The goal of this important article is to offer advice on finding an outstanding employment lawyer who will help defend your rights in the workplace. In fact, in America, the fight for workers' rights has been a long struggle—one that began during the founding of the country and still continues today. The protections and rights we see in the workplace now became law through the diligence and hard work of the many who came before us. To understand our current reality, it's always informative to understand how we arrived at this time and place—because history defines the future.
For example, in 1908, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) would become the foundation for many states' Worker's Compensation laws. At the time Congress enacted FELA (primarily to curtail the railroad industry's dangerous work conditions), Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas famously wrote that the power of the Act was "to put on the railroad industry some of the costs of the legs, arms, eyes, and lives which it consumed in its operation." This was a powerful statement in favor of workers' rights and highlights why it's imperative to partner with an expert employment lawyer dedicated to defending the important safeguards in place to protect employees rights such as FELA.
There's an old saying: Power Concedes Nothing—and that's why you need a strong employment attorney fighting for your workplace rights. Historically, those in power (employers) have proven at almost every turn to violate employees' rights if the violation benefits their business and/or their bottom-line. And remember: even though federal and state laws have been enacted to protect American workers, employers still violate these mandates every day. They include but are not limited to:
- sexual harassment
- discrimination and harassment (race, sex, gender, age, religion, nationality, sexual orientation)
- wrongful termination
- overtime infractions
- wage theft
- workplace safety and health violations
- lack of accommodation for disabilities
- pregnancy discrimination
- denial of medical and family leave
- whistleblower retaliation
A Wise & Smart Choice
If you believe your workplace rights have been violated in any manner or you lost your job for reasons you consider to be unjust or illegal, it's important to partner with an experienced employment law firm specializing in protecting workers' rights. While having your livelihood affected can be angering, frustrating, and scary, partnering with experts (lawyers who handle these issues on a daily basis) will offer you an immediate advantage, allowing you to take control of your situation. Reporting on workplace disputes, some of which can be complex, The Washington Post is clear: it's smarter and safer "to consult with an employment expert before taking any action… go straight to an employment lawyer."
Aggressive representation will empower you, opening the door to the numerous options available, including but not limited to filing a complaint with the proper governmental body, negotiating an out of court settlement, or if necessary, filing a lawsuit and representing you in court. Keep in mind, most employment disputes are resolved without a lawsuit or a trial. That's why selecting an experienced and expert law firm is a wise and smart choice. Chances are they will negotiate the best possible terms and settlement for your case.
Do Your Homework
Before you meet with an employment lawyer or law firm, we suggest you evaluate the history of the firm or attorney. Ask straightforward questions about their experience, their knowledge of the many laws protecting workplace rights, as well as asking about their success stories. You want an employment lawyer who succeeds when going to battle with employers and corporations. You can also ask if the firm/attorney has previously handled cases similar to yours.
Here are a few additional questions you may want to ask:
- How strong is my case?
- If successful, how much compensation can I expect to receive?
- Who'll be doing most of the work on my case?
- How often will you update me?
- About how long will my case take?
Keep in mind that some employment law firms represent both employees and employers. Feel free to inquire whether they represent both entities or just employees. This is an important question to ask. Why? Common sense dictates that a firm and/or attorney that only represents employees will be more likely to share your values and completely understand your point of view. These attorneys will advocate for your rights with integrity and real commitment.
Also note that when it comes to finding and selecting an employment lawyer or firm, it's important to determine that the group is truly a specialist in employment law and not an entity practicing numerous "specialties."
The bottom-line? Research the firm and lawyers. Some of your online search results will turn up firms and lawyers marketing themselves but you can find reviews and testimonials from previous clients. Filter these carefully. Look for substantive comments. You can also search California attorneys on the State Bar of California’s website to check if a lawyer has had any disciplinary history. This can indicate past unethical behavior.
Case in Point
For example, at Lawyers for Employee and Consumer Rights (LFECR), Robert Byrnes is this California firm's head of litigation. Throughout his life, his goal as an attorney has been to work toward making society fairer for working-class families like his own. Over the last decade, Robert has fought for and secured substantial settlements on behalf of workers in various industries including retail sales, fast food, as well as nurses and healthcare workers. The cases covered various labor law and workplace infractions. Robert's dedication to fighting for workers' rights is the benchmark for all attorneys at Lawyers for Employee and Consumer Rights—a firm that seeks to represent any worker treated unfairly by an employer. In fact, in many instances, LFECR has taken on cases after other firms and attorneys have turned them away.
This issue, as all issues, should be upfront and transparent. It's very important to ask about an employment law firm's fee structure. Some firms charge potential clients hourly fees for initial consultation meetings plus a percentage of the settlement. These initial hourly fees can add up quickly. Many believe this can steer the “attorney-client relationship” in the wrong direction, one that may discourage employees from fighting for their rights (because they can't afford the expense).
On the other hand, some firms don't charge upfront consultation fees and these firms are only paid if successful in securing you a recovery and/or settlement. Many believe this structure motivates the law firm or attorney to work harder for you and your workplace rights.
The Future is Now
As we discussed at the outset, the past century has witnessed dramatic change in the American workplace. Although there's more work to be done, the U.S. workforce is much better educated and protected than in the past. For instance, working environments are much safer today than ever before. People like you fought for that. They also fought for child labor laws, the minimum wage, fair pay for women, family and medical leave, gender equality, racial equality, and of course the Americans with Disability Act. All of this happened because people stood up and said “no” to workplace malfeasance by overreaching and discriminatory employers.
Ultimately, that's why dedicated employment attorneys fight for your rights. You deserve to work in an environment free of hazards, discrimination, intimidation and fear.
And best of all, you live in California—the state recognized with the strongest employee and workplace rights in the country.