When Do I Need an Employment Attorney?

The employer-employee relationship is legally complex, subject to numerous local, state, and federal requirements. On the one hand, employment is simply a contractual agreement between a business and its employees. On the other hand, these relationships can feel deeply personal. As such, it is vital that both employers and employees understand their legal rights and obligations at the outset of their relationship.

Employment lawyers work with both businesses and employees on a number of issues, from helping employers draft airtight employment contracts, to helping employees address a business’s potential violation of a state or federal employment law. Their ultimate responsibility is to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equally in the workplace and that companies comply with relevant state and federal laws. 

Lawyers tend to divide the practice of law into to categories: transactional and litigation. Transactional practice areas comprise drafting and negotiating agreements, while litigation involves representing clients in court proceedings. Employment attorneys can be either transactional lawyers, litigators, or both. Some employment attorneys focus solely on advising, drafting, and negotiating, while others handle disputes arising from an employment relationship. For example, on the transactional side, they educate employers on the state and federal laws that bind them. On the litigation side, they often handle litigation surrounding employment-related issues like wrongful termination, workplace discrimination, and sexual harassment claims.

Some issues that may warrant contacting an employment attorney are:

–       Employee salary negotiations 

–       Complaints of discrimination or harassment

–       Alleged breach of an employment contract

–       A former employee’s violation of a non-compete clause

–       An anticipated change in the company’s benefits packages, pension plans, or other employee offerings

Finding the best employment lawyer for you will depend on why you need legal help: sometimes, employment attorneys will help businesses avoid future issues from arising. In other cases, a lawyer is necessary once an employee has filed a lawsuit.

Here, we will briefly explain how employment attorneys can help both employers and employees.

How Can an Employment Lawyer Help an Employer?

Ideally, employers should engage an employment attorney before they hire their first employee. An employment attorney can help employers structure their employee relationships, from developing employment policies to setting up benefits packages and establishing wages. This can help the employer minimize any potential issues down the road. 

Employers can also benefit from hiring an employment attorney for the following issues:

Advising on Hiring and Firing

North Carolina follows “at-will” employment law, meaning that employers can terminate an employee at any time for any reason (or for no reason), so long as it does not violate federal discrimination laws. Employment lawyers can help companies make decisions about hiring, firing, and furloughs in a way that complies with state and federal laws. They can also help employers ensure that they are complying with laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets the minimum wage and requires payment of overtime.

Defending against Employee Complaints

An employment attorney can help businesses navigate complaints and lawsuits filed by current or former employees. They can respond to the complaint, negotiate settlement, and when needed, represent the business in court.

Advising on Employee Benefits

If an employer opts to provide its employees with certain benefits, federal law dictates how they must do so. Employment lawyers can help companies establish their employee benefits packages in a way that complies with federal law. If an employer eventually wants to modify or cut the benefit packages, an attorney can help them do so legally.

How Can an Employment Lawyer Help an Individual?

Employers can unwittingly or intentionally violate the law. When this happens, employees have the right to file suit against their employers. An employment lawyer can be helpful if you believe your employer violated the law or your rights as a worker. Your attorney can help you review your contract and explain the laws that affect your employment.

Some situations that may warrant contacting an employment attorney are:

–       Employee harassment

–       Discrimination on the basis of age, race, gender, national origin, religion, pregnancy, disability, or military status (among other factors)

–       Retaliation against an employee 

–       Illegal termination 

–       Undue pressure to sign an agreement that waives employee rights

–       An employer’s violation of state or federal laws that protect employees

–       Denial of benefits provided by the employment contract

It is advisable to contact an employment attorney as soon as you become aware of an issue so as to avoid running into evidentiary or statute of limitations issues.

Seeking Legal Help

Whether you are a business or an individual, you should contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible when a dispute arises. Ideally, you will consult with an attorney at the outset of your employment: if you are a business, you can benefit from an attorney’s help in drafting your employment documents, and if you are an employee, you should be aware of your rights. Your lawyer will help you understand both your rights and responsibilities and will represent your interests in the event a dispute arises.

Because employment cases are so unique and fact-specific, it is essential to consult an attorney who is specifically versed in employment laws in your jurisdiction. Be sure to ask your attorney about his or her relevant experience and knowledge base and ensure he or she has handled cases like yours before. 

Our firm proudly serves clients across North Carolina and helps them resolve their employment disputes. To speak with a member of our firm, fill out our contact form, or call our Raleigh office (919-278-7453) to schedule a consultation with one of our employment law attorneys.

This article does not establish an attorney-client relationship and must not be construed as legal advice.