Not every worker employed in the District of Columbia has a written employment contract, but they all have legal rights. If your employer has asked you to sign an employment contract, it usually means that it is a well-compensated job that comes with a lot of responsibilities. People say that you should always read the fine print before you sign an agreement, but this is especially true of employment contracts. You probably did not parse every sentence of your car insurance policy or auto loan agreement before signing, and despite this, you probably have not suffered any major financial losses related to these documents. With employment contracts, though, you could be signing away the right to take credit for your own ideas; you could even be signing away your right to pursue certain future job opportunities. In other words, the things at stake in an employment contract can be more valuable than money, to say nothing of how much it can cost to litigate a dispute related to an employment contract. To avoid costly disputes over employment contracts, contact the Washington, D.C. employment contract lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP before you sign to accept a job offer.
Do the Employer and the Employee Still Have Contractual Obligations to Each Other Even When There is No Written Contract?
Most employment relationships in the District of Columbia take the form of at-will employment, which means that the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time, and the employee can quit at any time. Your employer should notify you at the beginning of the employment relationship that the employment is at-will; there was probably a paragraph on your job application explaining the at-will nature of the relationship. “At-will” is not a synonym for “no contractual obligations,” however; for example, if your employment is at-will, it means that you can quit your job without fear of your employer suing you for breach of contract. At-will employment also entails that your employer must pay you for all the time you worked, regardless of which party decided to terminate the employment relationship.
If you do not have an employment contract, as in a piece of paper that identifies itself as a “contract” and lists your name and your employer’s name as the parties, then what are the terms of your employment? If your employer has an employee handbook, then it functions as a list of contractual obligations, even if you are an at-will employee with no written contract. Likewise, if you did not sign an employment contract with your employer, but instead your employer issued an offer letter, this also functions as an implied contract. This means that, if the offer letter guarantees you the job for a certain period of time, this provision is legally enforceable. Collective bargaining agreements also function as implied contracts.
Elements of an Employment Contract
If you have an individual written contract, it probably means that you and the employer have a lot to gain if the employment relationship goes well and a lot to lose if it does not. In order to protect your interests, you should have the Washington, D.C. employment contract lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP review your contract before you sign it. An employment contract should specify the following details and leave no ambiguity about them:
- The identity of the parties (the contract should include identifying information about you besides your name, such as your address or passport number, so that you can prove that the employer made the contractual promises to you and not to someone else with the same name)
- The duration of the contract
- Your job duties
- All types of consideration you will receive for your work (such as salary, health insurance benefits, retirement accounts, relocation expenses, and paid leave)
- Information about ownership of the intellectual property that you produce in the context of your work
- Details about restrictions, if any, on the post-employment use of confidential information you learn in the context of your work (such as non-disclosure clauses and non-compete clauses)
- Procedures for renewing the contract, terminating it early, or repairing a breach of contract
Breach of Contract and Getting Out of a Contractual Relationship
When one party does not do what it promised to do according to the terms of the contract. The best employment contracts include instructions about repairing a breach of contract, such as how soon after the breach occurs that the non-breaching party must notify the breaching party of the breach and how soon after receiving the notice the breaching party must repair the breach before the contract becomes invalid. If you sue your employer for breach of contract, you must not only demonstrate that your employer breached one or more terms of the contract, but you must also demonstrate that your employer caused you to suffer financial losses by breaching the contract.
One possible defense to an allegation of breach of contract is that the contract is not enforceable because it violates a law. Another defense is that you failed to fulfill your contractual obligations because of a force majeure event, which is a majorly disruptive event beyond your control that affects everyone in your geographic area. Force majeure events, which are also sometimes called “acts of God,” include hurricanes, snowstorms that cause widespread power outages and travel disruptions, wars, and pandemics. It is a good idea to include a force majeure clause in your employment contract; it should list all possible force majeure events, so that there can be no room for disagreement about whether the reason that you were unable to fulfill your contractual obligations constituted a force majeure event.
Contact a Washington, D.C. Employment Lawyer About Employment Contracts
A written employment contract can offer you great protection from unfair treatment, but it can also leave you vulnerable. An employment contract lawyer can help you ensure that your contract does not contain any legal loopholes that can come back to haunt you in the event of a dispute with your employer. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Washington, D.C. to set up a consultation.