The area of employment law seems to change faster than almost any other. One hundred years ago, almost no labor or employment laws existed. The rise of labor unions, workplace safety laws and the Civil Rights Era have made employment law a complicated tangle of abbreviations that most people recognize but cannot explain (FMLA, ADA, WPCA, FLSA, USERRA, HIPAA, just to name a few).
Many employees who feel mistreated or harassed at work are unable to point to a particular law or regulation protecting their rights in the workplace…they just know they are not being treated right. It takes a lawyer with extensive experience in employment law to sort through and to identify whether what you are going through at work violates some law. Only with this kind of experience can you trust your lawyer is going to be able to identify all of the areas in which you may have a cause of action.
My experience in employment law includes widely-varied positions and perspectives few other lawyers can match. For my first eight years as a lawyer, I worked for a large law firm and then in the legal department of a coal company, taking the side of the employer in disputes with employees. With the support of my employer, I made a career change to work in Human Resources, a natural fit for an employment lawyer, and did that work in the coal and oil/gas industries for the next several years. I continued to work in employment law and management during ten years I spent representing low-income West Virginians at Legal Aid of West Virginia. After a short detour back into Human Resources as the Vice Chancellor for Human Resources for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, I left to represent the rights and interests of working people.
Wage Cases are those cases that come under the minimum wage, maximum hours and wage payment laws designed to ensure working people are paid in full and in accordance with overtime requirements. If you think you are not being paid the required minimum wage; if you think you are wrongly being denied overtime pay when you work more than forty hours in a week; if you think your employer is wrongfully deducting things from your check; if you think you are still owed wages after leaving a job, you may have a wage claim. These claims can be easy for inexperienced lawyers to miss because the regulations covering these laws can be very complex. These claims can also mean recovery of real wages you may have lost due to an employer’s negligence or greed. In addition to the lost wages, success under these laws often means you will also receive “liquidated damages” as additional compensation for the denial of your pay. Finally, these laws also shift the burden of paying for a lawyer from you to your employer; this means the cost of a lawyer does not reduce the amount of wages you will likely recover but will be paid directly by the other side. Contact me if you think you may have a wage claim.
Wrongful Discharge is a phrase that covers many kinds of illegal employer conduct that results in the loss of someone’s job. It could be because you filed a workers’ compensation claim and they fired you when you could not return to work; it could be because you resisted your boss’s sexual advances; it could be because you reported someone’s illegal activity at work. While West Virginia remains what is known as an “at-will” employment state, there are enough exceptions to that rule to make it very difficult for an employer to fire someone without any reason at all. If you’ve been fired for a reason that sounds fishy or if you’ve been given no reason at all, you may have a claim for wrongful discharge.
Discrimination is also another general phrase that is used to describe workplace conduct that is directed against someone in a “protected class” because of that person’s protected characteristics (e.g., gender, race, religion, national origin, etc.). There are no laws that say employers have to treat all of their employees the same. There are all kinds of laws, however, that say employers may not treat employees differently based on these protected characteristics. If you are a woman caring for disabled people in their homes, the law requires you be paid the same rate as what would be paid to a similarly situated man doing the same work. If you are blind and you need a particular computer program to “read” what is on your screen, the law requires reasonable accommodations to your disability. If you have an ill family member and you need time off from work to help care for that person, the law affords certain guarantees for time off and job security. These same rules apply to dishwashers, lawyers and teachers. If you believe you are being treated differently for some reason the law forbids, contact me to discuss your situation.