Posts tagged with "human resources"

What is the enforceability of an employment contract in Connecticut?

In Connecticut, the enforceability of an employment contract is based on general contract principals. This contract can be verbal, written or a combination of the two. In addition, employment contracts in Connecticut can be either express or implied. An employment contract is an express contract if it is written and signed by both parties. A valid express employment contract will contain wording that describes the job duties, working conditions, compensation, benefits and other employment details.

If, alternatively, an employment contract is implied, the terms of the contract would come from the conduct of the parties, verbal promises made before employment started, information stated in an employee handbook, promises made in an offer letter, and other sources.

Today, most employers have their employees sign a document agreeing to at-will employment as opposed to a defined term in an employment contract. This way, either the employer or the employee may end the employment relationship at any time, and usually for any reason.

In any case, Connecticut courts regularly find employment contracts enforceable against both parties. Such agreements will be upheld by Connecticut courts as long they do not violate any laws and were not entered fraudulently, under duress, or by mistake of the parties. If valid, both parties to the contract will be held responsible for abiding by its terms and liable for any breach. Frequently, allegations of breach of an employment contract involve issues of compensation and termination of employment.

If you are interested in drafting an enforceable employment contract, or interested in determining whether an employment contract you have already signed is binding, please feel free to call the Employment Law Group of Maya Murphy, P.C. in Westport, CT at 203-221-3100 or email Ask@mayalaw.com today.

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Termination Does Not Invalidate a Non-Compete Agreement

Termination Does Not Invalidate a Non-Compete Agreement

Built In America, Inc. v. Morris, 2001 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2953

Mr. Michael Morris was the owner of Built In America, Inc. until he sold his entire stock in the company to Mr. Marc Costa in October 2000. The parties executed a Purchase and Sale Agreement that legally transferred the stock and ownership of the company. The transaction included an employment contract for an initial period of two years and a non-compete clause that became effective upon Mr. Morris’s termination from the company. The company terminated Mr. Morris in April 2001 and he proceeded to work in direct competition with his former employer. Mr. Costa and Built In America sued Mr. Morris for violation of the non-compete agreement and asked the court to enforce the agreement’s provisions. Mr. Morris argued that the restrictive covenant was null and void because the company had breached the employment agreement when it unlawfully terminated his employment.
The court found in favor of Built In America, ordered the enforcement of the covenant not to compete, and issued an injunction. There was no dispute over the reasonableness of the covenant, only a dispute over whether it became void when the company allegedly improperly terminated Mr. Morris. Built In America cited previous Connecticut cases, most notably Robert S. Weiss & Associates, Inc. v. Wiederlight (208 Conn. 525 (1988)), where the court held that termination did not invalidate a non-compete agreement. Furthermore, the court concluded that the company was justified with respect to its decision to terminate Mr. Morris’s employment, stating that his “behavior was so outrageous that one is left to believe he was inviting his discharge”. The court ultimately concluded that the covenant was legally binding and ordered its enforcement.
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.

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Non-Compete Invalidated Due to Unnecessary Restrictions on Future Employment

Non-Compete Invalidated Due to Unnecessary Restrictions on Future Employment
Connecticut Bathworks Corp. v. Palmer, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2193

Connecticut Bathworks Corporation was a company servicing New Haven, Fairfield, and Litchfield counties that remodeled bathrooms via the installation of prefabricated acrylic bathtub liners and wall systems. The company employed Mr. Palmer from approximately the beginning of April 2001 to February 28, 2003 at which point Mr. Palmer voluntarily terminated his employment. He began to work for Re-Bath of Connecticut, a company in direct competition with Bathworks, the next day. The issue in this case is that Mr. Palmer signed a “Company Confidentiality Agreement” when he began to work for Bathworks that contained a covenant not to compete that prohibited him from “being employed by any business in competition with the plaintiff [Bathworks] within any county in which the plaintiff is doing business for a period of three years from the termination of his employment with the plaintiff”. This created a three-year prohibition on working for a competitor with the tri-county area of New Haven, Fairfield, and Litchfield.
Bathworks sued Mr. Palmer in Connecticut state court and requested an injunction to enjoin him from further violations of the non-compete agreement. The court analyzed the facts of the case, held in favor of Mr. Palmer, and denied Bathworks’s request for injunctive relief. The court’s decision ultimately came down to the issue of whether Mr. Palmer’s employment with Re-Bath would negatively affect Bathworks’s interests and business operations. Bathworks carried the burden of establishing the probability of success on the merits of the case and the court held that it failed to present sufficient evidence to indicate it would be directly and immediately harmed due to breach of the restrictive covenant.
Bathworks argued that Mr. Palmer acquired valuable trade secrets and information during his employment with the company and that his continued employment with Re-Bath would harm its operations. The court however found that Mr. Palmer, as an installer, did not have access to Bathworks’s confidential information or any trade secrets that would put the company at a competitive disadvantage. The court further noted that while Mr. Palmer was a skilled laborer, he was not a high-level executive, nor did he provide “special, extraordinary, or unique” services. Bathworks also failed to present any evidence to show that Mr. Palmer knew of or took part in the company’s sales/marketing activities or the development of a business strategy.
The court stated that its role in deciding the case was to balance the parties’ interest to fairly protect Bathworks’s business while not unreasonably restricting Mr. Palmer’s right to seek employment elsewhere. This agreement however, according to court, unnecessarily restricted Mr. Palmer’s right to work at another company because there was nothing about that employment which would disadvantage Bathworks in the industry. The non-compete agreement went beyond what was reasonably necessary to protect the company’s interests and as such, the court denied Bathworks’s request for an injunction.
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.

