Remember when the threat of the pink slip was strictly a lower-to-middle class concern? Ah, those were the days. Now that everyone from the factory worker to the law firm associate is ducking the corporate knife, we all can collectively and finally acknowledge that yes, we are in a recession and yes, capitalism means no one’s job is safe. So, what do you do when you or someone you know is laid off? First, don’t burn your bridges too badly on the way out. Second, know your rights.
There are a number of legal aid organizations in Los Angeles that offer free to low-cost legal services to qualified individuals with a variety of unemployment and employment issues. If you meet their income requirements (i.e., you didn’t make so much money that everyone is wondering why you don’t get your own lawyer), attorneys at these organizations can offer you assistance with your EDD paperwork and provide legal counsel for your employment problems. Even if your income or asset level is too high to qualify for direct legal services, many are happy to direct you to other resources or can answer your basic questions.
From walk-in clinics to self-help centers, here is a handy little resource guide that you hopefully will not need anytime soon.
- Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. The monolith of pro bono offers an entire division dedicated to employment law. If you meet their income qualifications, you can seek legal advice regarding your overtime pay, how to make sure your boss properly cashed out your vacation days, and other matters. They also offer a walk-in clinic downtown on Wednesday evenings and in Long Beach on Thursdays. Call Legal Aid at (213) 640-3954 for more information about their income requirements and for more information regarding their intake process. There also is a Santa Monica office that may be reached at (310) 899-6200.
- First AME Legal Clinic. It’s a church, but it works with a number of legal organizations and law schools to provide free legal services in a variety of areas, including employment law. On the second and fourth Sundays of every month, the church offers free, no-appointment-necessary walk-in clinics from 10am to 1pm. Call (323) 730-7750 for more information.
- Bet Tzedek. With a goal of assisting low-wage workers, Bet Tzedek hosts appointment-only legal clinics in North Hollywood on Wednesday evenings. Call (323) 939-0506 to discuss whether they can help you and to schedule an appointment.
- Neighborhood Legal Services. NLS’s self-help centers offer a wide variety of informational services and staff is available to walk you through the myriad of red tape in pursuing your unemployment benefits. No income qualification is necessary. They also offer formal legal advice clinics; those are subject to income qualifications. Information for these services are available here, or you can call (800) 433-6251.
- Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. Focusing primarily on the LGBT community, the LA Gay & Lesbian Center offers low cost to free legal counsel to assist individuals with their employment problems, including discriminatory terminations and state and federal benefits. They request a $10 processing fee for the consultation, but they won’t turn away anyone for lack of funds. And unlike some other organizations, I’ve volunteered here enough times to know that they really mean it. They require an appointment – call (323) 993-7670 or shoot an email to them at [email protected].
- Asian Pacific American Legal Center. The APALC staffs legal hotlines in English, Chinese, Khmer, Korean, and Vietnamese to assist low income limited or non-English speaking individuals with a variety of legal issues, including state benefit matters. Phone numbers are on the site.
- And if all else fails, Google is your friend. The National Employment Law Project’s Unemployed Workers website provides useful information and advice. The state’s somewhat user friendly Unemployment and Disability division handles employment issues, including unemployment and disability insurance. The best part is where you can apply for unemployment insurance online, which is not only the fastest way to apply, but also the least stigmatizing. Waiting in a depressingly long line in an ugly gray building downtown is sooooo last recession.
Now that you got your benefits figured out, perhaps you are dreaming of starting a small business. Even in this tight economy, it might not be as stupid as it sounds. Next week: low-cost legal resources for the aspiring entrepreneur.