February 22, 2023

The Law at Work: Alan G. Crone, Esq.

Work conflict can be frightening as employers have more power than employees. When problems arise with no apparent solutions, it can feel like you, the employee, have no leverage to resolve them.

Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and my next guest is Alan Crone, who is here to talk about his newest book, The Law at Work: A Legal Playbook for Executives and Professionals. Let’s get into it.

Hello everyone and welcome back to the show. I’m here with my friend, Alan Crone who just launched a book that’s kind of amazing. It’s very niche but I love it because it’s for people that really need to know, The Law at Work. My friend Alan, thank you for joining me today, I really appreciate you.

Alan G. Crone, Esq: Oh, it’s my pleasure Hussein, it’s great to be here.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, this is great. So you’ve put, I would say, like a lifetime’s worth of energy, resources, and of course, wisdom into this book in trying to help executives and professionals with the legality of things around work of course but before we get into all that in the book and all those great things that you’ve been up to, I kind of want to go back in time and share with our audience a little bit about, sort of who you are, where you grew up and perhaps, maybe a person that you looked up to the most or someone that inspired you to get on this path that you’re on.

Alan G. Crone, Esq: Okay, love to talk about that. My favorite subject is myself.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love it. So yeah, please share. Anything you want to tell us about growing up and what that was like for you?

Alan G. Crone, Esq: Well, I live in Memphis, Tennessee. My family has lived in and around Memphis for about four or five generations, which for Memphis is a long time. I love my hometown, as I said, you ask about whom I looked up to and you know, there are a lot of people. I’ll tell you one person that I really look up to is my mother, Dotty Crone.

She was an art teacher as I was growing up and one thing that she really did for my sister and me was to introduce us to the arts, introduce us to history. She loved to tell us stories, historical stories, and growing up, I think that’s what gave me my fascination and appreciation for the arts, whether it’s going to an art gallery or going to the theater.

I was a theater major for a brief period of time in college and I stopped being a theater major when I was on a date. My date said, “Theater major? How are you going to make any money at that?” and I had to admit, she had a little bit of a point.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, they all have a point.

Alan G. Crone, Esq: Yeah but that’s what kind of propelled me towards Law because I’m a trial lawyer by training and at heart. I love the courtroom, I love the drama of a courtroom. I also learned a long time ago that if there’s a trial going on, it’s probably because somebody didn’t do their job. So that has also inspired me to look for ways to avoid the courtroom, ironically.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, that’s really powerful actually to think about, and the fact that you said that the drama of the courtroom, all those kinds of things but that kind of led you to a higher understanding of it all in the sense that yeah, somebody may or may not be doing their job correctly. So you go through college, and after this date, did you end up staying with this lady? I got to know, like what happened?

Alan G. Crone, Esq: That particular lady, no. I did not. I soon, I’ll say, re-met my current wife. We met while we were both in college. We actually met while we were in high school doing musical theater at the time, she was dating someone else and I was studying to be a catholic priest. So, romance was not foremost in my mind at that point. My wife and I started dating in college after we did another show together and we went to law school together and got married, in our second and third years of law school and the rest is history.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s amazing. How beautiful. Well, I got to tell you, my wife is a theater major and she’s a stage manager.

Alan G. Crone, Esq: Oh great, I did some of that.

Making the Language of Law Approachable

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, so it’s really cool to be around all the theater people. I myself, I’m an artist as well, the graphics and all that kind of stuff. I love that your mother inspired you in that direction to at least, in a way appreciate it, in a way value it as a part of our culture and society. I think that’s just beautiful.

It doesn’t really matter what you end up doing, I think any profession is an art form in how we embrace it, study it, learn about it, and get better at it. I think that’s a craft in of itself and in your case, it seemed to have shifted into law and the ideas behind it and of course, going further and where Law is taking place which is especially in work environments, which led you to this sort of work.

