commonwealth end up. Your boss wants you to sign a severance agreement? Take an hour and see a lawyer. You may have a great claim that your boss wants you to give up for pennies. But only a trained employment lawyer may be able spot it. Same holds true for your trip to the EEOC. Visit a lawyer first. Even if you don't ultimately hire the lawyer, he or she can help you maximize the value of the claim and explain the process.

Find another job

I know, I know, easier said that done, but don't lose sight of this part. Visit your lawyer. Maximize the value of any severance or get your employee action started. Then put it aside and start looking for other work. Some of the best leverage you can assert over your ex-employer is that ability to walk way from a bad offer. It can difficult to do that if you desperately need the crumbs that your old boss is trying to offer you.