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Employment Law

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Non-Compete Agreements

Non-Compete Agreements 

Courts typically disfavor “covenants not to compete” or “non-compete agreements.”  Therefore, the terms and provisions of these contracts must not be overly restrictive of the employee.  In order for a non-compete to be upheld, the document must “be reasonable in scope, geography, and time.”  It cannot last for years on end, or prevent the employee from working anywhere in the entire state. Likewise, an employer cannot prohibit an employee from working in a large variety of industries, especially if the restriction includes industries wholly unrelated to the employer’s line of work. 

Two other elements are analyzed by a court to determine the validity of a non-compete agreement:  (1) there must be mutual consideration between both the employer and employee at the moment the contract is signed and (2) the non-competition agreement must protect “a legitimate business interest of the employer.”  Preventing a former employee from working for an employer’s business rival, or preventing disclosure of trade secrets or personally identifiable information of important clientele, are typically considered justifiable business interests.

Non-compete agreements are generally implemented to protect a company’s most important assets:  its reputation and its confidential information.  However, the terms protecting these assets cannot be overly broad or vague.  Thus, in evaluating the “reasonableness” of a non-competition agreement, the court will conduct a “balancing test.”  This is a comparison of the employer’s need to protect its “business interests” with the “burden that enforcement of the agreement would place on the employee.” 

The validity of non-compete agreements is decided on a case-by-case basis. The court will consider circumstances such as the length of time certain information will be kept confidential, and the company’s reasons for limiting the employee's job search to a geographical area. If the court finds that the agreement serves a valid interest and does not exceed the range necessary to protect that interest, the entire agreement may be upheld. 

The court also has the option of doing away with overly intrusive terms in a non-compete, rather than invalidating the agreement entirely. In cases in which a non-compete is perceived by the court as punitive, unduly restricting an employee from obtaining employment, the agreement will not be upheld.  A licensed attorney who specializes in employment law will be able to gauge the likelihood that a particular non-compete agreement will be enforceable.


Monday, November 27, 2017

At-Will Employment

At-will Employment: Does it Apply to You?

It may seem unfair, but an employer can fire an “at-will” employee at any time, without good cause – or even without any cause at all. It is a bitter pill, and one that many workers must swallow. Under Kentucky law, you are generally deemed to be employed at-will, unless you can prove otherwise.

Workers who are employed at-will can be fired for no reason, but they cannot be fired for a protected reason. Some reasons are illegal under federal or state law, exceptions to the general doctrine of at-will employment. For example, you cannot be fired for complaining about discrimination, harassment, or safety violations in the workplace, or for complaining about illegal activity. The majority of employers are subject to anti-discrimination laws and cannot fire you based on certain characteristics, such as gender, race or religion. Similarly, you cannot be fired because you have exercised a legal right, such as taking time off for family and medical leave, military service, jury duty, or voting in an election.

Many employers take steps to ensure that the at-will nature of the employment is clearly established and agreed-to by all parties. This is typically spelled out in employment applications and contracts, employee policy and procedure manuals, and may be described as “at-will employment” or simply contain statements that you can be terminated at any time “without cause” or “for any reason.”

Still others have implemented written policies that protect their employees against being fired without good cause, and specify the reasons for which an employee can be terminated. If your employer has adopted such a policy, you are entitled to those protections.  Likewise, if you have signed an employment contract guaranteeing you job security, your employment is not at-will and you are entitled to the protections contained in the written agreement.

Should you sign an at-will employment agreement? Courts have generally held that an employee can be terminated, or not hired, for refusing or failing to sign an at-will employment agreement.While you are not technically required to sign the agreement, if you want to get hired or keep your job, it may be in your best interest to sign the agreement.

Nevertheless, if the at-will agreement contradicts what your employer previously promised you, you may want to think twice about signing on the dotted line. If you relied on the employer’s promises of job security when you accepted the position, you should consult an attorney before signing an at-will agreement. Courts will presume the signed at-will agreement controls your employment, regardless of any prior statements to the contrary.

