I was driving in my car a few weeks ago with my 16-year-old niece, who had recently started her first job at a popular fast-food chain. I asked her how she likes it, and she enthusiastically said she loves it. Then I asked her how much she works, and she told me usually her shifts weren’t longer than eight hours, but she has worked longer a few times–even more than 40 hours a week once. It was summer, she wasn’t in school or sports, so I congratulated her on landing the overtime pay. “They didn’t pay me overtime,” she said. “They told me they would on the days they asked me to stay, but when my check came, it wasn’t there.” When she asked her manager about it, he shrugged it off. She didn’t push the issue–she likes her job and wasn’t interested in making trouble.
Last week, while traveling, I was listening to an episode of Public Radio International’s “This American Life” called “Crybabies.” The show was about people who have had to kick and scream to get their way. One of the segments was about several disabled people in California who sue businesses to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act codes. Some of the show’s guests were proud of their accomplishments in suing these companies–one even raked in six figures over the past few years in settlement money from his suits. But one woman, a lawyer herself, was too ashamed to file a lawsuit, in this case, against her hair salon over a parking space, saying she didn’t want to be labeled the “bad disabled person” who was causing trouble.
Today, I opened the New York Times and read an article called “At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture,” which detailed the appalling sexual harassment and debauchery that allegedly took place at the executive level within the media company since 2008.
Although each of these examples has a different degree of severity, I was surprised when I learned about all of them. Every day, I see and hear about in-house counsel who are always doing the right things, and keeping their companies on the straight and narrow. Still, each of these stories surprised–in fact, shocked–me. They underscore the importance of in-house attorneys’ responsibilities to their clients.
If you haven’t lately, take a closer look at what’s going on in the lower levels of your companies. If you have, keep up the great work.