Facing job loss, I can help you assess your legal rights and remedies, from negotiating severance agreements to pursuing claims for wrongful termination, unpaid wages, bonuses or other benefits, unlawful discrimination, and challenging unfair non-compete restrictions. Before you sign an exit interview release, call me.
Employees often call a lawyer too late – after they been fired, a probationary performance improvement period has lapsed, or have accepted a new job with a competing employer despite non-competition restrictions. Many are aware long before termination that their relationship with their supervisor is poor or eroding. Perhaps your supervisor expresses resentment at your exercise of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights, or has imposed a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) because your performance has been called into question. As soon as you sense that your employment is at risk you should consult a lawyer to assess your rights.
Many employees are surprised to learn that their jobs can be terminated at any time, either for not meeting performance standards or any other reason that is not unlawful (such as unlawful discrimination). Unless you work in a Union environment, your chief protections against unfair termination may arise from your Employer’s Handbook setting forth terms and conditions governing discipline, probation, notices and appeals from termination, and severance compensation. You should retain a copy of your Employer’s Handbook from the date of your hiring and any subsequent versions through the date your employment ends. Likewise, you should retain all formal performance evaluations, emails and other correspondence with your supervisor, human resources and colleagues that bear on your employment as potential evidence.
It is widely known that federal, state and local laws generally prohibit employers and supervisors from harassing, disciplining, demoting, transferring, or terminating an employee on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, and sexual orientation. Yet proving that your termination was the result of prohibited individual discrimination or a systematic pattern of workplace discrimination is difficult. Employees who suspect they are the victims of unlawful discrimination can certainly file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or similar state and local anti-discrimination agencies), but ultimately may need to file a lawsuit in federal or state courts to vindicate their claims and obtain monetary compensation. Employees should consult with a qualified employment anti-discrimination lawyer well in advance of the 180-day EEOC filing deadline to ensure that their charge is well written, and again before the 90-day period after the EEOC’s determination of their claim, to maximize their chance for a favorable monetary outcome.
Both Maryland and the District of Columbia require that employees are paid their earned regular and overtime wages, salary, commission, bonus and fringe benefits either biweekly or twice monthly. Employers who wrongfully withhold wages (whether regular wages upon termination) may be ordered by a Court to pay up to 3 times the unpaid wages plus attorneys’ fees for violations of this requirement. However, this relief may not be available to independent contractors, or highly paid employees exempt from overtime. If your employer regularly delays or only partially pays wages due to cash flow problems, consult me to discuss how you may prosecute your claim to get your hard-earned wages.
Executive, sales and service employees are sometimes required to sign agreements when hired restricting their right to work for a competing employer for a year or more if their employment is terminated, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. These agreements can restrict a former employee from soliciting former customers, co-workers or vendors for a competing employer, and expose a prospective employer to liability for hiring an employee subject to such restrictions. Employees and prospective employers can also be held liable using proprietary information developed by the employee while working for the former employer (e.g. customer lists, marketing materials), regardless of whether they signed any agreement restricting their post-employment agreement. While this seems unfairly to restrict an employee’s right to freely pursue their livelihood, courts frequently uphold such restrictions intended to protect an employer’s investment in an employee’s training and development to those reasonable in time and geographic scope depending upon the employee’s scope of influence. For example, nationwide restrictions might be overbroad, but restriction on soliciting specific clients may be enforceable in Court. For this reason, consulting a lawyer prior to signing such non-compete provisions is important to understand and negotiate less restrict post-employment restrictions, or to defend post-employment litigation to enforce overbroad restrictions.