Posts tagged with "for cause"

What to Know About Your Non-Compete Agreement

In the current economic environment, understanding your obligations under a non-compete agreement could be essential to finding new employment. In uncertain times, an employee may not understand that not all non-compete agreements are enforceable. Here are seven (7) important things to know about non-compete agreements.

(1)        Courts do not view all non-compete agreements equally:

Courts view non-compete agreements ancillary to the sale of a business or between partners differently than they view non-compete agreements between an employee and employer. “When an employee agrees to be subjected to future work restrictions, he or she does so in order to obtain employment and ordinarily gets nothing in return for giving up this important freedom.  Thus the employee is at a great bargaining disadvantage.”  CT Cellar Doors, LLC v. Stephen Palamar, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3247, J.D. of Waterbury, Docket No. UWY-CV-10-5016075-S (2010). Therefore, the courts will view such a non-compete with great scrutiny.

(2)        Reasonableness requirement:

By definition, a non-compete is a restrictive covenant that prevents employees from competing with their former employers after termination, thereby creating a restraint on the free market. Given this, Connecticut courts may find that these covenants are against public policy. Consequently, non-compete agreements are only enforceable if the restraint imposed is reasonable.

(3)        Courts consider multiple factors in evaluating the reasonableness of a non-compete:

In deciding whether a particular non-compete agreement is reasonable, the court will look to the following factors: “(1) the length of time the restriction operates; (2) the geographical area covered; (3) the fairness of the protection afforded to the employer; (4) the extent of the restraint on the employee’s opportunity to pursue his occupation; and (5) the extent of interference with the public’s interests.” Robert S. Weiss and Associates, Inc. v. Wiederlight, 208 Conn. 525 (1988). The Connecticut Appellate Court has instructed that “the five pronged test is disjunctive; a finding of unreasonableness in any one of the criteria is enough to render the covenant unenforceable.” New Haven Tobacco Co., Inv. v. Perrelli, 18 Conn. App. 531 (1989).

(4)        Involuntarily termination not required:

A prevalent feeling among employees is that if “let go,” a non-compete should not apply.  However, this is not the law. When reviewing a non-compete agreement for reasonableness, the Court will not look to whether the employee left his position voluntarily or involuntarily.

(5)        Geography:

“The general rule is that the application of a restrictive covenant will be confined to a geographical area which is reasonable in view of the particular situation.” Scott v. General Iron, 171 Conn. 132 (1976) (upheld statewide restriction). Geographic restrictions should be “narrowly tailored to the plaintiff’s business situation.” Robert S. Weiss & Associates, Inc. v. Wiederlight, supra, 208 Conn. at 531. In CT Cellar Doors, LLC v. Stephen Palamar, supra, the Court held that a three-year restriction that covered the entire State of Connecticut was unenforceable, unfair and an unreasonable restraint of trade and was contrary to public policy.

Compare that to Robert S. Weiss and Associates, Inc. v. Wiederlight, supra, where the Supreme Court held that a two-year restriction that covered a 10-mile radius of Stamford, was narrowly tailored and therefore reasonable.  See also, Access America, LLC v. Mazzotta, 2005 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2597, J.D. of Middlesex, Docket  No. CV-O5-4003389 (2005)(15-mile restriction upheld); compare, Trans-Clean Corp. v. Terrell, 1998 Conn. Super. LEXIS 717, J.D. of Fairfield, Docket No. CV-97-0348039-S (1998) (60-mile restriction held unreasonable).

(6)        Duration:

Connecticut courts have frequently enforced non-compete periods of a year or more.  However, the courts have stated that the reasonableness of time and geographic restrictions in non-compete agreements are intertwined and “that broad geographic restrictions may be reasonable if the duration of the covenant is short, and longer periods may be reasonable if the geographic area is small.” Van Dyck Printing Company v. DiNicola, 43 Conn. Supp. 191 (1993), affirmed per curiam 231 Conn. 272 (1994) (one year);  Robert S. Weiss & Assoc. v. Wiederlight, supra (two years); Hart Nininger & Campbell Assoc. v. Rogers, 16 Conn. App. 619 (1988) (two years); Scott v. General Iron & Welding Co., 171 Conn. 132 (1976) (five years); Torrington Creamery, Inc. v. Davenport, 126 Conn. 515 (1940) (two years).

