“Because you asked….”: How to support victims of interpersonal abuse

One of this blog’s recurring themes has been interpersonal abuse across the life spectrum, and with it the importance of understanding of trauma in different contexts. My dear friend Mary Louise Allen, a psychology professor and activist, has become an emerging voice for trauma victims, and I’d like to share a compelling piece that she just published.

Mary Louise has experienced abuse and assault, as well as repeated institutional stonewalling and legal irregularities in her efforts to obtain assistance and justice in her home state of Ohio. Recently, she was asked how someone could support abuse victims who are dealing with ongoing trauma. This prompted her to write “Because you asked….,” and post it to her Unapologetic Civil Rights Activist site. It’s a brave, heartfelt, and intelligent statement. I’m excerpting parts of it here, and if you want to learn more about her experiences and those of others, then please read the full entry.

Listen to our voices.  The one thing that I can conclusively say is that silencing me and allowing a network of corruption to define my story with no ability to correct the fallacious version did me a grave disservice – ultimately causing my dire health conditions and current daily struggles. . . .


Don’t dismiss us as crazy. While our assertions appear, on face value, to be so outrageous that they must be fictitious, rest assured that most of us possess recordings and documentation that validate our allegations. . . .


Be cautious of victim-blaming/shaming questions. While I would like to think that the proverbial “why did you stay” interrogatory has dissipated in our society, it has not.


I implore you to consider your votes.  If these officials remain in office, your daughter, your sister, or your mother could be a future victim. . . .


Tag your local newspapers/news stations asking them if they have covered our stories, via links to our publications. . . .


Hold board members accountable.  As seen in the case of [Olympic gymnast doctor Larry] Nassar, how many children would have been protected had the board taken action? . . .


While I understand that everyone is entitled to representation and false reports exist (approximately 3%), I do take issue with law firms who are knowingly involved in harassing a victim, sustaining the chilling effect, and/or neglect their due diligence of representing the victim. . . .


Do not contribute to nonprofits who cooperate with the system. . . . Every single nonprofit organization in the state of Ohio whose mission was to assist me and my situation configured asinine excuses as to why they could not help . . . .


Ask hospitals of any statistics of mysteriously lost rape kits. . . . Often, the alleged assailant is a police officer, an attorney, a high-profile business official – but most assuredly, a well-connected man. . . .


Don’t assume that justice prevails. Consider accompanying victims to court hearings. I was treated with an entirely different demeanor when I had supporters present – as opposed to attending by myself where I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening. . . .


Oppose mysteriously passed state statutes abusively used to oppress and silence victims/witnesses. These statutes are often masked in an apparent attempt of genuine propriety but often abused to silence victims, witnesses, and Whistleblowers. . . .


Sadly, an entire system has directly and indirectly informed me, and so many others, that we don’t matter. . . .  I came to terms that I could never contact the police for any safety assistance – no matter what the situation. . . . The only way for victims to interpret this inaction is that we don’t matter. Our last names and familial lineage are not prominent enough to be considered worthy. Our lives aren’t important enough to warrant therapeutic jurisprudence.

In addition to being instructive on a personal level, Mary Louise’s statement highlights the social responsibilities of institutions to respond to abuse and trauma. When public and non-profit agencies that are supposed to help abuse victims don’t step up, when victims cannot obtain needed legal representation despite a surfeit of available attorneys, when the justice system fails them, and when media sources ignore their stories, that community has failed as a moral organism.

When Mary Louise posted her piece on Facebook, Dr. Maureen Duffy, a leading expert on workplace mobbing behaviors and trauma, left this comment for her, which I share with Maureen’s permission:

Mary Louise, this is a profoundly thoughtful, moving, and practical response to the question of what others can do to help victims. I appreciate the clarity and depth of your responses and that you took the time to put them together and publish them. Since a lot of my work is in the area of workplace mobbing, your account reminds us all again of the power of professional, workplace, and other kinds of social networks, both formal and informal. These networks can have a very dark side that is often ignored. Thanks for calling this form of abuse of power to our attention.

I wholeheartedly concur. And I’m guessing that readers who have experienced workplace abuse, only to find their employers and the legal system looking the other way or even complicit in the mistreatment, will find themselves nodding in agreement with many of Mary Louise’s observations and insights.

