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What is Breach of an Employment Contract – What Should I Do Now?

Employees may want to seek legal advice from a San Francisco wrongful termination lawyer when an employer does not keep promises made in an employment contract.

An employment contract is an agreement between an employer and employee with respect to the terms and conditions of the employee’s employment.

Employers and employees make employment contracts to assure that certain terms of employment will be clear and binding. An oral agreement may be sufficient if the agreement is simply to pay a specified wage for specified work, but it is helpful to place more complex agreements in writing. A written contract helps both the employer and the employee avoid misunderstandings about the terms of employment, and helps avoid disputes whether the promises were made.

Terms of Employment Contracts

Most employment agreements provide for at-will employment, which allows the employer to terminate the employee at any time for any reason or no reason, provided that the reason for the termination decision is not unlawful.

However, in certain instances, a written employment contract, particularly for an executive or professional employee, may include terms such as:

  • Compensation, including any guaranteed bonuses or performance incentives
  • Benefits to which the employee is entitled
  • The amount of notice the employer or employee must give before ending the employment relationship
  • Reasons (such as “just cause”) for which an employer can terminate the employment relationship
  • A dispute resolution procedure or other rights an employee might have if an employer claims that cause exists to terminate the contract
  • A non-disclosure provision that protects an employer’s trade secrets and other confidential information

In addition, when compensation is based on commissions, California law requires the employer to give the employee a written contract. At a minimum, the contract must specify how commissions will be calculated and when they will be paid.

Breach of Contract

A breach of contract is a failure to abide by a material term on the contract. A material breach is one that affects a significant right or condition of the contract. In simpler language, when an employer breaks a significant promise that is included in a contract, the employer has breached the contract.

Examples of breach of an employment contract include:

  • Failing to pay compensation or benefits that are promised in the contract
  • Failing to reimburse expenses that the contract authorizes the employee to incur
  • Failing to provide resources that the contract guarantees (such as the use of laboratory equipment)Terminating employment without cause if the contract requires cause for a termination

Any other duty imposed upon an employer by a contract may lead to a breach of contract if the employer fails to fulfill that duty.

Non-Compete Agreements

In most states, an employer can enter into a non-compete agreement with an employee, either as part of a comprehensive employment contract or as a stand-alone agreement. While state law usually limits the scope and duration of a non-compete agreement, most states allow employers and employees to make an agreement that places some restriction on the nature of similar employment an employee can accept after current employment ends.

California is an exception to the general rule. In California, a non-compete agreement is rarely enforceable. Even if a California employee signs an employment contract that limits the kind of work an employee can accept after employment ends, that agreement is probably not binding. Employees who have been asked to sign, or who have signed, a non-compete agreement in California may benefit from asking a California employment lawyer about the validity of that agreement.

What to Do After a Breach of Contract

If the breach involves a relatively minor term of the contract that an employee does not care much about, the employee can elect to ignore the breach. In some cases, an employee may decide not to disrupt a peaceful relationship with an employer by making an issue about a breach that isn’t important to the employee.

When a breach is more significant, however, the employee may have several options. The employee might bring the breach to the employer’s attention and ask the employer to keep the promise made in the contract. The employee might try to negotiate with the employer if the employer feels that the contract was not breached or if the promise was not fulfilled for a reason that the law arguably allows. The employee might want an experienced San Francisco employment lawyer to negotiate on the employee’s behalf.

An employee can also pursue legal remedies, such as suing the employer for damages or for an order requiring the employer to keep its promise. The specific remedy that may be available will depend on the facts of the case.

If the breach also involves a violation of California law, such as wage and hour laws or prohibitions against discrimination, the employee might pursue remedies for those violations instead of, or in addition to, a breach of contract lawsuit.

Making decisions about the best way to address a breach of contract can be difficult. An experienced employment lawyer in San Francisco is well-positioned to steer executives and other employees though the complex maze of rights and remedies that are associated with a breach of contract. Employees and executives who need legal advice can contact Minnis & Smallets by calling 1-415-551-0885 or by using our online contact form.

