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Workplace issue? Let's problem-solve.

One of the best parts of being an employment lawyer is figuring out all the relevant aspects of an employment situation and counseling people on how to best go about achieving their goals. When I worked at the Massachusetts AG's Office, if someone was speaking with me it was usually either because they were a worker who was mistreated somehow at work or because they were an employer (or their lawyer) needing to be brought into compliance.

The best conversations I had then with employers or their lawyers were those in which everyone came to the table recognizing the problem and were interested in getting to the bottom of it and resolving it as efficiently as possible. I used to tell employers and their lawyers that my goal in resolving cases was that I hoped never to see them again. If I did have to see them again, it meant the employer didn't come to recognize the problem in the first place, and I hadn't done my job properly to ensure that was the case.

It usually just doesn't make financial sense for an employer not to learn the lesson the first time around and to keep needing to defend employment cases. Often the better and more cost efficient path is to seek good advice and resolve the problem as soon as possible, so as to be able to move on with the million other non-legal matters employers could be focusing on in their businesses. It is the same reason why doctors and other medical professionals are often counselled to apologize appropriately if a medical error arises. The problem is dealt with and everyone can move on.

The worst conversations -- and often the longest running cases -- were those in which people flatly ignored the evidence. Far different from intellectual arguments about the application of law -- those I loved -- the unproductive conversations were those where the employer or lawyer would just dig his or her head in the sand in a game of pretend or sometimes just a morass of emotion. It's not a particularly successful tactic, and from an employment law perspective, it's bound to keep getting you in trouble and needing to pay for lawyers.

In this regard, I commend employers like who affirmatively step up to do the right thing. Last year, they audited more than 17,000 employees, 30% of whom were female, and spent about $3 million to put female employees' salaries on equal par with their male counterparts.

The Massachusetts equal pay law -- recently signed by Governor Baker -- tries to encourage employers to do the right thing. If an employer self-audits for equal pay and make reasonable efforts to achieve parity, this can serve as a defense to a later case under the law.

Self-evaluation of pay practices, then, whether for equal pay or overtime or other wage issues can be a good step forward for employers, depending upon the situation.

These days, through legal advice and strategic counseling, I help both workers and businesses with Massachusetts labor and employment issues. If you want help on how best to approach any of the above, contact me for an employment law consultation.

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