Recently the St. Petersburg Times released an article discussing how out of work employees are turning to the courts for relief in light of recent lay-offs. (See link: Some Former Employees Turn to Lawyers to Pursue Claims of Illegal Firing). In the article, the St. Pete Times obtained quotes from some very good attorneys from both the employee side and the management side (for some reason the Times missed me, but I won’t hold that against them).
Most of the points made in the article are very similar to information that I share with clients and potential clients. For instance, the St. Pete Times noted that the Tampa Office of the EEOC (“Equal Employment Opportunity Commission”) has doubled its work load over the last year. Thus, where they were overworked in a normal economic situation, in light of this recession, they are stretched beyond the breaking point.
I have to admit, I gained a new line from the article - i.e., "It's literally true that your boss can fire you because he's a Red Sox fan and doesn't like your Rays cap."
The article highlighted two situations in which out of work employees sought the assistance of a labor and employment attorney. In one case, the employee who was over forty was told that her position was being eliminated. She accepted the bad news, however, she later learned that her position was given to a younger employee who was willing to accept a lower salary. Among other things, this case presents issues that would be covered under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
In the other case, a woman was released and expected to receive a severance package that was proportional to the years of service with her former company. The company decided that it would give her a severance package, but said sorry it will not be as much as expected. Her attorney told the Times that he is trying to work out a settlement with the company (I am not sure I would have shared that information with the press). The attorneys for the company had no comment.
There are a couple of lessons from the Times article. Employees concerned about the circumstances of there termination should consult with a labor and employment attorney to determine whether they have a claim. Businesses may try to use the bad economy as a pretext for an illegal termination.
Likewise, before terminating an employee, employers should make sure they do not leave themselves vulnerable to an employment lawsuit. Seeking the guidance of a labor and employment attorney will go a long way toward helping an employer minimize the risk.
To have specific labor and employment questions answered, please do not hesitate to call me, Rich Bradford at (813) 413-2402.