Therapeutic jurisprudence: Human dignity as a prime objective for law and public policy

(photo: Kathy Cerminara)

I just returned to Boston from a two-day workshop on therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), hosted by Professor Carol Zeiner at the St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami. Like every other TJ gathering that I’ve been a part of, it was a compelling blend of thought-provoking ideas and information, matched by a wonderful sense of fellowship.

My talk was titled “TJ as a Framing Response to Anger, Shock & Trauma in Public Policy Making.” In addition to quickly surveying some of the disturbing developments in U.S. immigration and health care policy, I discussed the challenges of advocating for workplace anti-bullying legislation. The key message of my talk was that we must, without apology, frame debates about law reform and the making of legislation in terms of individual and collective dignity.

If you’d like a sampling of what TJ scholars and practitioners are working on, here’s the Day 1 agenda of our workshop:

And here’s the Day 2 agenda:

As some subscribers to this blog are aware, I am serving as board chair of the new, non-profit International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (ISTJ). For many years, the TJ community existed as an informal, interdisciplinary network of scholars, practitioners, judges, and students. With the formation of the ISTJ, we are consolidating a variety of TJ initiatives and building a global organization for this growing community. Membership is open to all who share the goals of the ISTJ (not just lawyers!), with regular 2018 membership dues set at $25 USD and student memberships for free.

The new International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence is taking members!

I’m delighted to report that we have launched the website of the new International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (ISTJ) and that we are now enrolling founding members for 2018! Much of the following is taken from the ISTJ website:

Co-founded in 1987 by law professors David Wexler and Bruce Winick, therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is an interdisciplinary field of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. TJ values psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions, without claiming exclusivity in terms of policy objectives.

For many years, the therapeutic jurisprudence community has existed as an informal, growing global network of scholars, practitioners, judges, and students. With the formation of the ISTJ, we are now consolidating a variety of TJ initiatives and building an organizational framework for this community.

The ISTJ is a non-profit, tax-exempt, learned organization dedicated to advancing TJ by:

  • supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship;
  • identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices;
  • sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars;
  • engaging in continuing professional education and public education activities;
  • and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

We spent much of 2017 assembling our founding board of trustees and global advisory council, drafting and filing our incorporation papers and application for tax-exempt status, and creating this website. The ISTJ held its founding meeting in July 2017, at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health in Prague, Czech Republic.

Membership is open to anyone who shares the general mission of therapeutic jurisprudence, not just lawyers and law professors! Our standard membership fee is only $25 USD, and currently enrolled students may join for free. Please click here to join us!

ISTJ Leadership

I’m privileged to be serving as the ISTJ’s first board chairperson, and we’ve assembled a wonderful board of trustees to help us get off the ground:

  • Astrid Birgden, Consultant Forensic Psychologist and Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor, Deakin University, Australia
  • Amy Campbell, Associate Professor of Law and Director, Institute for Health Law & Policy, University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Memphis, TN, USA
  • Kathy Cerminara, Professor of Law, Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law, Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA
  • Heather Ellis Cucolo (ISTJ board director), Director, Online Mental Disability Law Program, New York Law School, New York, NY, USA; Principal, Mental Disability Law and Policy Associates
  • Martine Evans, Professor of Law and Criminology, Law Faculty, University of Reims, France
  • Shelley Kierstead (ISTJ board vice chair), Assistant Professor and Director, Legal Research and Writing Program, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, Canada
  • Michael Perlin, Professor of Law, Emeritus, New York Law School, New York, NY, USA; Principal, Mental Disability Law and Policy Associates 
  • Pauline Spencer, Magistrate Judge, Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, State of Victoria, Australia
  • Nigel Stobbs, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
  • David Wexler, Professor of Law, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Distinguished Research Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Arizona, USA
  • Michel Vols, Professor and Chair in Public Order Law, Faculty of Law, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
  • David Yamada (ISTJ board chair), Professor of Law and Director, New Workplace Institute, Suffolk University Law School, Boston, MA, USA

You can learn more about the ISTJ leadership, including members of our Global Advisory Council, here.

