Week of October 2, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
 

Workplacelaw.net and Overlawyered.com:
Two Divergent Takes on the Litigation Landslide

By JACK LYNESite Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing

There's certainly a need for sites like www.workplacelaw.net and www.overlawyered.com.

Lawyers, after all, are virtual shadow members of today's work force; workplace-related lawsuits are as commonplace as office betting pools. Consider that U.S. job bias lawsuits in the private sector tripled during the 1990s, the Justice Dept. reports.

This corner, it bears emphasizing, firmly opposes discrimination in any form. So, too, do probably 99 percent of "SiteNet Dispatch" readers.

Nonetheless, some of today's workplace-related lawsuits boggle the mind of any brain that's within missile range of reason. Consider these cases:

  • A California physician, jailed for his role in an US$8 million insurance swindle, successfully sued to collect disability checks from prison. His legal rationale: The stress of being jailed resulted from carrying out his professional activities (including, apparently, filing fraudulent insurance claims).

  • A commercial pilot, fired after being caught flying a passenger-filled plane while drunk, used existing laws to force the airline to rehire him.
But despite the landslide of workplace-related litigation, we've found very few useful sites focused on workplace law. In fact, type in the Web address workplace-law.com, and you'll find . . . a domain name broker. That says a lot.


Overlawyered.com:
A Sharp Eye for the Ludicrous

Of the two sites reviewed this week, overlawyered.com is certainly the more provocative -- and that's both a strength and a weakness.

What overlawyered.com is very good at is illustrating ludicrous litigation. Consider these onsite examples:

  • A beat cop who, after a commission ruling, kept his day job while spending nights in a jail cell just across the state line.

  • A hiring discrimination suit filed by an applicant rejected on medical grounds after he told his prospective employer, "I have a microchip embedded in one of my molars that speaks to me and others." (Said a spokesperson for the human rights agency that investigated the complaint: "You have to remember what's crazy to you might not be crazy to someone else.")
By documenting such cases, overlawyered.com fulfills its mission: "explor[ing] an American legal system that too often turns litigation into a weapon against guilty and innocent alike, erodes individual responsibility, rewards sharp practice, enriches its participants at the public's expense, and resists even modest efforts at reform and accountability."

Overlawyered.com also has some original, often well-written opinion pieces. Many of the best are by Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow and site founder Walter Olson, who "Investor's Business Daily" dubbed "perhaps America's leading authority on over-litigation."

What overlawyered.com doesn't do so well is provide practical advice on proactively dealing with workplace issues. The site does have an "at the workplace" click-off; it takes you to brief reviews of recent lawsuits, most linked to the sources that first reported them. That's useful, but . . .


Workplacelaw.net: A Sharp Eye for Practical Advice

Workplacelaw.net, on the other hand, is much more focused on advice. That's likely far more up the alley of most "SiteNet Dispatch" readers. After all, the mere perception of workplace impropriety, even for a clearly innocent company, can be a killer for recruitment, retention and productivity - the same things that most savvy real estate functions are striving to promote. Provided by Asset Information Ltd., a Cambridge, England-based publisher and conference organizer, Workplacelaw.net is focused on workplace laws in the UK, long a favored locale for corporate location.

The site usefully breaks its content into three sections: "premises," "health and safety," and "employment." What will you find here? Here are two recent content examples:

  • A recent "premises" installment noted a UK construction-regulation amendment that resolves an ambiguity by establishing "anyone who does (or whose employees do) actual design work will be responsible for that design."

  • A recent "employment" installment on fuel crisis-related employment issues - particularly whether employers can lay off workers who say the UK's shortage prevents them from getting to work.
The value of such workplace-info nuggets is considerably enhanced by the links included in each. The fuel crisis piece, for example, links to the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (www.acas.org.uk). Other pieces include e-mail addresses to appropriate experts (though we'd bet quite a few shillings that you'll have to pay for any substantive advice from these folks - who, after all, are professional experts).


Free Site, Fortnightly 'E-Bulletin'

Users who register can search the site's archives. In addition, they can receive fortnightly "e-bulletin" updates on new and changing UK workplace legislation.

Workplacelaw.net is free, but its largess is enlightened. Yes, you will get the occasional, relatively subtle sales pitch from Asset Information (which publishes "Facilities Management Legal Update"). But that, after all, is the price we pay for the Internet's gold mine of free information. Hopefully, the raging popularity of the Net's free gold mine will impel far more legal eagles to get online with workplace advice and counsel. These two sites, however divergent, demonstrate that there's definitely a market here.

A suggestion, if we may, for one cyber-address with big-time potential: How about one site that provides globalizing companies with the complete, global nitty-gritty about the world's multi-faceted variations in workplace laws and customs?

If that happens, perhaps we should retire at least one trusty lawyer joke: "How was copper wire invented? Two lawyers fighting over a penny."

Perhaps.


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