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What’s In a Separation Agreement?

With the economy where it is, the employment lawyers in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. are frequently asked to review and negotiate separation agreements for terminated employees.  These agreements often appear similar in form and content but must be carefully scrutinized, as they can contain hidden “trip wires” that can have a profound and long-lasting effect on the former employee’s job prospects.  Here are some of the things to look out for.

Most separation agreements contain restrictive covenants—confidentiality, non-solicitation, or non-competition clauses.  The first two—confidentiality and non-solicitation—are typically non-controversial, as they often confirm pre-existing obligations owed an employer by a former employee.  The last—non-competition—is usually a point of contention, as it impacts directly the employee’s ability to find a new position.  We have blogged extensively on non-competes, their interpretation and enforceability, etc. and readers are invited to review those prior posts.  But other terms and conditions of a separation agreement deserve your attention, as well.

First of all, do not be surprised by the length of a separation agreement.  A federal statute called the Older Worker’s Benefit and Protection Act requires the inclusion of extensive release language, and such things as a 21 day review and seven day revocation period.  Here are some of the other things you should be on the lookout for:

  • Consideration:  Make sure all of the severance benefits are correct and clearly stated.  This includes severance pay, COBRA coverage, etc.  Do not leave anything to inference or implication.
  • Confirmation that No Claims Exist/Covenant Not to Sue: Notwithstanding the comprehensive release language, some separation agreements will also require the employee to state that he/she is not aware of any factual basis to support any charge or complaint and that the employee will forego suit, even if such a claim exists.
  • Non-disparagement: Both sides often agree that neither will say anything to disparage the other.  Sometimes (particularly in the financial industry), a separation agreement will contain a “carve out” for employer reporting to FINRA or the SEC.  In such a case, it is important to have the agreement state that as of the employee’s separation date, the employer was not aware of any reportable event or information that would warrant comment or notation on a Form U-5.
  • Governing Law:  Employment law does not travel well across state lines.  For example, California law is much different than Connecticut’s.  Large companies will sometimes have their separation agreements governed by the law of the state where it has its headquarters, irrespective of the actual place of work of the departing employee.
  • Acknowledgement of Non-Revocation: An employee has seven days within which to revoke acceptance of a separation agreement.  Some companies adopt a “belt and suspenders” approach and require the employee to acknowledge in writing a negative—that they have not revoked such acceptance.

The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues.  203-221-3100.

 

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Non-Compete Enforceability: Must Protect Legitimate Interest & Not Be Punitive

Non-Compete Enforceability: Must Protect Legitimate & Not Be Punitive
Ranciato v. Nolan, 2002 Conn. Super. LEXIS 489