Just because you sign the at-will agreement does not mean your employer will use it to fire you without cause. There is little to be gained in terminating a productive employee, and most employers will attempt to work with you to resolve any issues. Ultimately, the best way to avoid the perils of at-will employment is to be an outstanding employee. Delivering exceptional job performance is good for the company’s bottom line – and your own.  


Monday, November 13, 2017

Construction Accidents

CONSTRUCTION ACCIDENTS

Because construction work is inherently dangerous, the risk of injury to workers is greater than in other industries and workplaces. However, construction workers have a right to a safe work environment. While construction injuries are usually covered under workers' compensation laws, it may be possible to pursue a lawsuit based on negligence against site owners, contractors, subcontractors, their employees and agents for violations of applicable safety laws.

There are number of causes of construction accidents, including:

  • Falls - from roofs, ladders scaffolding and other heights
  • Falling objects - improperly secured tools, equipment and construction material can fall and strike a worker, causing head, neck, brain and spinal injuries
  • Equipment accidents - workers can be injured by machinery and equipment such as forklifts, cranes, nails guns and dumpsters
  • Fires and explosions - hazards arise from exposed wires, flammable materials, blow torches and leaking pipes which can lead to catastrophic injuries and fatalities
  • Trench/ Building Collapses - workers can be buried, injured and killed in trench collapses or by buildings that are being constructed or demolished
  • Repetitive Motion Injuries - physical labor often requires bending and lifting that can lead to muscle and joint damage
  • Respiratory illnesses - as a result of exposure to dust, asbestos, and other pollutants

Construction accidents can lead to a variety of injuries. For example, many injuries require fingers, toes and limbs to be amputated. In addition, broken bones and fractures are common as are shoulder, knee and ankle injuries. Workers can suffer head or brain injuries from falls or falling objects as well as spinal cord injuries or paralysis. Other common injuries include eye injuries or loss of vision, and hearing loss.

If you are a construction worker who has been injured on the job, you have the right to be treated for your injuries and the right to receive workers' compensation benefits. If the injury was the result of negligence, however, you may be able to pursue a personal injury lawsuit.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Employment Discrimination Laws in a Nutshell

Employment Discrimination Laws in a Nutshell

There are a variety of state and federal laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate based on certain characteristics when making decisions about hiring, terminating, promoting, demoting or compensating employees, or any other terms and conditions of employment. Employers are also barred from retaliating against employees who file a discrimination-related complaint or engage in other protected activities. While the laws vary from state to state, all employers have an obligation to adhere to the following federal laws.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

This law prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, national origin, religion and gender. Title VII also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government agency that is tasked with investigating employment discrimination claims.  Before an employment discrimination lawsuit under federal law can be brought, it is necessary to file a claim with the EEOC. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The ADEA prohibits employers with 20 or more employees from discriminating against individuals who are 40 years or older and their age cannot be used as a factor in any employment decision.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating or harassing disabled employees and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations that will enable a qualified disabled worker to complete his or her job functions.  

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy regarding any aspect of employment in businesses with 15 or more employees. Women who are temporarily unable to perform their jobs due to pregnancy must be treated similarly to other temporarily disabled workers. The ADA may also protect a woman who suffers from a pregnancy related medical condition.

The Bottom Line

In sum, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees and potential job candidates because of race, religion, sex, age, disability, pregnancy or national origin. Not only can violations lead to financial penalties, a discrimination lawsuit can damage a business' reputation. By engaging the services of an experienced employment law attorney, you can establish policies and procedures to ensure that your business is in compliance with these laws. 

 


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Employment Contracts in a Nutshell

Employment Contracts in a Nutshell

The contemporary workplace has become increasingly complicated as many businesses are governed by a wide range of state and federal employment laws. Moreover, the relationship between employers and employees has also become more complex, particularly as the work force becomes more diverse. For this reason, business owners should consider utilizing employment contracts to clarify these associations.

While such agreements may not be necessary across the board, they are well suited for executives, sales people, or those who have either a decision making role or an ownership interest in the business. As such, the first element of a comprehensive employment contract is a description of the employee's duties and the duration of employment.

