Austen Crowder

Hot Tips: avoiding discrimination in an at-will employment state

Filed By Austen Crowder | August 13, 2009 3:14 PM | comments

Filed in: Living

Indianapolis is, oddly enough, one of the easiest places to live as a trans person. Our Gender ID laws are humane, the people generally accepting, and the human rights ordinance acts as a nice security blanket for trans people in the market for work, housing, or other services. "Protection" doesn't always mean the same thing as "safety," however, and in an at-will employment state like Indiana one can never be too careful when it comes to employment issues.
"At-will" employment, at its core, is a no-fault engagement between employer and employee. It's often mistakenly referred to as an employer's carte blanche right to fire anybody they see fit, for any reason they see fit. This is most definitely not the case.

There are a couple of cover-your-rear steps that should be taken whenever you start a new job. Most may seem like common sense, but too many people realize too late that their employer may not always have their employee's best interests in mind. Following these tips may end up saving you time, money, and your job.

The tips boil down to Confirm, Record, Document. Keep all records on a home drive; companies often cut off access to company computers upon termination, and without that home copy your hard-earned work will be for nothing. (There are few investments in this modern business world more rewarding than a cheap thumb drive.) Everything that you do at your job, from receiving payroll to your daily tasks, should be documented in some form. The point is simple: if there's ever a disagreement between you and your employer, hard evidence will speak louder than your words.

Confirm everything in writing. If a supervisor asks you to do something different than your regular duties, or if your boss has given you verbal confirmation that you are on a new project, be sure to confirm the data through writing. This is really easy when a company assigns you an e-mail address: fire off a single-sentence e-mail saying "Just to confirm, I'm doing X by date Y with Z people." If the story changes for any reason, you can refer them back to the timestamped and labeled e-mail.

Related to confirming everything in writing, document everything. This is easier than it sounds. At the end of each week, set aside ten minutes to fill out the following information:

  • Work log: what did you do this week? Were any big accomplishments made? Did the boss pay you a huge compliment? (These are _vital_ to record.)
  • Was payroll dispersed? How much did you gross, and how many withholdings were taken out? How many hours did they report, if you're hourly? When did payroll hit your account?
  • Document any troubles you may have had in that week, and how you worked to fix them.

I keep all the information on a tidy little spreadsheet, right alongside my budget and transition savings plan. Inputting all the information takes less than two minutes each week.

Save everything. Pay stubs, W-2s, performance reviews, e-mails from your boss, everything. Having the information in a spreadsheet is good for showing trends, but you'll need the actual hard copy to display proof of anything. I backup important e-mails to a thumb drive and put pay stubs in a folder I keep at home. This should only take a few minutes if the backup becomes a normal part of your routine, and will assure you access to any information you may need.

Great, you may say. I have all this useless information about my job piling up on my home office desk. What can I do with it? Hopefully you'll never have to use the information; a good business relationship with an employer will not go sour. However, if your employer decides to play hardball you are now prepared to fight back. The spreadsheet gives you a quick-reference guide to any incident you may have encountered, which allows you to search for the correct piece of hard evidence from your coffers. The method is quick, effective, and keeps employers honest about their promises.

One more tip - and this one's very important - is to approach all work issues with tact and professionalism. Aggressive posturing, threats, and name-calling will do nothing to fix the issue, and may give your employer reason enough to release you before the issue can be resolved. Remain calm, make your case for why a policy is discriminatory, and be prepared to climb ladders to get things done.

Does anybody else have some cover-your-rear tips they would like to share?

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