By Kimberly Darling.
If you find yourself needing to consult an employment lawyer, there are a number of important questions you should be asking in that first meeting.
1. What are my rights as an employee?
This really should be your first question.
Non-unionized employees may have a written employment contract that sets out the rights and responsibilities of both the employer and employee. If you have a written contract, make sure you give it to your lawyer so they can review it and advise you on it.
As well, the Employment Standards Act, the Human Rights Code, and the Workers Compensation Act all set out minimum rights for employees in BC. The minimum rights contained in these laws apply even if you have a written contract and your lawyer will be able to explain what rights exist under these laws, what rights are created by your contract, and how the two sets of rights interact.
If you are employed in a federally-regulated industry (such as air transportation or banking), there are federal laws that also create minimum rights that will apply to you.
2. What are my options?
Depending on whether you’ve been dismissed or are still employed, you will have a number of different options available to you. Some of these will involve communicating with your employer (either directly or with your lawyer’s help). If that fails, there will be one or more venues where you can pursue your complaint further, including the Employment Standards Branch, the Human Rights Tribunal or WorkSafeBC. You may also choose to sue in either Small Claims or BC Supreme Court.
3. How long will it take?
Litigation lawyers will inevitably answer this question with “it depends”. That’s because there are so many variables involved in resolving workplace disputes: How differently do the two sides see the events? How far apart are you in your settlement discussions? How backlogged is the tribunal or court where you’ve filed your claim? How many pre-trial court appearances might be needed? Will it go all the way to trial?
Think of each step in the process as a “decision tree”: depending which branch you take, there will be a different set of considerations, and each of those will take different amounts of time.
4. What is this going to cost me?
You should be up front with your lawyer in asking about how they will bill you for their services.
Because there are various ways a lawyer can set up their retainer (i.e. their fees and terms of payment), you should definitely ask about your options. Most lawyers bill their clients based on either an hourly rate, invoiced periodically, or a contingency fee agreement where the lawyer is paid a share of the amount they recover for you. Regardless of the arrangement, a good lawyer-client relationship is one where the fee agreement works for both sides, so make sure you’re honest about what you’re comfortable with.
Want answers to these and other questions? Contact us!