Obviously, an employment contract should specify the salary that is being paid as well as any work-related benefits: bonuses, vacation pay, health insurance, expense accounts, stock options and retirement plans. The contract should also clarify whether the employee is working at will and the grounds for termination. It is important to note that an employee who is fired for reasons not stated in the agreement may have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Depending on the nature of the business, it is also necessary to protect sensitive information with confidentiality provisions. In particular, it is crucial to protect trade secrets, such as formulas, designs, practices, client lists or any other information that is generally not known to the public. Moreover, employees should be notified that all work product is owned by the business. Similarly, if the entity has relationships with independent contractors or freelancers, it is important to clarify that anything they produce is on a work-for-hire basis.

In addition to confidentiality provisions, it may also be necessary to include a non-compete clause clarifying that an employee will not accept a similar job with a competitor in the geographical region for a specified period of time.

In the end, there are a number of benefits to utilizing employment contracts. In addition to helping to retain key employees and minimize the costs of training new people, employment contracts give a business control over performance standards. Further, these agreements provide protection against the potential misappropriation of trade secrets and other intellectual property. Ultimately, these agreements help to clarify the rights and obligations of both the employer and the employee. By engaging the services of an experienced employment law attorney, a business can put in place a well designed employment agreement.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Email at Work: Is there An Expectation of Privacy ?

Email @ Work: Is There Any Expectation of Privacy?

The proliferation of high-speed communication devices have made us more productive and more vulnerable in terms of our privacy. Desk-bound workers may be tempted to use the office email account to engage in personal communications – however, they do so at some risk to their privacy. How much privacy can employees expect for their electronic communications at work? Practically speaking, it is safe to presume everything may be monitored by your employer.

The law generally favors employers’ interests over employees’ privacy. Employers clearly have a legitimate business interest in tracking employee time and productivity. Additionally, employers must ensure their workers are not engaging in any illegal activity or releasing trade secrets. The law permits employers to read employee email messages; if there is a company policy in place that assures employees that email messages will remain private, a worker may be able to argue that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, but the effectiveness of that argument varies. The courts have generally upheld employers’ rights to monitor and read their employees’ email messages, particularly when there is a compelling, business-related reason for doing so.

There is, however, a law that affords employees some protection of their privacy when accessing personal email accounts, such as Gmail or Hotmail. Should the password to a personal email account fall into the wrong hands, the employer is prohibited from using that information to access the employee’s personal emails without the employee’s permission. Under the Stored Communications Act, such conduct is a crime and also creates a civil cause of action for damages. Keep in mind that accessing these accounts from a work computer can give the employer the right to read messages employees send or receive using company equipment. However, the employer is not permitted to log in and view other personal email communications.
 


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Common Lawsuits Brought Against Small Businesses

Common Lawsuits Brought Against Small Businesses 

It is impossible to predict every lawsuit that a small business might possibly face. There is nothing to prevent angry vendors, entitled customers, or disgruntled employees from filing a lawsuit, even if there is no legitimate basis for it. The more a business owner delegates responsibilities to employees, the greater the risk that an employee makes a mistake and exposes the business to a lawsuit. Even the most vigilant, hands on business owner is bound to make a mistake that can lead to a complaint filed against the business.

The most common lawsuits brought against businesses are wrongful termination suits brought by employees or candidates who have suffered a negative employment action. This can be anything from being fired to being demoted or even passed over for an advancement opportunity. If the employee or candidate believes that the action was taken for a reason related to race, gender, religion, identity, or another protected classification, that employee might file a lawsuit. For this reason, it is important to document any sort of negative or positive behaviors at work, so that if an employee does complain of discrimination, the courts can see the employee’s work history and the real reason why he or she may have been passed over for a promotion. Disparaging remarks made about any of these protected classes have no business in a work place as they can create a hostile work environment and lead to lawsuits as well.

Many employers choose to save money by denying their employees overtime pay. This can create many extra costs, as employees will sue for the money they are owed, and the legal fees can be significant. It is a good idea to have contracts establishing the boundaries of a relationship between an employer and an employee to minimize confusion.

