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Archive for the category “Articles by Others: by others at my Firm”

Social Media is Outpacing the Legal System

Courts have not caught up to the realities of social media and its role in workforce issues. As an employment lawyer, representing both employees and employers, I know that social media policies need to relate to the industry in question. In the case of the airline industry, especially in the case of flight attendants, social media is the prevalent way that thousands of airline employees communicate with each other because they often have shifting work assignments and rarely work with the same people or at the same location on a regular basis. Therefore, they rely on social media to exchange ideas, comment and or complain about their industry or unions, and discuss the nature of their work.

Some points to consider about social media in the workplace are:

  • Courts have generally not considered social media posts and online bullying have a severe impact in the real world. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” no longer applies in the world of social media which is public and enduring. Social media posts are a different form of harassment than is face-to-face harassment.
  • Courts have not penalized employers whom have refused to investigate claims of violations of their social media policies, and have distinguished the failure of employers to follow their own policies from actionable harassment.
  • Employers are often quick to discipline or terminate employees who they determine have embarrassed or damaged them, yet they are slow or refuse to enforce social media policies to protect employees from insults or abuse on social media from other employees or managers.
  • Much like other policies that employers have “on the books,” such as sexual harassment policies, social media policies are often not enforced by employers. It is up to the employee to take proactive action, hopefully after consulting an experienced attorney, to require employers to enforce and apply these policies.

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Please click here to learn more about the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. and how we can assist you in addressing your problems with the least risk to yourself.

OUTSOURCING PRACTICE TIPS

Outsourcing is akin to hiring a professional outside of your law practice to help you achieve a goal within your law practice. Lawyers spend about six hours a day doing non-billable work and are constantly faced with the issue of how to provide high quality legal services while keeping overhead and expenses down. Using a legal support service enables attorneys to meet their goals.

The below recommendations draw upon my 45 years of experience as a practicing litigation attorney and my role as COO of Legal Research, Inc. a legal research and writing firm. I have confirmed my observations with others to ensure validity and consistency of thought.

A number of the following factors add up to the logical choice of “leasing” instead of “buying” lawyers so that flexibility of firm scheduling and growth can be enjoyed, instead of creating fixed costs and possible dismissal scenarios when work is reduced or disappears.

Despite years of economic growth, most people feel that our economy is unpredictable, or can become so, in a short time period. A bull market can quickly become a bear market, and it is easier to downsize if costs and personnel are not fixed.

Hiring a full-time attorney brings with it financial and other responsibilities, not to mention risks. A major risk, and now a commonplace risk, is that attorneys and other legal professionals are suing their firms or companies for discrimination of some sort or sexual harassment.

Many lawyers, including millennials, who are starting to assume leadership roles in their firms, also want more flexibility so that they can achieve work/life balance. Studies indicate that they are willing to accept a lesser salary for more free time or flexible schedules. Millennials may be the group that finally acknowledges that life does not consist of just piling on billable hours, and that if one does not enjoy working those hours, they must look to other things that deserve one’s time, attention and care.

I reviewed an article in which I was quoted in The Pennsylvania Lawyer in July 1994, (“Lawyer Temps – Here to Stay”). In the article I mentioned that firms were concerned about violating attorney/client privilege by the use of “temporary attorneys” and didn’t want other attorneys to know about their “secret weapons.” At least one of those issues has resolved itself, as states have addressed the use of outsourcing firms, and they have become part of the fabric of the law. The Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.2 (c), discuss these issues called limited-scope engagements.

Interestingly, it was only after employment agencies became involved in large-scale hiring of “contract” attorneys with the advent of increased discovery as cases grew ever-larger, that the hiring of temporary lawyers achieved greater legitimacy. Yet, the overburdened solo or small firm lawyer still hesitates to embrace the concept that can not only be a freeing experience to them, but can assist them in all matter of cases, from evaluation of a case to receiving help with researching the law, conducting discovery, drafting motions, briefs, and pleadings, and appearing at hearings, trials, or engaging in the appellate process.

When you feel overloaded, when there is a deadline looming you can’t meet, or an emergency matter arises, outsourcing services can free up your time and resources so that you can accomplish more or work on the more lucrative areas of your practice. Legal support services value client confidentiality, and work within the parameters set with regard to the type of work product desired, deadline, and amount of time and resources each project budget has. The attorney has total control and input into the process. Working within the budget and controlling the outcome help you accomplish more.

