Another Unhappy Phone to Phone Inc. Ex-Employee Speaks Out

I got the following email (reposted with permission, of course):

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I responded to an ad from this company for employment on [day 1], 2010. Their ad requested paralegals for a legal writing position for a large legal online network (I have the ad). I was contacted on [day 3], 2010 and offered a position from the legal writing team from an email address that started with medicalnetwork.com. I was skeptical about the position from the beginning, especially when I asked for a firm name and number, but was provided only with an address. I was eventually provided with a number and I agreed to come down for an interview and when the human resources manager, answered the phone she stated, hello how can I help you, with no company name…

When I interviewed on [day 4], 2010 I was told I would need to write 3-5 articles about legal topics and was given the topic business attorneys to write about. She told me that their “editor” would review my article and get back to me. On [day 11], 2010 she offered me a position, starting on [day 18], 2010.

When I arrived that morning, myself and another Paralegal were advised that we would need to write 12 (not 3-5) legal articles per day. The first day we were given an allowance but after that we were expected to write 12. Obviously being new to these types of constraints as real Paralegals (not like the drones they have pumping out false legal information every day) the other Paralegal quit within a few days, and I was ready to walk out the door as well. I decided to stick it out, figuring that they would fire me soon anyway, because as a Paralegal and with the uprising that seemed to be going on between any employee that had over 3 months employment (that’s when they agreed to provide benefits…but if you have a legal background you’re aware that it’s not in the contract) I knew they wouldn’t be dumb enough to leave anyone who knew about the law around too long.

On [day 26], 2010 I was advised by the “head editor” or the loser who assigned the articles I would be writing “medical articles” with the rest of the office. They required me to write about irrelevant topics like celebrity butt injections, and specific products which I refused to do, as I felt that if the company was sued for libel and slander for either a positive or negative review of someone’s product, they would use my name. That same day, I went to the owner and advised that I wouldn’t be able to meet a 12 article quota writing such nonsense and that was not the reason I was hired for. The owner agreed and told me that they just needed help with the medical articles and that I would be returned to legal writing in a few days.

That was the only true statement made to me by this company, as I was returned to legal articles on Friday, [day 29], 2010. That day I wrote 12 articles, thought everything was back on track, and even went home and wrote five articles to prepare for Monday, [day 32], 2010.

When I got to work Monday morning, I met with the office manager who was already at her desk, I said good morning, and was met with no response. I figured that the negative attitude came from my refusal to sign a sheet the company had put out Friday where they requested that every employee punch in and out for lunch and bathroom breaks, which I know that the bathroom break part is completely illegal. The office manager also could have been pissed that I asked for a copy of my contract in addition to a pay stub which I also know is my right to receive. I filled out a time sheet, punched in and went to my desk. The computer I sat at (there are no assigned desks) was downloading some spyware and I wanted to ask the office manager if I should just let those run or close them out, but she was gone. When I went back to the desk and prepared to work, I saw an email from the office manager advising me that the company had decided to part ways with me because my writing was not up to the company’s standards and the company was not satisfied with my writing. (Despite having never told me what to write or how to write, but only telling me to make sure to use the keywords they provide you).

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What is the modern etiquette about firing someone by email?

I have also gotten a copy of a Phone to Phone Inc. employment agreement. Some terms that caught my eye:

* $15/hr

* vacation of 1 week per year, starting after 6 months [which, based on the emails I'm getting, sounds like an anniversary rarely reached by most hires]

* termination at will with zero notice by the company

* An employee is required to give 14 days notice of termination or “the employee will not be compensated for time worked prior to departure.” [Is that legal?]

* “If employee leaves less than one week after initial start date compensation will not be given for time worked.” [is that legal?]

* “The first 3 days of employment are on a trial basis, if terminated with in those 3 days, employee will not be compensated.” [is that legal?]

* The employment agreement contains a non-compete/non-solicit clause: “For a period of five (5) years after the end of employment, the Employee shall not control, consult to or be employed by any business similar to that conducted by the company, either by soliciting any of its accounts or by operating within Employer’s general trading area.” [I'm not an expert in NJ non-compete law, but that seems like a very aggressive clause for a hourly wage-earner. As a practical matter, I can't believe a court would enforce a 5 year non-compete for a writer who worked there only a few weeks or months]

* Separately, the company asks employees to sign a standalone “Employee Non-Compete Agreement.” This says the employee “agrees not to directly or indirectly compete with the business of the Company…for a period of five (5) years following termination of employment and notwithstanding the cause or reason of termination.” This agreement defines “not compete” as “not own, manage, operate, consult or be employed in a business substantially similar to, or competitive with, the present business of the Company or such other business activity in which the Company may substantially engage during the term of employment.” [It's odd to have two different non-compete provisions with different wording. Unlike the Employment Agreement provision, the standalone agreement does not have any restriction on geography, however amorphous that is in the Internet context.]

I can’t imagine Person to Person Inc. would actually sue to enforce the non-compete provisions against its writers. I certainly would not want to be the lawyer bringing such a dicey case.

My previous coverage of Phone to Phone Inc. and related entities:

* A Report About a “Sketchy” Interview With Phone to Phone Inc. (May 19, 2010)

* Public Librarian Complains About Phone to Phone Inc. (Jan. 17, 2010)

* Phone to Phone Inc. is Spamming Again–This Time for Lawschool.org (Jan. 14, 2010)

* Another Phone to Phone Inc. Employee Speaks Out (Dec. 15, 2009)

* Questionable Employment and SEO Practices at Phone to Phone Inc.? (Dec. 10, 2009)

* Attorney.org is Latest Phone to Phone Inc. Website to Spam Me (Oct. 28, 2009)

* More Spam from Phone to Phone Inc.–This Time on Behalf of Laws.com (Oct. 23, 2009)

* Newlawyer.com Spams Me Again (Twice in One Day!) (Oct. 19, 2009)

* Newlawyer.com: Persistent Telemarketer, and Now a Spammer (Oct. 2, 2009)

I also wrote a review of Newlawyer.com at SiteJabber.

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