Doing the job is hard enough as it is without adding the stress of a hostile work environment. The public critiques you, your supervisor critiques you, Professional Standards critiques you, the Licensing Board critiques you, not to mention when you critique yourself. But that’s the job, and all of those critiques are fair game. But what about when the critiques are out of bounds? What about when you’re given an illegal and discriminatory order and you object to it, and instead of having it rescinded, your admin doubles down and enforces it? What about when your union position requires you to file grievances, and you win, and your admin retaliates against you because you know the law, your contract and your members’ rights better than they do? What about when discipline is unfair, disproportionate and can cost you your career?
While we all work within the system and want it to work properly, in a shockingly growing number of cases, the process is being perverted for a seemingly ulterior motive. So what is the solution? The solution is to be willing to fight and to stand up for what you believe in. Sometimes you have to fight for your own rights, and sometimes you fight for your members, and there are even times when your Local will fight for you. But the common theme is that you must fight the fights that need fighting.
In today’s day and age, just what tools are available to you? There are the traditional grievance procedures and unfair labor practices. Sometimes, your fight may be defending yourself in a disciplinary matter or standing up for or standing with another member in their disciplinary matter. Yet sometimes, you have to pull out all the stops and file a civil lawsuit. Discrimination because of race or gender are certainly well-known claims. But there are pregnancy discrimination claims, Crown Act claims, whistleblower claims, union affiliation discrimination claims. Even if you aren’t ready to pull the trigger on a lawsuit, there are numerous claims that will trigger investigations that are outlined in the municipal handbook that can often offer some middle ground of relief.
No one should have to face the challenges of their employment in a toxic environment. The job is challenging enough without the
illegal or immoral violations of the very laws that are designed to protect everyone. The job is hard, and it can be satisfying, and you
do the job because it stems from your desire to protect and serve. But the anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws are designed
to have your back so that you can do your job in a fair, harassment-free environment. The first step to achieving such a utopia is
to be ready to fight for what you believe in. Remember, you’re not just fighting by yourself, because in this PBA family, you’re never fighting alone.
Lori A. Dvorak is the founding member of Dvorak & Associates, LLC. She is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a civil
trial attorney. She is primarily engaged in the representation of public employees in civil, administrative (disciplinary) and criminal matters and has concentrated her practice in the representation of law enforcement, including PBA and STFA members, in defense of disciplinary matters against them as well as defense of civil rights litigation. She received her Juris Doctor degree from Seton Hall Law School.