Author Archives: Robert Heller

Preventing Employment Claims

Employers lament the high incidence of workplace claims.  Exorbitant workers’ compensation premiums, the disruption to company operations caused by medical and disability leaves, and the costs of defending employee lawsuits, including claims for wrongful termination, harassment, retaliation, and wage and hour violations, all seriously impact the employer’s “bottom line.”

The worker’s compensation “crisis” in recent years, as well as California’s liberal employee rights laws, have been referenced, along with high taxes, as key factors in the exodus of business from our state. The threat of employment lawsuits and “runaway” jury awards has been cited as a reason for the curtailment of business innovation and expansion in California and elsewhere. The late liberal icon John Kenneth Galbraith once intoned the phrase “conventional wisdom” in debunking accepted truths regarding the modern economy. The conventional wisdom regarding workplace claims similarly deserves exposure, as largely myth, perpetuated as a rationale to justify employers’ failure to implement and require proper personnel policies and practices.

Competent, loyal and conscientious employees have been maligned, abused, harassed and targeted for unfair treatment, either for failure to meet unattainable work goals or challenging unfair or worse, illegal directives or working conditions, long enough. It is bad enough that an employee is terminated from his or her job because of cronyism, petty animosities, jealousy, or a desire to “silence the messenger,” rather than address evidence of corporate misconduct. Why is it necessary to “tar and feather” the employee on the way out, by unsupported accusations of misconduct, effectively stigmatizing the employee in the eyes of prospective employers, and assuring their continued unemployment ?

Employers should be held accountable for this type of egregious corporate malfeasance. The cost of “whistle blower,” sexual harassment, failure to accommodate, retaliation, and other violations of fundamental employee rights to a humane workplace are written off as a “cost of doing business.” This should not be allowed. Appropriate remedies, including measured punitive damage awards and enhanced regulatory oversight (including, where appropriate, enforcement actions by the District Attorney and Attorney General), should be taken.

The plaintiff’s employment bar has been scapegoated long enough as the primary cause of workplace claims. Employers have only themselves to blame for failing to implement and enforce policies to prevent discrimination and unfair treatment of  employees. Equally significant has been management’s failure to provide proper training, both to entry-level personnel and supervisors, to assure against abusive and discriminatory treatment of employees. Proper orientation to job duties, by qualified professionals, is essential.

Successful organizations are those with a clearly defined chain of command, written job descriptions, which clearly define each position’s essential duties, and written progressive discipline policies that are consistently and evenhandedly enforced. Equally important are written policies requiring fair compensation, with pay increases tied to merit, and with appropriate incentive-based components. Annual performance evaluations, based on clearly defined goals with ratings based on objective performance criteria, should be required for most employees.

There would be fewer workers’ compensation and disability claims if management would not only take the time to train its employees in ways to prevent workplace injuries, but implement measures to assure against the assignment of excessive workloads, harassment, and other inappropriate conduct by supervisors and coworkers. Steps should be taken to assure professional counseling and inquiry regarding contributing factors to complaints of “job burnout.” Employees should be encouraged to report the first symptoms of physical or mental health related complaints that could lead to disabling injuries, so that appropriate remedial measures can be taken. Filing a workers’ compensation claim should be encouraged only after affirmative efforts to effect reasonable accommodation have been unsuccessful. Employees with pregnancy, child care, or other compelling personal needs should be allowed appropriate accommodations, including, where feasible, working from home.

Where there is evidence of executive or management malfeasance against subordinate employees, corporate boards should require an objective investigation, preferably by an outside firm, while assuring fundamental due process to the accused. Whistle blowers or other employees determined to have been unjustly accused of misconduct or poor performance should have their names publicly cleared and should be reinstated with full back pay and additional compensation for reputational harm. Appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination, should be taken against the perpetrator.

Measures should be taken, particularly from the inception of a start-up company and at the time of any corporate acquisition, as well as periodically in any organization, to assure against the hire and retention of “workplace bullies.” The lack of statutory protection for victims of harassment and abuse by supervisors, absent a motivation prohibited by state or federal anti-discrimination laws, is a continuing iniquity. Employers should implement appropriate corrective counseling measures and discipline, including termination of such personnel.

The mark of effective leadership is requiring an unwavering commitment to integrity in all aspects of the organization. Professionalism should be required at all levels. The adoption of the measures and precepts outlined above will do much to increase productivity and workplace morale, and validate the stewardship of chief executive officers and other members of the executive team. A demonstrated commitment to these standards will enhance employee mental health and productivity, and substantially reduce the likelihood of employment claims.

William M. Crosby is a founding partner of Barnes, Crosby, FitzGerald & Zeman. For over 30 years he has specialized in employment law, primarily representing employees in discrimination, sexual harassment, wage and hour claims, and wrongful termination based upon breach of express and implied contract and public policy claims.

Daily Journal Newswire Articles
http://www.dailyjournal.com/
(c) 2010 The Daily Journal Corporation.  All rights reserved.

Auto Dealer Scams Veteran…and gets caught

An Iraq war veteran, Corporal Woods, purchased a vehicle from an auto dealer in the San Francisco area only to find that the car had been written off previous as the consequence of and accident.  This is not a-typical.  In general, veterans find themselves prayed on by unscrupulous sales people and lenders.

Watch this CBS news video for Corporal Wood’s story: http://cbs5.com/video/?id=61663@kpix.dayport.com

Usury – Obscene Interest Rates

1. the lending or practice of lending money at an exorbitant interest.
2. an exorbitant amount or rate of interest, esp. in excess of the legal rate.

There is a very interesting article here at Fox News this morning regarding the change in charges First Premier Bank, a sub-prime credit card issuer.

Of course, strictly by definition, this isn’t usury because it is perfectly legal for the company to charge a 79.9% interest rate on overdue amounts and $29 if the card holder misses a payment or spends more than their credit limit allows.

