Representing Employees in Contract Issues
Traditionally many New Jersey employees are “at will” meaning that they do not have an employment contract and can be terminated for any non-discriminatory or non-retaliatory reason. However, some employees enter into employment contracts with their employer. The contract outlines the terms of employment that both the employee and the employer agree to adhere to.
If an employee is terminated, the employer may be in breach of contract, and the employee may be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Types of Employment Contracts
For those employees with a contract, the contract usually outlines a number of employment conditions, including:
- Salary and bonuses
- Stock options
- Hours and location
- Period of employment
- Restrictions on future employment
The contract may also specify a termination procedure and permissible reasons for termination. For example, a contract may specify that the employee will not be terminated without cause for a certain period. When an employer breaches these contractual promises, the employee may have a right to file a lawsuit.
Employees and employers may also have a verbal agreement, or an implied agreement, and in some cases, an agreement based on terms laid out in the employee handbook. While these do not have the same level of formality, they may also be enforceable if the employer made statements regarding the employee’s tenure, salary, or potential reasons for firing, and the employee entered into the employment relationship based upon these representations.
Damages for Breach of Contract
If an employee is wrongfully terminated under the terms of their contract, a wrongful termination lawsuit can allow them to recover damages, which can include:
- Expectation damages: If an employee was let go before they received the compensation guaranteed by their contract, the employer may be forced to pay the remaining amount. The employee must make a reasonable effort to mitigate the financial loss by finding other work, and the amount that they earn in the original employment period is subtracted from the amount of damages awarded.
- Liquidated damages: An employee contract may include a clause that requires an employer to pay the employee a certain amount if they are terminated. This is rarely used, as it is meant to compensate for a value of the contract that is difficult to put a monetary value on.
- Attorneys’ fees: An employer may be required to pay the terminated employee’s attorneys’ fees and court costs if it is specified in their employment contract.
Breach of Contract Claim Against an Employee
It is not uncommon that as a condition of employment, employees are required to sign an employment contract at the beginning of their employment. These contracts often contain a non-compete or non-solicitation clause or a non-disclosure clause. Such clauses may make it difficult for an employee to find similar work in the same geographic region at the conclusion of their employment relationship. It is not common, that an employer will threaten to file legal action, including a request for a restraining order or injunction, to prevent an employee from working with a competing company.
An at-will employment relationship does not include a guarantee of employment for a certain period of time. Nor does it require a “good cause” termination. This applies to both the employee and the employer; the employee can leave at any time, and the employer can dismiss them at any time for any reason that is not discriminatory or retaliatory.
The employer can also change the terms of employment at any time; since they retain the right to fire an employee and hire them under different terms, the courts do not prohibit the employer from altering the agreement while they are still employed.
Atlantic County Employment Lawyers at Levine Staller Handle Breach of Employment Contract Claims
If you have been offered a job or are planning on leaving a job, and you signed an employment agreement, our attorneys can help you understand your rights and responsibilities. If your employer has wrongfully terminated you or failed to provide you with compensation you were promised pursuant to a contract, our attorneys have the experience to aggressively advocate for your interests. If you are leaving a job, and have been offered a severance agreement, our attorneys are well equipped to negotiate on your behalf. The Atlantic County employment lawyers at Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan & Brown, P.A. have the knowledge and experience to assist you with your legal matter. With offices conveniently located in Atlantic City, we help wrongfully terminated employees throughout Atlantic County, Cape May County, and Ocean County. Call us today at 609-348-1300 or contact us online to discuss your case.