Small Business Owners and Employment Lawyers
Some business owners may consider employment lawyers as adversaries because they often represent disgruntled former employees. In fact, employment lawyers can advocate both for employees and employers depending on the situation. Business owners may need to hire an employment lawyer if they are accused of an employment violation or if they need advice on constructing employment policies. They often need help with constructing contracts and dealing with benefit situations. Employment law can be complex and confusing, so when a business is facing such an issue, management would be wise to hire an employment lawyer.
Hiring an Employment Lawyer
Experts recommend business owners consult an employment lawyer when they are constructing employee handbooks. Everything in a company’s handbook needs to comply with state and federal law and be understandable to employees. A faulty handbook can lead to major trouble between the owner and the employees and end up costing a company dearly. An employment lawyer can also make certain that all of the company’s practices are in legal compliance and are clearly spelled out in company literature.
Companies benefit from practicing due diligence before legal problems occur. In addition, companies should hire an employment attorney in the following instances:
- They are involved in union negotiations
- They are the subject of an employee lawsuit
- An employee claims discrimination or harassment
- The company plans to change a pension plan, fire a number of employees, or alter an employee benefit
- Management needs help drawing up legal contracts
All of these situations can easily deteriorate and become major legal issues if the business does not have experienced counsel. It is better to be safe than mired in lengthy legal proceedings.
The Cost of an Employment Lawyer
Small business owners may hesitate to hire employment lawyers because they worry about the cost of their services. Of course, businesses save money anytime they can avoid expensive litigation, and a good attorney can help keep them out of court. Also, employment lawyers may well be more affordable than many business owners believe. These attorneys generally get paid in three different ways: hourly rates, flat fees and contingency fees.
Hourly fees depend on several factors: geography and firm size. In California, businesses can expect to pay between $350 and $450 per hour. Legal rates will be lower in other states and in more rural areas.
Some lawyers will charge a flat fee for certain services. For instance, their advice on employee handbooks might be delivered for a flat rate.
A contingency fee is a percentage of the legal settlement. This fee would more likely apply to an employee action than an employer action.
Small business owners can also benefit from an employment attorney’s advice on termination practices, including decisions involving individual employees. Owners can often head off expensive litigation when they have a legal consultation before they fire an employee. Experts suggest that management hires an employment attorney in the following situations:
- Employees have or believe they have a contract that limits the owner’s right to fire.
- Employees have retirement funds, stock options, or other benefits that will “vest” soon.
- A particular employee poses a threat through “violence, vandalism, or sabotage.”
- The employee has been privy to company secrets.
- The owner is firing the employee due to excessive absences that might be covered under various government protections.
- The employee belongs to a “protected class,” such as someone with a disability.
Anytime firing a certain employee might become complicated, management should consult with an experience employment lawyer.
Like firings, layoffs can become complicated in certain situations. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) dictates employer behavior in case of layoffs and plant closings. Employers must provide employees with 60 days notice before “covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs.” Employers may need guidance on which layoffs and plant closings are considered covered so they that they do not violate the law and employee rights.
Business owners may also need guidance with severance pay issues and the general release of claims that severance pay requires. Some employers might ask employees to sign a non-compete or non-disparagement clause before they receive severance. These clauses must be airtight in order to be enforceable. In fact, all of these issues can be tricky, so business owners should seek expert advice.
Employment law is not meant to make business difficult, though it may sometimes seem so for business owners. The purpose of these regulations is to give employees proper protections so that they cannot be treated unfairly on the job. Employees must protect themselves and their families. Still, these employment issues can become difficult, so employers need to be protected as well.
Hiring an employment attorney makes good financial sense because doing so can keep a company out of court. Litigation is almost always expensive, and an unfavorable verdict in court can seriously damage a company’s finances and reputation. An employment lawyer can advise owners so that they avoid legal issues. If the company is sued, they can greatly lessen the damage. No business should try and deal with these issues without expert legal counsel.
Remember, this is not official legal advice. If you have any concerns, it’s best to consult an employment lawyer.