Category Archives: employment law

What Football Can Teach White-collar Employees About Layoffs, Severance

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

With football season upon us, I would like to use football to explain some common situations that employees face.

I get a lot of calls from white-collar professionals who have long careers with a company but then are laid off a few months after a new boss is hired. This happens a lot in football when a general manager/athletic director replaces a head coach and the head coach fires the previous coach’s assistant coaches. White-collar employees in middle-management positions are essentially the equivalents of assistant coaches in football. In the world of football, it is assumed that a new head coach can bring in his new assistants. The same assumption holds true in the business world.

Assistant coaches are oftentimes “bought out” of their employment contracts. Sometimes white-collar professionals have employment contracts, but more often than not they do not. Sometimes professionals are offered severance agreements, but unless there is an employment contract, that severance is not a buyout. Employers are also under no obligation to offer severance. If severance is offered, that doesn’t necessarily mean that an employer wrongfully terminated the employee.

Of course, no employee can be terminated because of age, disability, sex, race, nationality, or in retaliation for engaging in a protected activity like filing for workers’ compensation or filing with OSHA. But even if there is some appearance of wrongful motivation on behalf of the employer, the employer can still defeat a potential lawsuit if they have a legitimate business reason for terminating the employee. Going back to a football analogy, if the new head coach wants to switch an offensive or defensive scheme, they have the right to hire the person they choose. The fact the new hire might be less effective than the old hire is not a decision that a court will second guess in a wrongful termination. Sure, if there is something else wrongful going on, it is something a court or a jury could consider, but in a case where there is a recent change in management, employees will have difficult time overcoming the assumption that the new boss just wants to “put in their team.”

Senior Care Workers Are Victims of Wage Violations

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

I found a recent story from California very troubling. The nation’s largest assisted living company agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle claims for underpayment and mistreatment of the workers who take care of the elderly. Lack of proper overtime pay, lack of mandatory meal and rest periods, and improper payment of mandatory training are examples of the mistreatment. 

The victims were the least-paid workers who did the hardest physical labor, according to the story. These people who bathed, fed, and provided the most hands-on care for our frail, elderly loved ones were denied wages and overtime pay for 7 years, according to the terms of the settlement.

Care for the old, frail and disabled is big business. Nearly 750,000 people are receiving assisted living care, according to the ProPublica article. And the industry is just going to expand, as folks are sicker but have higher expectations for care, while also living longer, according to this article from NPR

Fair treatment of our elders’ caregivers is essential. The wages are low, as most difficult jobs often are. Violating employment rules and statutes for businesses to save money and make larger profits seems particularly offensive for these workers. And they are not often protected from or informed of the hazards of their jobs, many of which can have serious consequences for workers’ health and well being, according to these blog posts from respected colleague Jon Gelman, an attorney in New Jersey: Protecting Healthcare Workers is a Goal of NIOSH and NIOSH Acts To Prevent Lifting Injuries For Home Healthcare Workers.

Congratulations to the workers and their representative who stood up to this very large employer that has around 500 facilities in the United States. It takes courage and tenacity to fight battles like this.

All of us who care about workers need to be aware that these are battle worth fighting. And that these battles can be won.

I Was Offered a Severance Agreement. Now What?

If you are given a severance agreement, consult with an attorney

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Federal law requires that many employees who are offered severance agreements be advised by their employers to consult with an attorney before signing a severance agreement. If you have a severance agreement, you should consult with a knowledgeable employment-law attorney as soon as possible. Almost all severance agreements have a short time period, usually no more than 21 days, for the employee to accept the agreement. Here are some of the factors to consider in whether to accept a severance agreement.

If you have a severance agreement, you should consult with a knowledgeable employment-law attorney as soon as possible.

A. The value of the certainty of a severance agreement versus the uncertainty of a wrongful-termination suit. This requires an attorney to evaluate the strength of any possible employment-law claims you might have against your former employer. In many cases, the value of a certain amount of guaranteed severance pay is worth more than the uncertain outcome of a wrongful-termination claim that might not resolve for at least a year. Certain types of unfair-employment practices create more fear of litigation for employers than others. Employers are often willing to pay severance in order to avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation. This fear can give employees some leverage in negotiations, which could lead to an increase in severance pay. However, every situation is different.

If an employee decides to reject severance and pursue a wrongful-discharge claim, a knowledgeable employment-law attorney can advise you on your chances of receiving unemployment benefits. Employers, especially smaller ones, will often fight unemployment claims if there are bad feelings surrounding a termination. If an employee is found to have been fired for misconduct, they are potentially losing many thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits. Before you reject severance, you should know your chances for receiving unemployment benefits.

B. A knowledgeable employment attorney may be able to review the severance agreement and find contract provisions to offer the employer in order to increase the severance pay. The fear of litigation is a stick, but sometimes employees can offer carrots in the form of favorable contract language to increase severance benefits.

C. Severance pay is not the only consideration in a severance agreement. A standard severance agreement often includes a provision that the employee is eligible for COBRA. COBRA requires that the employee pay the entire premium for health insurance. Sometimes employers are willing to pay that COBRA premium for a period of time.

Another possible severance benefit is the guarantee of a positive reference. A severance agreement is a contract releasing any claims – usually with the exception of workers’ compensation (see below) – by the employee against the employer. However, if the employer breaches the contract in regards to a positive reference, that can give the employee a breach-of-contract claim if the severance agreement is drafted properly. Many companies are willing to check out what employers are saying about former employees for a reasonable fee, so employees can enforce contract provisions regarding positive references

D. Workers’ Compensation. The laws regarding settling a workers’ compensation claim are very precise. I have never seen a severance agreement that creates an enforceable release of a workers’ compensation claim. However a savvy employer may be able to release your workers’ compensation claim through a severance agreement under recent changes in Nebraska’s workers’ compensation law. This is why you should consult with a lawyer who is familiar with fair employment and workers’ compensation law. This is especially true if you have an ongoing workers’ compensation claim against your employer.

E. You still might be able to bring a wrongful termination suit even if you signed a severance agreement. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided guidelines about when a severance agreement is not binding on the employee. If you feel you were railroaded into signing a severance agreement, it still might be worth your time to consult with a knowledgeable employment attorney.