The first and most important step to prepare for an employment contracts case is to hire an experienced employment lawyer. Employment contracts cases arise from employment contracts, or signed agreements, between employers and employees. These agreements outline the terms of employment.
If an individual has been accused of breaching their employment contract, they have been accused of not adhering to the terms of the contract. A common example is failing to follow company policies that the individual agreed to when they entered into the employment contract. There may be instances, however, when the terms of the contract are vague, violate the law, or are otherwise unfair. In such cases, the contract may be void.
In order to prove that an employment contract is void, one of the following issues must have occurred during the contract negotiations:
- The parties were mutually mistaken regarding crucial information;
- Fraud, where the individual signed the contract based on false information presented to them;
- They were under duress and/or coerced into signing the employment contract;
- One of the parties exercised undue influence over the other; or
- The contract was unconscionable, in other words, the contract itself was so unfair that it voids the agreement.
An employer has a responsibility to minimize their own damages instead of allowing them to get worse and then suing an employee to recover the total loss. The employer has a limited amount of time after a breach occurs in which to sue an employee for breach of contract. An individual may also assert the defense that the employer breached the contract before they did.
There are other circumstances which may void an employment contract. These include being employed to perform tasks an individual is not licensed to do, at-will employment status, and/or an employer failing to comply with the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
There are many unlawful actions that employers can engage in that puts employees at a disadvantage. It is important to be aware of these issues so an individual can alert their attorney. These include:
- Being harassed, discriminated, and/or retaliated against by an employer;
- An individual was terminated from employment and the termination was illegal;
- An individual was forced to sign an agreement waiving rights they are entitled to;
- The employer has violated state and/or federal laws created to protect employees; and/or
- An employer has not given an individual the benefits they are entitled to under their employment contract.
It is important to contact an employment attorney as soon as an individual becomes aware of an issue. If an individual delays in contacting an attorney, they may be prevented from proving illegal conduct committed by their employer and may also be prevented from recovering damages.
It is also important to determine what area of employment law an individual needs assistance with prior to selecting an attorney. Employment law includes a wide range of disputes and job-related matters. Common employment law issues may include:
- Discrimination violations;
- Wrongful termination;
- Withheld wages and/or overtime disputes;
- Immigration, citizenship, and/or work visa issues; and/or
- Disability pay.
What Documentation and Questions Should I Compile Before I Meet with My Employment Contracts Attorney?
It is important to compile documents and any questions an individual has prior to their consultation. That way, the attorney has, hopefully, most of the information they need to begin work on the case.
The most important document to bring is the employment contract itself. This is the basis for any employment contract claim.
If there is any correspondence between the employer and employee, it is important to bring that to the consultation. If the individual has not begun already, they should document communications with their employer, including the individual, the date, and the time.
Prior to a consultation, an individual should think of any questions they have about their case and make a list to bring with them. This may include questions such as:
- Are there any defenses available in the case?
- What are the possible remedies?
- Any other question an individual may have regarding their case.
It is important to remember that no question is unimportant. A lawyer will be aware that most individuals are not familiar with employment contract law and will be patient with all questions asked.
What Makes an Employment Contracts Case Strong? What Makes it Weak?
A strong employment contracts case begins with the help of an attorney. An attorney will know what evidence to present to the court as well as what aspects of the case are most important. There are some defenses available in these types of cases. It is important for an individual to be aware of possible defenses because they may not even be aware something has occurred until they read it in this article.
One defense to a breach of contract claim is mistake, whether mutual or unilateral. In a mutual mistake, both parties made an error in the contract terms. An issue arises of whether or not a contract was actually formed. In these types of cases, courts are reluctant to enforce a contract if a mistake drastically affects the subject matter of that contract.
A unilateral mistake is a mistake made only by one of the parties. It is generally not a reason to void a contract.
Duress is another defense to breach of employment contract claims. A party cannot be forced to enter into a contract through blackmail, threats of physical harm, and/or other forms of force. A Court will not enforce the contract if there is an indication of duress.
Undue influence is similar to duress, but in a lesser form. It occurs when one party exercises control over another individual that causes them to be pressured. This often occurs in fiduciary relationships, or relationships between family members, a trusted person, and/or someone who is in s position of influence over that person. Courts will closely examine relationships to determine whether to enforce the contracts between them.
Another possible defense may be unconscionability. This defense applies when one party enters into a contract that is grossly unfair. This generally arises when one party has more bargaining power than the other.
Misrepresentation is another available defense. This defense may be available when one party misrepresented a material matter and the other party reasonably relied on that misrepresentation.
Fraudulent misrepresentation is a more severe form of misrepresentation because one party intentionally misrepresents a material matter in the contract, omits, and/or conceals a material matter. Courts will not enforce a contract entered into as a result of fraudulent misrepresentation.
A defense of impossibility and/or impracticability may be used when one party is unable to perform the terms of the contract because an event occurs that makes it impossible. Courts will review this on a case by case basis.
Finally, an additional defense that may be used is frustration of purpose. This generally applies to situations where an unexpected event or circumstances occurs that frustrates the party’s purpose of entering into the contract.
An attorney will be able to further explain these defenses and determine whether or not they apply. To present a strong case, an attorney will be able to provide evidence of the previously discussed defenses. There may also be other defenses available that are not discussed here.
What are Some Dos and Don’ts for Employment Contracts Cases?
Some “do’s” for employment contracts cases include:
- Do: Hire an attorney as soon as possible. As noted above, there are time limitations on claims that can be made.
- Do: Save all correspondence with your employer, including the employment contract. If you did not save a copy, the employer will likely provide you with one.
- Do: Be honest with your attorney. An attorney can only build a solid case when they have all the facts. Even if you think a fact is not in your favor, it may still be important to the case.
Some “don’ts” for employment contracts cases include:
- Don’t: Make a scene at work if you are still employed. Do not put on a show about how you are going to file a lawsuit. Go to work and do your job as required.
- Don’t: Try to defend your case alone. In many cases, companies have attorneys on staff and the funds to defend their cases vigorously.
- Don’t: Wait until the last possible minute to hire an attorney. Most claims are on a time requirement and an attorney will need time to review and prepare for a case.
When Do I Absolutely Need an Employment Contracts Attorney?
An employment attorney is necessary for any employment contracts case. If you have been accused of breaching your employment contract, an employment attorney will review your case. They can determine if any defenses are available to you, and will represent you during court proceedings, if necessary.