How to Respond to Retaliation at Work

In addition to protecting employees from discrimination and harassment, federal and state laws protect employees from being subjected to retaliation for reporting or refusing to participate in unlawful conduct.

Defining Retaliation

Unlawful retaliation occurs when an employee is punished for participating in a legally protected action, such as reporting discrimination or harassment to management, human resources, or a government agency, such as the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Employment Opportunity Commission, or refusing to participate in illegal conduct.

Protected Activities

Employees cannot be subjected to retaliation at work for reporting or refusing to participate in unlawful conduct. Some examples of such protected activities include:

  • Informing a supervisor about illegal discrimination or harassment
  • Reporting illegal discrimination or harassment to human resources
  • Reporting employment discrimination or harassment to a government agency, such as the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Providing information that supports a fellow employee’s report of illegal discrimination or harassment
  • Opposing an employer’s illegal work practice
  • Refusing to obey an illegal or discriminatory work order

An employee is protected for reporting unlawful conduct such as discrimination or harassment even if the employee’s concerns are not found to be substantiated, provided that the employee acted in good faith in making the complaint.  However, to be protected from retaliation, an employee must be objecting to conduct that is or could be illegal.

Types of Actions That May be Retaliation at Work

An employer may retaliate against an employee by terminating or demoting the employee.  However, retaliation is not limited to termination or demotion. It can also include other actions, such as denying a transfer opportunity to a different position or denying a raise.

Other examples of potential retaliatory actions include:

  • Salary reduction
  • Refusing to give a reference
  • Harassment
  • Suspension
  • Termination
  • Disciplinary measures
  • Demotion
  • Shift or job reassignments

Any action taken by an employer could potentially be considered retaliatory if it would deter a reasonable person from making a complaint.

Responding to Retaliation

Employees who believe that they are being subjected to unlawful retaliation have several options. One option is for the employee to share his or her concerns with management or human resources. However, employees should bear in mind that the employer may have a legitimate reason for taking what might appear to be retaliatory actions. Another option is for employees to report their concerns to the DFEH or the EEOC. A third option is to contact an attorney for advice.

In many instances, it can be important for employees to document that they have brought illegal conduct to their employer’s attention and that they have suffered retaliation as a result. However, “self-help” evidence gathering is generally against the law. An experienced attorney can help employees determine what steps they can take to protect themselves.

Employees should carefully consider anything their employer asks them to sign relating to their retaliation concerns; it is often advisable to speak to an attorney first. It is critical for employees to understand their rights and an experienced attorney can help them do so.

Employees who are Subjected to Retaliation May be Entitled to Recover for the Harm Suffered

Employees who are terminated, demoted, or had their salary reduced due to unlawful retaliation may be eligible to recover the wages they would have earned but for the employer’s unlawful conduct. Employees may also be entitled to compensation for the emotional distress experienced as a result of the employer’s unlawful conduct. In some cases, employees may even be awarded punitive damages.

Getting Help

When an employee is subjected to retaliation, the law firm of E&L, LLP, can help. An employee who believes that retaliation has occurred should contact the workplace retaliation lawyers at E&L, LLP. Call 213-213-0000.

6 Ways an Employment Attorney Can Help

The employment attorneys at E&L, LLP, can help employees and executives with a variety of employment-related problems.

Executives and other employees may encounter situations during the course of their employment that leave them uncertain about their legal rights. Obtaining advice from an employment attorney at E&L, LLP, can help resolve that uncertainty.

Here are six examples of situations in which an employment lawyer can help.

Unlawful Termination

Most employees can be fired for any reason that suits an employer, provided that the reason does not violate a state or federal employment law. Common examples of unlawful terminations include those that are based on:

  • An employee’s race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or membership in some other class that the law protects
  • A disabled employee’s request to accommodate a disability
  • Retaliation against an employee who opposed unlawful discrimination
  • Retaliation against an employee who cooperated with a discrimination investigation
  • Retaliation against an employee who resisted, refused or objected to unwanted sexual advances by a supervisor or coworker
  • The employee’s report of the employer’s wrongdoing to a regulatory agency
  • The employee’s refusal to disobey a law

Employees who believe that they were terminated for reasons they suspect to be unlawful can learn about their rights and potential remedies by consulting with a Los Angeles employment attorney.

