Category Archives: Abuse

What is Arbitration and Why is it Bad for Employees?

Lots of employees in California have signed an Arbitration agreement. But what is arbitration? In this video, Branigan answers several common questions that we get about this topic. What are the impacts of signing an arbitration contract? Can you avoid arbitration? If you signed an agreement, can you get out of it? If you can’t, is your case doomed?

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Is Bullying at Work Unlawful?

People ask Mr. Robertson all the time, “Is workplace bullying illegal?” The honest answer is, “Sometimes.” In this video, Mr. Robertson goes through the four factors that determine whether or not bullying is against the law.

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How HR Screws Employees Out of Money, Employment Rights & their Jobs

This video is about the four most common tricks that HR uses to cheat their employees.

“Human Resources is there to help the employees, right?” Nope. That is not true and it’s one of the biggest misconceptions in the employment world. HR is at your company to do one thing, protect the company when the human assets (i.e. employees) become a threat.

This is Mr. Robertson’s latest YouTube video about HR, and giving employees information that can help them navigate the complicated world of work. If something strange is happening to you at work, we recommend that you watch all of our videos about HR before you go to complain. Unfortunately, when some employees complain to HR incorrectly, they paint a big target on their back. Here are links to the other videos on HR:

We hope these are helpful.

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Toxic Work Environment

There are a lot of challenges in the modern world that are far beyond our control: soaring medical costs, a revolving door of financial crises, a job market squeezed by supply chain issues.  Life is hard enough without having to worry about dealing with a toxic work environment. While there’s a lot about our jobs we can’t control, thankfully, California law provides employees with some tools for dealing with toxic work environments. These tools might not always provide a quick fix, but California employees don’t have to take toxic harassment lying down.

This article will discuss some of the legal protections for California employees, and some options workers have when they lose their job due to toxic harassment at work. If you have lost your job, give Branigan Robertson’s office a call. Mr. Robertson will review your case in order to determine if he can help you pursue a claim. He does not charge a fee for the consultation.

Is a toxic work environment illegal? Watch this video by Branigan Robertson to find out.

Toxic Harassment Defined

Our office gets thousands of calls a year from employees who have been mistreated by their bosses and coworkers. Not surprisingly, many of these callers are frustrated and angry. During the consultation they use phrases like ‘toxic work environment’ or ‘hostile workplace’, often without knowing what these phrases really mean.  It’s important for California employees to understand the difference between what amounts to a violation of law, and what simply amounts to bad behavior—especially if they intend to pursue a case in court.

In California, attorneys such as Mr. Robertson generally rely on the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which is contained in the government code. This law mirrors federal law but has a few extra teeth. 

Section 12940 states that it is a violation of law to discriminate against an employee based on several characteristics including: gender, sexuality, race, medical condition, military status, national origin, gender identity, age (over 40), and several other characteristics.

The phrase ‘toxic harassment’ does not actually appear in the law. It’s possible the phrase is a variation of the phrase ‘hostile work environment’, which is frequently used by judges in harassment cases. Over the years, courts have determined that workplace harassment rises to the level of a hostile work environment when the harassment is so pervasive or severe that it ‘alters the conditions of employment.’

Whether or not an employee has experienced severe and pervasive harassment is one of the crucial questions attorneys like Mr. Robertson must consider before taking on a case.

The Difference Between Unfair Treatment & Illegal Treatment

My coworker has been harassing me for months. Do I have a case?

Every day our office fields calls from employees describing some variation of this scenario.

Sometimes the answer is “Yes.” Often, the answer is “No.” The reason for this is that most of the folks who call our office simply don’t have enough evidence to prove that the bad behavior they’re experiencing is tied to their inclusion in a protected class. Rather, the employee is being treated poorly because their coworker or boss is simply a jerk. Maybe someday California will outlaw jerk bosses, but for now, employees have no such luck.

What are the protected classes? The California Legislature has created eighteen categories:

  1. Race,
  2. Religion (religious creed),
  3. Color, 
  4. National origin, 
  5. Ancestry, 
  6. Physical disability, 
  7. Mental disability, 
  8. Medical condition, 
  9. Genetic information, 
  10. Marital status, 
  11. Sex (also includes pregnancy and related medical conditions), 
  12. Gender,
  13. Gender identity, 
  14. Gender expression, 
  15. Age (if over 40 years old), 
  16. Sexual orientation,  
  17. Military, and 
  18. Veteran status.
This video dives deep in to the law on toxic work environments.

