Enforceability Of Noncompete Agreements

It seems like every employee in every industry, field, and profession is governed by a noncompete agreement these days.  Two myths that I often hear about noncompete agreements are that they are always enforceable or that they are never enforceable.  The truth actually lies somewhere in between those extremes.

The bottom line is that employees need to take noncompete agreements very seriously because employers sure do.  If there is one thing that employers will always sue former employees for, regardless of the cost, it’s violation of noncompete agreements.  The consequences of such a business practices or contract law lawsuit can be financially devastating, even if you win, so you need to be careful that you give as much respect and thought to your noncompete agreement as your employer does.

No Iowa law categorically invalidates noncompete agreements.  They can be enforced by the courts like any other contract.  Employees are taking a risk if they just ignore and violate them.  Your best course is to have the noncompete agreement reviewed by an attorney before you sign it.  Your next best choice is to have the noncompete agreement reviewed by an attorney before you decide to potentially break it.  An attorney can give you a better idea of the enforceability of the agreement and the meaning of its restrictions.  An attorney may also be able to help you negotiate a more favorable noncompete agreement that protects your employer’s interests while still allowing you to work elsewhere.

Because of the myth that noncompete agreements are never enforceable, I have seen people get themselves into bad situations that have no easy way out because they go to work for a competitor in complete disregard of a noncompete agreement that they have with a former employer.  To put it bluntly, if the former employer threatens a lawsuit over the violation of the noncompete agreement, the former employee is basically looking at three distasteful options: (1) find a new job that doesn’t violate the noncompete; (2) pay the former employer a lot of money to settle the breach of contract claim; or (3) pay a lot of money for an attorney to defend the breach of contract claim in court.

The consequences of violating a noncompete agreement can be more serious than people realize.  You can be forced by the court to stop working for the competitor.  You may be ordered to pay money damages to your former employer.  You may be ordered to pay your former employer’s attorney fees.

In sum, litigation over a noncompete agreement should be avoided if possible through a preventative consultation with an attorney.  If the noncompete agreement is likely enforceable, than you should avoid violating it or ask the attorney to try to negotiate a modification of the agreement.   Once you have gone to a competitor and your former employer threatens litigation if you don’t stop the competing employment, it is usually too late to avoid the problem or try to work something out with your former employer.

Common Employer Mistakes: Maternity And Pregnancy Leave

Employers commonly and mistakenly assume that only the Family and Medical Leave Act covers maternity leave and other leave for pregnancy issues.  If you are not protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, your employer may conclude that you are not entitled to the maternity or pregnancy-related leave and fire you if you take it.  It is illegal for employers to do so.

Various state and federal laws provide special protection for pregnant women.  Those laws give you rights to pregnancy leave even if you do not qualify for Family and Medical Leave Act protection.  You should speak to an attorney if your employer is contesting the amount of pregnancy leave that you have requested, is outright refusing to allow any pregnancy leave, or allows the leave but returns you to a different position or a position with lower pay or less benefits.

Iowa and federal law requires that employers pay the attorney fees and litigation expenses of employees who successfully sue for a violation of Iowa and federal pregnancy leave laws.  Because there are many issues that need to be reviewed and analyzed in pregnancy leave matters, you should contact an attorney if you believe that your employer violated Iowa or federal pregnancy leave laws.  

Common Employer Mistakes: Drug And Alcohol Testing

Iowa has a detailed and comprehensive employee drug and alcohol testing statute that may provide you legal remedies if you are fired because of the results of an employer’s drug or alcohol test.

If an employer wants to test its employees for drugs or alcohol, it has to have a written policy that governs all aspects of that testing.  With limited exceptions, that policy has to comply with the Iowa Code.

Some of the ways that an employer can violate Iowa’s employee drug and alcohol testing laws include: (1) not having a written testing policy; (2) using a written testing policy that does not comply with the Iowa Code; (3) conducting a test that it has no right to conduct; (4) not using the proper procedures for conducting the test and preserving the test sample; (5) not fully explaining all of your rights under Iowa’s employee drug and alcohol testing laws; (6) illegally disclosing the test results to unauthorized recipients; and (7) taking disciplinary action against you that is not permitted by Iowa’s employee drug and alcohol testing laws.

Iowa law requires that employers pay the attorney fees and litigation expenses of employees who successfully sue for a violation of Iowa’s employee drug and alcohol testing laws.  Because there are many issues that need to be reviewed and analyzed in employee drug and alcohol testing matters, you should contact an attorney if you believe that your employer violated Iowa’s employee drug and alcohol testing law.