(7)        Forfeiture Clauses:

Forfeiture clauses differ from non-compete agreements in that the employee does not make an express promise not to compete, but rather agrees to a forfeiture of benefits if the employee engages in competition with its former employer. Despite this difference, the Connecticut Supreme Court has held that “a covenant not to compete and a forfeiture upon competing are but alternative approaches to accomplish the same practical result.” Deming v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 279 Conn. 745 (2006). Consequently, forfeiture clauses are subject to the reasonable requirement of non-compete agreements.

Conclusion

Before signing a non-compete agreement, speak to an attorney who is well versed in the law surrounding restrictive covenants and employment contracts.  If you have already signed the non-compete agreement, contact an attorney before pursuing a course of conduct that might violate a non-compete clause. A violation of a non-compete may result in legal action brought against you by your former employer, whether or not such agreement is enforceable.  Situations involving non-compete agreements are very fact specific, requiring case-by-case analysis.

If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

What To Know About Your Severance Package

During these economic times, many companies big and small, are facing the hard reality of layoffs. As hard as it is for companies, it is even harder for employees. Faced with no job and a bare economy, accepting a severance package might seem like the best choice.  But before signing anything, it is important to understand the basics of the severance package and the potential rights that might be relinquished in the process.

(1)        Time to Consider the Severance Package:

A prevalent misconception is that all employees are entitled to twenty-one (21) days to review severance package offers. Unfortunately, that is not the case.  In the case where the employer is only offering a severance package to one employee, and that employee is under the age of forty (40), there is no specific time to review the documents that is required by law. However, as the severance package must be made “knowingly and voluntarily,” that allows the employee some time to consider the severance agreement.  There is no statutory minimum amount of time.

If, however, the employee being offered the severance agreement is forty (40) years or older, he or she is protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (“OWBPA”). By law, when only one employee is offered the severance agreement and a release of ADEA claims is included, the employer must provide the employee with twenty-one (21) days to review and consider the proposed severance agreement. Moreover, if the employer and employee engage in negotiations, the consideration period commences on the date of the employer’s final offer.

If more than one employee is terminated at or around the same time, it is considered a “group layoff.”  By law, when a severance agreement is offered as part of a group layoff, and a single employee is over the age of forty (40), and a release of ADEA claims is included, then every employee regardless of age must be given forty-five (45) days to consider the agreement.

(2)        Release of Claims:

Most severance agreements contain a release of a variety of claims, including claims you may have based upon your age, race, national origin, gender, disability, religion, among others. It may also include a release of all claims, whether known to you or not at the signing of the agreement.

However, the United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) has held that, although the severance agreement may restrict the employee’s ability to file a lawsuit, the release cannot restrict the rights of an employee to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, nor can the severance agreement limit an employee’s right to testify, assist or participate in an investigation, hearing or other proceeding conducted by the EEOC. Furthermore, the EEOC has declared that an agreement cannot waive an employee’s rights regarding acts of discrimination that occur after the signing of the agreement.

(3)        Seven (7) Day Revocation Period:

When a severance agreement contains an ADEA release of claims, by law, the employer must provide you with seven (7) days to revoke the agreement after signing it. This seven (7) day window cannot be waived or changed by either party.

(4)        Ability to Consult with an Attorney:

Severance packages generally contain more than just the release of ADEA claims, but also claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, retaliation, whistle blowing, breach of contract, invasion of privacy, among others. Given the breadth of the claims released, before the signing of a severance agreement, it is extremely important to consult with an attorney prior to its execution.

Moreover, when the severance agreement contains a release, the agreement must specifically advise the employee to seek the advice of any attorney.  Faced with financial distress because of the layoff, you may not be able to think objectively concerning your rights and options. It is best to consult an attorney.

(5)        Consideration:

Consideration is required for every agreement. That means that an employee must receive something of value in exchange for giving up certain rights. That “something of value” must be above and beyond what the employee would otherwise be entitled to.