Hostile Work Environment Cases in the Courts

recent case illustrating an example of  a hostile work environment involved an African American phlebotomist who filed a claim against UCLA Health. The plaintiff claimed that coworkers used offensive Spanish language terms in front of her used to describe black people.  Additionally, one employee was claimed to have used blatantly racist terms (including the N-word) when referring to the plaintiff. The plaintiff was ultimately fired. She sued under FEHA. Though her original judgment was reduced slightly on appeal, a Santa Monica jury initially awarded her $1.5 million.

In a case from the 1980s, a jury awarded a woman who worked for AT&T more than $3 million for the harassment she suffered under a male boss. In that case, the boss was transferred to the location where the plaintiff worked and immediately began flirting with her. One night he insisted she join him at dinner. Fearing she couldn’t refuse; the woman joined her boss at dinner where she was presented with flowers. Her boss discussed his unsatisfactory sex life, and at one point reached over to play with the woman’s earring. The woman reported the incident to her direct supervisor, but nothing was done about it. In the ensuing weeks and months, the woman saw her job duties taken away from her one by one until she had nothing left to do.  A jury agreed that the harassment she suffered rose to a level severe enough to alter the work environment.

How to Decide if its Time to Call an Attorney

There are some simple things to ask yourself if you believe you are in a toxic or hostile work environment:

  • Are you experiencing harassment because you are a member of a protected class (i.e., race, religion, gender, sexuality, sexual identity, skin color, military status, age, or other)?
  • Is the harassment verbal (racial epithets, unwanted sexual comments, racist or sexual jokes, intimidating or threatening statements, slurs etc.)?
  • Is the harassment physical (unwanted touching, blocking your path, physical intimidation, other physical interference with your normal work duties etc.)?
  • Is the harassment nonverbal (leering, intimidating stares, vulgar or intimidating gestures)?
  • Have you been terminated or otherwise retaliated against after complaining about harassment?

If you answered yes to the above, or a combination of the above, it might be time to have your situation reviewed by an experienced attorney.

What if You Haven’t Been Terminated Yet?

Generally, attorneys like Mr. Robertson don’t pursue a lawsuit until a termination has occurred. Obviously, this is little comfort to those who are in the middle of being harassed. If you find yourself in a toxic work environment, there are still steps you can take to protect yourself — even if you haven’t been terminated. 

You should consider writing a brief complaint to HR (or the appropriate office authority) about the offensive behavior. If you are terminated after writing such a complaint, you will have a stronger claim should you decide to go to court.  For more information on how to complain to HR the right way, check out this YouTube video Mr. Robertson made.

Call Our Office for a Free Consultation

If you believe you are experiencing toxic harassment at work, call the office of Branigan Robertson to schedule a consultation. While Mr. Robertson doesn’t offer free employment advice, there is no fee to review your case. If he believes he can help, he will generally take your case on a contingency basis. This means you don’t pay out of pocket, but rather pay with a portion of your settlement or judgment.

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How to Save Text Messages from Your Boss or Co-workers for an Employment Lawsuit – Pt. 4

Should you save those scandalous text messages that you receive from your boss or co-workers? The answer is yes. This video and webpage is about how to do it properly so that if you have to take legal action down the road those text messages will help prove your case. Saving good documents, like emails and text messages, can mean the difference between losing your case, and winning millions of dollars in punitive damages.

This video is Part 4 in Branigan’s video series called, “How to Document Bad Behavior at Work.”

This video series is especially important if you feel like your legal issues fall within one of the following categories:

If you would rather watch this video on YouTube, click here.

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How to Save Company Documents in Preparation for an Employment Lawsuit – Pt. 3

Mr. Robertson just released his latest video on how employees should save company documents while they are still employed. Employees should save these documents if they suspect something unlawful is happening at work and they want to protect themselves. This video covers when you should save documents, why it is helpful, what documents you should save, and how you should save them to avoid getting in trouble.

This video is Part 3 in the video series, “How to Document Bad Behavior at Work.”

