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This revised edition of The Employee Rights Handbook, like the original work, was written to save you money and aggravation.
I often compare a job to a romance. Companies woo applicants with promises of security, fulfillment, and riches. Then, when the honeymoon is over, even qualified people often find themselves being treated unfairly. Many employees are not promoted, despite doing good work, often because they are women, over forty, or belong to a minority. Many others are fired for no justifiable reason. Still others fail to receive anticipated financial benefits, including accrued vacation pay, overtime, commissions, earned bonuses, promised raises, or expenses.
You have the power to change that by reading this book. Years ago, the law favored employers when it came to resolving employment disputes. It used to be that employers could fire workers with or without cause with little fear of legal reprisal. But this kind of exploitation may be a thing of the past. Now, for example, federal and state rulings grant employees access to their personnel files, allow them to get their jobs back when they are fired in retaliation for tattling on abuses of authority — i.e., whistle-blowing — and even allow them to collect damages if they are sexually harassed by a supervisor, even though the employer knew nothing about a supervisor's threats.
More and more terminated workers are successfully arguing and proving that company promises made at the time of the hiring interview are binding on the employer. Years ago, terminated employees would merely bow their heads and shuffle out the door after hearing theyhad been fired. Now most terminated workers are questioning these decisions and regularly negotiating better severance packages and other post-termination benefits.
When I wrote the first edition of The Employee Rights Handbook, I reported that in every industry, unfair discharge litigation had proliferated and the amount of money involved in settlements ran into millions of dollars annually. The Wall Street Journal confirmed in a 1987 article that more than one-third of the New England companies interviewed indicated they were involved in legal actions with terminated employees, and most cases were settled for cash payments ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 — not including other benefits such as continued medical, dental, and life insurance coverage, office space, use of telephone, secretarial help, resume preparation, and outplacement guidance while looking for a new job.
The growing trend to protect workers is probably due to the fact that the law has finally grasped the concept that a job is an integral part of a person's life. Even the millions of independent sales reps and agents in this country who derive compensation in the form of commissions have received a boost from laws recently passed in more than thirty-four states. These laws guarantee prompt payment of commissions upon termination or resignation and award up to triple damages, plus reasonable attorney fees and costs of litigation, from companies who fail to pay reps in a timely fashion or who fail to comply with the appropriate provisions of each applicable state law. From a lawyer's perspective, the creation of these and numerous other "pro-employee" laws such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, to name just a few, was unthinkable when I started practicing labor and employment law in 1980.
The idea for writing The Employee Rights Handbook first began in the fall of 1984 when I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for an article about the rights of terminated workers. Dozens of terminated employees who read the article began calling me at my New York City office to determine if they had any legal rights after being fired. I began negotiating post-termination benefits for a large number of clients and was surprised to learn that cash settlements and other perks were obtained a large majority of the time through my intervention. This has convinced me that the vast majority of private employers are fearful of the repercussions of most firings and are anxious to explore amicable solutions to avoid additional legal expenses, bad publicity, and potential damages that sometimes arise.
I started counseling companies in the printing industry on how to deal effectively and fairly with employees and did extensive research on all aspects of employment law. This included researching hundreds of cases and articles. In the late 1980s I began writing The Employee Rights Handbook, which was published in 1992.
The success of the book exceeded my expectations. Tens of thousands of copies have been sold, and I have received many positive letters from readers throughout the United States thanking me for writing the book. Since the book was first published, I have appeared on literally hundreds of radio and television programs discussing various topics of interest in this field and have been interviewed by dozens of national and regional magazines and newspapers. This led to hosting my own nationally syndicated radio show Steven Sack, the Employee's Lawyer, which currently airs every Sunday from 2:005:00 P.M. through the i.e. america radio network.
This second, revised edition takes off where the original book ended. I have added new sections and updated information where the law changed. New case decisions, trends, and developments have been incorporated into the text wherever possible. The result, I believe, is an even more valuable and timely body of work on employee rights for your use.
