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Serious insight for serious situations.

Serious insight for serious situations.

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On Seeing an Employment Lawyer for the First Time: Thoughts From Two Toronto Employment Lawyers

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Basic Workplace Investigation Techniques
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We recently sat down to discuss what employee clients can do both before and during their first meeting with us to contribute to the exchange being successful. These are the clients who seek our advice in terms of a possible wrongful dismissal, a sexual harassment complaint, helping them respond to an offer of employment, or dealing with a difficult boss. It was an interesting exercise in terms of combining the observations of “seasoned” counsel (Janice) with those of a lawyer who is newer to the profession (Ryan). Here is what we came up with:

  • Before the meeting, collect and organize your thoughts so that you can explain your problem clearly and concisely. Most importantly, think about what you would like as the desired outcome. This can be anything from, “I need some coaching on how to negotiate this package myself” to “the negotiations over my employment contract are exhausting, please take over” (these are real life examples from the last two weeks by the way). What you want as the consumer of these services should always trump what we think you should want. Ask yourself “what are my objectives” before you sit down with us.
  • Identify any questions you have and write them down. This will make sure that you will get them all answered during the course of our meeting. If you are well organized, it is helpful to send the questions to us beforehand so that we can be sure to have the information we need to answer them. If we haven’t covered everything on your list, ask us.
  • Bring documents relevant to the issue at hand with you, or even better, send them to us before the meeting so that we can review them. The types of documents we mean are things like your employment contract – amazing how often that is left at home – record of compensation, warning letters (assuming there are any) if you’ve been terminated for cause, as well as any employer policies that might be relevant.
  • Don’t hold back information and please be candid with us. We’ve heard just about everything in this office, and nothing embarrasses us anymore (really – nothing!). We are also used to dealing with employee clients who are upset and unsettled. If you think there is a weakness to your case because of something you may have done or something you failed to do, please tell us. We can’t give you the best advice unless we have the best information. We know from experience that the best information is complete information even when you think it may be harmful to your case.
  • Feel free to take notes while we are meeting. In fact, we think you should so that you can remember what advice we gave you, but also for you to keep track of any “to do” items you might have stemming from the meeting, such as sending that employment contract you left at home, or calculating your commission income from last year.
  • Keep an open mind. This is so important that we will repeat it. Keep an open mind. Sometimes what we have to tell you is difficult news to hear. You may be disappointed. The truth of the matter is that not every difficult situation at work translates into a legal problem, and not all legal problems are practical and cost effective to fix. It is worth pointing out that even when an employer has not behaved properly, an employee is usually not entitled to huge amounts of compensation.
  • For those of you who are enthusiastic about taking your employer to court, keep in mind that it is very expensive, and we can guarantee that you will be less and less keen as time marches on. If we recommend that you settle a case, it is because we know that in exchange for a little less than you may have expected, or to which you are entitled to strictly speaking, the settlement will allow you to close this chapter of your life, have peace of mind (eventually) and move on.

Janice Rubin and Ryan Campbell