Historic Restoration and Appraisal, LLC (HRA) was engaged in the business of restoring primarily detached single-family homes that had suffered casualty damage from fire and/or water. The company employed Mr. Timothy Nolan to work as a project manager for jobs located throughout the state of Connecticut. Mr. Nolan’s employment began on November 18, 1996 and the company informed him shortly thereafter that his employment was contingent on the execution of a non-compete agreement. The parties signed the restrictive covenant on November 21, 1996 and it prohibited Mr. Nolan from performing the same services offered by HRA in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island for a period of three years. The agreement did not affect Mr. Nolan’s ability to offer painting or home improvement services that were not in connection to fire and/or water damage. In exchange for this employment restriction, the agreement stipulated that Mr. Nolan’s annual salary would be $48,500. He felt that he would be fired if he failed to sign the agreement and signed it without consulting a legal professional.
HRA fired Mr. Nolan on January 24, 1997 after repeated incidents of discovering that he was receiving lewd and inappropriate materials via the company’s fax machine. He began to work for McGuire Associates shortly after HRA discharged him and performed marketing and business development services in the capacity of his new position. Unlike HRA, McGuire is a preferred builder and the court held that it did not compete with HRA. The company sued Mr. Nolan in Connecticut state court and asked the court to enforce the non-compete agreement that the parties had executed. The Superior Court of Connecticut in New Haven rejected HRA’s request and held that the company “suffered no financial loss as a result of the defendant’s employment by McGuire”.
According to the non-compete agreement, Mr. Nolan can be in breach only if he works at a company that is “in competition with” HRA. While the court acquiesced that HRA and McGuire were both in the construction industry, it held that they performed significantly different services and were not in competition with each other for clients or projects. The industry classified HRA as a “fire chaser” because it received most of its jobs by monitoring police reports and fire scanners to alert them of individuals that needed repairs for fire and/or water damage. McGuire however was a preferred builder and provided services for not only single-family homes, but also commercial and municipal buildings. The courts interpreted the significant differences between the two companies as adequate evidence that Mr. Nolan was not “in competition with” HRA because of his new employment with McGuire.
Furthermore, the court discussed the reasons why a court would enforce a non-compete covenant, specifically referencing the legal system’s desire to balance and protect the parties’ interests. Courts generally grant injunctions to enforce a non-compete agreement when the plaintiff employer can provide adequate evidence that the former employee’s breach will result in adverse financial consequences. The court noted that this policy did not apply to the case since HRA had not suffered any financial loss or hardship and Mr. Nolan did not have any access to confidential information that would be harmful to the company should it be disclosed.
Additionally, the court concluded that the time and geographical restrictions in the agreement were unreasonable given the facts of the case. HRA did not have anything to lose because of McGuire employing Mr. Nolan because of the differences in their business operations and the court held that the restrictions, if enforced, would only serve to prevent Mr. Nolan from employment at another company. The policy to enforce non-compete agreements focuses on protecting the interests of the employer and not to punish the employee and excessively restrict future employment opportunities. Specifically, the court cited that HRA could only “benefit from protection in the New Haven area” and that the “tri-state restriction imposed on the defendant was not necessary to protect any legitimate interests of the plaintiff and, therefore, [the agreement] was not ‘reasonably limited’”.
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.

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Non-Compete Enforceability: Must Protect Legitimate Interest & Not Be Punitive

Non-Compete Enforceability: Must Protect Legitimate & Not Be Punitive
Ranciato v. Nolan, 2002 Conn. Super. LEXIS 489

Historic Restoration and Appraisal, LLC (HRA) was engaged in the business of restoring primarily detached single-family homes that had suffered casualty damage from fire and/or water. The company employed Mr. Timothy Nolan to work as a project manager for jobs located throughout the state of Connecticut. Mr. Nolan’s employment began on November 18, 1996 and the company informed him shortly thereafter that his employment was contingent on the execution of a non-compete agreement. The parties signed the restrictive covenant on November 21, 1996 and it prohibited Mr. Nolan from performing the same services offered by HRA in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island for a period of three years. The agreement did not affect Mr. Nolan’s ability to offer painting or home improvement services that were not in connection to fire and/or water damage. In exchange for this employment restriction, the agreement stipulated that Mr. Nolan’s annual salary would be $48,500. He felt that he would be fired if he failed to sign the agreement and signed it without consulting a legal professional.
HRA fired Mr. Nolan on January 24, 1997 after repeated incidents of discovering that he was receiving lewd and inappropriate materials via the company’s fax machine. He began to work for McGuire Associates shortly after HRA discharged him and performed marketing and business development services in the capacity of his new position. Unlike HRA, McGuire is a preferred builder and the court held that it did not compete with HRA. The company sued Mr. Nolan in Connecticut state court and asked the court to enforce the non-compete agreement that the parties had executed. The Superior Court of Connecticut in New Haven rejected HRA’s request and held that the company “suffered no financial loss as a result of the defendant’s employment by McGuire”.
According to the non-compete agreement, Mr. Nolan can be in breach only if he works at a company that is “in competition with” HRA. While the court acquiesced that HRA and McGuire were both in the construction industry, it held that they performed significantly different services and were not in competition with each other for clients or projects. The industry classified HRA as a “fire chaser” because it received most of its jobs by monitoring police reports and fire scanners to alert them of individuals that needed repairs for fire and/or water damage. McGuire however was a preferred builder and provided services for not only single-family homes, but also commercial and municipal buildings. The courts interpreted the significant differences between the two companies as adequate evidence that Mr. Nolan was not “in competition with” HRA because of his new employment with McGuire.
Furthermore, the court discussed the reasons why a court would enforce a non-compete covenant, specifically referencing the legal system’s desire to balance and protect the parties’ interests. Courts generally grant injunctions to enforce a non-compete agreement when the plaintiff employer can provide adequate evidence that the former employee’s breach will result in adverse financial consequences. The court noted that this policy did not apply to the case since HRA had not suffered any financial loss or hardship and Mr. Nolan did not have any access to confidential information that would be harmful to the company should it be disclosed.
Additionally, the court concluded that the time and geographical restrictions in the agreement were unreasonable given the facts of the case. HRA did not have anything to lose because of McGuire employing Mr. Nolan because of the differences in their business operations and the court held that the restrictions, if enforced, would only serve to prevent Mr. Nolan from employment at another company. The policy to enforce non-compete agreements focuses on protecting the interests of the employer and not to punish the employee and excessively restrict future employment opportunities. Specifically, the court cited that HRA could only “benefit from protection in the New Haven area” and that the “tri-state restriction imposed on the defendant was not necessary to protect any legitimate interests of the plaintiff and, therefore, [the agreement] was not ‘reasonably limited’”.
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.