For the complete details, go to http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,580523,00.html?test=latestnews.

This is morally reprehensible. Unfortunately, it is a typical consequence of what happens when Governments, who are supposed to protect, interfere inadequately in the market. Companies are in business to make profits for their shareholders. The government, perhaps correctly, has mandated that there needs to be a limited to the amount of annual fees a credit company can charge and this First Permier’s can no longer charge $259 in annual fees on a $250 credit limit. Consequently, they have transferred those fees to an annual interest rate. The net result being that the company will continue to collect its fees, circumventing the intent of the law.

Any way you look at it, the fees are exorbitant, be they flat fee or interest rate. And the government hasn’t helped. The best thing you as a ‘high risk’ lender can do is to NOT get one of these credit cards. Whatever you think you need, you can do without. If you can cope with a $250 credit line maxed out, on which you are paying $259 per year in fees, you can live without the credit card. In fact, you will be $509 better off every year.

Pay cash. Tell the credit card company to get lost and control your own destiny. If you have A First Premier Credit card start by cutting the card up and then pay it off within a year. Never use it again.

If you are already being pursued by credit collection and need legal assistance, call the Harris Law Firm and talk to Aurora Harris.

Avoiding Auto-Dealer Fraud

Unfortunately, it seems that there is an inordinate number of unscrupulous people engaged in the car sales business.  We’ve all heard the jokes about the ‘used car salesman’.  A comparison was made a few years ago that the difference between a used car salesman and a computer salesman is that the used car salesman at least knows when he (or she) is lying.

Problematically, this unscrupulous, and often illegal, behavior is not limited just to the representations made about a vehicle.  Often times it will extend to the virtual ‘kidnapping’ of the unsuspecting shopper by the dealership and gross misrepresentation regarding actual costs and financing.

Frequently, people that have been unfairly manipulated into purchasing vehicles later find themselves unable to make the payments which then cascades into debt collector persecution, repossession, destruction of credit rating and subsequently a host of other credit related problems.  To say nothing of stress and not being able to get to work.

Aurora Harris, proprietor of The Honest Lawyer, and herself a nationally renowned consumer attorney who has often broken new ground in defending consumers from predatory lending and sales practices, has written an article that is posted on her personal web site.  You can read the full article here: http://www.theharrislawfirmonline.com/2009/12/avoiding-auto-dealer-fraud/

Strength In Times Of Trouble

The times, they are a-changing, is the title of an old Bob Dylan song from the  nineteen sixties.  You may be too young to remember it, or too old even, but the theme of the song was no more true back then, when flower power and peace and love were going to overtake the world, than it is today.

Today, however, the changes seem to be more raw.  Whether it is concern about economic collapse, loss of a job or jobs or the inability to find a new job, mounting credit card debt or having purchased an automobile only to find it is a lemon, change can cause a great deal of stress.

Having your credit card maxed out and then receiving notification from the bank that your interest rate is being raised to 30%, and / or your balance lowered, or missing your mortgage payments, or health care insurance payments, or worrying about an invisible 401k, these are all stress creating.  Maybe it is simpler for you, perhaps you were using your credit cards to buy food and now that the bank has lowered your credit limit you are wondering where you are going to get money to buy food for your family.

It may very well be that you need the assistance of a competent attorney.  We have a number of them available, depending on your particular needs, in our offices here at The Honest Lawyer Online.  If you don’t feel you can afford legal services it may be that the Christian Legal Aid Office, also in our building, can be of assistance.  But,don’t be discouraged ! Because…

There is HOPE !  In the midst of these trials, there is always hope.  As long as you have hope for the future you can carry on in the certain knowledge that whatever you are struggling with will pass.  If that hope is in Jesus Christ you can not only know that you have a much brighter future, but also that He will be with you through these troubles, standing by you and, as the “Footsteps” poem relates, carrying you when you are too weary to walk yourself.

If you do not know Jesus Christ as your savior, I urge you to start looking for Him.  He is waiting for you.  He loves you, and His church will likely be very willing to help you deal with your struggles.  Look around your neighborhood for a good strong Bible believing church near you and go and visit them one Sunday.  Sit quietly in the back if you want to just test the waters.  Or, ask one of your friends if they have faith, or know someone that does.  You’ll be surprised how many people around you are people of faith.  They’re there, just seek them.

Jesus tells us:  “Seek and you will find,  knock and the door will be opened”.  If you feel that this might be something that you would like to do it is probably because He is standing at the door of your heart and knocking.  Let Him in.  He is the greatest source of strength and comfort available to man.

Proverbs 3, verses 5 and 6 say it all so succinctly:

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

RAH

An Introduction To Bankruptcy

Welcome.  My name is Rob Curatola and I specialize in bankruptcy law.

Many people qualify for bankruptcy protection from creditors.  In the U.S. everyone has the right to apply for the cancellation of debts every seven years and this is as it should be.

The Bible also supports the cancellation of debts every seven years.  The Biblical support for the legal right to cancel debt is enforced by the even stronger Biblical doctrine that prohibited interest or any amount rather than the excessive interest we see today from the credit card industry.

The Old Testament is full of examples of the compassionate treatment of the poor, and with the presevation of the family.  These goals were superior to the material concerns of repayment of debt.

Today many individuals and families are seeking bankruptcy protection in a world where it is becoming increasingly more difficult to make ends meet.  Often times debt accumulates because of unexpected job loss or the accumulation of medical bills because of unplanned for injuries, accidents or illnesses.

A consultation with a qualified and compassionate lawyer can answer a lot of your questions on whether bankruptcy is the right option for you.

Contact Robert J. Curatola at (714) 474-5740 or by using the contact form for a confidential free consultation.