Personal note

I discovered the therapeutic jurisprudence movement roughly a decade ago. As my work concerning workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse increasingly led me into different branches of psychology, I saw TJ as an ideal framework for what I was doing. Since then, my involvement in the TJ community has deepened considerably. In fact, the seeds of the ISTJ were planted during a 2015 workshop on therapeutic jurisprudence that I hosted in Boston. It took several years of meetings, discussions, and planning for things to come together, but we’re now excited about going public with this new organization.

When workplace predators silence and intimidate their targets

The ongoing revelations concerning sexual harassment and abuse allegations lodged against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein took a major turn this week via some excellent investigative reporting by the New Yorker‘s Ronan Farrow. Here’s the lede:

In the fall of 2016, Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations. According to dozens of pages of documents, and seven people directly involved in the effort, the firms that Weinstein hired included Kroll, which is one of the world’s largest corporate-intelligence companies, and Black Cube, an enterprise run largely by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies.

The details are stunning. Here are just a few:

  • “Two private investigators from Black Cube, using false identities, met with the actress Rose McGowan, who eventually publicly accused Weinstein of rape, to extract information from her. One of the investigators pretended to be a women’s-rights advocate and secretly recorded at least four meetings with McGowan.”
  • “The explicit goal of the investigations, laid out in one contract with Black Cube, signed in July, was to stop the publication of the abuse allegations against Weinstein that eventually emerged in the New York Times and The New Yorker. Over the course of a year, Weinstein had the agencies “target,” or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focussed on their personal or sexual histories.”
  • “In some cases, the investigative effort was run through Weinstein’s lawyers, including David Boies, a celebrated attorney who represented Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential-election dispute and argued for marriage equality before the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The full article is lengthy (as a first-rate investigative piece usually will be), but it’s well worth reading to grasp the extent of these efforts to investigate and intimidate victims and reporters.

NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Kate Snow, and Cynthia McFadden on the fallout

Some of the fallout from these revelations is discussed in this 11-minute segment featuring Megyn Kelly’s interview with NBC correspondents Kate Snow and Cynthia McFadden. It is also worth your time. Among other things, Kelly takes aim at how women are often ridiculed and dismissed when they make claims of abusive behavior by powerful men, often to the point of being called crazy and paranoid.

Moral monsters in suits

As Farrow’s New Yorker piece explains, prominent attorney David Boies was a key point person in running Weinstein’s black ops against these women and reporters. It brings to mind a blog post I wrote in 2011 about bad employers and their lawyers:

I have no academic study to verify this, but I have concluded that many bad employers have a sixth sense for retaining thuggish employment lawyers who serve as their willing executioners of workers who file complaints about working conditions, blow the whistle on ethical and legal lapses, or attempt to organize a union.

Indeed, to keep their misdeeds from going public and to preclude being held accountable for their actions, folks like Weinstein often need lawyers who are willing to help them. I once again appeal to Hannah Arendt to help us understand this dynamic:

Philosopher Hannah Arendt invoked the phrase “banality of evil” to describe how Adolf Eichmann served as one of Hitler’s architects of the Holocaust. Since then, the phrase has come to represent — in more generic terms — how ordinary people become easily invested in the values of a morally bankrupt status quo and participate in terrible behaviors that seemingly are unthinkable in civilized society. These insights teach us a lot about how bureaucratic enablers of abusive bosses can help to facilitate the destruction of a bullying target. These professional handmaidens (usually HR folks and employment lawyers) are more than simple bystanders; rather, they are complicit in the abuse.

Attorney Boies had also been retained by the New York Times on various legal matters. Today, after learning that Boies had targeted their own reporters as part of this cloak and dagger campaign, the Times severed its ties with his law firm, stating:

“We never contemplated that the law firm would contract with an intelligence firm to conduct a secret spying operation aimed at our reporting and our reporters….Such an operation is reprehensible.”

Been there, seen that

This aspect of the Weinstein saga may seem like an extreme anomaly. But for those of us who are closely familiar with other orchestrated attempts to further bully, silence, dismiss, marginalize, and disempower targets of interpersonal abuse, this is more validating than shocking. Unfortunately, money and influence can muster a lot of power to engage in further abuses, and this is simply a (now) very public manifestation of what continues to occur in so many other settings.