So let’s talk about that a little bit, what inspired you to not only write this book but what do you hope readers take away from it? That’s I think the biggest goal when we’re talking about books at Scribe is what we want people to take away from our books. But, law at work is very complex.

It’s very… I feel like, it’s very deep from my understanding and I’m looking at it from a very surface level, I have nothing to do with that world. It seems very complicated but can you share a little bit about that, what inspired you to write this book specifically? Who do you want to help?

Alan G. Crone, Esq: I’ll tell you, to answer that question, I first got to tell you why I love employment law, why it’s my passion. It’s because it’s about people. Now, at the heart of any legal issue is people. I don’t care if you’re talking about tax law or anything you think is the driest form of law, at the end of the day, it’s all about people.

But employment law really is all about people and when you think about it, your relationship with your employer is the most important relationship you have outside of your significant other, your married partner or your life partner, or whatever situation you’re in. Not only is it an important relationship but it’s, without putting too fine a point on it, it’s a life-sustaining relationship and the law surrounding employment law as you say are very complex.

So what I wanted to do with this book and what I hope people take away from this book is an understanding of how the law works in a way that’s very approachable. I tried to write it in a very approachable way. You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand this. In fact, lawyers may read it and be a little frustrated with it because it’s not exactly the way lawyers are used to talking about things.

But I wanted to write it so that an executive or a professional person who has a legal issue with their employer and doesn’t feel comfortable going to HR or going to their own company lawyer will have a starting place to understand some really important issues about discrimination or restrictive agreements they may have signed or other issues that we often don’t know who to turn to.

So this isn’t an end-all and be-all book, it gets everybody started and thinking about things that maybe they haven’t thought about before.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I love that so much. Navigating your book, as you said is very digestible, it’s very easy to read. It’s like, I don’t want to say, common language but it is common language in the sense that yeah, it may not make sense to a lot of lawyers because their level of knowledge, of course, and their expertise is way beyond mine.

But as you said, if I’m looking at something that I really need help in and I’m maybe timid or fearful or whatever, I need something to look towards and look into, this is actually very helpful. So can you discuss a little bit of the key insights of this theme in exploring your book and how it relates to the workplace today?

I mean, in the sense that law is of course the most powerful component that moves our world forward but here it is, at the very thing that keeps my livelihood going, right? And how it plays is something I don’t even really think about that often. To a degree, I do of course, but, can you talk to us a little bit about those key insights?

Alan G. Crone, Esq: Well, I think one insight that I hope people have in reading this book is that as I said before, your work relationships are human relationships. In the United States, the American worker, whether they’re a janitor or the CEO of a company, has very, very few rights. Legal rights but so much of your survival and advancement in the workplace is about how well you can deal with other people and manage relationships.

And we talk about that a lot in the book and try to separate legal protections from simple protections of those relationships that, that a person can execute on their own, and if you’re talking to a lawyer about your working relationship, you’re probably not going to be able to salvage that on your own and so what I hope people can do is read this book and have some tools on how to interact with their bosses or coworkers in such a way that they don’t need to go hire a lawyer.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s so beautiful because it kind of leads me to my next sort of area, which is this idea of almost preventing the whole thing to begin with. What tools, what kind of actions, and what kind of behaviors are beneficial to me to do or not do at work?

I feel like from the basis of just morale, from the basis of those kinds of things, and understanding other people in relationships is of course the vital key. Around those topics, what would you say is the most misunderstood thing when it comes to employment law in that general vicinity?

Alan G. Crone, Esq: Well, I think the most misunderstood aspect of the law is that there’s very little protection. Most States in the union have the employment-at-will doctrine, which means that you can be fired at any time for any reason or no reason. There’s no law against being a bad boss, a bad business person, or making arbitrary decisions.

Now, from a legal standpoint, what a company can’t do is fire or discipline someone for illegal reasons. Their membership in a protected category such as age or race or color or sex, those sorts of things, or for engaging in certain protected activities such as blowing the whistle on illegal activity.