It also makes sense to put agreements with vendors and customers in writing. The contracts should include a general description of the work to be performed, a list of any items to be delivered, a project schedule with deadlines, the fee, and the circumstances under which additional fees might be charged, warranties included with the work, how long the contract lasts, how it can be terminated, and how disputes will be resolved.

Personal injury lawsuits against businesses are also common, so it is important to make sure that a place of business is kept in safe condition. Floors should always be dry and warnings should be presented to customers of any dangerous conditions. Drivers should be selected carefully as any accident they cause can be made the responsibility of the business that employs them. Employees who are injured at work are usually precluded from suing their employer and are instead referred to worker’s compensation courts which have their own legal fees. Most states require employers to carry insurance in case of a workplace injury.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Are Non-Compete Agreements Appropriate For My Business ?

Are Non-Compete Agreements Appropriate For My Business?

The aim of non-compete agreements is to bar departing employees from working for your business competitors or from starting a competing business. These agreements used to be reserved for high-level employees or people working in certain fields who had access to sensitive information. While non-compete agreements are becoming more common, they are only enforceable to a limited degree and in some states not enforceable at all.

In considering whether a non-compete agreement can be enforced, courts generally examine whether there is a legitimate business interest at stake and whether the agreement is narrowly crafted to protect that interest. Courts tend to disfavor restrictive covenants such as non-compete agreements because it limits commerce and can prevent an individual from earning a livelihood. Here are a few factors to consider when looking to implement a non-compete:

  • What is unique about my business? If there is something about your business that sets it apart from its competitors - a product, a process, a method of doing business - a non-compete agreement could protect your advantage. It might also be wise to consider other protections such as patents.

  • Over what area would I need a non-compete to apply? Would employees be barred from working at a competing business across the street? In the same city? Within 50 miles? Within the same state? The larger the radius, the less likely a court is to enforce it.

  • To which companies would a non-compete need to apply? Are your employees going to be able to get jobs in your field if they leave your company, or would your agreement make them essentially unemployable? Courts typically frown on agreements that leave people completely out of work.

  • How long would a non-compete need to last? The shorter the time an employee is restricted by the agreement, the more likely the court is to find the restriction reasonable.

  • Under what circumstances would the non-compete kick in? If an employee is fired, are they going to face the same restrictions as an employee voluntarily leaving your employ?

When considering any agreement with your employees, including restrictive covenants such as non-compete agreements, it is important to consult an experienced business law or employment law attorney who can properly advise you and help you craft an agreement that is likely to be enforceable.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Worker's Comp vs. Personal Injury

Worker's Comp vs. Personal Injury


 

The primary difference between a workers' compensation claim and a personal injury claim is that a personal injury claim is based on fault, while a workers' compensation case is not. Any injury that occurs to an employee at his/her workplace is covered by workers' compensation, regardless of any negligence or lack of it.

In order to recover damages against another person in a vehicular accident or slip and fall, on the other hand, one must be able to prove some type of negligence on the part of the other person. In other words, the other party must be in some way to blame for the accident. Examples in the cases mentioned would be reckless or drunk driving or poor property maintenance resulting in a floor surface that is irregular or slippery.

In Workers' Compensation Cases, Fault-Finding Is Not Necessary

With very few exceptions, employees who are injured on the job are entitled to workers' compensation benefits regardless of fault. Employees need not prove any negligence on the part of their employers in order to file for and receive workers' compensation benefits. As a matter of fact, employees are eligible to receive workers' comp benefits even if the employee's own negligence resulted in the injuries.

Differences in Damages in Workers' Comp Cases and Other Personal Injury Cases

If it seems that the nature of workers' compensation, in which you can be reimbursed at times for your own clumsiness, is too good to be true, it is. This is because, while workers' comp will pay you compensation for your medical bills, any necessary vocational rehabilitation, lost earning capability or permanent impairment, it will not pay for your personal suffering.  The cap on workers' comp benefits, therefore, is much lower than the typical personal injury settlement once blame is assigned.