This video series is especially important if you feel like your legal issues fall within one of the following categories:

If you would rather watch this video on YouTube, click here.

Why Save Documents in the First Place?

Whether we’re talking about inappropriate text messages sent by the boss, emailed complaints sent to HR about an abusive coworker, or a performance evaluation containing inaccurate information about your work ethic, documentation simply makes your case stronger. It’s always better to show a jury that unlawful behavior took place rather than merely telling them.  

When an employee has physical possession of important company documents, it becomes harder for unscrupulous employers to make evidence disappear. Strong documentation also has the power force the employer to the negotiating table more quickly.

When Should You Save Documents for a Potential Lawsuit?

For many of the folks who call our office every day, this is the key question. While there is no way to answer this question with 100 percent certainty, the decision to save documents for a potential lawsuit should be guided by the following three questions:

  1. Is what’s happening to you significant?
  2. Is it Impacting your job?
  3. Is it unlawful? 

Number three in that list is particularly important. Remember, there is a lot of bad behavior that occurs in the workplace every day that unfortunately is perfectly legal. 

For bad behavior to cross the line into unlawful behavior, very specific circumstances must occur. For instance, it is unlawful to discriminate or harass an employee because they are in a protected class (i.e., their race, gender, pregnancy status, religion, age, sexual orientation, national origin, military status, etc.). Unlawful discrimination or harassment can include the following:

  • Vulgar racist jokes
  • Unwanted touching or sexual advances
  • Exclusion from staff meetings because the employee is pregnant.

Another area of unlawful behavior that employees need to consider is whistleblower retaliation. Generally, a whistleblower is someone who reports dangerous, unsafe or unlawful situations at work. The list of safety violations that occur in California workplaces is too vast to list in an article such as this but includes issues ranging from food preparation to operating room procedures (and many more in between). An employee who experiences retaliation after reporting discrimination or harassment of a coworker, might also want to consider saving documents for a potential lawsuit. For a deeper look at safety laws and whistleblower retaliation, be sure to check out this video.

What Documents Should You Save?

All too often when a potential client calls our office, they’ll tell us about all the solid evidence they have that makes their case a slam dunk. When we ask these potential clients to send over a few specific documents, we’re suddenly overwhelmed with a flood of emails and attachments containing all manner of documents— from barely legible screenshots to 20-page chronologies detailing every miniscule detail of the employee’s work life. 

A simple rule of thumb to consider when trying to figure out which documents to save in preparation for a lawsuit is the following: save the essential documents. What are the essential documents? They include:

  • Emailed or written complaints to HR (as well any responses or attachments)
  • Any write-ups issued to you after you complained (potential retaliation)
  • Negative and positive performance documents (write-ups, performance improvement plans, customer praise, Yelp reviews etc.).
  • Any documents that show improvement.

-Any documents that show other employees are held to a different standard than you.This is only part of the discussion surrounding the types of documents to save in preparation for a lawsuit. For more discussion, be sure to check out Branigan’s video in its entirety.

How Should You Save Documents?

Before we get into the methods employees should use when saving company documents, there are a couple methods employees want to avoid. First, don’t send important company documents to a personal email account. This method makes it easy for the employer to track which documents are being saved. It also opens an employee’s personal email account to discovery later down the road. Trust us, you don’t want the company attorney sifting through your personal email account.

Employees will also want to avoid storing important documents on a company computer or any other company device. If the employer catches wind that you are preparing for a lawsuit, you might be locked out of the device immediately, thereby losing access to the documents.

Here are the best methods for saving important documents:

  1. Print them out, save them in a folder at home. By doing this you lower your risk of leaving a digital footprint.
  2. Set up a web-based email account (Gmail or Yahoo) that will remain separate from your personal account. Save the document as a PDF and forward to your individual account.
  3. Take pictures of the important documents with your cell phone. Obviously, this is not the best method as the resulting images can be pixelated making it hard for your attorney to read. It’s often difficult to keep hundreds of photos in chronological order.
  4. Keep a written log of the important documents. This method should only be done if you feel that any of the previous methods put you at too great a risk of being discovered by the employer.  This method involves making a handwritten inventory of dates and documents you believe are important. Down the road, your attorney should be able to request these specific documents during discovery.

