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I worked for a company for eight years. While I was there, I made a mistake and had an affair with the owner. I was single and he was married.

After two years, he ended our relationship, saying he would lose his standing in his church if anyone found out about us. I agreed to stop because it was the right thing to do.

Two weeks after we broke up, he started an affair with the payroll clerk, who made sure I heard all about it. When I told my supervisor I was uncomfortable with the situation, I got put on suspension without pay for a week for getting involved in their private lives. It was so unpleasant that I had to quit.

Now I can't find a job making anything close to my old salary. I work in a small, close-knit industry and I think the company owner is blackballing me. I feel I was done extremely dirty. What do you think?

We assume you learned your lesson, so we won't dwell on your own severe error in judgment.

As for your boss, we think he is a disgusting pig-man. Our first response to your letter involved some elaborate revenge strategies. (Do you have access to red spray paint, a megaphone and a donkey?) But when we calmed down, we realized you'd be much better off calling a lawyer.

"Sleeping with your boss may be unwise, but being disciplined for speaking up about his affair with another employee may be unlawful," says Ellen Bravo, director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. "You may have experienced what's known as constructive discharge - being forced to quit. Consult a lawyer who specializes in employment discrimination." (For more information on your rights, call 9to5's toll-free hotline, 1-800-522-0925.)

I felt compelled to write after reading your column about the nurse who was severely injured in her hospital's parking lot and had trouble getting workers' compensation.

After being physically injured on the job, I also put my trust in my employer's workers' comp office. It was a mistake. I had constant battles over my medical needs.

Finally, a friend asked me a telling question: "Who do the people in the workers comp office work for?" Obviously, they worked for my employer. That insight spurred me to hire a compensation attorney who could work for me. Within hours, I was referred to doctors who gave me appointments for the following day and received my first prescriptions.

The final result: I got full coverage for my medical bills, disability leave and physical therapy, plus all my attorney's fees.

Everyone should have a smart friend like yours. When you're dealing with a serious work-related injury, you can't leave your health and your future ability to work in the hands of bureaucrats who may not know (or not care) what you're entitled to receive. If you assume that other people will take care of you, you may wind up with nothing.

If you're badly hurt on the job, it's up to you to protect yourself. Call your state workers' compensation office or your local bar association to find out more about your rights and to get a referral to a reputable, experienced attorney who specializes in this area and is familiar with your state's laws.

Don't delay; most states set very firm deadlines on workers' compensation claims, and they don't make exceptions for nice people who didn't understand that the folks in the workers' comp office are beholden to the person who signs their paychecks.

Copyright © 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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