A Little Respect, Please…

Ms. Faye Riva Cohen
January 31, 2013 — 823 views  

Studies have indicated that even more than receiving money, employees want to be treated with respect. Employers who do not respect their employees frequently find themselves in a government agency or courtroom setting contesting claims of discrimination based on age, gender, etc., being accused of creating, or at least condoning, a hostile work environment, and/or being accused of not providing equal pay or wrong job classifications for employees.

Interestingly, both lawyers who represent employers and lawyers who represent employees often agree on actions which an employer can take to limit, or even prevent, the kinds of situations mentioned above.  Suggestions follow which will be helpful:

  • Upper management or company owners or directors should not blindly accept a decision to discipline or terminate an employee made by the employee’s manager or supervisor. Often there is self-interest involved, such as the supervisor who wants to clean house and hire or transfer people of his or her choice, and a suddenly exemplary employee is hustled out the door. Some other person in authority should delve into the reasons why a decision to discipline or terminate someone is being made, make certain documentation exists to support this decision, and make certain that this action is not in violation of civil rights or other laws. Human resources staff, unless they are highly trained or skilled, in my experience, rarely conduct an independent analysis of these decisions, because they are in fear of losing their own jobs if they don’t agree with someone else’s recommendation.
  • If a decision is made to terminate an employee, it should be undertaken in a manner which permits the employee to retain some dignity. Employees are often shocked and upset that they are being terminated, as they frequently feel they have a legal right to retain their job. Actions such as hustling them out the door accompanied by security staff, and often not permitting them to say goodbye to their friends and fellow workers, giving them 5 minutes to pack up their belongings, or telling them they can’t return to their office at all, and their belongings will be sent to them, do not give employees a warm and fuzzy feeling toward their employer. These types of actions will often lead to anger, and encourage them to consult with a lawyer to determine whether their legal rights have been violated. These actions are usually taken because lawyers have advised their employer clients that they will limit the threat of workplace violence, and prevent rumors from getting started. However, I don’t agree. In fact, these type of actions are often damaging to the morale of other employees, who wonder if their jobs are at risk and if they will be treated in a similar fashion.
  • Communication is key. I often hear such diametrically different versions of workplace events that I wonder if these people are even on the same planet. From the employer’s perspective, if an employee requires assistance or is not improving, document this. Many employees who are terminated have never received negative performance evaluations nor have they been offered counseling or coaching.  Also, if employees provide feedback or rebuttal to evaluations or discipline, their responses are often not acknowledged. If employees are terminated or their performance seems to take a nosedive based on a new supervisor’s assessment, they are naturally going to think that their termination is problematic, and based on something other than their performance.
  • Spend some time training company supervisors and managers. Many laws currently exist which require an employer to provide leave or accommodation based on civil rights or medical conditions, and often the employer has the burden to initiate this dialogue.  A company’s human resources staff or lawyers may know this, but this information is frequently not communicated to people who are on the line and deal with employees daily. Supervisors often accuse employees of malingering, etc., ask detailed information about an employee’s medical conditions, ask pointed questions about employees’ treatment, sometimes reveal this information to other employees, and retaliate against employees, or terminate them, after they have been injured on the job, or take leave time.  The above actions are often not permitted under the law, and that can be problematic for an employer.
  • An employer should pick its battles. It is often a good idea to not contest a terminated or laid off employee’s right to receive unemployment compensation and not gloat that the employer fights every unemployment compensation case, whether on good grounds or not. It is often a good idea to offer a severance package, pay employees for any vacation or sick time not used, and end the employment relationship on as good terms as possible. The alternative is often litigation.
  • Respect your employee’s attorney. From personal experience, an employer’s lawyer isn’t doing his client a favor if he/she doesn’t return my telephone calls or e mails, digs their heels in the sand and doesn’t offer any severance or unemployment compensation to my client where I think it is deserved, and continues to maintain an untenable position even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. This process often encourages me to escalate what can be a collaborative process to a litigation process, just because I feel that I and my client have not been treated with the respect we deserve.

Ms. Faye Riva Cohen

Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C.

I am Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and am a Philadelphia attorney who has been practicing law since 1974. I am the president and managing attorney of both the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. and Legal Research, Inc.