That’s a pretty narrow playing field and so just about every other interaction that you have, kind of comes down to, we have a whole chapter in the book on office politics. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with people in a consultation and heard their story and essentially, had to say to them, “Well, what you got is, you got some office politics here. We’re going to have to figure out a way for you to navigate those and there may not be any way to avoid a separation. What we can do is try to make that separation on your terms.”

I think, changes in circumstances and in workplaces that maybe are subtle or even sudden often are sources of conflict and people look to a legal remedy when they really don’t have one. And sometimes, the best move is to start looking for another job before the situation goes sideways and we help people through that because oftentimes people feel reluctant to go to the company’s HR department or legal team.

They’re concerned about the company’s reaction to their situation. So it’s not unusual for people to come to us looking for advice for non-legal situations and the book has some chapters on that for people to be able to devise their own strategies based on the situation in front of them.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Can you talk us through a little bit about, maybe a story that you may have that can share a little bit of what comes up often for you? As I understand, office politics is one thing. What’s something that you have come across quite a bit and there is a behavior shift or a change that one needs to think about in pursuing X, Y, or Z, whatever that thing may be?

Can you share maybe a story or something like that where someone came to you and you advised them on sort of changing something, their shift, maybe that internal shift that they need to do, perhaps see a therapist? I don’t know what it may be, right? What does that story look like? Because I’m sure, there are countless incidents where people feel like they need a lawyer to help them out through things but what’s the thing that comes up the most for you?

Alan G. Crone, Esq: There’s a… as you say, there are lots of variations. A common theme these days is either a company has changed the way it approaches its business for whatever reason or there is a leadership change in the organization that affects a particular employee and all of a sudden, the way we’ve always done things is no longer acceptable, you know?

Sometimes, there is a racial or sexist or ageist intention behind it but more often, it’s just a difference of opinion, the company has decided to go a different direction or your supervisor of 19 years leaves and is replaced by a new person who has new ideas and maybe innovative ideas, and I see that kind of result in retaliation claims because the employee decides to push back because they think the way things had been done is fine or preferable or maybe more ethical than the new strategies.

And that’s when it’s not a bad idea to talk to somebody about it and get a feel for whether or not you’re overreacting or you really do have something because often, the difference between one person’s unethical behavior and another person’s innovation can be very, very thin and if you’re not, in most states, if you’re not complaining about illegal activity and certain ethical issues may not be legal issues, that difference of philosophy can be a problem.

What I always counsel people to do there is — you got to ask yourself, “Okay, is this something I can adjust to and accept and adopt? It may not be the way I think it ought to be done but can I adopt the way my supervisor wants me to do it?” and if the answer is yes, then she’s the boss or he’s the boss — you got to do what they want to do as long as it’s not illegal. If the answer is no to that question, I just can’t adapt to that, then you need to start looking for another job because that situation isn’t going to change just because you want it to change.

We can work together. I can work with the client to determine if it’s an illegal action or just a difference of opinion and it’s not the worst thing in the world to go out and get another job, go out and find another situation. Often times my clients, I can think of one client in particular, who about six months later, called me up and said, “You know, I left ABC company and I’m now at Acme and I like the people better, I like the process better, it’s a better fit for me, I wish I had done this five years ago.”

And sometimes, just that reluctance we all have to change, to hold us back and hold us in a bad situation whereas if we just kind of let go and embrace that change, whether it’s the internal change or “I’m just going to go and do something different or go do what I’m doing now but someplace else,” it’s scary but it can be very beneficial in the long haul.

Finding The Solution

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I love that because, ultimately, a lot of these choices are bound to sometimes, fears, and the biggest fear we have obviously as human beings — is the fear of change especially when we got our ducks in a row, right? We don’t want to rearrange those things.

So I love that you brought that to the table because as you said earlier if people are doing their job correctly, they probably wouldn’t be in the courtroom, you know? And I love that approach because sadly, the general consensus on what it means to have a lawyer, what it means all those kinds of things is that you not only avoid the courtroom of course but avoid taxes and avoid this and avoid that, right?