Infusing good core values into a new organization

With a beta version of the TJ Society’s forthcoming website, at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health, Prague, in July

Readers of recent entries are likely aware that I’ve been hip deep in helping to create a new, non-profit organization, the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (“TJ Society”). From the most recent draft of our by-laws, here is what the group is about:

Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is an interdisciplinary field of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. TJ values psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions, without claiming exclusivity in terms of policy objectives. The TJ Society shall advance these overall purposes by supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship; identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices; sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars; engaging in continuing professional education and public education activities; and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

As I wrote earlier this month, I’m part of an all-volunteer board that is forming this organization, and I’m serving as its first chairperson. It’s a lot of work, but the broader purpose and the fellowship of a truly exceptional group of colleagues make it all worth it.

This also is an opportunity to put into practice many of the values that I have been advocating for via this blog. It means practicing inclusive, servant leadership dedicated to a cause greater than individual ambitions. It means treating others with respect and dignity. It means actually exhibiting transparency rather than simply touting it. It means avoiding unnecessary hierarchies. Above all, it means building a welcoming and difference making community. Fortunately, our board consists of individuals who walk this talk as a natural way of going about things. This is good: An organization devoted to psychologically healthy laws and legal systems should strive to operate in a psychologically healthy manner.

The TJ Society is a global organization, with a board and advisory council comprised of folks from around the world. This creates obvious communications challenges. It can mean maddening pile-ups of e-mails (many inflicted by yours truly) in attempting to work through topics that require group input, and very understandably patiences can grow weary among a group of very busy people. Additionally, available online meeting technologies such as Skype and Google hangout can’t change the scheduling realities of holding a board meeting with participants’ time zone differences ranging from six to fourteen hours! As I said, we’re fortunate to have such wonderful board members who can roll with the digital waves.

In terms of shaping my contributions to this fledgling learned society, I am fortunate to have other organizations and initiatives as role models. Over the years I have learned so much from the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network, especially the leadership of co-leaders Evelin Lindner and Linda Hartling. I’ve also been inspired by the inclusive culture of the biennial Work, Stress and Health conference, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and Society for Occupational Health Psychology. I’m further grateful for the biennial International Congress on Law and Mental Health sponsored by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, which, among many other good things, allows therapeutic jurisprudence scholars and practitioners to gather and learn from each other. I hope that the TJ Society will draw from the best characteristics exhibited by these entities.

It’s too early to say whether the TJ Society will build into its culture the values that make for healthy, inclusive organizations, but I’m betting that it will happen. Embracing and practicing these values at the beginning is an important start. Yup, as we grow we’ll make some mistakes, juggle differences of opinion, and probably deal with conflicts here and there. But if the foundation is strong, we’ll do things in the right way much more often than not.

Launched in Prague: The International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence

With Prof. Shelley Kierstead, vice-chair, and a beta version of our forthcoming website

I’m delighted to announce the founding of the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, a new, non-profit, membership-based learned association devoted to advancing therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), a school of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. Our opening event was a founding meeting on Tuesday at the International Congress on Law and Mental Health, held in Prague, Czech Republic. Several dozen people from around the world filled a meeting room to discuss plans for this new organization, and the combined energies created a palpable sense of enthusiasm and engagement.

From the latest draft of our by-laws, here is what the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence (aka TJ Society) is about:

Therapeutic jurisprudence…is an interdisciplinary school of philosophy and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws and public policies, legal and dispute resolution systems, and legal institutions. TJ values psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions, without claiming exclusivity in terms of policy objectives. The TJ Society shall advance these overall purposes by supporting legal and interdisciplinary scholarship; identifying and promoting best professional and judicial practices; sponsoring conferences, workshops, and seminars; and hosting and participating in print, electronic, social media platforms.

Prof. David Wexler, TJ co-founder

For several decades, the field of therapeutic jurisprudence has existed as an expanding but somewhat informal global network of law professors, judges, lawyers, psychologists and other social scientists, and law and graduate students. These efforts have manifested themselves in a growing body of research and practice, as captured in a Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream blog, a searchable online bibliography of TJ-related scholarship, a new TJ scholarship journal, and a social media presence on Facebook.

