June 22, 2018

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How to be a Master Negotiator While Getting Hired

Federal lawsuits against employers alleging violations of Fair Labor Standards Act protections have risen 518 percent since 1990, according to law firm Seyfarth Shaw. Lawsuits are increasing steadily over the last five years to hit a record high of 7,764 this year, as reported by The Affordable Care Act contains provisions expected to push this number higher.

What can job seekers do to avoid ending up in court? Knowing how to negotiate your contract can help prevent issues from arising making your job more rewarding and putting you in a stronger position should disputes occur.

Employment Documentation

A best practice for contracts is putting agreements in writing, but many employers avoid committing to written contracts, which creates potential problems. If a dispute arises, there is no documentation. An undocumented verbal agreement extended in good faith by a hiring supervisor may not be honored by their replacement or the company. Think twice before entering an agreement without a written contract.

Corporate commercial law and litigation attorney Bernard Dietz explains employers' aversion to written agreements stems from confusing contracts with "at-will employment," a principle that allows employers to fire employees who aren't working out. Employers are afraid of losing this right if they put contracts in writing. Dietz says the better solution is making the duration of employment explicit in writing and to include an at-will clause if desired.

You may receive a job offer letter before you are hired. Do not confuse this with a written contract, especially if it stipulates being subject to change or references an employee handbook subject to updates. Always ask to see employee handbooks and for your own copy.

Job Classification & Duties

Last year, Walmart had to pay $4.83 million back in wages for mis-classifying 4,500 workers in order to avoid overtime pay after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation. Employers mis-classifying workers as contractors in order to avoid paying overtime, benefits and taxes results in increasing numbers of lawsuits. Get your job classification clarified upfront during hiring.

Similarly, disputes often arise from undefined job duties. For instance, an employer may hire you to do a specific set of tasks, but then start assigning additional responsibilities that did not fall under the scope of your initial job description. Be sure your employer explains in detail what you're being paid to do.

Overtime & Vacation

Employee mis-classification issues relate to disputes related to overtime pay, which is a major area of contention between workers and employers. Employees complain about being mis-classified and exempt from overtime requirements, told to work off the clock or intruded upon during personal time via mobile devices.

Ask for clarification of your employer's overtime policy before you're hired. Don't hesitate to ask about sick leave and vacation policy. Employers try to avoid paying unused vacation hours by adopting a "use it or lose it" policy, which is not permitted in some states, such as California.

Compensation & Benefits

For finely skilled fields or executive positions, negotiating compensation and benefits is a dreaded part of the hiring process. You can improve your position with signing bonuses, relocation assistance, annual incentives, equity, health benefits, life insurance policies, and retirement plans. Mimic employers that have a reputation for delivering great benefits, such as Boston Consulting Group, and NuStar Energy all ranked highly by Fortune.

Take control of your negotiation options, and address them when applicable. Be explicit with your employer about any agreements. If you have any questions about specifics, get a qualified attorney to review any legally binding document you sign.

Roy Rasmussen, co-author of "Publishing for Publicity," is a freelance copywriter who helps small businesses get more customers and make more sales. His specialty is helping experts reach their target market with a focused sales message. His most recent projects include books on cloud computing, small business management, sales, and business coaching.

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