Employment Law FAQ

Q: Can I pursue a sexual harassment claim if the harassment occurred behind closed doors and I have no direct witnesses?

A: Yes. While direct witnesses are always helpful, most sexual harassment cases do not have the luxury of direct witnesses. Most harassers are smart enough not to sexually harass employees in the middle of a crowded lunchroom. Even if it is truly your word against theirs, a claim can stand if your testimony and surrounding facts are sufficient to support the claim and are believed by the judge or jury. Indirect witnesses, such as people who had similar experiences with the harasser, people who you discussed the harassment with at the time, and people who saw yours and the accused harasser's conduct in the workplace before and after the incidents are also helpful.

Q: How do I know if I am entitled to overtime compensation?

A: Whether or not you are entitled to overtime compensation depends on whether you are an exempt or non-exempt employee. This determination depends on a number of factors, including your pay level, your responsibility level, the skill level and skill/education requirements associated with your position, and other factors. To determine this, complete our questionnaire and add a detailed description of your position, your job duties, your compensation package, and your job history with the company.

Q: Can I pursue a discrimination claim if I did not personally hear the discriminatory comments of my supervisor, but others did?

A: Yes. Often in discrimination cases, the victim does not hear the supervisor's discriminatory comments - others do. If you know people who heard the supervisor make discriminatory remarks that relate to your traits (gender, race, religion, disability, age, etc.), those remarks can prove that the adverse employment action you experienced (termination, demotion, etc.) were based on that protected status.

Q: I've heard that litigation only benefits the lawyers, not the clients, is this true? If so, is Teren Law Group any different?

A: As with many types of actions, the complaint that the lawyers are the only winners in litigation is a common one. Teren Law Group tries to avoid this problem by engaging in preventative measures, including making honest assessments of your claim as early as possible. In employment litigation, you might have a claim, such as sexual harassment or discrimination, but your damages are low because your compensation is low or you haven't experienced devastating emotional distress. In these cases, even where damages are low, your claim, if based on a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, allows for the recovery of attorneys' fees in addition to any damages. This means that if you try the case, you could recover a small verdict, while your attorney recovers a substantial attorney fee award. Does this mean you won't benefit from litigation, only your attorney will? Possibly, but not necessarily. The threat of attorneys' fees actually adds substantial value to your claim for purposes of settlement. A good attorney will use that threat effectively to try to obtain a good result for you. In advising you about any settlement offer, a good attorney will also give you a realistic view of what your most likely result would be if you reject a settlement offer. Sometimes, this means advising you that if you opt to reject a settlement offer, there is a good chance that they, the attorney, will benefit from trial, but you, the client, will not. When we take cases that have relatively small damages but a good chance of attorneys' fees at trial, we are completely up front about this fact from the get go. Often though, these claims have evidence that would support a punitive damages award, which can occur regardless of the amount of actual damages. Regardless, the availability of an attorneys' fee award typically benefits clients as it allows attorneys to take meritorious cases regardless of whether the injured employee is a high wage earner, which would justify a large damage award. In addition, injured employees benefit from the attorney fee potential in that the risk of an attorneys' fee award adds significantly to the settlement value of any case, which directly benefits both the attorney on a contingency fee and the client. Notably, clients make settlement decisions, attorneys can advise clients as to whether to settle, but the client makes the ultimate decision. A well represented and well advised client will typically make the most of the attorneys' fee provision in settlement negotiations as the provision gives them the freedom and extra power to take the case through trial.

Q: Is all workplace harassment illegal?

A: No. To be actionable, the harassment must be: 1) based on a protected status (i.e., sex, race, etc.); 2) severe or pervasive; 3) offensive to a reasonable person with the same characteristics; 4) offensive to the plaintiff; and 5) the cause of some damages. The harassment would also be actionable if it was quid pro quo - which means that the harassment was offered as a give/take for a job benefit (e.g., supervisor says if you have sex with him, he will promote you). Typically, mean behavior by managers that are not related to a protected status, are not actionable in a civil case. If you are not sure about your situation and whether it amounts to actionable harassment, contact our office to let us evaluate the issue for you.

Q: My employer made me sign a non-compete agreement that prohibits me from working in my field for two years following termination. Is this enforceable?

A: Most likely it is not enforceable. California does not enforce non-compete clauses except under certain circumstances. Employee's rights to work outweigh an employer's right to enforce a contract. There are certain exceptions to this rule, however, so to provide a full analysis, we would need to review the entire agreement and hear the basic circumstances of the employment agreement.

Q: The reason my employer gave me for firing me was false. Does this mean I have a claim for wrongful termination?

A: Not necessarily. In California, employees are presumed to be employed "at will." This means that employers do not have to have any reason to terminate an employee, nor do employers need to give notice of termination. While this presumption can be overcome, most employers require employees to sign agreements that they are employed "at will." If there is a valid at-will agreement in place, a claim for wrongful termination (i.e., the employer did not have good cause to terminate) will not prevail. Where the decision to terminate is based on an illegal motive, however, a claim for wrongful termination is viable. For example, if the termination was based on the employees' race, gender, etc., claims for discrimination and wrongful termination in violation of public policy and other related tort claims are viable. If you believe you might have a claim related to your termination, please contact us for a free evaluation of your case. The questionnaire will help guide you through the information we will need to evaluate your case.