When To Call a Lawyer

Unfortunately, Branigan can’t represent most of the people who call our office. This is especially true for those who are still employed. That said, he does review cases for free. If you feel you are being treated unlawfully at work, give our office a call. Even if you haven’t been terminated, Branigan will review the basic facts of your case.

 If Branigan believes you have a case, he might be able to represent you on a contingency basis. This means you won’t pay out-of-pocket expenses. In a contingency situation, Branigan is paid with a portion of the settlement or judgment at the conclusion of the case. Are you having significant problems with an employer or coworker? Give Branigan Robertson a call today and find out if he can help.

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How to Document Bad Behavior at Work – Pt. 1

This video details how employees like you should properly document bad behavior at work so you can protect yourself down the road if legal action becomes necessary.

In the video, employment attorney Branigan Robertson talks in depth about when you should take notes, what they will be used for, what you should write down, three strategies that are best for how you should write them down, and he discusses best practices.

This video gives simple guidelines that might dramatically help you preserve key evidence (facts, dates, witnesses, events, and occurrences) that will be important later on. If your boss, manager, or coworker is treating you poorly, this video is an essential watch.

This video is part 1 in a four-part series called “How to Document Bad Behavior at Work.”

This video series is especially important if you feel like your legal issues fall within one of the following categories:

If you would rather watch this video on YouTube, click here.

Be sure to watch the whole video for Branigan’s in deep dive into this important issue. If you prefer, you can read the rest of this blog to get a general overview. But be sure to watch the video for full understanding.

Is the Bad Behavior Unfair, or Unlawful?

Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad behavior that happens in the workspace that’s perfectly legal. For an attorney like Branigan Robertson to pursue a case, he must believe there has been a violation of state or federal law. In California, §12940 of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) states that it is a violation of law for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on several characteristics. These include race, religion, gender identity, sexuality, national origin, disability and several other classes. 

Harassment of a protected person rises to a violation of law when the bad behavior is severe or pervasive enough to alter the working environment. If you believe that you are being harassed, the quality of the notes you take can help an attorney to determine if you have a case worth pursuing.

Simplicity is Key

The first thing to keep in mind when documenting bad behavior at work is that you must keep things simple. Remember that you might be presenting your case to a jury of your peers at some point. You don’t want a defense attorney holding up pages and pages of scribbled notes in which you document your bosses’ every little misstep, perceived hypocrisy or office snub. Furthermore, you’ll want to refrain from psychoanalyzing the boss—even if he or she is a narcissistic tyrant. 

Poorly compiled notes have the potential to make you come across to the jury as a whiner, or worse. When taking notes, focus on the significant events, which by their very nature are rare. These are the events you suspect are unlawful and impact your work:

  • ­Boss called me to his office, closed the door and rubbed my shoulders.
  • Devon threatened to hit me and used a racial slur.
  • Supervisor Sara made a joke at office lunch that she only promotes white people.

The Five W’s

Once you’ve decided you need to document something at work, keep it to the Five W’s:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Witnesses

People who call our office often struggle to remember simple but key details. They’ll begin the call by telling us about the hostile work environment they’re in and all the laws that are being broken. But when asked for the date when the illegal behavior happened, or who was there when it happened, these same callers’ minds’ go blank. If you’re documenting the significant issues, be sure you can answer the five W’s.

Set Up a Free Email Account

If you’re documenting bad behavior at work, you’ll want to have an email account set up where you can email and store your notes. This ensures that the notes have timestamp information that will corroborate your facts. It’s important you don’t store this information in a company email account, or your personal email account. In the former case, your employer probably has software or other ways of monitoring the information you store in a company account. In the latter situation you don’t want to trigger discovery that could result in a a defense lawyer sleuthing through your personal information.

Call an Attorney

If you’ve watched Mr. Robertson’s videos on documenting bad behavior at work and feel that you can relate a little too much to the discussion, it might be time to give our office a call. 

While Mr. Robertson doesn’t generally take on cases while a person is still employed, he will review the facts of your case for free. When Mr. Robertson does take a case, he generally does so on a contingency basis. This means the client doesn’t pay for legal services out of pocket. Attorney’s fees are paid with a portion of proceeds at the conclusion of the case. Give the law office of Branigan Robertson a call to find out if he can help.

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