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Stand up for yourself without getting fired

(Moneywatch) You've reported sexual harassment to HR. You get a call from the VP of human resources. The company attorney and he want to meet with you to interview you about your complaint. Do you:

a. Refuse to meet? You have the right to remain silent
b. Refuse to meet unless you have your lawyer present?
c. Panic? "I need more time. Can we meet next month?"
d. Say, "Thank you. Let me know when and where."? Then work on gathering evidence to take with you.

Employment law is complex, yet we expect every working (or job hunting) person to understand how to act and what to say in a million different situations. Sometimes it feels like you need a lawyer following you around all day, so you can check in when you have a question about how you should respond to a tricky situation, like the one above.

If you can't afford your own personal attorney, I have found the next best thing. Employment Attorney Donna Ballman has a brand new book out: Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards. It is a must read for employee and employer alike.

Many people think that if they have a question they can just ask their boss or their HR department. That works for a lot of situations, but the reality is, your boss is probably about as well versed on employment law as you are. And HR? While we try to be up on everything, if your situation is unique, we may not have a clue. And furthermore HR's job is to protect the company, not to protect you. HR is under no obligation to inform you that you only have 180 days to file a complaint with the EEOC. But, if you miss that deadline, you may be out of luck.

Here's another question from Ballman's book:

Your boss is a yeller. He screams, leaning over 6 inches from your face. He curses, throws things around the room, and creates a hostile environment for you and everyone in your office. Do you:

a. Report him to HR? Explain how he's creating a hostile work environment and give them an opportunity to correct the situation.
b. File with the EEOC?
c. Quit and then contact an employment lawyer to sue the company?
d. Suck it up and start looking for another job?

Confident you know what the answers to these questions are? The answer to the first question is D. "Good for you! Now get read. Make notes to take. List any sexual comments, overtures, dates, details, witnesses, and what they witnessed. You will seem more credible in the meeting."

The second is also D: "Smart Move. Don't let a bully force you out of a job. Quit only when you have something else lined up. In the meantime, try to stay out of the way."

If you want to know what you can and cannot say, and when you should fill out a form that asks how many children you have and when you shouldn't, this book should be on your shelf. Ballman is a little negative about HR departments in general, but don't discount them -- they are there to help and must, by law, address some issues -- but before you walk in, arm yourself with a little knowledge.

For further reading:
Forced to resign: What are your options?
Can you be fired for skipping lunch?
Job hunting secret: The recruiter is not on your side

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