Employment lawyers can help employees resolve disputes with their current or former employees, but sometimes it is a good idea to hire an employment lawyer even if things have not yet gone from bad to worse in your workplace. Consider that some couples sign prenuptial agreements and then stay married to each other for the rest of their lives without the thought of divorce ever crossing their minds; instead, they seek legal advice before they get married on how to handle financial issues in marriage and during probate. Similarly, employment lawyers help employees understand and exercise their legal rights in order to prevent disputes rather than simply escalate ongoing disagreements. You might need an employment lawyer to answer your questions about a job where you have yet to sign an employment contract, and if you hire one, then the entire experience of working at your new job can be better. The Spokane employee counseling lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can answer all your questions about legal matters related to your employment.
Always Review an Employment Contract With a Lawyer Before You Sign
When an employer offers you a job and hands you an employment contract, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of having a stable job and sign the contract immediately without reading it carefully or thinking about the implications of all of its provisions. Washington is an at-will employment state, where employment contracts are the exception rather than the rule. Employers in Washington can hire employees on an at-will basis, without a written contract, and in an arrangement like this, both parties are free to terminate the relationship at any time and for almost any reason. Therefore, if you have an employment contract at all, you are in a better position than most people.
You should review an employment contract with an employment lawyer before you sign it. In most cases, you will have already made up your mind that you want to work for the employer before you meet with the employment lawyer. The purpose of reviewing the contract with the lawyer is to see if there are any provisions of your contract about which you want to negotiate before you sign. For example, do you want more flexibility with paid time off? Do you need more money for relocation expenses? Dispute resolution provisions are an important part of employment contracts, although employees often overlook them while focusing more on the provisions that relate to job duties, salary, and benefits. If your contract requires mandatory arbitration, your lawyer can help you negotiate to give the courts of Washington jurisdiction over disputes arising from the contract.
Discrimination and Employer Retaliation Claims
Discrimination and retaliation are among the most stressful things that can happen at work. If your employer’s unfair treatment of you is related to a protected activity or a protected characteristic, you have a valid claim against your employer. The manifestations of discrimination are similar to those of retaliation, even though the motivations for them are different. Discrimination and retaliation both involve an employer taking an adverse action against an employee when the employee has not done anything wrong; when you file a discrimination or retaliation claim, you must not only prove that the adverse action occurred but also that it was not due to misconduct or poor job performance on your part.
The following are examples of adverse actions:
- Refusal to hire
- Rescinding a job offer
- Unfairly negative performance reviews
- Undesired transfer of the employee’s schedule, work location, or duties
- Denial of promotions or raises
- Demotion or reduction of pay
- Termination of employment
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 are among the federal laws that protect workers and job applicants from employment discrimination. These laws and others prevent employers from taking adverse actions against employees based on the protected characteristics of the employee. A protected characteristic is a stable characteristic of the employee’s appearance, life situation, personal history, or family background that is unrelated to the job. Examples of protected characteristics include race, religion, sex, age, military status, marital status, sexual orientation, and disability.
By contrast, employer retaliation is when an employer takes adverse action against an employee to penalize the employee for engaging in a protected activity. Protected activities involve the exercise of legal rights or the reporting of misconduct in the workplace. The following are examples of protected activities:
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim after a work injury
- Requesting accommodations for a disability
- Taking a leave of absence from work for medical reasons or family caregiving obligations
- Reporting workplace safety violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- Filing a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Should You Accept a Separation Agreement With Severance Pay?
Just as consulting an employment lawyer at the beginning of the employment relationship can be a good decision, so can consulting an employment lawyer at the end of an employment relationship. During layoffs, employers sometimes offer severance pay to laid-off employees in exchange for the employees signing separation agreements. Severance packages tend to include several months’ worth of pay plus a continuation of insurance benefits, so you are not in a desperate financial situation as you look for another job. It may seem like you are just signing to accept money, but when you sign a separation agreement, you are giving up the right to sue your employer for wrongful termination of employment. If your employer discriminated or retaliated against you, then you should think carefully before signing a separation agreement. Even if you decide to sign the separation agreement, your lawyer can help you negotiate a better severance package.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, About Employee Counseling
The Spokane employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, can help you make well-considered decisions about employment contracts, separation agreements, or wrongful termination claims. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Spokane, Washington, to set up a consultation.