People should be able to benefit from the book regardless of background, education, age, job experience, or work skills. The Employee Rights Handbook offers practical advice and hundreds of preventive steps to take to help you avoid many common problems. The tips and comments may prove to be invaluable. For example, you will learn how to be properly hired to reduce the chances of exploitation later. You will understand your on-the-job rights and how companies are obligated to deal fairly and in good faith with longtime workers. In many cases this prohibits employers from terminating workers merely to deny them an economic benefit, such as a pension, commission, bonus, or enhanced medical benefits, that has been earned or is about to become due.
The book will also instruct you on how to resign properly so you do not forfeit valuable benefits. Additionally, you will learn the correct steps to take when you are fired to protect your rights and increase the chances of obtaining severance compensation and other post-termination benefits. The material can reduce the odds of your being fired unfairly and give you ammunition to maximize claims if you are fired. For example, you will learn how to increase the odds of winning an unemployment or workers' compensation case.
Although the book was not meant to replace a lawyer, it will help you initially determine whether your problem requires a lawyer's assistance. If you currently have a lawyer, the information will help you make that lawyer work more effectively on your behalf, and it will enable you to make more intelligent choices and avoid being pressured into making decisions you may regret.
You will certainly become more aware of the legal consequences of your boss's actions. If litigation becomes necessary, your chances of success and the value of your claim may increase substantially because you will recognize potential exploitation and know what to do about it. I also suggest courses of action to take before consulting a lawyer; such advice may prove invaluable to your lawyer once he or she has been retained. Of course, you will discover that many of my suggestions can be followed without the help of a lawyer.
My goal in writing this book was to give you the practical information my clients receive at a fraction of the cost. My suggestion is that you read the applicable sections before making a decision or when you have a problem. That is what "preventive law" is all about.
I am a practicing labor and employment lawyer with more than twenty years of hands-on experience and am consulted by hundreds of individuals each year. To make the book as relevant and useful as possible, I focus my attention on key topics where my clients typically seek guidance. Consequently, the strategies contained in this book cover areas where people are commonly exploited and misinformed, such as:
I wrote The Employee Rights Handbook to give you an edge and devoted all my energies to make the book as relevant and useful as possible. Throughout the book you will note the numerous questions to ask and points to consider to protect your rights. You should also review the sample letters and agreements to implement many of my suggestions. The glossary at the end of the book will help you understand the meaning of many legal terms and concepts and apply them properly. The appendix contains the addresses and telephone numbers of many federal, state, local, and private agencies to contact to facilitate your efforts.
The benefits of applying this information can be significant, as the following true case demonstrates. I once represented a longtime employee who worked a full year and was expecting a bonus of $22,500 to be paid on February 15 of the following year. The company had a policy of requiring workers to be employed on the date of payment in order to receive the bonus. My client was fired on February 10 for alleged misconduct due to an unauthorized absence taken the day before. The employer refused to pay the bonus or severance, and the client came to me for advice.
I advised him that what the company did was wrong and told him what to say. He immediately scheduled an appointment with a personnel director and explained that he had a valid excuse for missing work. He advised the employer that he properly and timely reported the absence, and that he had met with an experienced employment lawyer who advised that the company's policy of paying earned bonuses only for people still employed the following year was unfair and perhaps discriminatory. Although he was unable to get his job back, he did manage to negotiate a very generous severance package with my assistance, which included a favorable letter of reference, unemployment insurance benefits, and the expected bonus.
He told me later that other workers told him "to forget about it" before coming to see me. Obviously, he appreciated my advice.
That is the kind of assistance I hope you will derive from The Employee Rights Handbook. I am very proud that Warner Books chose to publish this book in its expanded and revised second edition. Now I am confident that new readers will benefit from this work to protect their rights.
No one should take a job expecting the worst. However, this book will help you recover money for your efforts when you have been wronged. I have reduced complicated court rulings, regulations, and labor laws into simple strategies you can understand and follow. For the millions of employees who think they have no rights in the working world, think again — you are about to learn that knowledge is power and that you have more rights in the workplace than you think!
Steven Mitchell Sack, Esq.
New York City