Q&A Topic: Employment Law and Common Workplace Situations That May Require a Lawyer
How do I know if I need to hire an employment lawyer and what are some of the most common workplace situations where legal advice would be beneficial?
Howard Schragin, Esq.
Q: Has the recent focus on the #MeToo and Time’s Up™ movement affected your business?
A: The recent and continuing focus on the #MeToo and Time’s Up™ movement has impacted our business in a number of ways. It has brought an increased awareness on the part of employers about sexual harassment, its unfortunate prevalence and the impact it has on the workplace. This awareness has brought an increased emphasis on the part of companies to create and maintain workplaces free from harassment by conducting more training of employees and managers, conducting more thorough investigations when complaints are raised and taking decisive action if wrongdoing is uncovered. In that regard we have seen increased call volume from local businesses that want to join the trend and ensure that their employees are properly trained, their policies are up to date and they are proactively dealing with complaints to eradicate sexual harassment.
It has also brought an increased awareness on the part of employees on what conduct is and is not appropriate in the workplace and an increased willingness to combat the issues head on. Employees who, in years past, would suffer in silence now have the courage to seek out employment counsel to assist them in vindicating their rights. Interestingly, this increased emphasis on sexual harassment on the part of employers and employees both come from the same place – eliminating harassment and creating safe workplace environments where employees and employers can flourish.
Q: What growing trends are you seeing related to employment law?
A: We have seen a number of trends in employment law over the past couple of years. Obviously, as noted above, the focus on the #MeToo movement has changed the employment law landscape. Stemming from the #MeToo and Time’s Up™ movement, we have also seen an increased focus on ensuring equal pay among men and women, including laws preventing employers from asking applicants about their salary history. The rationale is that past pay disparities should not continue to be perpetrated by relying on an applicant’s pay history. There has been a movement over the past couple of years to provide increased paid sick leave benefits to employees. In fact, Westchester County has recently enacted a new sick leave law requiring all employers in the county to provide paid or unpaid sick leave to their employees.
The County has also enacted a paid safe time law requiring all private employers to provide up to 40 hours of paid leave for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. Wage and hour laws and claims, including class actions, remain on the forefront. This includes overtime claims, misclassification claims (i.e., classifying an individual as an independent contractor and not an employee or as exempt from overtime laws when they should be entitled to overtime) and off-the-clock claims which seek to ensure that employees are properly paid for all hours worked because of the increasingly fluid nature of the workweek enabled by social media and smartphones.
Finally, we have seen a general increase in employment law claims and lawsuits over the past couple of years, particularly wrongful termination claims. In its simplest form, it used to be that when someone lost their job, they called a recruiter and looked for a new job. Now, their first call is to a lawyer to see if their rights have been violated. There is a robust regulatory framework protecting employees in New York State, and a corresponding willingness on the part of employees to exercise their rights within that framework to challenge wrongful terminations.
Q: What distinguishes your firm’s service offerings and philosophy from other firms that focus on employment law?
A: Our firm offers a highly advantageous perspective because we represent both employees and employers. With this experience and knowledge, we can analyze employment law issues from all angles and create innovative legal strategies to assist our clients. It provides valuable insights about the view from the so-called other side of the table, which enables us to help our clients effectively and efficiently achieve their goals and resolve their employment disputes and concerns. From an employer perspective, we can stay on top of emerging legal trends affecting employees, including the various and creative types of claims being alleged by plaintiff’s counsel, so that our management clients can ensure that they comply with the law and avoid lawsuits. From an employee perspective, it provides valuable insight into defense strategies to achieve maximum results for our clients. This balanced approach allows us to provide the best possible legal advice to our clients.
Q: What advice do you give to all your clients who are employers?
A: First and foremost, I advise my clients to be aware of and comply with the law. Many small businesses are not always fully versed on the myriad of employment laws affecting their business, ranging from discrimination and harassment to wage and hour to privacy and benefits. I try to ensure that my clients know the law, how to implement the law and how it impacts their business. I also always advise my employer clients to treat people with respect and dignity both during and at the end of their employment. This is true, in many instances, regardless of the reason for termination. Companies would serve themselves well by treating people in this manner. I’m surprised at how often individuals tell me that they would never have come to our office if their employer had simply been nicer and more respectful to them during the termination process.
About Sapir Schragin LLP
Sapir Schragin LLP is an employment law firm that represents both employees and employers and handles every legal issue that occurs in today’s workplace. The firm has the distinct advantage of being one of just a few with expertise on both sides of employment issues covered under Federal and New York State law. Employee clients range from chief executive officers of major corporations to management and hourly wage earners. Employer clients include small to mid-size local businesses and non-profit organizations. Howard Schragin is a skilled employment law counselor and advocate with extensive experience representing individuals and management in trials and arbitrations and in settlement negotiations and mediations. Mr. Schragin is a member of the New York State Bar Association, Labor and Employment Law Section. He has written and spoken for various organizations on employment law topics, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, separation agreements and restrictive covenants, employment hiring practices, genetic discrimination, pre-employment drug, medical and psychological testing, electronic and digital media in the workplace, and human resources best practices.
Howard Schragin, Esq.
Sapir Schragin LLP