Signing on the dotted line and formally accepting a job fills you with a sense of accomplishment and hope, and for good reason. Employment contracts are legally binding, which means that your employer is legally obligated to keep the promises they made to you in the contract; if they do not, then you can sue them, and the court can order them to pay you damages. An employment contract can go a long way toward protecting you from arbitrariness and dishonesty on your employer’s part, but sloppily or sneakily worded contracts can undermine your position in a contract dispute. Before you sign an employment contract, you should review it with the Irvine employment contract lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to make sure that your contract is putting you in the strongest possible position.
What is an Employment Contract?
An employment contract is a written agreement between a worker and the company or organization that employs the worker. Every employment contract is unique, but the following elements are found in most employment contracts:
- Identifying information of the employer and employee who are parties to the contract, including names and addresses
- The start and end dates of the contract period
- The employee’s job duties
- The pay rate and any benefits included with the job, such as health insurance, vacation pay, and relocation expenses
- The procedures for renewing the contract, if it is renewable
- Procedures and penalties, if any, for early termination of contract
- Procedures for repairing a breach of contract
- Procedures for dispute resolution, including arbitration or litigation
- Force majeure events
Even though a lot of the text of the contract can sound like boilerplate, it is important to read every word and to ask questions about anything you do not understand. The Irvine employment contract lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you identify and propose to amend any troublesome clauses in your employment contract.
What if You Do Not Have an Employment Contract?
Not everyone who works in the state of California has an employment contract. Like most other states, California recognizes at will employment; in fact, most jobs in California are on an at will basis. At-will employment means that the employer can terminate the employee’s job, and the employee can quit, at any time and for almost any reason. It is against the law, however, to fire any employee, including an at will employee, because of a protected characteristic such as race, gender, religion, or disability; this is employment discrimination. It is also illegal to fire an employee in retaliation for engaging in a protected action such as reporting misconduct or safety hazards at the workplace or requesting an unpaid medical leave or an accommodation for a disability. In many employment disputes, the employee alleges that they were fired due to discrimination, but the employer says that they fired the employee “just because.” Therefore, if you have an employment contract, you have more legal protection than an at-will employee, because your employer cannot use “just because” as an excuse for firing you.
Breach of Contract and Force Majeure Events in Irvine
One of the most common reasons for lawsuits between employers and employees is when one party does not fulfill the promises they made by signing the contract. Failure to meet one’s contractual obligations is known as breach of contract. You can sue your employer for breach of contract if they do not pay you what they promised in the contract, or if they create working conditions that make it impossible to perform the job duties you are contractually obligated to perform, such as by not supplying the materials you need in order to do your job.
Breach of contract applies when one party intentionally and knowingly fails to meet their contractual obligations. Sometimes it is not possible to abide by the terms of the contract for unforeseeable reasons outside the control of both parties. These reasons are called force majeure events, and they include natural disasters, wars, and widespread electrical outages, among other disruptive events. Some employers and employees who were unable to meet contractual obligations due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have cited force majeure clauses in their contracts when defending themselves against allegations of breach of contract.
Non-Disclosure Agreements and the Silenced No More Act
Some employment contracts include non-disclosure provisions to prevent current and former employees from revealing trade secrets and other confidential information they have learned in the context of their jobs. Pursuant to the Silenced No More Act of 2021, employers may not use non-disclosure agreements to prevent former employees from speaking publicly about employment discrimination based on race, gender, or any other protected characteristic.
Arbitration Clauses and Dispute Resolution in Irvine
Some contracts have clauses that say things like, “The courts of the State of California have jurisdiction to decide disputes arising from this contract.” Other contracts have arbitration clauses requiring the parties to resolve their disputes outside of court with an arbitrator. Mandatory arbitration usually results in decisions unfavorable to the employee. If your employer is willing to include a provision where you can bring your contract disputes to court, you should choose that option.
Non-compete agreements prevent employees from setting up their own businesses to compete with the employer, poaching clients from their former employers, or working for another company that competes directly with the employer. Whether it is fair to ask an employee to sign a non-compete agreement depends on context. Taken to an extreme, a non-compete agreement becomes a “you’ll never work in this town again” agreement. In the summer of 2021, President Biden issued an executive order urging the Federal Trade Commission to take action against employers that require employees to sign overly restrictive non-compete agreements.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Employment Contracts in Irvine
HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you ensure that the terms of your employment contract are fair to you. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Irvine, California to set up a consultation.