The many advantages of using a legal support service include:

  • Assistance in handling trials, arbitrations, court appearances and depositions
  • Attaining legal research and analysis to assist in pursuing cases more aggressively, or negotiate more favorable settlements by having the relevant case law at hand
  • Access to trained attorneys with practical and courtroom experience
  • Access to a library of research and sample court documents, including trial and appellate briefs, motions, petitions and pleadings
  • Paying for the services of a temporary attorney only as needed
  • For solos and small firms, the ability to secure the advice and guidance of other experienced attorneys outside of their usual circle of contacts

Now that you know the many ways outsourcing can assist you, please consider using a company that is experienced, trustworthy, and has excelled at legal research and writing for 45 years. So, please call Legal Research Inc. at 215-563-7776 or email Faye Riva Cohen, Esq. at frc@fayerivacohen.com to discuss assisting you with your research and writing needs.

By Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and was originally published as a Pulse Post on Linkedin and can be found here.

When You Should Accept an Early Retirement Offer

The days of working 25 or more years for the same employer are long gone. Yet many employees cling to the belief that they will have that option until they reach retirement age.  According to Money Magazine (Jan/Feb 2019) companies in 2017 offered 5,000 early retirement and buyout offers. That figure rose dramatically in 2018 when companies announced plans to
cut 46,100 jobs due to voluntary severance, which includes buyouts and early retirement offers.

Buyouts are generally offered to employees age 55 or older, who have spent a decade or more at their companies, but this can vary. It is a good idea never to ignore a buyout offer, because employees who don’t accept an optional buyout may find themselves on a layoff list a year or so later, without any buyout offer included.

So, if an offer comes your way, consider it seriously. Considerations you should take into account are:

  • Will you have the funds to support yourself without a steady paycheck? Even if you have
    a 401k, by invading it early prior to age 59 1/2 you will incur a 10% early withdrawal
    penalty for each withdrawal.
  • Will you have to start collecting Social Security retirement benefits at an earlier age than
    the optimum (70)? Earlier collection could reduce your lifetime benefits by 25%. These
    benefits generally replace only 40% of an average worker’s income.
  • Will you be required to buy individual or family health insurance to replace your company-provided or subsidized insurance? Will your income be too high to qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act? Also, premiums and deductibles are likely to rise each year. Some buyouts do include healthcare coverage. Or, you may be able to negotiate a longer period of coverage if you feel you have valid negotiating grounds, such as being the victim of some type of discrimination.
  • Have you correctly estimated the amount of money you will need in retirement? Retirees
    can generally withdraw 4% of their diversified portfolio annually to pay for their
    expenses, and reasonably expect to have enough to last 30 years. The amount of savings
    should be 25 times your annual spending amount. So if you need $60,000 a year to live
    on, plus your Social Security retirement benefits, you will need a $1.5 million diversified
    portfolio to take out 4% a year.
  • Would you consider taking another job, shifting into work you find more rewarding, or
    starting your own business? In these cases, accepting a buyout is a good opportunity to
    retool.

Bear in mind that if you accept a buyout or a severance package your employer may ask you to waive any legal rights you have currently and into the future.

If you want to consider accepting a buyout or a severance package, talking to a knowledgeable employment lawyer can bring clarity to the situation and assist you in making this important decision that greatly impacts your future. The Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. brings 45 years of experience to the legal advice it provides. We may be contacted at 215.563.7776 or at frc@fayerivacohen.com.

By Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and originally published in PBA Labor & Employment Law Section E-Newsletter Fall 2019 edition and can be found here.

Layoffs and Mergers and Consolidations and Acquisitions … Oh My!

In recent months, businesses and institutions in the Philadelphia area have experienced a number of closures, mergers, consolidations and acquisitions that will be devastating to the greater geographic area, and have or will result in major layoffs of skilled employees and elimination of future jobs.

Here are just a few examples:

  • The owner of Hahnemann University Hospital, in existence for 171 years, announced that it would be declaring bankruptcy and closing;
  • Drexel University, announced that about 40% of its physicians and clinical staff of its medical college will lose their jobs in the wake of the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital;
  • Philadelphia Energy Solutions announced that it was closing its South Philadelphia oil refinery due to a series of explosions and a catastrophic fire, and laying off more than 1,000 employees;
  • WSFS Financial Corp. acquired Beneficial Bank, founded in 1853, with 58 locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and is rebranding as WSFS Bank.

It is no wonder that employees are justified in feeling insecure. Mere months after the good economic news that the unemployment rate has dropped significantly, and that employees now have their choice of jobs, salaries and benefits, comes news of major layoffs, mergers, consolidations, acquisitions and business failures.