Hostile Work Environment

Employees most often work under difficult circumstances. They might be treated unfairly, by rude co-workers or unsympathetic supervisors, or required to work under untenable conditions. However, in many instances, an employee’s only remedy for a difficult work environment is to find a better job. When a work environment is hostile because of an employee’s protected characteristic, however, a Los Angeles employment lawyer may be able to help.

Characteristics that are protected by law include gender, race, national origin, disability, religion, age, sexual orientation, and sexual identity. When an employee is subjected to a pervasive pattern of insults, slurs, offensive jokes, harassment, abuse, or other mistreatment because of the employee’s protected characteristics, or when an employer fails to address the hostile work environment after the employee notifies the employer about the problem, an employment attorney in Los Angeles can be an important resource to help the employee find a solution to the problem.

Unpaid Wages and Other Compensation

Employment lawyers help employees collect earned wages that have not been paid. Unpaid wage claims can include final wages that were not paid on the day employment was terminated, a failure to pay earned commissions or bonuses, and unpaid overtime. Any failure to pay earned compensation as required by California wage laws is unlawful.

The problem of unpaid overtime can occur for several reasons. Employees may be misclassified as exempt when they do not meet California’s strict exemption tests, or they may be misclassified as independent contractors when the law regards them as employees. Employees who are terminated before receiving payment for a commission or bonus that they earned under the terms of employment may also be entitled to compensation.

Los Angeles employment lawyers help employees bring claims for unpaid wages, including unpaid commissions, bonuses, and overtime pay. Employees should seek legal advice whenever they suspect that they have been deprived of overtime compensation, commissions, or other earnings that are protected by California wage laws.

Wage Discrimination and Unequal Pay

Despite laws that prohibit employers from paying a lesser wage to an employee because of the employee’s membership in a protected class, some employees continue to experience wage discrimination. An employee who is in a protected class and who is paid less than employees who perform the same job and have the same seniority, training, and work history may be entitled to pursue a claim for wage discrimination.

California has implemented a law that requires employers to give equal pay to similarly situated employees who perform equal work, regardless of their gender. The law is complex, but a Los Angeles employment attorney can help employees who are concerned about unfair pay understand whether they might fall within the law’s coverage.

Protecting Whistleblowers

Certain whistleblowers are entitled to protection when they report an employer’s violation of the law. Examples include reporting violations of environmental regulations, unsafe workplace conditions, and fraudulent activities that affect third parties or the public.

Whistleblowers are often entitled to a remedy if they experience retaliation after reporting misconduct. However, the misconduct that the employee complains about must rise to the level of a public interest, as opposed to involving an internal concern of the employer. Thus, a complaint about over-billing clients or customers may be protected, whereas a complaint about a violation of an employer’s own internal policy may not.

Employees who want to report an employer’s misconduct may benefit from the legal advice a Los Angeles employment lawyer can provide. Obtaining legal advice before reporting the misconduct can help the employee make an informed decision and better understand the possible outcomes given the whistleblower protections.

Breach of Contract

Employees usually have an oral contract to be paid a specified wage for a specified amount of work. Some employees (particularly executives) have a written contract that governs additional terms of employment and may even limit the employer’s ability to terminate without cause. In addition, California law requires employers to give a written compensation agreement to employees who are paid by commission.

When employers do not live up to the promises they made, or when a dispute arises about the contract terms, an employment lawyer in Los Angeles can help executives and other employees understand and enforce their contractual rights.

Getting Help

Employees in the Los Angeles area who need help with an employment related issue can contact the law firm of E&L, LLP, to schedule a consultation. Our Los Angeles employment attorneys have substantial experience representing executives and other employees concerning their employment issues. Contact us through our website or by calling 213-213-0000.