Economic pressures may have you convinced that anything is better than nothing when it comes to securing employment. Getting hired nowadays can be an uphill climb, however as a new employee, you need to take several things into consideration before signing your employment agreement. By keeping these five things in mind, you can try to prevent litigation should your new venture turn sour.
What’s in this thing?
The Employment Contract
“Congratulations, you’re hired! Sign here and we’ll get started.” Every employer-employee relationship is a contract. Generally, contracts are legally binding. It is imperative that you know your rights and obligations to your employer BEFORE a claim arises. This means that you do actually have to read the agreement, and more importantly, understand it.
When a formal written employment contract is required, there are several common terms within it. These terms legally protect both the employee and the employer. Terms may be industry-dependent, but most employment contracts include: compensation plans, benefits or stock options, duration of the contract, grounds for termination, severance clause, a non-disclosure clause, an arbitration provision, expectations and duties, and a non-compete clause.
Tricky Terms and Creeping Clauses
The importance of understanding terms of contract
This is possibly the most important thing to keep in mind when starting a new job. Through the excitement of your new employment, you read your contract, maybe even read it carefully (assuming you understood #1 above). You sign. Six months later you hate it, and quit when a competitor company makes you an offer. Happens all the time - but you could be subject to legal limitations, such as accepting your new offer or retaining your previous clients.
If your previous employment contract contained a non-compete clause, you may not be able to work for a similar company or transfer your previous clients for a certain period of time. Many employment contracts contain non-disclosure or confidentiality clauses as well, which prevent the departing employee from sharing information relating to the employer’s business. You don’t want to learn that you signed a non-disclosure agreement after you sent out the recipe for your employer’s secret sauce.
The bottom line? Understand what each term or clause in your contract means, as well as your rights and obligations that go along with them.
Big Brother is Watching
You probably have no privacy rights to your emails
It is true. If you forward your personal or non-business emails to your Outlook account at work, anything you send is saved and can be used against you in court. Keeping your accounts separate is kind of a ‘duh’, but don’t get lazy and utilize your work email for anything you wouldn’t want your whole office to see.
In a company, not even the CEO has privacy rights to the emails they send. Every document and every email is saved because companies know they have to keep EVERYTHING should a lawsuit arise. It is important for you, as an employee, to do the same. If you save your emails, they can be evidence to build your case should you encounter a lawsuit. Especially be conscious of retaining anything that may be related to illegal activity (i.e. harassment or fraud).
Who’s who and who do they answer to?
Organization of the Company
This one may seem silly, but it is serious. Knowing the organization of the business or company is critical to respond effectively to issues. Be aware of who your boss answers to, and the entire chain of authority for the organization. This makes correcting mistakes easier, relieving liability more probable, and resolving compliance issues faster.
Practically… er…Imperfect in Every Way
Keeping up with your personal file
It may be a surprise that your employer has a personal file on you (it was to me). You previous employer does too. With each person an employer hires, they begin a personal file. This file contains internal memoranda and notes on anything you may have done that they find displeasing. Even if you are convinced you are a perfect employee, your previous HR department may have thought your “sick day” Monday after the Superbowl was a little suspicious. This file typically will only contain negative instances (even very minor occurrences), and are kept in anticipation of litigation. They will also be pulled as prospective employers read your resume and call your references.
Once you start a new job, you should check out your personal file after 3 months or so. Each state is different, but usually you can request to access your own file, for instance, twice a year. This is a great way to see how you’ve started out and fix anything you’ve been doing wrong. Hopefully, there is only constructive criticism in there!
There is no place for sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact, in North Carolina, it is illegal to harass an applicant or employee because of their sex. Harassment may include sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual acts or favors, or other verbal or physical harassment sexual in nature.
Harassment, of course, doesn’t have to be sexual to be unlawful. You can harass someone in a multitude of ways not related to sex. A man, for example, who consistently makes rude or offensive comments towards another man in the workplace likely constitutes harassment.
While teasing, joking, or isolated comments probably don’t constitute harassment or sexual harassment, incidents that are severe or that frequently occur may be actionable. In North Carolina, harassment is unlawful when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or when it results in an adverse employment decision. An adverse employment decision may occur when someone is fired or demoted based on the harassment. The harasser may either be a supervisor, co-worker, or even a customer or client of the employer.
If you feel like you have been a victim of harassment or sexual harassment in the workplace, please contact Adkins Law to speak with an attorney regarding your situation. Adkins Law is located in Huntersville and primarily serves Mecklenburg County and the Lake Norman area.