Employment Law FAQ For Employers

As An Employer, Are There Legal Limits On My Right To Terminate An Employee?

Employers generally have the right to fire an employee for any reason, such as eliminating their position, poor performance or a personality conflict. However, state and federal laws in Washington, D.C., and Virginia carve out several exceptions. Employers may not fire a worker for being a member of a protected class based on things like their race, national origin, ethnicity, gender, religion or parental status. Nor may they do so in retaliation for the worker filing a sexual harassment claim, or for acting as a whistleblower to the police or a regulatory agency.

Can Our Company Make A Severance Agreement Contingent On The Fired Employee Waiving Their Right To Sue?

Generally yes, but only if the employer makes it clear what rights the employee is waiving, and the employee retains the right to rescind for a period of time after signing the agreement – generally one to two weeks, depending on the law being waived. Finally, certain laws, notably the Fair Labor Standards Act, prohibit employers and employees from agreeing to waive the employee’s right to sue, except under certain circumstances.

Is It Against The Law For A Manager Or Supervisor To Treat Favorite Employees Better?

This is allowed, as long as the employee is not receiving special treatment for an illegal reason such as racial or gender discrimination. Otherwise, it is legally permitted for a manager to give special treatment to an employee, like better sales routes and training courses, that others do not receive, simply because the manager wants to make it more likely that the worker will be promoted in the future. The law also says nothing about a manager giving a subordinate special work-related favors because the two of them are engaged in a consensual sexual relationship.

What Is Illegal Employee Harassment?

To be against the law, harassment of an employee by a co-worker, supervisor or executive must a) be based on a protected characteristic of the employee, such as their gender, race or age, b) be severe and pervasive, and c) be offensive both to the victim and to a reasonable person in the same situation. Otherwise, the conduct is not enough for a cause of action by the employee.

What Counts As Working Time For Wage And Hour Purposes?

Generally, any work that an employer permits an employee to perform must be compensated. This can include work the employer was not specifically aware of and work done outside of normal business hours. Once an hourly worker has exceeded 40 hours in a week, they are entitled to overtime pay for the excess hours.

Pre- and post-work activities, such as commuting to the job site or changing into a work uniform, are generally not compensable. To exclude a meal break from payable work time, it must last at least half an hour. Otherwise, it is a rest break for which the employee must be paid.

Get More Information About Employment Law For Business Owners

For a free initial consultation on employment law matters, call us at 703-378-5000. Our attorneys have more than 35 years of combined experience guiding businesses in Washington, D.C., and the Virginia suburbs through employment law matters.