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Focus on Job Search Rather Than Filing Fraudulent Claim

November 24, 1996

Q After a month's advance notice, my department was closed down and 18 of us were laid off. I immediately filed for unemployment and was shocked to see that even though I would be receiving the maximum amount, unemployment insurance provides very little money compared with my salary.

It also made me angry that the money is taxable. Just when I need every dollar for the additional expenses of printing resumes, driving to job interviews, phone calls, etc., the government is hurting me more.

Yet, what really upset me was that a few weeks ago I had dinner with two former co-workers and learned that rather than file for unemployment, they both went to their doctors, citing stress, and have been collecting disability checks, which are much larger than unemployment and are not taxable.

My former co-workers say that while they have gone on some job interviews, as long as they are not working they are not breaking the law. This has made me feel like a real idiot and I guess it has stressed me out too.

--D.A., Huntington Beach


A You are not an "idiot" for not attempting to defraud the state disability system.

Filing a disability claim when you are not really disabled is against the law. In addition, in order to get such benefits on the basis of stress, you would have to have a doctor certify that you are psychiatrically disabled from working. This would become part of your medical history and it could adversely affect your ability to obtain certain jobs in the future.

Also, in the event you suffered a genuine psychological injury sometime in the future, your prior history of psychiatric disability might be used against you to undercut your injury claim.

You will most likely be better off than your former colleagues if you continue to focus your efforts on obtaining a new position that will further your career.

--James J. McDonald Jr.

Attorney, Fisher & Phillips

Labor law instructor, UC Irvine

Dangers of Disclosure to Ex-Worker Q Upon accepting a job with a company, I was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. My employment ended because of a personality conflict.

During the course of my employment, I was involved in intentionally overbilling our clients and hiding information from them to cover errors and irregularities.

Since it has been quite a challenge to find a new job because of negative references from my previous employer, I intend to disclose the overbillings and the irregularities to one of the clients. Would my disclosure be a breach of the confidentiality agreement?

--V.B., Pasadena


A Because you did not describe the terms of your confidentiality agreement, I cannot determine whether you would breach it. If the confidentiality agreement reads like most, it may simply prevent you from revealing confidential information about clients to third parties. If that is the case, your intended disclosure might not violate your confidentiality agreement.

Nonetheless, disclosing the overbillings and irregularities to your former employer's client may not be the wisest approach. If you had been fired for refusing to overbill or cover up irregularities, it might make sense to disclose that fact to prospective employers. However, your letter hints that you participated in the overbilling, you did not complain to your employer about it, and you were terminated for reasons unrelated to the overbilling.

Moreover, you are not proposing to disclose the improprieties to prospective employers, but to the client. Not only would that fail to help you in your job search, but if you are incorrect in your allegations, your former employer may claim that you have defamed the company and/or improperly interfered with its business relationships.

--Josephine Staton Tucker

employment law attorney

Morrison & Foerster

Determining Reasons for Turnover Q I own a medium-sized company that is experiencing a sudden increase in employee absenteeism and turnover. I was wondering what kind of consulting specialist would best be able to help me figure out the reasons for these problems. What are my best options?

--N.S. Los Angeles


A There are a great number of factors that could be affecting the increased absenteeism and turnover rates in your company. The causes can range from problems in hiring to company policies and practices that employees view as unfair or onerous to external factors such as an open and competitive job market that lures away valued workers.

There are a wide range of management and human resources consultants who could help you analyze attendance and turnover rates to try to pinpoint the reasons and who can suggest ways to fix the problem.

Your best bet is to shop around and try to find one who specializes in these sorts of problems, or talk to other business owners and use their recommendations.

--Ron Riggio

Director, Kravis Leadership Institute

Claremont McKenna College

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