(6)        Ability to Negotiate:

Despite the “take it or leave it” undertones of an employer, generally, many employers will negotiate severance on some level. Given that, there is also a risk that an employer will revoke the offer of severance if negotiation is attempted.  Your chances of negotiating successfully increase if there is a claim that your particular severance package is not fair in light of your industry, your position, or the circumstances of your employment.  Additionally, the negotiations do not need to focus on the dollar amount connected with the severance agreement.  Employers might be willing to extend insurance coverage, disability benefits, or other items.

(7)        Gather All Information:

Before deciding to accept, negotiate, or reject a severance package, it is important to understand completely what is being offered to you, including compensation, benefits and insurance.  If you are in an industry that provides for deferred stock options or bonus, it is important to understand whether you would still be entitled to it.   You should gather information concerning your employer’s welfare plans, health plans, vacation and sick leave policies, as well as any structured bonus plans or stock options.  If the severance package is only offering you what you would be entitled to, the agreement may lack adequate consideration.

(8)        Restrictive Covenants:

Many employers will place some kind of restrictive covenant into the severance package. These range from confidentiality clauses, to non- disclosure agreements, to non-solicitation agreements, to non-compete agreements.  Therefore, it is important to understand how signing the severance agreement may restrict your ability to find new employment.

Before you sign a severance agreement, it is important to fully understand your rights and the consequences of accepting the offer. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., have years of experience in all sectors of employment law. If you have any questions relating to your severance agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Despite Trial Court’s Abuse of Discretion, Defendant Failed to Prove Specific Harm Warranting Reversal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed judgment after a defendant, convicted of DUI, unsuccessfully claimed that his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court arbitrarily denied his motion for a minor continuance.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on November 22, 2003, in Stratford. The defendant crashed his vehicle into an unoccupied parked car, and responding officers noticed visible signs of intoxication. The defendant failed several field sobriety tests and was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). The defendant wanted a jury trial, and during jury selection, the defendant used up all his peremptory challenges. When Juror T was selected as the alternate, defense counsel challenged him for cause. The reason given was because Juror T’s vehicle had been rear-ended by an intoxicated driver, he had been the passenger of an intoxicated driver, and he managed an alcoholic employee. The court would not excuse Juror T for cause, and defense counsel did not seek any additional peremptory challenges.

Due to a miscommunication, a regular juror did not appear at court on the scheduled trial date. However, because the alternate was present, the court stated that the trial would proceed that afternoon. Defense counsel immediately objected and requested a continuance to the next morning, when the regular juror would be available. The court denied the request “without giving any reason… other than that the alternate juror was selected in the same manner as the regular jurors were selected.” The defendant was convicted of OMVUI and thereafter appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it denied the motion, therefore depriving him of the right to an impartial jury.

Trial courts have wide discretion in deciding whether or not to grant a motion for a continuance. These decisions will not be overturned on appeal unless the appellant shows that the denial of this motion was arbitrary. A reviewing court will consider a number of non-exclusive factors:

[T]he timeliness of the request for continuance; the likely length of the delay; the age and complexity of the case; the granting of other continuances in the past; the impact of delay on the litigants, witnesses, opposing counsel and the court; the perceived legitimacy of the reasons proffered in support of the request; [and] the defendant’s personal responsibility for the timing of the request.

State v. Coney, 266 Conn. 787, 801 (2003). Even if the Appellate Court finds that the trial court acted arbitrarily, it must also determine that the denial was harmful, a burden placed on the appellant. If the denial implicates the violation of a constitutional right, prejudice is presumed. In addition, with respect to alternate jurors, they must have “the same qualifications and be selected in the same manner as regular jurors.” General Statutes § 54-82h(a).

In this case, the Appellate Court considered the factors listed above and came to the conclusion that the trial court’s denial of the motion for a continuance was “unreasonable and arbitrary under the unique circumstances of the case.” However, though the defendant cited a deprivation of his Sixth Amendment protections, he did not cite any case law or provide any analysis in support of his claim. As such, prejudice was not presumed, and the defendant had to show he was harmed by Juror T sitting on the jury. The defendant failed to demonstrate specific harm, and the Appellate Court declined to presume that Juror T was not “an impartial juror under these circumstances.” Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.