Want to Negotiate With an Employer You Distrust? Consider Talking to a Trusted Third Party First

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

You may be in a situation where (1) an employer has violated your trust in the past, and you are uncomfortable with that employer; but (2) you still need something from that employer- their payment of overdue wages, their approval of a pending administrative request, etc.

Often, I see employees in this situation- that is, employees who need something from an employer who wronged them- try to negotiate directly with the employer, without the assistance of an attorney or other advocate (e.g. a union representative).

You may be inclined to do this: to try on your own to “work something out” with an employer you distrust. You may realize you hadn’t been successful in the past, but this time, you may think, the employer will realize you are serious. Perhaps you feel you have new leverage or demands. Maybe you recently found legal information on the internet, and you are prepared to threaten a lawsuit if the employer does not treat you fairly like you ask.

Before you talk to the employer further, or make any threats of legal action, please consider doing this: (1) take a step back, to review the big picture; and (2) talk to a trusted third party (whether it’s a lawyer, a union leader, a family friend who is experienced in these employment matters, etc.).

A knowledgeable third party often has a broader perspective on the big picture than the mistreated employee does.

For one thing, a third party is not as emotionally-involved with your matter, and as such their eyes are open to some obvious things that you may not want to see, but need to. A third party may give you the wake-up call you need, and say, “Hey, do you think your third attempt on your own to get this employer to act fair is going to work out better than the first two times?” Sometimes it takes someone else to state the obvious before we’re open to believing it. A third party can give a reality check.

Also, a knowledgeable third party, such as an employment attorney, may have repeated experience dealing with the same type of scenario you’re dealing with. From that experience, they could tell you why the action you’re contemplating- for example, maybe you want to complain to management about a particular wage issue- may be a bad idea or a good idea.

An experienced third party will know from experience which approaches are likely to work, and which aren’t. As an employment attorney, I have had hundreds of communications involving employers and unpaid wages. An employee could learn from my experiences what types of communications are most likely to have good outcomes. Left on your own, you may try a form of communication that- while it may seem instinctive or logical- is a type of communication that I know has failed time and again for dozens of employees.

Generally speaking, employees are better off when they talk to a third party before they try to negotiate with an unfair employer, rather than after. When an employer controls something that is very important to you- like wage money you need for rent- it is all the more important that before communicating with the employer, you prepare carefully, and seek input from a trusted adviser who has dealt with similar situations before.