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Racial Remarks and Jokes Are Made at My Job. I Have Complained to Management and Nothing Has Been Done. What Should I Do?

If you are uncomfortable at your job due to racial remarks and jokes you should file a complaint with management or the human resource department immediately.  If the discriminatory behavior does not stop, you may consider filing a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.  If you choose to contact the CHRO you will need to consult an employment attorney in your area as soon as possible.  There are very strict statutes of limitations on employment discrimination claims in Connecticut, so action should be taken quickly.  If you feel as though you are being discriminated against or have any questions related to employment discrimination in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Racial Remarks and Jokes Are Made at My Job. I Have Complained to Management and Nothing Has Been Done. What Should I Do?

If you are uncomfortable at your job due to racial remarks and jokes you should file a complaint with management or the human resource department immediately.  If the discriminatory behavior does not stop, you may consider filing a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.  If you choose to contact the CHRO you will need to consult an employment attorney in your area as soon as possible.  There are very strict statutes of limitations on employment discrimination claims in Connecticut, so action should be taken quickly.  If you feel as though you are being discriminated against or have any questions related to employment discrimination in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

What Should an Employee Do if She Has Been Sexually Harassed in Connecticut?

As a first step, the employee should review her company’s sexual harassment and complaint policy to determine what avenues are available to her internally to address the situation.  In some circumstances, employees may have to comply with the employer’s established policies and procedures in order to later bring a legal action.  The employee may also consider telling the harasser to stop the offensive behavior, whether in person, by email or by writing a letter.  Regardless of how it is done, the communication should describe the offensive conduct, make clear that it is unacceptable and that it must stop.  As a next step, the employee may speak to a supervisor or to human resources department.   In all events, the employee should document the steps she has taken to complain about or curtail the harassment.

An employee should also consider talking to an attorney with experience in labor and employment law to better understand her rights, particularly if an employer is unwilling or unable to take steps to address any harassment.   Frequently, deadlines for bringing a formal complaint are very strict, so it is generally helpful to talk to an attorney promptly.

If you have any questions related to sexual harassment and discrimination in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

What Should an Employee Do if She Has Been Sexually Harassed in Connecticut?

As a first step, the employee should review her company’s sexual harassment and complaint policy to determine what avenues are available to her internally to address the situation.  In some circumstances, employees may have to comply with the employer’s established policies and procedures in order to later bring a legal action.  The employee may also consider telling the harasser to stop the offensive behavior, whether in person, by email or by writing a letter.  Regardless of how it is done, the communication should describe the offensive conduct, make clear that it is unacceptable and that it must stop.  As a next step, the employee may speak to a supervisor or to human resources department.   In all events, the employee should document the steps she has taken to complain about or curtail the harassment.

An employee should also consider talking to an attorney with experience in labor and employment law to better understand her rights, particularly if an employer is unwilling or unable to take steps to address any harassment.   Frequently, deadlines for bringing a formal complaint are very strict, so it is generally helpful to talk to an attorney promptly.

If you have any questions related to sexual harassment and discrimination in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.