Legal System not the Answer for Employees

My law office is now located in a beautiful historic home in Amarillo where I share office space with first-rate lawyers like Kevin and Ginger Nelson, Chris Wright and Jeff Voiles.

It is a professional place with lots of advice given to clients on serious legal matters. It is not the kind of place where you would expect me to be charting the phases of the moon.

However, I have noted that the full moon changes the type of calls I receive at the office from potential clients. Normally, I hear from business owners and managers calling for help with employment policy manuals and answers about how to avoid discrimination claims.

During the full moons I get bombarded with calls from employees who believe they have been victimized at work. They all seem to think that an employment lawyer can magically fix their employment problems and make their jobs more pleasant.

Some of the callers are looking for legal loopholes to explain away their own failures at work, like the ones who want to know how to avoid random drug testing or who want to sue their employer when they test positive and are inevitably fired.

Most of the calls are just tedious, like the many callers who complain that their bosses are “harassing” them, usually meaning that their supervisors are disciplining them when the employees fail to show up for work or knock off several hours early.

Once in a while, although rarely during full moon week, we get a call from an employee who was legitimately discriminated against at work, often on the basis of age or gender. I refer these callers to other lawyers who can escort them through the human resources or legal channels.

What so few of our employee callers seem to understand is that the legal system isn’t going to police their job. The courts cannot make a bad supervisor into a reasonable one, create tolerance where prejudice rules, restore an employee’s dignity after being fired, or heal the mental anguish resulting from discrimination.

At best, the legal system can provide some monetary compensation for workplace wrongs that happened two or three years before. However, in most cases the courts provide little or no remedy for the mistreatment of employees. The employee is usually better off trying to work within the company grievance system or finding a way to endure the petty problems that exist in every workplace.

Few employees realize that Texas is still an “at will” employment state, meaning that the employer may fire the employee for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. One of the few exceptions to this rule is that the employer cannot discriminate on the basis of age, race, religion, disability, gender, ethnicity or national origin.

The courts simply aren’t interested in hearing disputes that involve coworker personality differences, poor supervision or lack of management ability, even when couched by clever lawyers in terms of “harassment”, unless it can be shown the harassment was directed at an employee specifically because of the employee’s race, sex, age, etc.

Another reality that few employees understand is that, just like marriage, no perfect workplace exists. Whatever baggage you carry into this workplace will probably travel with you to the next job, where poor supervisors, irritating coworkers and boorish bosses will still exist, just with different names.

The conclusion that most employees need to accept is that their employment is not a right, but a privilege. Sometimes the employee has to overlook some perceived inequities and minor slights to keep that privilege.

While I don’t want to discourage an employee in a truly illegal workplace situation from reporting the abuse, many times the solution lies within the employee’s own attitude, not in the lawyer’s office.

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