When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you may be entitled to compensation for enduring pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life (hedonic damages), even damage to clothing or jewelry during the accident. In cases in which you can file for workers' comp, however, you have foregone the right to sue your employer or co-workers for negligence and also the right to collect damages for pain and suffering.

Are Any Workers Legally Permitted to Sue Their Employers?

Yes, there are two categories of employees who are allowed to sue their employers when they are injured on the job: crewmembers of ships or boats and interstate railroad workers. Although these two classes of workers are not entitled to workers' comp, they are allowed to sue their employers under the Jones Act, for ship employees, or the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), for interstate railroad workers. It should be noted that workers on commuter trains may not qualify for FELA. Employees who work on ships or railroads should be sure to contact an attorney familiar with pertinent laws before filing for compensation.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Firing an At-Will Employee

When Is It OK to Fire an At-Will Employee?

The overwhelming majority of employees are considered to be at-will employees. If an employee works without a contract stating otherwise, that person’s employment is considered at- will for its duration. This means that the person serves at-will and either party may terminate the employment at any time. Even though an explanation is not always given as to why an employee is being fired, there are still some reasons for termination that are unacceptable in the eyes of the law. It is important to be aware of these instances to avoid the appearance of improper behavior and the potential for economic repercussions  as a result.

Termination is not the only action that may be actionable. Under specific circumstances, an employee is permitted to file a claim against an employer for any negative employment actions, including cutting back available hours, pay reductions, or demotions in title. Any negative employment action may give rise to a lawsuit if the employee can prove that the basis of the negative employment action is improper or discriminatory.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of race, gender, national origin, disability, religion, genetic information, or age, if the employee is over the age of 40. Many states add additional protections including protection from discrimination against employees due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Other restrictions against firing or other actions that negatively affect job status also exist. It is illegal to fire someone one, or otherwise negatively affect their employment, in retaliation for their filing of a legal claim, whether for discrimination, sexual harassment, or workers compensation. An employer also may not use a person’s ability to work as an incentive to force him or her to take a lie detector test. No individual can be legally fired for complaining about OSHA violations, for refusing to commit an illegal act, or for reporting an illegal act committed by a co-worker or employer (whistle blowing). If an employee exercises a legal right, like voting or taking family leave based on the Family Medical Leave Act, he or she cannot legally be fired for the lost time.

Terminating or otherwise negatively affecting an individual's employment because of any of the above-mentioned events is illegal. Employers should go out of their way not to fire employees contemporaneously with such events, even for other causes, since this may give the appearance of impropriety,and potentially provoke an expensive lawsuit.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Overview of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA")

An Overview of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that allows employees to take significant time off from work to take care of a loved one with an illness, medical problem or condition. The law does not require an employer to pay the employee for the time missed, but allows the employer to substitute accrued paid vacation/sick time for unpaid leave taken during the FMLA, meaning that the employee’s leave cannot be extended beyond the statutory period by using his or her vacation time. The FMLA prohibits employers from enforcing any negative consequences against the employee for exercising his or her rights under the FMLA. These would include termination, cutting back on hours, reducing pay, or diminishing the employee’s title or responsibilities.

The FMLA applies to businesses with more than 50 employees. To qualify, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least one year and must have worked at least 1250 hours in that year. The law allows the employee to take up to 12 non-consecutive weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for a spouse, parent or child who has a serious medical condition. There is special consideration given to family members caring for ill military service members. The parents, spouses, and children of these individuals are permitted to take up to 26 weeks off each year to care for their loved one. 

The most common use of the law is to allow an employee to take time off work after a child is born, even though most would not call pregnancy a “serious medical condition.” This is commonly referred to as maternity leave. Although it is not customarily exercised, fathers have an equal right to take time off to bond with their children after birth. The FMLA also allows new parents to take time off work immediately after an adoption. Some people use the Family Medical Leave Act to care for family members dealing with mental health issues, including dementia, addiction, or schizophrenia. The law covers any medical condition which require an overnight stay in the hospital, chronic conditions that require treatment at least twice a year, and conditions that incapacitate the affected person for more than three consecutive days. 


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