vs Traps For The Unwary
some legal problems, you may not need an attorney, at least
initially. For others, attempting to go it alone can prove disastrous.
Here are some examples.
1. Union grievance. If
you are a member of a labor union and you believe your employer
has violated the collective bargaining agreement, you need to
file a grievance with your union within the time limits provided
in the agreement. Your union is your exclusive bargaining representative,
meaning that an attorney cannot represent you through the grievance
Small claims court.
For cases involving a few thousand dollars
or less, it is simply not economically practical for an attorney
to represent you. You should first get legal advice as to the
value of your claim and, if it is indeed a small claim, you
should contact the small claims division of the district court
in your city or township to acquaint yourself with their procedures.
Unpaid paycheck. Sometimes,
employers attempt to withhold a final paycheck for one reason
or another. Generally, this is unlawful. The wage and hour division
of the State of Michigan's Department of Labor and Economic
Growth can quickly help you. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dleg
or call 517-322-1825.
Obtaining unemployment compensation.
If your employer disputes your right to
unemployment compensation, you should appeal any adverse determination
and redetermination until you obtain a date for a referee hearing.
At that point, the unemployment insurance agency, upon request,
will appoint an advocate to assist you with the hearing, at
no charge. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dleg
or call 800-638-3994.
National Labor Relations Board.
If you suspect that your employer has
retaliated against you for union activity, the NLRB has exclusive
jurisdiction over those claims. You can contact them at 1-866-667-NLRB.
Minor auto accident claims. A
driver at fault in an auto accident who carries Michigan no-fault
insurance may not be sued for collision damage beyond $500 or
the amount of your deductible, whichever is less. For minor
injuries, you may obtain expense reimbursement for medical care,
mileage expense to obtain medical care, wage loss, and household
replacement services up to $20 per day from the no-fault insurer.
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, the insurance
company may be your own, that of a family member, your employer,
the other driver or vehicle owner, or in some cases the State
Assigned Claims Facility. We can help you decide which insurance
carrier is the correct one.
Statutes of limitations.
A statute of limitations is the amount of time a claimant has
in which to file a case in court, after which the claim will
be forever barred. Depending on the type of case, the statute
of limitations may be as short as 90 days (in a whistleblower
action). Other claims are six months, 300 days, one year, two
years, and three years. Your employer may shorten the statute
of limitations for a discrimination claim to a matter of months
simply by saying so in the job application or employee handbook.
It is crucial to obtain legal advice promptly on the appropriate
statute of limitations for your case.
Employer-based group disability plans. In
these claims, you must follow strictly the terms of your Plan.
In most cases, if the claim is denied and you seek to take the
claim to court, not only is there no right to a jury trial,
but the federal judge will not look at any evidence that you
did not already submit to the Plan. And, in most cases the judge
will not change the decision unless it was "arbitrary and
capricious," which is a heavy burden to sustain. For this
reason, it is important that you obtain legal advice early in
the process so that you understand what you must submit to the
may be tempted to try to settle a claim on your own. The insurance
company will insist that you sign a release. Your signature
may bar you from suing not only the party represented by the
insurance company, but any other party against whom you wish
to bring a claim. It is crucial that you obtain legal advice
before signing any such document.
Free speech in the workplace.
Many people contact us complaining that
they were fired from a job for "standing up for their rights."
What most people do not understand is that employees who work
for a private employer do not have a First Amendment right to
freedom of speech in the workplace. The First Amendment applies
only against government, not private parties. Even governmental
employees may have limits imposed on their First Amendment rights.
If your employer has at least 15 employees and you
have been terminated based on what you believe is discrimination
on account of age, race, sex, national origin, color, or handicap,
you must file a charge within 300 days
of the act of discrimination (not necessarily the termination
date) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or your
right to bring a claim under federal law will be forever barred.
Once the EEOC supplies you with a right to sue letter, you must
comply strictly with the terms of that letter or, once again,
your claim will be barred. For more information, contact
the EEOC at 313-226-7636.
You have a right to obtain your personnel file
by making a written request, preferably
via certified mail, to your employer. You can be charged a nominal
amount for photocopying, and there are certain documents which
are exempt from production. You also have the right to place
a statement in your personnel file if you wish to respond, for
example, to information in the file that you believe is not
In short, while there are a number of
areas where you can take steps on your own or where it is not
practical to have an attorney represent you, the wisest course
is always to contact an attorney first to determine your legal
rights. Here are some web sites that can assist you in becoming
knowledgeable, though we caution you that you should not attempt
to handle your own case based on what you read any more than
you would attempt to perform a medical procedure on yourself
based on what you find in a medical textbook.
Trial Lawyers Association: http://www.ATLA.org
Trial Lawyers Association: http://www.MTLA.net
Department of Civil Rights: http://www.MichMDCR.gov
County Circuit Court: http://www.co.jackson.mi.us/cnp.asp