There are so many different components but when you simplify it from your perspective, which I feel like is a very human perspective of saying, “Hey look, let’s avoid that whole thing altogether” maybe think about some things that maybe it is time for you to move on, maybe it is time for you to find a place that for me — I’ll be honest with you, this is such a beautiful conversation because for me, for the longest time, I graduated architecture.

I tried to get a job in that world, didn’t happen. I started a business, and so on and so forth, all great things but what I love the most is I’m a Muslim. I’m not the most practicing Muslim in the world but there are times where I lean into my prayer, I lean into my fasting, I lean into just my cultural heritage things.

However, there are many places in the world, especially in the United States where doing those kinds of things at work is just not even thought about, not even… you know what I mean? Not even considered and so working with Scribe, not only is that provided, there’s a space for it and all those kinds of things but it’s also welcomed.

And so just having that mentality of like, who I am is welcomed here has made me feel a hundred times better, it made me feel like, “Oh man, I should have been looking for this type of work environment that allows for my religious freedoms to not judged” — rather welcomed is a good thing to think about and there are many companies out there that have those values, you know?

And I think when we are put in a place where we have to go to legal counsel and you are sitting in front of me saying, “Hey Hussein, maybe it is time for you to think about X, Y or Z” and I just love that because it’s not like, “Oh yeah, let’s go sue them if they do this.” It is not rigid and constructed negatively, it’s very positive.

So I just want to say, that I just appreciate your line of vision. It sounds very human. What do you think contributes to that? What do you think is kind of unique about your law firm? It sounds like that you really want to amplify the human persona overtaking things to a very serious unneeded territory of more lawyers, more courtrooms, all those kinds of things.

Alan G. Crone, Esq: Well, I think at the Crone Law Firm, one of the things that we do is we try to solve a problem and sometimes the only solution is you got to sue somebody, you got to fight for your beliefs, that sort of thing. One way that I think that a person can avoid these situations is whether you are hiring someone or whether you’re looking for another job, to figure out in that job interview you can what the company’s mission is and how well-articulated the mission is.

If the company does decision-making based on whether the particular action furthers the mission of the company, then it shouldn’t matter whether someone is a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, black, white, young, old, all those things — if you as an employee can contribute towards achieving the mission and all of the decisions are made based on that, then everybody’s going to know where they stand.

But all too often in situations where, frankly, the company is liable whether I am representing them or an executive or whomever I might be representing, where the company isn’t really focused on its mission. They start to make decisions for a lot of sometimes crazy, sometimes inappropriate ways and that includes how to discipline, who to discipline and so forth and if your coworkers or your boss has spent more time talking about each other or engaging in drama that does not further the mission, then that’s a pretty good indication that it’s not a great place to work from a moral standpoint and it probably isn’t a great place to work for your career because you are going to get involved in all of these side discussions that really don’t have any productive effect.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: So yeah, this is great, man. I just appreciate your very humble approach to all of this. It sounds incredible. How would you say this book, and this conversation, leads and contributes to the larger conversation about workplace rights and responsibilities? What do you hope the impact of the book will be on this sort of ongoing overall conversation especially in recent times, right?

With COVID and the tension that we all know and feel, how do you feel this book kind of contributes to that?

Alan G. Crone, Esq: Well first and foremost, I wanted to write a book that people could understand what the law is and what the law isn’t. We talk about antidiscrimination laws, we talk about restricted covenants, and agreements like non-compete or non-solicit agreements. We talk about electronic information and how to handle confidential information.

I tried to write a book in such a way that if you are an executive and you’re having to manage people, you can learn from this how not to make mistakes and either intentionally or unintentionally to illegally discriminate but if you feel like you’re the victim of discrimination, you can read this and get a little bit of a better idea on whether or not you have legal recourse or if you have to engage in some non-legal self-help.

