Labor and employment issues are numerous and multifaceted. When you are running a business, you must be sure that you are in compliance with all state and federal laws regarding working conditions and payroll, that your benefits are administered properly and that your interests are protected in the event that an employee leaves the company–just to name a few of the most common labor and employment issues. Keeping track of these ever changing regulations and procedures while running your business can be difficult and time consuming. Fortunately, the labor and employment attorneys in our law firm are experienced in a wide range of labor-related issues and stay aware of the latest developments in labor and employment law so that you do not have to worry.
Labor and Employment Law Services
Our law firm offers extensive labor and employment services from experienced attorneys in the following areas:
- Employment Agreements / Contracts
- Severance and Defamation Agreements
- Stock Plans
- Employee Policies
- Employee Handbook
- Non-Compete Agreement
- Department of Labor (DOL) Audits
- State Payday and Unemployment Insurance Hearings
- State Discrimination Responses
- Review Payroll and Exempt Status
- Compliance with State and Federal Regulations
- Counseling on Hiring, Retention and Termination of Employees
- Counseling Employers on Discrimination, Harassment, Reductions in Force, Wrongful Discharge and Whistleblowing
- Assisting with Federal and State Wage and Hour Claims
- Counseling on Breach of Contract, Restrictive Covenants and Tortious Interference Claims
- Counseling on Employee Benefits Issues
- Counseling on Drug and Alcohol Testing and Background Checks
Employment Agreements / Contracts
If you are entering into a contract or other written agreement with employees, it is important that the agreement be tailored specifically to both your company’s needs and your state laws. Depending on the nature of your business, a generic employment contract may fail to adequately protect your intellectual property or leave you open to liability that could have been avoided. At the same time, it is easy to run afoul of the law if you are not familiar with all the state and federal regulations governing employee relationships.
The labor and employment lawyers in our offices are well versed in the relevant regulations and the protections your business should be looking for as it enters into employment agreements. We can assist by advising your in-house team or drafting employment agreements for your use.
Severance and Defamation Agreements
Separating from an employee can be a sensitive process, and may include negotiation on several issues, such as severance pay, disposition of benefits, restrictions on future employment within your market, protection of your trade secrets and intellectual property rights and more.
It is helpful to have an outside professional involved in the process for many reasons. For example, negotiating directly with an employee who has been terminated or who is voluntarily leaving due to problems or conflicts with the organization can be tense, and personal issues can get in the way of getting the job done in a way that works for everyone. An attorney with extensive experience in this arena can also help ensure that nothing is overlooked, and that the agreement is compliant with relevant laws.
Employee stock plans can be a significant motivator to draw desirable employees to your company and improve retention. But, stock plans may differ significantly. For instance, you may create an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), choose to offer employees stock options, or create an employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) through payroll deductions. You may even award stock on a merit basis, or based on years of service.
Choosing the right stock plan for your business and then ensuring that it is administered in compliance with all applicable laws and SEC regulations is a complex,detail-oriented process. An attorney with experience in the establishment and maintenance of employee stock plans can simplify the process for you and help ensure compliance.
Creating employee policies may seem like a simple process. You probably have some core policies in mind already, even if you are starting from scratch. However, creating these policies can be fraught with pitfalls. As you set forth the policies your employees will be expected to follow, you will have to ensure that the policies comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and that the policies are clear and will address all potential variations in the situation the policy is meant to address.
It is easy to run afoul of the law simply because you aren’t aware of a particular statute or interpretation. Some violations mean significant costs for your organization, so it is worth the investment to ensure that you have covered all the basics and are compliant with all applicable laws.
Your employee handbook codifies your employee policies. It may seem that once you have settled on a set of policies, the handbook will write itself. However, it is a bit more complicated than that in practice. Although you are creating the employee handbook, you will be bound by its contents. Thus, you may unwittingly limit your own rights. For example, in most states you may terminate an employee at will, with no justification required. However, if your employee handbook sets forth a process to be followed before termination–a series of write-ups or other interventions, perhaps–you will have curtailed your own legal right to fire without notice or cause.
The language employed in your employee handbook is also critical, as any uncertainty in meaning will be construed against you as the author of the document. In addition, you will need to ensure that your handbook doesn’t conflict with any other written policy of the organization or contract language.
You invest in training your employees and trust them with your trade secrets, intellectual property and customers or clients. It stands to reason that you would want to protect your investment by preventing those employees from going to work for a direct competitor or going out on their own and luring away a portion of your client base.
However, covenants to not compete are not enforceable if they are written too broadly. And, what constitutes “too broadly” depends upon your state, your industry, and other factors. Before writing a non-compete agreement that may turn out to be unenforceable, get advice from an experienced employment attorney.
Department of Labor (DOL) Audits
A Department of Labor (DOL) audit can be intimidating and unsettling. Often, these audits take place with little notice, and can be conducted at any time for any reason. The most common trigger for a DOL audit is an employee complaint, but the Department of Labor may undertake an audit due to its own initiative as well.
The specifics of how an audit plays out, including how long you will have to gather documentation, depends on the type of audit and the auditor in charge. Having experienced counsel to guide you through the process can reduce the stress and the disruption of your operations, while helping to ensure that your documentation is properly assembled.
State Payday and Unemployment Insurance Hearings
One reason labor and employment law is so complex is that employers are subject to governance at both the state and federal level, meaning different statutes, interpretations, regulations and processes. Two areas in which you may engage with state authorities are payday hearings and unemployment insurance hearings.
