Employment Law

Employment Law – Where Does It All Begin?

Whether you’re looking for a new job or have concerns about your current employment, it’s important to know your rights as an employee. Employers have a responsibility to keep the business successful and protected. Unfortunately, that can take priority over the rights of the employees. That is where employment law comes into play.
 
As an employee, you need to know your rights and protect yourself. If you are unsure about your employment situation, the knowledge and experience of an employment lawyer can ensure you that protection.
 
With millions of American employees being terminated or laid off per year, you’ll want to ensure that you have an iron-clad employment contract that protects your rights.
 
Employment disputes are common yet avoidable if you ensure your contract is set up to protect your interests. Here are some common legal issues and terms you’ll want to be aware of before – and after – you accept a new job.
 

Is It a Contract or an Offer Letter?

 
Short answer: it’s both.
 
While many employers may not extend a formal contract when offering a position, any specifics highlighted in an offer letter would constitute a contract once accepted. Even if the letter directly states otherwise.
 
When accepting your job offer, both you and your new employer are bound to the position’s terms. This includes all benefits, wages, and other particulars of the job. Be sure to read over your contract in its entirety, and negotiate any terms you think are unfair. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand, as you may be selling yourself short.
 
A thorough understanding of your final contract will help you protect your rights as an employee. If you are able to prove that an employer has failed to deliver upon the terms listed in your employment offer you may have a case for employment fraud and be entitled to compensation for breach of employment contract.
 

Wage Dispute

 
One of the most common employment disputes is a wage dispute. A wage dispute arises when an employee is not paid per the specifications of their contract, whether they are shorted, not paid at all, denied overtime, or unclassified as salary/part-time/contractor. Your employment contract will outline what, how, and when you are paid. If you are having trouble getting paid what you are owed, it may be time to contact an employment lawyer.
 

Discrimination and Harassment

 
Unfortunately, discrimination in the workplace is all too common and can come in many forms. Thankfully, employment law covers harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Workplace discrimination happens when an employee who is a member of a protected class is treated differently based on that class.
 
Areas of protected-class discrimination include: race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, pregnancy, and disability. If you are harassed or victimized based on any of these classifications, you have rights that an experienced employment attorney can help protect.
 
Per federal and state laws, you cannot be denied a job based on race, gender, age (40 or older), or sexual orientation. In most employment cases, reasonable accommodations must be made for pregnant and disabled employees. Remember, employers are not legally allowed to discount a potential hire if they are disabled or pregnant. If you feel disclosing a condition will affect contract negotiations, do not feel compelled to do so.
 
It may be wise to ask a potential employer to communicate their policies in writing before signing an offer. Asking employers how they handle FMLA, paid family (maternity or paternity) leave, medical leave, and sensitive topics such as sexual harassment may help protect your interests down the line.
Every person has the right to a harassment-free workplace. It is important to know your rights on a state and federal level if you feel you are the victim of a hostile work environment.
 

Wrongful Termination

 
There’s a difference between being laid off and being fired. To be laid off indicates that the employer is at fault and is reorganizing or closing the business. However, to be fired is seen as the fault of an employee. The distinction between a layoff and a firing will affect future prospects and unemployment eligibility. If you do lose your job, be sure to be very clear on the grounds in which you are terminated.
 
An employee can be fired for a variety of reasons. In addition, the legality of those reasons will determine if the termination is wrongful. Employment law protects an employee from wrongful termination. Reference your employment contract for expectations of the job. In addition, try to pinpoint where you failed to adhere to the agreed-upon terms. If you believe your employer fired you for illegal reasons, you may have grounds to challenge the separation.
 
Be familiar with your state law regarding at-will employment. While all states in the US are recognized as at-will employment states, some regions have exemptions to those laws. At-will employment protects employers from former employees pursuing legal action as a result of their firing. As long as the dismissal is legal, an at-will employee cannot sue for lost wages.
 
Employers that hire at-will are allowed to fire their employees without notice or reason. The same benefit is extended to at-will employees, as they are able to quit without explanation. Does your employment contract have an enforceable clause to protect you against a surprise separation? It may be prudent to clarify that point before accepting your employment offer.
 
If you believe you are a victim of wrongful termination, research to see if you are protected by law. In adherence to state and federal guidelines, the following reasons are considered wrongful termination: discrimination, breach of contract, pressure to commit an illegal act, public or company policy violation, whistle-blowing, constructive discharge.
 
If you feel you are the victim of wrongful termination, seek legal council.
 

Severance

 
One of the most contentious employment disputes deals with severance. If you are let go, what are you entitled to?
 
Severance is compensation that employers give employees in return for signing a contract that protects the business upon the former employee’s exit. Typically these contracts include non-disclosure and/or non-compete agreements. In addition, a stipulation that waives the former employee’s right to pursue litigation pertaining to the separation.
 
Severance agreements are often negotiated in hiring contracts. If compensation following an unexpected termination is important to you, this would be a worthwhile topic to discuss with your future employer.
 
If you are let go and are being offered a severance agreement, speaking to an employment attorney would help to ensure you don’t sign away your rights and receive any and all compensation you are entitled to.
 

Protect Your Employment Law Rights

 
Whether the contract is a written agreement or an implied agreement from an offer letter or verbal statement, always be positive that you fully understand all the terms of your employment. Employment law can be confusing and challenging to deal with alone. If you are unsure of certain terms, or feel you are not getting all you deserve, contact Sweet Lawyers today for a free evaluation of your specific case.
 
Employees have rights – make sure yours are protected.

 

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