Executive & Professional Employment Lawyers
Executives and professionals in any industry can face a variety of legal issues particular to their status. Because each executive’s employment situation is unique, there are a number of legal issues that may arise in any one specific scenario. Below are some of the most common legal issues that executives and professionals face over the course of their employment. If you feel that any of the following issues applies to you, call the attorneys at Kraemer, Manes & Associates. Our executive employment attorneys can help you assess your options and guide you along the path that is right for you.
KM&A Employment Law Practice Areas
Executive employment contracts and compensation agreements
Employment contracts for executives and other professionals often differ from the standard contracts used for lower-level employees. Since employers want to attract the highest-quality executives they can, employment contracts in these situations are often the result of in-depth negotiations that offer competitive compensation and benefits packages in addition to protections for the employer in the event the employee is terminated from his or her position. An experienced executive employment attorney will make sure that such agreements address pivotal issues such as:
- Job duties and the consequences of alterations in job duties;
- Duration of the employment relationship;
- Terms relating to payment of bonuses and benefits should the employment relationship end in termination;
- Stock options;
- Severance provisions;
- Forums for disputes;
- Applicable law;
- Relocation assistance; and
- Responsibilities to the company once the employment relationship ends.
Additionally, executive and professional compensation agreements are often highly multifaceted and go beyond the basic salary and bonus terms. Most include provisions that address several, if not all, of the following terms, each of which is unique to the individual employee and contract at issue:
- Retirement plans;
- Compensation plans;
- Incentive plans;
- Stock ownership plans; and
- Health care benefits.
An employee can prove that his or her employer breached an employment contract by showing that (1) both parties agreed to a valid and binding employment contract, (2) he or she complied with his or her duties under the contract, (3) the employer breached a material aspect of the agreement, and (4) he or she has suffered damages as a result. If you feel that your employer has breached a provision of your employment contract, it is imperative that you seek legal assistance from an experienced executive employment attorney in order to ensure you receive all the compensation to which you are entitled.
Non-compete & non-disclosure agreements
Non-compete and non-disclosure agreements (otherwise known as restrictive covenants) are a standard aspect of most executive employment agreements. Oftentimes these restrictive covenants can be found within the original employment agreement, but sometimes they make up their own separate document. The goal of these agreements is to prevent skilled employees who are privy to important business information from leaving their positions with one business and using any skills or knowledge they gained as part of their employment to work for that business’ competitors.
While businesses have the need and the right to protect their interests through these agreements, the terms of these agreements cannot be unduly burdensome on the executive or professional employee. In order to be enforceable, non-compete and non-disclosure agreements are subject to a number of limitations. Such limitations include:
- Scope, duration, and geographic limits. Non-compete and non-disclosure agreements must be reasonable in terms of how long they last, how far they reach, and what job activities they preclude. There is no bright-line rule for what terms are unduly burdensome; rather, a court will decide based on the specifics of each employment relationship at issue. If you have questions regarding what constitutes a valid non-compete or non-disclosure agreement, it is best to seek out the advice of a non-compete and non-disclosure attorney who is familiar with the nuances of executive and professional employment law.
- Consideration. As with all contracts, the employee agreeing to give up his or her rights through a non-compete or non-disclosure agreement must receive something of value in exchange for his or her promises. When the contract is signed at the outset of an employment relationship, the offer of employment counts as the “something of value” necessary to make the contract valid. However, if an employee signs one of these agreements after having worked for the employer for some time, he or she will need to receive something extra, such as a raise or bonus to which he or she was not already entitled.
- Legitimate business interest. An employer cannot force an employee to sign a restrictive covenant simply to eliminate potential competition. The employer must be able to point to a specific, legitimate business interest that necessitates the creation of such agreements.
Whether you are considering signing a restrictive covenant or have already signed a restrictive covenant that you feel is invalid, it is advisable to seek the advice of an experienced executive employment attorney to ensure that such agreements do not hinder any future employment opportunities.
Severance agreements are not uncommon for executives and professionals. They arise at the end of an employment relationship regardless of the circumstances under which the professional leaves the company and can be proposed by either the employer or the employee.
While it may be tempting accept a severance offer as soon as possible, it is always advisable to have an attorney review the proposed agreement first so as to avoid signing away rights you may realize you have in the future. Some of the issues an attorney will want to discuss with you regarding your proposed severance agreement include:
- Timing of payments;
- Continuation of benefits;
- Unemployment compensation rights;
- Waiver of legal claims;
- Non-disparagement provisions;
- References; and
- Consequences for violation of the agreement.
In addition, some employers are hesitant to offer severance agreements or to negotiate an agreement an employee has proposed. Having an executive employment attorney on your side during such disputes is invaluable to ensuring that your employer understands your situation and is willing to offer terms that will help you moving forward.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is a federal law that sets minimum standards for private employers in terms of setting up, facilitating, and protecting employee retirement plans.
Retirement plans come in several forms and are unique to each employer. Such plans can take the form of:
- 401(k) plans;
- Defined benefit plans;
- Defined contribution plans;
- Profit sharing or stock bonus plans;
- Simplified employee retirement plans; and
- Employee stock ownership plans.
All of the above-mentioned formats are subject to ERISA requirements, though the rules vary depending on the type of plan an employer utilizes. ERISA does not mandate that an employer set up a retirement plan; rather, it provides rules for such plans once they are in place. If an employer provides its employees with the option of a retirement plan, ERISA specifies:
- When employees are allowed to participate in the plan;
- How long employees must work before their interests in their retirement plans vest;
- Employer responsibilities for providing adequate funding;
- How extended absences from work might impact retirement benefits; and
- To what extent spouses have an interest in retirement accounts.
If disputes arise, ERISA provides professionals the right to sue their employers for benefits and for breach of fiduciary duty on the part of those that manage the plan. All plans, regardless of their form, must have a reasonable written procedure for processing benefits claims, as well as a procedure for appeals of any denials. If you have gone through your company’s internal benefits claims process and have encountered a dispute regarding the amount to which you are entitled or whether or not you qualify to receive benefits, it is important to seek the advice of legal counsel with experience in ERISA and executive employment law.
Standard employment disputes
Executives and other professionals are not immune from the more common unfair and illegal labor practices. Regardless of status, any employee can be subjected to:
- Race discrimination;
- Age discrimination;
- Disability discrimination;
- Religious discrimination;
- Sex discrimination;
- Harassment; and
- Retaliation for engaging in legally protected activity.
If you feel that you have been subjected to any of the practices mentioned above, you should not have to continue to put up with such behavior. Contact an experienced employment attorney to discuss your options.
Why hire an executive employment attorney?
By hiring an executive employment attorney, you are ensuring that you have the best chance possible of recovering the compensation to which you are entitled and you are protecting yourself from the unfair labor practices to which you have been subjected. The executive employment attorneys at Kraemer, Manes & Associates have an in-depth knowledge of the law surrounding your case and can vigorously advocate to protect your rights.
Kraemer, Manes & Associates LLC “KM&A” is a law firm serving all of Pennsylvania with our principal offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Call KM&A in western Pennsylvania at 412-626-5626 or in eastern Pennsylvania at 610-616-5686. KM&A can be reached by email at email@example.com.