We live in an era of complexity when it comes to the laws and regulations that impact the employer-employee relationship. Employers confront a matrix of rules that leave them vulnerable to claims when they have failed to follow them. When an employee goes out on leave due to a medical condition, any number of state and federal employment law
statutes might apply to that period of leave. These include:
- The Family and Medical Leave Act
- The New Jersey Family Leave Act
- The Americans with Disabilities Act
- New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination
- Workers Compensation Laws
- Temporary Disability Laws
- The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
- New Jersey case law developed by the courts
The intersection of state and federal employment laws and regulations can be overwhelming.
Experienced NJ Employment Law Attorneys
At Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle in Red Bank, NJ, we help employers and employees navigate their way through this complex web of laws and regulations governing the employer-employee relationship.
Sean F. Byrnes and Loryn Lawson have handled claims involving age discrimination, hostile work environment, wrongful termination, sexual harassment, qui tam, whisteblowers, the False Claims Act and retaliation claims. They have also defended small and medium sized businesses against these claims.
Mr. Byrnes and Ms. Lawson also conduct seminars for employers advising managers and their employees on how to avoid lawsuits and what to avoid when hiring and firing employees.
At Byrnes, O’ Hern and Heugle, our practice on behalf of employers includes:
- Defending Wrongful Termination/Harassment Claims
- Workplace Training
- Enforcing Non-Compete & Non-Solicitation Agreements
- Employment Investigations
- Employment Counseling & Agreements
- Protecting Trade Secrets & Enforcing Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)
Wrongful Termination/Harassment Claims
No one should lose their job unexpectedly or for reasons that have not been clearly articulated. Wrongful termination typically involves an employee who is terminated, and the termination is motivated by an intent that violates state law or federal law. Employees cannot be fired if the motivation for the firing is discriminatory or retaliatory. Retaliation occurs when an employee reports illegal or protected conduct and faces harassment or termination because of it.
According to New Jersey laws, unless an employee’s relationship with an employer is governed by an employment contract, the employment is at will. This means that an employer can usually terminate an employee at any time for any reason. However, there are exceptions, and employers cannot terminate employees who report harassing conduct or make a claim when the harassment results from that employee being in a protected category such as race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation or pregnancy. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, you may have a claim. A successful wrongful termination case can lead to back pay, front pay, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, and attorneys fees.
Non-Compete, Non-Solicitation & Non-Disclosure Agreements
Employers will often combine non-compete, non-solicitation and non-disclosure obligations into a single document. This agreement might also discuss inventions created for an employer by an employee. Regardless of whether these restrictions are included in a single or multiple documents, employees need to understand what they are agreeing to.
Non-compete agreements are contracts between an employer and employee in which the employee agrees not to compete with the employer during or after their employment. Most of the time, a person will work for many employers throughout their careers, so they will likely be confronted with a non compete agreement at some point during their career, especially as they assume more responsibility within an organization.
Before accepting a new position, a prospective employee should have an attorney review the documents that the employer is asking the employee to sign. It is equally important that an employee terminating employment with a company review what the employee agreed to when joining the employer. Our lawyers can help understand the language used in your agreement and decipher any loopholes or misleading statements. A similar review should be undertaken when an employee is presented with a Severance Agreement and/or Release. These agreements will often trade a severance payment for an agreement by the employee not to compete with the employer.
Similarly, non-solicitation agreements can also limit an employee’s choices when it comes to pursuing a new job. A non-solicitation agreement limits an employee’s ability to do business with customers, to solicit co-employees or consultants, and even limits vendor contact. In short, non-solicitation agreements can limit your ability to seek out other job opportunities or open a competing business yourself. Our courts are also more willing to enforce non-solicitation agreements, as compared to non-compete agreements, because the scope of the restrictions are more narrow, focusing on the customers of the employer.
A non-disclosure agreement imposes confidentiality on documents, data, customer lists and trade secrets maintained by an employer. These restrictions can last for a fixed period of time or be indefinite. These agreements tend to be enforced by an employer if an employee learned certain trade secrets or proprietary information from an employer’s business and might have the opportunity to use that information in a new job with a competing business. The more confidential the information, the greater the likelihood an employer will take legal action to protect against its use.
Employees should also bear in mind that while employed they are bound by a duty to loyalty to their employer. While an employee is not restricted from searching for a new job, or preparing to start a new business, an employee may not access or take proprietary information from an employer while still employed by the employer. If an employee is still employed by an employer, that employee cannot take action to compete with the employer.
When an employee engages in some level of misconduct, it puts an employer at risk. To protect itself against further misconduct, and to begin remedying whatever wrongful conduct has taken place, an employer will often do an investigation.
Typically, it is recommended that employers hire an employment attorney with the experience and knowledge to conduct a proper investigation. Our attorneys are trained to detect and navigate these difficult legal issues with an eye toward the potential claim from an employee.
An outside investigator is normally a better option than the company’s HR team, since the HR team will often be involved in any employee issues leading up to misconduct, their status as paid representatives of the employer could lead to questions about their loyalty to the employer.
Our employment law attorneys are able to provide employers with a detailed report of what occurred, and appropriate recommendations based on their deep understanding of the legal issues that were involved.
Employment Counseling & Agreements
The best way to protect against employment claims is to act early. Employers need comprehensive employment documents and a proactive approach to the employment issues that will inevitably flare up in the workplace. Our attorneys have extensive experience handling employee counseling and agreements. These can range anywhere from everyday matters to more complex situations, including:
- Employee handbooks and policies
- Employee hiring and termination
- Wage and hour audits
- Human resources
- Discrimination laws
- Employment agreements
- Leave of absence
- Management and employee training
- Workplace security & much more
We provide practical advice for employers on how to handle any type of employment law situation, whether it be serious or minor. Our main priority is to minimize the risk of a lawsuit. If an employer or former employee does make a claim, we have the experience in the state and federal courts of New Jersey to mount an aggressive defense geared toward minimizing employer exposure.
When It Comes To Matters Of NJ Employment Law, You Need A Firm You Can Trust
If an employee or former employee is threatening a claim, or if an incident has occurred that might result in a claim, you should contact Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle. Taking action early can often mean the difference between diffusing a potential claim and years of litigation. For employees who have been terminated, if you suspect that your termination is the product of discrimination based on age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, race, or some other protected category, contact Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle today to discuss your potential claim.