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.

Be careful in the shark-infested waters of employment references

Why are employment references fraught with peril?

While giving truthful employment references is not legally actionable, references, by nature, tend to be highly judgmental. The employer’s view of the truth may be different than the employee’s view of the truth. This is particularly true in the case of under-performing employees.

Involuntary Termination

In the case of employment that has been involuntarily terminated [i.e., fired], it is a fair assumption the employee will typically feel some ill will towards his or her former employer and may be looking for an opening to file a legal suit. Often employees who leave the service of a company voluntarily have done so because they were unhappy with the company or in their position. In any case, references given for former employees can create an opening for legal action if the employee does not feel he or she has been fairly treated by the former employer.

Verbal References

Some small business owners feel they can be less cautious when giving verbal references than they would be in the case of supplying a written one. Not true! Any type of reference can be legally actionable. While many courts are sympathetic to the need of employers to give references, others are not. Courts have been known to rule for an employee because a reference given, while good, was not good enough.

No Reference 

It is a safe policy to offer no references at all beyond confirming dates of employment, the position held, and rate of pay earned. This may not seem right, but your responsibility is to keep your business running smoothly and out of court so that your current employees can enjoy a healthy working environment.

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Employment Law

What does at-will employment mean in Oklahoma?

It is prudent for employers and employees to know where they stand legally.

In Oklahoma, the “ terminable at-will employment doctrine” allows an employer to discharge an employee for good cause, for no cause, or even for morally wrong cause without being liable for a legal wrong.

It means your Oklahoma employer can terminate you at any time, for any reason.  It means you can terminate your employment at any time, for any reason.  Each day of employment is a try out for the next.

Even if you are an “at-will” employee, your employer generally cannot terminate you because of your skin color, your gender, your national origin and some other protected status along those lines.

If you have an employment contract that provides for employment with business for a specific period of time, then you are not an “at-will” employee.

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Employment Law

Non compete Agreements are still not OK in Oklahoma

I wrote a few months ago about how Oklahoma law prohibits non compete agreements for former employees and touch on exceptions here.  Yesterday, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reiterated that any agreement which restricts a former employee’s ability to work in the same field as the former employer is void under Oklahoma law.

The case is Scanline Medical, L.L.C. v. Brooks.  The restrictive agreement in question absolutely prohibited the former employee from “sell[ing] any medical device product competitive with any of the Spinal Concepts [or Orthovita] Products, or in any way [possessing] a financial interest . . . in any business engaged in the distribution, solicitation, promotion or sale of any medical device product competitive with any of the Spinal Concepts [or Orthovita] Products.”

By completely preventing the former employee from working in his “chosen profession” the noncompete agreement violated Oklahoma law and the Court would not enforce it.  Competition is allowed but an employer can protects it confidential and proprietary information with the right agreements in place.

I work with employers and employees to address non compete agreement issues and put reasonable protections in place to protect both sides.  Please feel free to contact me at sjr@shawnjroberts.com if you have any questions.

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

Two scenarios where a non compete agreement is 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:

1. When you sell goodwill. 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 assets 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.

If you have any questions about non compete agreements, please feel free to contact me anytime at sjr@shawnjroberts.com.

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

You will have a job . . . it may be as my mistress, but you will have a job

How do you lose a sexual harassment case if you are an Oklahoma employer?

Consider the pathway paved by the supervisor in this post:

A supervisor actually wrote the line in the title in an email to a woman he was supervising, as the woman was preparing to take medical leave to have surgery.  I came across this email while working on employment discrimination case.  Imagine that, an employer with a supervisor like this one getting sued for employment discrimination!?!  It happened, I defended the employer.   Here is the full email exchange:

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.
Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Employment Law