Oklahoma Employment Law

Nearly everyone has employment law issues at some whether as an employee or an employer. I provide answers to questions about Oklahoma employment law – for both Oklahoma employers and Oklahoma employees.

What is Federal Employment Law?

Federal employment law is the body of laws passed by Congress and signed into law by the President that cover a variety of employment issues throughout the United States, for employers who are covered under the size qualifications of the various laws. Some of the federal employment laws are:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;

Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older;

Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA), which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination;
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Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Business Law, Oklahoma Employment Law

Oklahoma Business Law: Are breaks and lunch periods mandatory?

This guy could really use a break!

Q: Are breaks and lunch periods mandatory?
A: NO. Neither federal nor state law require employers to provide breaks to employees age 16 or older. Mandatory break laws only apply to children under the age of 16. Breaks and lunch periods are considered benefits and remain at the discretion of the employer.

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Source: Oklahoma Department of Labor

 

 


Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Business Law, Oklahoma Employment Law

Oklahoma Business Law: Can my employer deduct money from my paycheck?

Q: Can my employer deduct money from my paycheck?
A: Deductions can be legal, depending upon the circumstances. If you are concerned that your employer may be taking illegal deductions, you should contact the state Wage & Hour Unit for more information. Employers must sign a written agreement with employees in order to make legal deductions from employees= wages unless deductions are made pursuant to express statutory authority, such as state and federal tax withholdings and FICA, or pursuant to a prior valid final judgment by an employer against an employee.

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Source: Oklahoma Department of Labor

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Business Law, Oklahoma Employment Law

Six things to consider before you terminate an employee

If you are a very fortunate employer, you may never have to terminate an employee. For most businesses though, things happen that require termination of employment. If you find yourself need to terminate an employee, consider the six guidelines listed before you terminate:

1. Severance. If you are going to pay severance and the employee is not already entitled to receive severance, you need to require the employee to sign a release in exchange for the severance. The release is the employee’s acknowledgment that he is giving up all claims against the company in exchange for a severance payment to which he would not have been entitled. This type of document provides some finality and protection for the company.

2. Contract Limitations. Determine if there are any obligations or rights that the employee has that would prevent you from terminating his employment in the manner in which you wish to do it. For instance, is there a written employment contract involved with this person? Has your company given the person any kind of rights through an employee policy manual or handbook? Is the employee currently experiencing any kind of issues such as a work-related injury that would make termination either unwise or illegal?

3. Equipment. Be certain before you inform the employee of termination that you either have all of the property back that the employee is using or you have a clear plan to get all of it back. Occasionally, I have seen employees who are terminated and upset about the situation take out their frustration by not returning employer equipment or making it very difficult for the employer to secure return. If you are going to ask for release, you might consider adding a line that says in exchange for the severance they have returned all equipment to the company.

4. Witness. When you actually inform the employee that he is being terminated, it is wise to have another person with you who can corroborate what actually happens if there is any kind of dispute.

5. Benefits. Does the company owe this employee any kind of accrued benefits such as PTO or vacation time? Sometimes, depending on the written documents or policy manual, the employee may have a right to receive this type of benefit upon termination. However, if there is no documentation promising the employee that he is entitled to receive the benefits, the company probably has no obligation to pay.

6. Cause for termination. Be careful how you express the cause for termination to the employee. Most employers I work with are good people and don’t want to go out of their way to make the employee feel bad. However, if you tell an employee they are being let go because there simply is not enough work and the reason is actually that the employee cannot do the work that you need, you are probably stuck with the stuck reason given. It is better to give no reason at all for termination rather than a reason not supported by the facts. This could come up in unemployment proceeding with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission or other post-employment proceedings. Unemployment cannot be waived but if there is a solid reason for termination related to some type of misconduct then there may be a basis to challenge in the award of unemployment.

If you need help on any of these issues when doing an Oklahoma employment termination, this is something I have a lot of experience with, please contact me.

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Business Law, Oklahoma Employment Law

The steps to take when the government shows up [unannounced] to investigate your business

It is the way no business owner wants to start the day:

“Hello, I am an investigator from the [insert name of applicable government agency] and I am here to conduct a compliance investigation for your business. See my badge!”

Any small business owner would be frightened, unnerved, frustrated and more. From my experience in this area, I will tell you: It is probably not as bad as you think. Take a deep breath and consider following the steps listed below which Bill Pokorny laid out in his article What To Do When the DOL Makes an Unannounced Visit: Wage & Hour Insights:

1. Be polite to the investigators. If you are not moved to do so out of common courtesy, remember that being disrespectful to a government agent with the power to make your life very difficult and assess large financial penalties is not a wise business decision.

