AVOIDING THE TRAIN WRECK
workplace in the 21st century is very complicated. Workers have more
rights and are more transitory than ever before. Similarly, employers are much
more likely to downsize, right size or optimize their workers out of a job. Just
a generation ago the American worker could extend loyalty to his employer and
have a reasonable expectation of loyalty in return. Many people worked for one
company for their entire career and retired with a watch, a party, and the heartfelt
appreciation for a career spent dedicated to the employer. Now without regard
to loyalty, length of service or experience workers are "downsized"
in their prime to make way for younger, less expensive, less experienced workers.
Companies maintain large human resource staffs and
teams of lawyers to advise them in every aspect of the employee/employer
relationship. Loyalty for long service has been supplanted by short term
attention to the bottom line. Many workers with long time tenure with
a company are in danger of losing their jobs.
Losing a job can be like getting hit by a train.
It is dehumanizing, debilitating and destructive. Sometimes train wrecks
can be avoided or at least their impact lessened with precaution, prevention,
and preparation. Legal representation, even before termination, can be
very important to help an older worker negotiate job security or a severance
package if the relationship has deteriorated. It is important to be able
to recognize the various stages, or warning signs, of a deteriorating
employment relationship. Keeping with the train analogy, this article
gives an analysis of each stage.
Crossing the tracks: Beginning a job is very
similar to approaching a railroad crossing. Before entering into the new
job many workers negotiate employment contracts to control the risk of
a sudden termination. Surprisingly, many workers simply accept the offer
without any effort to improve it. Many terms of the employment relationship
can be negotiated up front, not just the length of service and the salary
but also what happens in the event of a termination or downsizing. Severance
agreements can be pre-negotiated on the front end or certain penalties
put in place for early termination of the contract. Not all workers have
the bargaining ability or position to negotiate an employment contract
but for those who are in such a position it can help to insure that they
are not run over by the train. An employment contract can establish safety
nets and features in the event of a change in economic circumstance for
the company or for the employee.
Whistle in the distance: Some workers, while
in the throes of their career do not often times see the warning signs
of danger. Often if you pay attention a termination can be predicted not
unlike the distant whistle of a train alerting that danger is around the
corner. A reduction in the volume of work can signal a rearranging of
positions and responsibilities preparatory to terminating an individual.
Also, increased references to technology and training requirements but
without providing the technology and training requirements, can signal
a shift toward younger workers. Sometimes it is as simple as coded comments
such as "we need new blood" or "we need new thinking",
can signal to older workers that management would like to hire younger
people for their perceived energy or creativity. Training, energy or creativity
are not lacking in older workers and if properly managed they can provide
these needed traits for employers. However, older workers tend to have
higher salaries and benefits costs making younger workers much more attractive.
When an older worker sees these warning signs one strategy is to begin
to negotiate a severance package or exit from the company in a pro-active
way, thus enabling the older worker to control and avoid the train wreck.
The train is bearing down on you: When a worker
is busy or management is stealthy, the worker does not hear the distant
whistle but only recognizes the danger when he sees the train barreling
down on top of him. In such a situation, the older workers best
strategy is to artfully dodge the situation by attempting to negotiate
a severance package or exit strategy with the company. An employment lawyer
can help to position the older worker to cash out with the best possible
severance package or an attorney can also help you evaluate the terms
of a severance package as well as the reasonableness of it. Sometimes
the severance package is exactly what it seems to be, that is, downsizing
for economic reasons and the fact that an older worker is included as
merely coincidental. A few dollars and time spent with an employment lawyer
can help ease your concerns and let you know that the severance package
is reasonable and that you are not foolish to sign it. In some cases,
a severance package which is inadequate or the "downsizing"
is merely a pretext for eliminating an older workforce. In such situations
you should be fully informed of your rights and proceed accordingly.
The train has flattened you: Unfortunately,
all too often older workers do not hear the distant whistle, do not see
the train approaching and the first they realize they are in trouble is
after the train has already hit them and moved on. In other words, after
they have been handed a pink slip and told they are no longer needed.
This time can be particularly devastating if the workers had a long tenure
with the employer. The employee/employer relationships for many of us
is the most significant relationship in our lives, second only to our
significant others. When you are suddenly terminated the world can seem
as if it has been turned upside down. Many times the last thing anyone
wants to think about is lawsuits or money. The importance of this relationship
often times goes beyond money. It is important at this time before you
sign anything or before you lose your rights, to consult with an employment
attorney and find out if you have been treated unfairly. Employers cannot
make adverse employment actions such as a termination based on a persons
age, race, gender, disability, religion, or other protected categories,
and if that was the reason a worker was terminated the worker should pursue
remedies through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the courts.
The employment lawyer can evaluate your case and tell whether or not the
situation should be pursued. Employers should follow the law.
At Kramer + Crone we have a practice that helps employees.
Our goal is a discrimination-free workplace. We represent workers when they have
been treated unfairly and are the victims of illegal discrimination. We have seen
the train wrecks. We know how to best avoid them. We work hard for our clients,
help them pick up the pieces and make the best of a bad situation. Perhaps we
can help you.