From time to time, this blog features unedited interviews with people in the labor and employment arena who may be of interest to Connecticut employers. Today, I’m very pleased to have Nina Pirrotti address a few questions for the blog.
Nina is an attorney with the lawfirm of Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Chimes, Richardson & Fitzgerald, P.C. A graduate of Wesleyan University and Yale Law School, Nina joined that lawfirm in 2007, but has years of experience both at a major lawfirm and as a prosecutor in New York City. Now, she mainly represents employees in all types of employment litigation matters; as such, companies in Connecticut may be on the opposing side of Nina and her firm at some point.
But of greater interest may be that she is the current President of the Connecticut Employment Lawyers Association (which she will tell us more about). I will be speaking to that group next week on the management-side perspectives to employment litigation. My sincere thanks to Nina for the invitation to speak to that group and to answer a few questions here for the reader.
1. Thanks for your time Nina. First off, can you tell us a little more about the organization that you chair?
I am the President of the Connecticut Employment Lawyer’s Association (“CT- NELA”), an affiliate of the National Employment Association “NELA”). Our state chapter’s interests are aligned with NELA: we are devoted to protecting and advancing the rights of employees in the workplace. CELA facilitates that goal in a number of ways. We prepare amicus briefs for cases in which a proper interpretation of the law may be critical to employee rights, have an active list serv, well-attended monthly meetings featuring speakers and presentations on a variety of topics relevant to the work that we do, and are about to launch a new website that will contain a number of resources helpful to our members and employees alike. The new website address, which should be up and running by mid October, is: www.ctnela.org. [Ed. note: It is now up.]
2. As an attorney who mainly represents employees, are their common misconceptions about the work you do by companies? Or, in other words, what should companies know about the work you do?
Companies should know that my firm (and, I would suspect, most other plaintiffs’ employment law firms) scrutinizes every prospective client’s case that comes through our office, pick only a select few prospective clients to interview and agree to represent even fewer. By the time we have decided to represent a client, we have reached an informed decision that he/she has a viable case.
3. What is a common mistake or two that you see companies make when dealing with their employees?
One of the most common mistakes I see companies make is failing to engage the employee in an interactive dialogue in order to assess whether or not they can reasonably accommodate the employee’s disability.
4. In terms of dealing with employees that are being laid off, are their complaints you’ve heard from your clients about the way the employer treated him or her that could’ve been avoided or improved upon?
I had a client whose employer called her the day after she gave birth to inform her that she was being laid off. She received the news as she lay in her hospital bed. I would advise employers to ensure they use neutral criteria in their lay off decisions and, once the decision is made, convey it with compassion. I would also recommend that employers do everything in their power to facilitate the employee’s transition to another job. This includes a personalized letter of reference and, if economically feasible, outplacement counseling.
5. For separation agreements, what are some terms that you advise your clients to seek in the agreement? Are there any provisions that employers try to put in that you advise are "deal-breakers" for your clients?
The focus of separation agreements is usually on determining the appropriate amount of compensation and that figure varies depending upon a variety of factors such as the market, employment history and reason for termination. We look at all of those factors and seek to maximize the amount paid. We frown upon liquidated damages clauses and attempts to introduce covenants not to compete/solicit where none were agreed upon during employment but no provisions are per se deal breakers.