2. Contact your lawyer immediately. Make sure he or she has experience handling investigations. If not, get a referral to someone who does.

3. Don’t turn over any records, arrange employee interviews, or answer any other substantive questions until you’ve talked to your lawyer.

4. Don’t talk to your employees about the visit until you talk to your lawyer. Even questions that seem innocent to you can give the impression that you are pressuring employees or possibly retaliating against them for cooperating with the investigators. Most importantly, make sure your time and payroll records are in good order BEFORE the government comes knocking.

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Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Business Law, Oklahoma Employment Law

Two scenarios where your Oklahoma non-compete agreement might be enforceable

In an article from a few months ago, I wrote about how Oklahoma law categorically invalidates non compete agreements. Oklahoma has made a public policy decision that with a couple of exceptions employees will not be barred from competing. Below are the exceptions to the rule that Oklahoma non-compete agreements are barred:

1. When you sell the goodwill of a business. When a business sells their interest in the business including the goodwill, Oklahoma law allows a non compete agreement between the seller and buyer. While “goodwill” is an intangible asset and often difficult to define, in Oklahoma it generally means the “custom or patronage of any established trade or business; the benefit or advantage of having established a business and secured its patronage by the public.”

2. Business Partners splitting up. A non compete agreement is also allowed when a business with multiple owners or partners dissolves.  In anticipation of a dissolution of the partnership, the partners may agree that none of them will carry on a similar business within a specified county and any county or counties contiguous thereto, or a specified city or town or any part thereof.

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Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Business Law, Oklahoma Employment Law, Oklahoma non-compete

Are you going to get sued under your employment agreement?

I regularly look at employment agreements that contain non compete and non-dislcosure limitations/  Often, the circumstances are that an employee has left and the former employer needs to know what their rights are.  Sometimes, I advise employees on their rights in regard to their former employer.  I distilled a lot issues down into a few key points that employers consider when deciding whether to try to enforce an employment agreement non-compete or non disclosure provision:

1.  Money. The financial resources available to the company.

2.  Length of Employment.  The length of time the employee has been with the company.  The longer the relationship between the employee and company, the more likely the company is to believe the employee has valuable information that may hurt the company.  There also may be more of an emotional attachment in a longer relationship which a company sometimes feels is violated by the employee’s simple act of changing jobs.  Also factored into this category is whether the employer believes that the information the employee has could be damaging to the employer if disclosed.

3.  Positive Results.  How strongly the company feels about its’ chances of getting a positive result.  There are times when violation of an employment agreement is so clear, the employer’s chances of winning a lawsuit or getting a favorable settlement are virtual “locks.”  However, I have seen many murkier situations where litigation could be lengthy and expensive and this dissuades the employer from going to court.

4.  Attitude.  The attitudes of the Employer’s decision makers.  Are the individuals who will decide whether to sue, settle or let it go, naturally aggressive or more conciliatory in nature?

5.  Experiences.  The previous experience (if any) the employer has had with enforcement of employment agreements.  Positive experiences provide the confidence to go to court again while a negative experience usually leads to substantial trepidation.

 

 

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Business Law, Oklahoma Employment Law

Proper vs. Improper Employment Termination (how to fire)

Below is some very simple guidance on terminating employees, if you, as an employer, are going to have to do it.  If you happen to catch an employment termination claim, your attorney will be really glad you did these things.

Proper Termination                                        Improper Termination

Follow policy and procedure Firing without sufficient documentation
Gather and maintain proper documentation Firing without following proper procedure
Do not delay once decision is made Providing a positive reference for a terminated employee
Determine status of employee Arguing with the employee during the termination meeting
Have at least one witness during termination meeting
Provide written and dated termination notice; obtain employees signature on notice
Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Employment Law

Worst piece of evidence in a sexual harassment case?

In working with employers and employees on sexual and racial harassment claims, I have seen some extroadinary stupid actions.  Supervisors who joke about a female suboordinates body parts, a manager running around with panties on his head, a boss who forced female employees to have meetings at strip clubs the and insaneness of a male supervisor referring to a female employee’s pack of cigarettes in her shirt pocket on her chest as a “third tit” (That is a quote).

By far though the email exchange below between a a male supervisor and a female employee about to take medical leave is the worst:

Female Employee: Just reminding you I will be gone from tomorrow through the 14th, on medical leave.  I know I will be missed J  Hope I have a job when I come back!

Supervisor: You will have a job when you come back . . . it may be as my mistress, but you will have a job.

This exchange teaches two lessons:

  1. Don’t write anything you would be embarrassed for your wife, husband, mother to read.
  2. If you must write it, remember it could be read in court some day or even worse be published to the world through the Web.

This sexual harassment case settled on terms favorable to the employee.


Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Employment Law