Employment Law FAQs

Do I need an employee handbook?

Answer: An employee handbook is recommended because it provides employees with a reference tool about how the employer operates. The handbook will describe the various employee classifications, employee benefits, employee discipline and various policies imposed pursuant to federal and state laws. A handbook is a good way to ensure that you have all the legally required policies in place such as harassment, anti-discrimination, FMLA, and any other policies required by state or federal law. Most importantly, a handbook should contain a prominent statement that employees are considered at-will and can be terminated at any time with or without cause and with or without notice. By protecting the “at will” employment relationship, employers will be better able to avoid litigation when terminating an employee.

What is “at will” employment?

An employee is employed at the will of the employer for as little or as long as the employer wishes, and in whatever capacity the employer requires. An employer need not provide any reason for terminating an “at will” employee, so long as the termination is not unlawful or discriminatory such as one based on age, sex, national origin or disability. In the same way, the employee may choose to terminate the employment relationship when he or she desires.

Can an employer require signing a confidentiality agreement?

Yes. An employer is entitled to have their employees sign a confidentiality agreement if it is intended to protect its legitimate business interests. Confidential information can be anything having to do with discoveries, inventions, marketing and sales information, customer lists and other employer trade secrets.

What about a non-competition agreement?

The employer can also require execution of a non-competition agreement so long as it is reasonable for the duration of time and its geographical scope. This type of limitation is very fact specific and depends on the industry, the employer at issue and the area in which the employer operates.

How do I protect myself and my company from discrimination and/or harassment complaints?

It is critical that the employer institutes policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Those policies should also outline how the employer will respond to and resolve discrimination and harassment complaints. Once policies are in place, the employer needs to apply them in a consistent manner and document their investigation process. Discrimination claims are sometimes made by individuals who are terminated for valid performance reasons, but who will then claim an “unlawful” reason for the termination. If the employer has applied and followed its own policies properly, it is better prepared to defend against such claims. In addition, in light of U.S. Supreme Court cases addressing harassment issues, employers should conduct harassment and diversity training at least every other year to ensure that its employees understand the employer’s policies and to explain what type of behavior is and is not appropriate in the workplace.

When I fire an employee, can I withhold his/her paycheck until they return company property?

No. A fired employee must be given his/her final paycheck at the time of termination or at the next pay period

What about vacation pay? If the employee is leaving, doesn’t he/she just forfeit vacation?

No, a fired employee is entitled to receive the cash equivalent of any accrued but unused vacation time that he or she has earned but has not used.