In addition to the economic impact of such upsetting news, there is the devastating personal impact on the lives of employees and their families, which may result in the permanent loss of long-term jobs and careers, having to accept lower income jobs or shift into gig-economy jobs, or being required to leave the area or downsize their lifestyles.

Having represented thousands of employees throughout my career, the following are my recommendations to employees in order to protect themselves in view of major layoffs or terminations, as no one is indispensable in our current marketplace.

  • Employers prefer it when their workforce is collegial, respectful of each other and aligned behind their company culture, vision and mission. While employers may have “open door policies,” workplace policies outlined in handbooks or online, social media policies and staff human resource departments, I suggest that employees think long and hard about making a complaint and what they hope to accomplish by making the complaint. Complaints about co-workers, getting involved in co-workers’ issues that are not directly related to the employee making the complaint, or disagreeing with managers and supervisors, can often set off an investigatory process, and that process can boomerang, at the expense of the complaining party.
  • The employees making these complaints generally have the burden of proving them, and that often means hiring a lawyer to assist with presenting these complaints. The complaints also mean that the employer must spend time and resources investigating the complaint, and they risk making a decision that may adversely affect them in the long run. The person who is making the complaint and the person complained about have equal rights, so if the person complained about is disciplined or terminated, that person may allege the employer acted wrongfully and the employer will have to defend themselves, costing them more time and money.
  • An employee should consult a lawyer if they are going to need extended Family Medical Leave Act time or they wish to make a claim for short term disability, long-term disability or workers’ compensation. These leave requests and policies are difficult to navigate and often conflict with each other. They can also result in terminations if they are not handled correctly and the specific legal and company requirements to make these leave claims are not followed. Also, employees have to be mindful that recommendations from their doctors do not necessarily control their employers. Employers are not required to provide indefinite leave, or hold an employee’s job open, simply because a doctor does not release an employee to return to work.
  • A lawyer should be consulted as soon as an employee has been given a performance improvement plan (PIP). Few employees survive PIPs and being given a PIP is often a good clue that an employer is seeking to find a reason to terminate an employee. It is important that a PIP is followed by the employer, but even an employee’s best efforts to meet the terms of the PIP may not result in keeping their job. A PIP is also a good opportunity for an attorney to attempt to negotiate a severance package for an employee, as an employer may be interested in offering such a package if the employee voluntarily agrees to leave.
  • If an employee belongs to a union it is still a good idea to consult an independent lawyer. An employee rarely interacts with a union lawyer except for a short time at some later point in a legal process, and that point may be far down the road from when a lawyer should have been consulted. Union lawyers also represent their union, and may have conflicts in trying to divide their representation among a number of union members who have similar issues. Also, not every union represents its members for discrimination complaints and disability issues, so it is important that employees make certain that they meet the often stringent filing requirements involved in these matters.

If an employee has doubts about what is happening in their workplace or with their position, or they have received a performance improvement plan, they should consult a lawyer and not wait until they have been disciplined or terminated. Talking to a knowledgeable employment lawyer can bring clarity to the situation and assist them in how to address their problems with the least risk to themselves.

By Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and published on October 28, 2019 in The Legal Intelligencer and can be found here.

Can You See the Light?!

Here is an article by Adam S. Bernick, Esquire who is of counsel with my firm.  This article was originally published in Upon Further Review on January 22, 2015, and can be seen here.

Clarity Brought to Durable Powers of Attorney

Here is an article by Adam S. Bernick, Esquire who is of counsel with my firm.  This article was originally published in Upon Further Review on December 16, 2014, and can be seen here.

McCutcheon v. FEC: The Effect on Campaign Finance

Here is an article by Lane J. Schiff, Esquire who is a former associate at my firm.  This article was originally published in Upon Further Review on April 16, 2014, and can be seen here.

Inheriting Digital Assets

Here is an article by Adam S. Bernick, Esquire who is of counsel with my firm.  This article was originally published in Upon Further Review on April 3, 2013, and can be seen here.

Movin’ on Up?

Here is an article by Adam S. Bernick, Esquire who is of counsel with my firm.  This article was originally published in Upon Further Review on December 18, 2012, and can be seen here.

No I.D.? No Problem – Judge Blocks Pennsylvania Voter I.D. Law

Here is an article by Theodore Y. Choi, Esquire who is a former associate at my firm.  This article was originally published in Upon Further Review on October 24, 2012, and can be seen here.

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