However, it became clear that we needed to create a point of affiliation and organization for those interested in TJ. Tuesday’s launch meeting in Prague was a public fruition of that sentiment. Among other things, we discussed the foundational work for this organization, outlined plans for the near future, and held an open discussion to develop more ideas and identify interested participants. We also honored two colleagues, law professors Amy Campbell (U. Memphis) and Kathy Cerminara (Nova Southeastern U., Florida), with the first Wexler/Winick Distinguished Service Awards, our way of thanking them for their selfless service to the TJ community. The award is named for TJ co-founders David Wexler and the late Bruce Winick.

With Profs. Amy Campbell and Kathy Cerminara, award winners

I am serving as the TJ Society’s first board chairperson, and in that role I am facilitating the organization’s early work and providing leadership for our board of trustees. Joining me as officers are vice chair Shelley Kierstead, a law professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, and director Heather Ellis Cucolo, a New York attorney specializing in mental disability law. I hasten to add that all members of our board are rolling up their sleeves to help this new organization get off the ground. It is a really good and accomplished group of people, and we enjoy each other’s company and support. Here is the founding board:

  • Astrid Birgden, forensic psychologist, Australia
  • Amy Campbell, law professor, USA
  • Kathy Cerminara, law professor, USA
  • Heather Ellis Cucolo, attorney, USA (board director)
  • Martine Evans, law and criminology professor, France
  • Michael Jones, law professor and judge (ret.), USA
  • Shelley Kierstead, law professor, Canada (board vice chairperson)
  • Michael Perlin, law professor, USA
  • Pauline Spencer, magistrate judge, Australia
  • Nigel Stobbs, law professor, Australia
  • David Wexler, law professor, USA
  • Michel Vols, law professor, The Netherlands
  • David Yamada, law professor, USA (board chairperson).

In addition, these four distinguished individuals will be serving as permanent Honorary Presidents of the TJ Society, in recognition of their signature, core contributions to this field:

  • Peggy Hora, California state court judge (ret.) and international authority on creating solution-based courts
  • Michael Perlin, professor emeritus at the New York Law School and leading mental health & disability law expert
  • David Wexler, law professor at the University of Puerto Rico & the University of Arizona and co-founder of the TJ movement
  • The late Bruce Winick, University of Miami law professor and co-founder of the TJ movement.

We are also assembling a large and distinguished Global Advisory Council, currently with some 75 members, whose names and affiliations will be shared on our forthcoming website.

Faculty of Law building, Charles University, Prague, host for the International Congress

We have a lot of work to do this summer and early fall in order to (1) go public with the website; and (2) begin accepting memberships. We are building a website that will incorporate and link many existing TJ activities and projects, as well as add other research materials, information, and networking features. Interested individuals will be able to join the TJ Society through the website, with membership dues set at $25 US per year, except for students who may become members for free.

That work is already underway. We followed our Tuesday launch with an impromptu meeting of several board members this morning. We realize that starting up a new global organization primarily by e-mail communications and social media requires us to make the best use of our face-to-face time. We’ll be taking various work assignments with us to our various home locations. In the meantime, we’ll also spend a bit more time enjoying the sights of this beautiful old European city.

Old Town, Prague, is quite the sight

Bad work situations: When do you need an employment lawyer?

Image courtesy of clipart panda.com

Image courtesy of clipartpanda.com

A negative performance review. An oral warning. A rumor that your job isn’t secure. Resistance — or perhaps retaliation? — in response to a concern you’ve raised about possibly unethical or illegal behavior. A gut feeling that you’re being singled out for mistreatment.

These are among the on-the-job signs that raise the question of whether it’s time to seek the advice of a lawyer.

When it comes to workplace situations, many people don’t seek legal advice until it’s too late, usually after a termination. I’d like to take a few minutes to urge that earlier is usually better and to offer suggestions on seeking legal advice. The bulk of what follows is written with American workers in mind, with apologies to many loyal readers who are from other countries.

Earlier is usually better

There is no hard and fast rule on when to seek the advice of an employment lawyer. But generally speaking, earlier is better. Knowing what rights you have and don’t have, and getting some sense of whether your concerns implicate employment protections, can help you assess your options and plan accordingly (legally and otherwise).

One’s instincts can be very useful in cueing a decision to seek legal advice. If it feels bad, it often is worthy of concern. In some cases, very early consultation may be appropriate, such as if you’re asked to sign a very restrictive non-compete agreement or any significant waiver of your employment rights.

