Ensuring Fair and Favorable Employment Contracts in New Jersey
Employment contracts are legal agreements that outline the material and terms and conditions of employment. Duration, job responsibilities, salary, equity arrangements, benefits, insurance, and requirements for promotion and termination are just some of the terms that can be included in an employment contract. Employers often seek to include confidentiality, non-compete, non-solicitation, and arbitration provisions in such agreements.
The Atlantic County employment lawyers at Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan & Brown, P.A. are dedicated to helping their clients negotiate fair and favorable employment contracts. For employers, it is imperative that employment contracts are legally enforceable and protect confidential trade secrets. For employees, it is important that such agreements do not unreasonably limit future employment opportunities. Because the stakes are high when negotiations commence, consulting with an experienced and aggressive employment lawyer can ensure that your best interests are served.
Employment Contract Negotiation
An employment contract is a legally binding agreement that defines the working relationship between an employer and the employee. Employment contracts can be written and signed by the parties, or they can be oral agreements.
Employment agreements are more often oral rather than written. However, in some situations, it may be more advantageous for the parties to negotiate a written agreement. This is especially true if an employee will learn confidential or privileged information. Such agreements can and should address the duration of the employment relationship, compensation, benefits, sick leave, the employee’s duties and responsibilities, and an employee’s obligations to protect confidential information.
We caution clients not to sign any written employment agreement before speaking with an attorney, as such agreements may prevent an employee from working in his or her chosen profession after the employment relationship ends.
Executive Compensation & Benefits Agreements
In today’s economy, businesses are being held accountable to the public, shareholders, and state and federal agencies, all of whom demand transparency regarding compensation arrangements provided to executive level employees.
In addition to salary, executive compensation and benefit agreements often outline terms of bonuses, commissions, deferred compensation, retirement benefits, and equity and stock options. Such arrangements can be complex because of tax complications affecting deferred compensation, stock options, and other equity, as well as corporate governance issues. Further, such agreements may offer an executive change in control protections should they lose their employment due to a merger or accusation. Such provisions are sometimes referred to as golden parachutes.
An experienced employment lawyer can play a pivotal role in the negotiation process for these types of agreements. Employees entering into an executive compensation and benefit agreement need to be fully aware of the conditions and terms of the contract, so that their future is clearly defined and protected.
Non-Compete and Restrictive Covenants
Employers that need to protect trade secrets, client lists, or limit employees from working for competitors will sometimes include confidentiality provisions or restrictive covenants in their employment contracts.
Confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) protect an employer’s proprietary information by limiting what information employees can share with competitors and the public. Such provisions may be for a certain period or can be indefinite and can affect an employee’s future employment prospects. Confidentiality provisions will often include penalties and enforcement mechanics in the event of a breach. It is not uncommon for such provisions to include liquidated damages and attorney’s fees for the prevailing party, in the event of a dispute.
Restrictive covenants likewise protect an employer by prohibiting an employee from working for competitors, soliciting former customers, or from working in a certain geographic area for a specified amount of time. Such covenants must be narrowly drafted to balance the competing interests between the employer’s legitimate interest in confidentiality and the employee’s right to continued work in their chosen profession.
Employers should engage counsel to ensure that such covenants will be enforceable by a New Jersey Court. Likewise, employees should engage counsel to ensure that the covenants do not impose an undue hardship on the employee, and that the employee will be able to find other work in his or her chosen profession. Depending upon the facts and circumstances, an employer may be able to obtain an injunction prohibiting their former employee from breaching their employment agreement.
A severance or separation agreement defines the arrangement for when an employee separates from or is terminated by their employer. A severance package will often pay an employee following their termination in exchange for releasing any legal claims the employee may have against the company. This agreement will outline the obligations that the employee has to the employer upon separation, and it will also define the amount and method that severance pay will be distributed. Severance agreements can also outline specifics on benefits owed to the employee, such as vacation pay and COBRA insurance.
For employees, before signing, make sure you fully understand the terms of your severance agreement and that the compensation arrangements are fair and in your best interest. If an employee is over the age of 40 years old, the Older Workers Benefit Protection ACT (OWBPA) provides additional safeguards and protections, including providing an employee with time to review the release and consult with an attorney.
When it comes to employment contracts, employees may be able to negotiate additional compensation beyond what is initially offered. Legal representation during such negotiations is essential for protecting your rights and helping you maximize your compensation package. Additionally, legal representation can help you evaluate whether it is in your best interest to accept severance pay or pursue legal claims that you may have against your former employer. Because you will be giving up your right to sue your employer if they have terminated you for a discriminatory or retaliated reason, it is critical that you consult with legal counsel before signing a severance agreement.
Work for Hire Arrangements
In general, the author of an original work, such as a graphic design, photograph, video production, software code, or a textbook, is the owner of a copyright of that work. Work for hire arrangements arise when a business hires an individual to create a specific work, and desires to own the copyright to that work. Often, a company will hire an independent contractor and require the contractor to assign all rights, title, and interest in and to the intellectual property created for the company. Such work for hire arrangements are becoming increasing prevalent in the sharing or gig economy.
There are several legal issues that should be addressed in such agreements, including protecting the company against potential liability if the contractor’s work infringes upon the property rights of a third party. Consulting with counsel can help avoid such pitfalls and ensure that your company is protected against liability.
An employment agreement will not enforce itself. At Levine Staller, our attorneys are experienced in filing legal actions to enforce employment agreements, including seeking temporary and permanent injunctions and monetary damages. In addition to representing employers in breach of contract matters, our attorneys represent employees seeking to set aside overly broad and unduly restrictive non-compete agreements.
Atlantic County Employment Lawyers at Levine Staller Represent Employers and Employees in Contract Negotiations and Disputes
The experienced team of Atlantic County employment lawyers at Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan & Brown, P.A. have been helping clients develop well defined employment contracts for over 40 years. Call us at 609-348-1300 or contact us online to schedule a consultation today. Our offices are conveniently located in Atlantic City, New Jersey and serve clients throughout South Jersey, including, Atlantic County, Ocean County, and Cape May County.