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Articles and thoughts by Peter Holslin

Red flags for shady jobs

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With San Diego County’s unemployment rate above 10%, shady job offers abound and unpaid wage claims are plentiful. I just got back from a meeting with Justin Prato, the employment lawyer for the Employee Rights Center, a labor rights organization based in City Heights. As we went over a sketchy-looking contract I’m expected to sign for a possible new marketing job, Prato listed some red flags that help identify suspicious employers.

No one red flag is a sure-shot sign of shadiness, but together these red flags can say a lot about that curious new job you’re considering:

No. 1: You found the job on craigslist.

As my previous posts under the “Job hunt scams” category have made clear, job listings on craigslist and other classifieds websites can often seem bizarrely vague or too good to be true. In fact, sometimes it might feel like there are more scams than there are real postings.

No. 2: The employer tries to convince you to take the job.

Usually, it’s the other way around. This usually happens when the employer is trying to rope you into what they call an enterprise based on “multi-level marketing,” and what lawyers and police call a pyramid scheme. Your potential employer will tell you–or, if you’re in a group interview, a whole bunch of people–to put down a certain amount of cash to pay for your first inventory, and make a certain number calls a week, and Voila! a year later, you’ve raked in an easy $100,000.

Sound too remarkable to you? That’s because it probably is. Ask them detailed questions–is that what the top-selling employee made? How much does an average employee make annually?–and see how they respond. Prato says that people he has talked to who start asking real questions are summarily rejected.

No. 3: You’re asked to sign a suspicious contract.

Let’s admit it: Contracts are long, boring reads full of legalese that most people don’t understand. But you wouldn’t want to accidentally sign up for something you would never have agreed to in the first place, would you? Beware of contractual terms that put employer’s rights ahead of the employee’s.

“Non-Compete, Non-Disclosure and Non-Solicitation” forgoes your right to work other jobs that are in competition with your employer. If you signed up for a telemarketing job, then, you can forget about taking sales jobs in the same market–unless, of course, you’re OK with being sued.

“Indemnification” makes you, not your employer, liable for any legal action or fines. If somebody sues the company for harassment after you call that person one too many times, then you’re paying the legal fees, not the company. That’s a pretty big risk on your part, especially if you’re only getting $5 for each sale.

“Consent to Jurisdiction and Forum Selection” states the location for where disputes resulting from your employment can be resolved. You live in San Diego, California, but the company is based in Las Vegas and sets the jurisdiction for Clark County, Nevada. What if they don’t pay you? Then you’ve got to drive all the way to Las Vegas to sue them. Talk about a pain in the ass.

If all this stuff is in the contract but you’re still aching for that job, Prato recommends drawing a line through the text of each disagreeable term, initialing the crossed-out text, and signing the contract with the note “with modifications” beside your name. Naturally, your employer has to agree to those terms being cut. Before you start working, make sure you have a signed copy of the final contract.

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Written by Peter Holslin

December 8, 2009 at 1:20 pm

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