When you are facing challenging circumstances at work, advice is easy to come by. Friends tell you what they did in a similar (or completely dissimilar!) situation. Family members tell you what they would do. The internet tells you both what you want to hear and the last thing you want to hear. This can add confusion to an already-difficult situation. Accessing information is essential — and equally important is evaluating its reliability and usefulness.
Not all available “helpful” resources are actually helpful; some can even be harmful or detrimental. Frequently, clients tell us that they took the wrong advice or tried to go the DIY route, only to end up with regrets. Some have lost money, others have signed unfavourable agreements with which they’re “stuck.” Regardless, it can cost you. Let’s take a look at some resources people commonly turn to and how they can help or hinder your situation.
Where Do People Turn for Employment Law Advice?
Turning To The Internet
There is an abundance of information on employment law principles available on websites from government agencies to practitioners to forums. It can be quite useful to look up terms (e.g. constructive dismissal) and familiarize yourself with different concepts. Additionally, you can often find case law dealing with similar circumstances.
But what you cannot find on the internet are specific answers that pertain to your unique situation. There may be various principles at play, as well as a variety of factors that can influence your case and outcome. Employment law is highly case-specific and continually evolving based on emerging court decisions and updated legislation.
Jurisdiction is another big issue here: be wary when accessing American and/or out-of-province resources. These may not be relevant to your situation at all.
As sophisticated as search engines are, you can’t enter your particular situation and expect a hit in terms of sound legal advice. Google is a great place to start and to educate yourself on key terms and the general process. But you should not stop there — or apply general advice to your specific circumstances.
Asking For Employment Law Advice From Family and Friends
When you are confronting a complex work issue, it can be helpful to talk with someone who was involved in a similar situation. Not only is it reassuring to speak to someone who understands what you are going through, they can share their experience in terms of the process, what they wish they had done differently, who they used for councel, etc.. Most of the time, they’ll give you the same advice we would: consult with an employment lawyer.
At the same time, it is important to remain cautious when seeking guidance from family and friends who have been through their own workplace issue or own a small business themselves. As they say, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”! As non-legal experts, they may inaccurately paraphrase their lawyer’s advice or speak to concepts that are now outdated or irrelevant to your case. Misconceptions and misunderstandings can be passed on unintentionally.
And again, no one has experienced the exact situation in which you find yourself. Even if they have confronted a similar set of circumstances, there are many factors at work in employment law that will impact your case.
Checking In With Human Resources
HR may be able to direct you to general information or options. However, do not forget that they work for your employer. Ultimately, they act in the best interest of the company/business. They are not in a position to offer you the best advice — and as they are not lawyers, they really should not offer legal guidance in the first place.
Employment Law Advice From Government Resources
The Ministry of Labour’s website has a wealth of reliable, accurate information on legislation that can help you understand the law in your province. You can find resources related to employment standards, workplace health and safety, labour relations, and more.
But legislation is only one piece of employment law. The Ministry of Labour’s website doesn’t cover the common law, which is based on court made decisions that establish important legal principles. If you visit the Ministry’s website, for example, you will learn what entitlements legislation affords you. But you won’t know the true extent of what you’re entitled to because it omits common law precedents.
Treat these resources as one piece of the puzzle. You need the full picture.
Connecting With An Employment Lawyer
Seeking counsel from an employment lawyer is always a good idea. It is like seeing a cardiologist when you have an issue with your heart. They have seen thousands of hearts; they know how the cardiovascular system works, what can go wrong, and how to address challenges by applying the latest knowledge and techniques.
An employment lawyer works in this arena, day in and day out. They have seen more severance packages and have been involved in more negotiations, for example, than general practitioners. This allows them to navigate through nuances of the law, anticipate potential trouble spots, and set reasonable, realistic expectations.
In fact, getting employment law advice is like dealing with a heart problem. You turn to Google at first to look up symptoms and key terms. You might ask family and friends if they’ve experienced a similar issue or if they can recommend a doctor. Then you see an expert who can give you accurate information based on your exact situation — and help you determine the best next steps.
You can get legal information and advice anywhere! The key is obtaining guidance tailored to your situation. An employment lawyer applies their experience and expertise to your circumstances so you have the best chance at a successful resolution.