As an employer, you can handle many routine matters without legal representation, but there are instances when consulting an attorney makes sense.
Not every personnel decision carries the potential for a lawsuit, but if you suspect the person you want to fire for misconduct or poor performance might have a complaint against you, an employment lawyer can help minimize your risk. Some cases where you might want to consult a lawyer include:
In many cases, it‘s also a good idea to have a lawyer look at any proposed severance packages, especially for high-level employees.
If you’re making decisions that affect a large number of people, such as a mass layoff or a change to your retirement plan, an employment attorney can help you avoid legal problems resulting from the decision.
It's essential to classify positions correctly to avoid facing huge fines, back pay and overtime pay, and legal penalties. A lawyer or law firm can help you identify which positions are exempt versus non-exempt, and whether a work relationship is that of an independent contractor (a non-employee who works on a contract basis) or an employee. Employee handbooks, policies, and procedures It's a good idea to have a lawyer review your office policies, procedures, and employee handbooks to make sure you don't violate any employment laws. A lawyer can ensure you meet requirements for wages, overtime, and family medical leave, among others.
If one of your employees has filed a harassment or discrimination complaint against you with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or other state agency, or if you are the subject of a lawsuit by a disgruntled employee, contact a lawyer immediately. Even for lesser claims, such as appealing a denial of unemployment or worker's comp benefits, you may still want to consult your lawyer. This is especially true if the employee has their own attorney.
The rights of workers are protected by many different federal and state laws and regulations. An employer who is acting illegally can be sued under a variety of laws:
While it’s possible to take action against an employer you believe is acting unfairly or illegally, your chances of success are extremely small if you represent yourself (known as filing "pro se"). Employment lawyers specialize in these types of lawsuits and complaints, and can advise you on the best way to resolve your case.
Here are some examples of situations where you might want to call an employment attorney:
If any of the following applies to you, you should contact a lawyer immediately:
If your workplace-related issue involves complex matters such as sexual harassment, age, gender, or race discrimination, or disability from a work-related injury, you’ll need likely need a lawyer to resolve it. An employment lawyer can:
Most employment cases fall into one of the following broad categories:
When you begin your search for an employment lawyer, start by looking for lawyers who have experience in the category your case falls under. There’s several ways to collect referrals to employment lawyers in your area:
You should aim for at least 3 or 4 attorney referrals. Once you’ve done that, your next step is to schedule a consultation with each of the candidates. Many times, someone from the firm will pre-screen you when you call to see if your case would be a good fit for their practice. If so, you will be offered a consultation.
Most law firms offer a free initial consultation, but some employment lawyers will charge you their regular hourly rate for your first meeting.
To get the most out of your first meeting, it's a good idea to come prepared. Start by writing a detailed timeline of your complaint. Collect all relevant documents, such as employment contracts, disciplinary warnings, printouts of email communications, and any proposed severance package. If your case involves a work-related injury, be sure to bring relevant medical records and a list of all your medical expenses.
Asking the following questions will help you get a feel for the lawyer's area of practice and the way they’ll work with you:
Pay attention to the way the lawyer answers your questions. Did they explain things clearly? Were their answers realistic and straightforward? Be wary of lawyers who over-promise or make bold predictions during the initial consultation.
The lawyer's fee structure is probably the single most important factor in choosing an employment lawyer. There are 2 main ways an attorney can be paid:
Keep in mind that in many cases, employment law caps the amount of any award you may receive. Usually you’re limited to lost pay and benefits, plus some amount for pain and suffering. Punitive damages are less common, and often subject to statutory limits. In addition, unlike awards in an accident case, your settlement or award is subject to applicable federal and state taxes.
These tips will give you the basics on how to hire an employment lawyer if you feel you've been unfairly treated at work. Just be sure you thoroughly understand the fee schedule—and that it's clearly spelled out in your contract—before you sign any agreements.