So that’s the first thing, I wanted to write something that was approachable, that explained the law in non-legal terms so that it would be useful and then I think the other thing is that one of the themes that pervade in the book is what I said about the mission. Most of the disagreements or disputes or snafus or whatever you want to call them that I see when I’m working with clients, 99% of them are all about communication and a lack of transparency.

I think the American manager isn’t trained very well in constructive confrontation and I’ll give you an example. This is a story from the book that I think surprises a lot of people. I had a fellow come see me about 15 years ago. An African-American guy, he was probably 60 and he had been working for this same company for, at that point, I think, 25 or 30 years and he was a manager, kind of supervisor, of a work crew.

He habitually would show up 15 to 25 minutes late every day for 30 years. He gets a new supervisor and the new supervisor comes to him and says, “Look, you got to be here on time. You are 15 minutes late. If you are late one more time, I’m going to fire you.” Well, he was late. He gets fired, he comes to see me and he tells me this story, a little bit longer than the way I just told it to you and he said, “You know, it’s got to be because I’m black or old.”

I said, “Why?” he says, “Well, I’ve been late every day for the last 30 years and it didn’t make a difference, what changed? Nothing changed, so therefore it must be because I’m black.” I understand where he’s coming from, old man, but they didn’t sit down and explained to him why this change was being instituted, why it was important for him to be on time and there were some other managers who weren’t given the same kind of scrutiny.

Which gave us a little more leverage on the situation than we might have ordinarily had. We’re able to resolve that dispute but I think if this manager had sat down and said, “Look, I’m new and it’s really important for me, for us to start the morning strong and want you here 15 minutes early so that you can get your crew ready to go and we can be productive,” I know exactly what he would have said but I think the outcome would have been a lot different.

Then just for the first time after 30 years saying, “Hey, you were late. You need to show up on time tomorrow or you’re fired.” So that’s an example of the manager not really understanding how to constructively confront this man on his tardiness and why it was important for him not to be tardy. I’m not saying that he should continue to tolerate that but there is a way to make that happen so that the other man doesn’t believe he’s being discriminated against and go and see a lawyer.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, that’s so powerful because that really brings the book to full circle in the sense that this is how accessible the language is in the book, you guys, to our audience, whose people out there that struggle with all kinds of things. Whether you own your own company or working for someone else of course, these are very tough conversations and they’re hard to bring up with our managers and the people that we feel like, in many cases, feel like we should be taking care of by them.

But when they approach our situation a little differently or we feel a little differently, yeah, it’s going to get you to know, confrontational. It may get obvious, when we get to sit down with some lawyers but obviously, there are so many things that I highly agree with, that most managers unfortunately are not trained in communication very well. They are promoted, they’re called accidental managers, and they just kind of got bumped up.

Not that you know, it’s to degrade those people that are in those positions by any means. It’s that they are not — really trained to take on a group of people and even their higher-ups and learn how to be transparent on both ends sort of like a double-edged sword but I’m glad that people have found you in ways that they have and I’m glad you’re able to help them with solutions that are direct while almost being educational, which is why I feel like you wrote such an incredible book because you’re able to take these conversations and break them down into bite-sized pieces so that we can understand where our rights are and where they are not and that’s so powerful.

So Alan, my friend, it’s been an honor sitting down with you and getting to know you today. I learned so much, truly. Every time I’m on an episode like this, I learned so much and today was no different. So thank you for sharing your stories and your experiences with our audience as well. The book is called, The Law at Work: A Legal Playbook for Executives and Professionals. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you, Alan?

Alan G. Crone, Esq: If you Google Alan Crone, Attorney, Memphis, you’ll get more information than you probably want but my website is cronelawfirmplc.com.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Beautiful. Well, thanks again, Alan. It’s an absolute pleasure having you on the show, my friend.

Alan G. Crone, Esq: My pleasure, Hussein, it was good to talk to you. I’ll see you around campus.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love it, man. Thank you.