In the case of a layoff or termination, legal advice may be helpful in weighing potential severance packages and agreements, even if you’re not contemplating a lawsuit.

Suggestions and points of information

  1. Consulting a lawyer in no way obliges you to file a lawsuit or take any further action. Those decisions are yours.
  2. In most cases it’s advisable not to inform your employer or co-workers that you’re seeking legal advice; that should wait until later, if at all. This is not a universal rule, but it should be considered the default starting place.
  3. Initial consultations with employment lawyers may cost you some money, and those fees can vary widely.
  4. Come prepared for any initial phone or in-person consultation. Have any relevant employment evaluations, employer communications, employee handbooks & policies, etc., available to discuss and share. If possible, prepare a short, chronological, bullet-point summary of major events related to your concerns.
  5. Legal consultations need not be limited to questions about potential litigation. They may also cover eligibility for benefits such as workers’ compensation claims, family and medical leave, and unemployment insurance.
  6. Human resources offices owe their allegiance to the employer, not to the individual employee. Reporting concerns to HR or a similar in-house office does not substitute for obtaining independent legal advice.

How to find an employment lawyer

I strongly advise seeking a lawyer who is experienced and knowledgeable in the field of employment law and who specializes in representing workers. Most attorneys in this field represent either workers (i.e., plaintiffs in potential claims) or management (defense); it is unusual to find those who work on both sides.

While this blog isn’t in a position to offer specific attorney referrals, resources for identifying employment lawyers are readily available. Many of the best plaintiffs’ employment lawyers belong to the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), a bar association whose members devote a large share of their practices to representing workers in disputes with current and past employers. The national NELA website offers online legal referral assistance and may be accessed without charge. State-level NELA chapters may have websites that offer similar online referral assistance or contain browsable member listings and links; the Massachusetts chapter is an example of the latter.

Local and state bar associations may also offer attorney referral services.

If you are specifically seeking advice on a workers’ compensation matter, then it’s preferable to consult an attorney who specializes in this sub-field.

Some legal services offices provide advice and representation on employment-related matters. Because of the heavy demand, income eligibility guidelines are pretty stringent, but if you are not employed and have few financial resources, it’s possible that you may qualify for assistance.

Alternatives to consulting a lawyer

Certain public agencies are charged with enforcing employment protections and may be approached by members of the public who have concerns and questions about their rights. They also serve as intake portals for formal claims and complaints. These options may be viable alternatives to hiring a private attorney. The following is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of the most likely agencies for employment-related complaints:

  • The federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and its state and local counterparts, responsible for enforcing employment discrimination laws;
  • The federal Occupational Safety and Health Commission and its state counterparts, responsible for enforcing workplace health and safety laws;
  • The federal Department of Labor and its state counterparts, responsible for enforcing minimum wage and overtime laws, as well as other labor standards; and,
  • The federal National Labor Relations Board and its state counterparts, responsible for enforcing laws concerning collective bargaining and concerted worker activities.

Union members

In addition, union members should definitely contact a shop steward or union representative with concerns about potential discipline or termination. The protections offered in collective bargaining agreements typically far exceed those afforded to workers who are not union members.

For those who are experiencing workplace bullying

Many of us in the U.S. are all too aware that we currently have no direct legal protections against workplace bullying and mobbing. I see that situation changing in the years to come. However, for now those who seek legal advice for workplace bullying are highly unlikely to find lawyers who specialize in bullying claims because, well, it’s hard to specialize in a sub-field concerning behaviors that are not yet the subject of direct liability.

Currently, then, obtaining legal relief for bullying and mobbing usually boils down to whether the mistreatment can be sufficiently shoehorned into existing legal protections, such as employment discrimination laws and anti-retaliation provisions of whistleblower laws. In some cases, employee policies or collective bargaining agreements may cover bullying-type behaviors, thus possibly creating contractual protections and obligations. It is helpful to think through these potential legal links before consulting a lawyer.

Just the beginning

Folks, these are hardly the first or last words to be shared on the topic of working with employment lawyers and the decisions involved in contemplating legal action. The full treatment would require a short book, and even then I doubt that all the contingencies could be covered. However, I hope these points are helpful to those who may be seeking legal advice in connection with a work situation.

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