Assumptions Kill the Cat (At Least in the Workplace)

On behalf of Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C.

In the workplace, curiosity does NOT, as they say, “kill the cat.” To the contrary, if you are in a workplace dispute, curiosity is a GOOD thing. Curiosity will cause you- before you take action- to take time to pause, gather more information, learn what is truly going on, and hopefully learn from credible sources what options you truly have. These are good things. Curiosity is a good instinct to have when you are in a risky situation, like a workplace dispute, and you don’t know the full ramifications of what’s going on.

Unfortunately, when I encounter workers who had workplace disputes, and who are seeking my legal advice as a result of those disputes, all too often those workers had not had enough curiosity back while they were interacting with the employer. That is, many workers who get into workplace disputes make assumptions and act on those assumptions. Worse, those assumptions usually turn out to be wrong, and in fact harmful- with workers commonly losing their jobs, their unemployment benefits, their legal claims, etc.- in part or in whole due to those assumptions.

For example, consider this common scenario. A worker has a severe medical crisis and misses work on medical leave. After returning to work, the employer gives the worker a disciplinary warning the worker finds suspicious. So the worker decides to tell the employer, “This warning is false; you’re just giving it to me because of discrimination about my medical condition.”

A worker who says such a thing, i.e. who tells the employer “discrimination” has occurred, is making some pretty weighty assumptions. Those assumptions include: (1) the assumption that discrimination, a legal label for a situation, DID occur (notwithstanding that someone else, i.e. a judge or jury, is the decider whether discrimination occurs, and that decider may or may not agree with the worker); (2) the assumption that telling the employer that “discrimination” occurred will scare the employer or help the worker (notwithstanding the fact that some employers are at high risk to fire workers and retaliate against them for complaining of “discrimination”); (3) the assumption that the worker would be in a position to enforce whatever discrimination-law rights (if any) the worker may have, i.e. that the worker would have the time and/or resources and/or an affordable or contingency attorney available to the extent necessary to successfully pursue and complete a discrimination lawsuit.

These are very risky assumptions to make and act on. Unless a competent employment attorney has told the worker- before the worker takes action- that the assumptions above are true, the worker is taking big risks in acting on those assumptions in his communications with the employer.

If you find yourself in a workplace dispute, before you take further action, think about what assumptions you are making (e.g. that “this must be discrimination!”) versus being mindful of what you don’t know for certain (e.g. “Well, my situation seems unfair but wouldn’t hurt to run it by an attorney who practices discrimination law for a living”). Some people are reluctant to consult with an attorney because of the cost or perceived cost, which is understandable. The cost should be weighed against the cost of whatever it is that you stand to lose, whether it’s a high cost like losing the job, or a lesser cost like having a discipline on your work record. The higher the cost of whatever you could lose, the more sense it makes to pay for competent legal advice, and the more sense it makes to beware of your assumptions.