These matters differ in that one involves defending against claims that your company has failed to comply and the other allows you the opportunity to challenge a claim by a past employee for unemployment insurance. In both cases, though, it is important to fully understand the law and procedures. Even if the facts are on your side, you may lose your claim if you aren’t able to properly present your evidence or demonstrate that a specific legal requirement has (or has not) been fulfilled.
State Discrimination Responses
When an employee, past employee or applicant alleges discrimination with the state, you will be asked to submit a response and certain documentation. The exact procedure varies from state to state, but the content of your response is critical. In some states, your response is submitted under penalty of perjury, meaning that you must be extremely careful with your language. You should also be aware that omitting information, even inadvertently, may make that information less credible, or even subject to exclusion.
Working with an attorney who has extensive experience in responding to discrimination claims will help keep your response clear, focused, thorough and accurate, and assist with the assembly of appropriate documentation to create the most effective defense possible.
Review Payroll and Exempt Status
Paying your employees may seem like it should be a simple process, but state and federal law govern virtually every aspect of employee payroll, from withholding of taxes to minimum hourly rates to pay schedules. The matter may be further complicated when you have salaried employees who may or may not be exempt from overtime pay requirements.
This is not an area in which you can afford to make your best effort and hope you have complied with all the requirements. Legal guidance will provide the confidence you need in the classification of your employees and the management of your payroll issues.
Compliance with State and Federal Regulations
Compliance in many specific areas is addressed elsewhere on this page. However, the regulations of concern to any given company may vary, depending upon both the location of the business and the nature of the business.
Compliance issues can be difficult for two reasons. First, it is a challenging job to keep abreast of all the varied regulations your organization is bound by. Second, it is often difficult for a layperson to correctly interpret regulations and implement compliance.
Counseling on Hiring, Retention and Termination of Employees
Hiring, retention and termination of employees implicates a range of legal issues. Are your hiring policies legally compliant, or are you at risk of being accused of discrimination? Does your hiring process involve an employment contract, an orientation regarding company policies, or provision of a company handbook?
Do you understand what’s required by law and by the terms of your own contract, handbook or other documents in order to terminate an employee? What are your obligations upon termination? If you are unsure about any of the questions above, you can protect yourself and your business by seeking out experienced legal counsel with regard to your hiring and firing practices.
Counseling Employers on Discrimination, Harassment, Reductions in Force, Wrongful Discharge and Whistleblowing
While many areas of labor and employment are regulated, discrimination, harassment, downsizing, wrongful discharge and whistleblowing issues are among the most dangerous for employers, for a number of reasons:
the consequences can be serious,
the publicity can be very negative, and
these issues all involve at least a degree of gray area that can make it difficult for an employer to feel confident when confronted with such a claim.
In addition, these are areas in which emotions tend to run high and conflicting stories are common. The counsel and guidance of an experienced employment lawyer can go a long way toward reaching a favorable resolution.
Assisting with Federal and State Wage and Hour Claims
Wage and hour violations are serious business matters. These claims generally arise when an employer is accused of violating minimum wage laws, and state and federal regulators are granted broad investigative powers.
Not only can a wage and hour claim mean large fines for the employer, but some violations may be prosecuted criminally. In addition, it is against the law to terminate or otherwise discriminate against an employee for filing a wage and hour claim, which means that you may have a delicate employee relationship to manage at the same time you are addressing the claims against you.
Counseling on Breach of Contract, Restrictive Covenants and Tortious Interference Claims
In most states, an employee can generally be terminated for any reason or no reason. However, there are exceptions. For example, if the employee is under contract, he or she may have contractual rights that prevent termination or activate certain obligations on the part of the company upon termination.
Likewise, it is possible for a co-worker or third party to commit a tort that interferes with employment. For example, a co-worker lying about the employee to trigger termination might constitute tortious interference with employment, since the co-worker committed defamation which led to the employee’s termination.
These claims tend to be very fact-driven, but clear knowledge of the underlying law and procedures are necessary to effect a positive outcome.
Counseling on Employee Benefits Issues
The benefits you offer your employees can be a boon when it comes to both hiring and retention. They also trigger a wide variety of legal requirements that the average business owner or manager might not be aware of. For example, when you offer medical insurance as an employee benefit, you are required to comply with the Affordable Care Act with regard to benefits offered, to understand and comply with the terms of your contract with the insurance company, to convey certain information to your employees, to offer open enrollment during certain periods, and to extend coverage to certain dependents of your employees.
Getting the guidance you need up front can eliminate costly missteps and ensure that your employees get the full benefit of your medical insurance, 401(k) and other offerings.
Counseling on Drug and Alcohol Testing and Background Checks
Every employer wants to ensure that the people working for their organization are trustworthy and reliable. However, some legal limitations apply when it comes to the use of drug testing, alcohol testing, background checks and the use of credit reports in hiring or management.
Knowledgeable legal guidance in this arena will allow you to gather as much information as is useful and permissible without violating the rights of an applicant or employee and exposing yourself to liability.
The Benefits of Our Employment and Labor Law Counseling Services
Labor and employment law is complex and ever-evolving. Anyone managing the legal aspects of a business, such as employee benefits, drafting of employee agreements and policies or even more heavily regulated areas like stock plans would benefit from the advice of an experienced labor and employment attorney. Trying to cut corners and handle these matters on your own can be a costly and time-consuming mistake.
The labor and employment attorneys in our law firm have the experience you need to ensure that your employee agreements, policies and processes are both legally compliant and effective in achieving your goals. Take the stress out of a demanding process with the guidance of knowledgeable attorneys dedicated to your success.
Contact a Labor and Employment Attorney Right Now
Give your company the benefit of experienced legal guidance right away, so that you can focus on the day-to-day operations of your business. Simply send us a message through this website or call us right now to schedule a legal consultation.