Common Employer Mistakes: Deductions Or Withholdings From Pay

Employers sometimes treat their employees and their employees’ paychecks as their own personal banks.  Employers withhold or deduct money from employees’ pay because of issues like cash till shortages, alleged theft of employer property, damage to employer property, and supposed responsibility for a customer’s bad check.  It is almost always illegal for an employer to do so.

Iowa law strictly limits the types of deductions that can be made from your paycheck and the circumstances under which they can be made.  Basically, your employer can withhold the money required by the state and federal government for taxes, Social Security, Medicare, etc.,  and virtually nothing else. 

The Iowa Supreme Court has emphasized that when employers believe an employee owes them money, employers cannot use their power over employees’ pay as an end run around the legal system.  If your employer thinks that you owe it money for some reason, like the examples given above, it has to pay you your full wages, and then sue you if it truly believes that it has a claim against you.  If your employer chooses to withhold the amount it claims you owe it from your pay, then it has violated Iowa’s wage laws.

Iowa law requires that employers pay the attorney fees and litigation expenses of employees who successfully sue for a violation of Iowa’s wage and hour laws.  Because there are many issues that need to be reviewed and analyzed in wage and hour matters, you should contact an attorney if you believe that your employer violated Iowa’s wage laws.  

Common Employer Mistakes: Payment Of Wages Upon Termination

Employers frequently violate Iowa law in two respects when it comes to wages that are owed to terminated employees: (1) they don’t pay all of the wages that the employee is entitled to and (2) they don’t pay the wages in a timely manner.

Whether you are fired or quit, your employer is certainly required to pay you all wages that you earned through your termination date.  Employers rarely have a problem paying the actual earned wages.  What employers sometimes forget or refuse to do is pay or “buy out” employees for other earned wages upon termination, such as sick pay, vacation pay, or personal time off.  You may have an employment law claim if your employer has not paid you for all of those items upon your termination.

Employers are also commonly late with employees’ final paychecks after their termination.  All earned wages, including vacation pay, sick pay, and personal time off must be paid by the next regular payday after the termination.  Interest begins to run on any earned wages that an employer fails to timely pay.   If your employer is late with some or all of your final paycheck, you can recover the owed wages, interest, attorney fees, court costs, and litigation expenses. 

Iowa law requires that employers pay the attorney fees and litigation expenses of employees who successfully sue for a violation of Iowa’s wage and hour laws.  Because there are many issues that need to be reviewed and analyzed in wage and hour matters, you should contact an attorney if you believe that your employer violated Iowa’s wage laws.  

Common Employer Mistakes: Overtime Pay

You are generally entitled to overtime if you work more than forty hours in a single week, even if you are a salaried employee.  Some employers believe that they can pay you for your overtime through various methods, such as comp time, bonuses, and gifts, instead of through actual overtime pay.  They are wrong.  Federal law is clear that overtime pay (at a minimum, time-and-a-half for every hour over forty) is the only legal way to compensate employees for overtime.  If you are receiving comp time, bonuses, gifts, or anything else besides time-and-a-half overtime pay, then your employer is violating federal overtime law.

Employers also frequently and mistakenly believe that salaried employees are not entitled to overtime.  That too is wrong.  Even if you receive a salary, the presumption under federal law is still that you are entitled to overtime.  Salaried employees who do not receive overtime pay but believe that they are entitled to it need to consult an attorney to determine whether their job position and duties eliminate their entitlement to overtime or whether their employer is illegally failing to pay overtime to them.

Federal law requires that employers pay the attorney fees and litigation expenses of employees who successfully sue for a violation of federal overtime laws.  Because there are many issues that need to be reviewed and analyzed in overtime matters, you should contact an attorney if you believe that your employer violated federal overtime laws.

I can help you with any overtime law  questions that you might have.  Please feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation about employment law or labor law.

How A Lawyer Can Help You With Your Personal Injury Case

An attorney’s presence on your behalf, by itself, can help you with your personal injury or wrongful death case, including motorcycle and car and truck accidents.  That is because insurance companies, unfortunately, rather than individually evaluating each case, use formulaic processes in arriving at what they believe is a fair settlement.  One of the factors that is “plugged into” the formula is whether you have a lawyer and, correspondingly, whether there is a legitimate threat of litigation if the case does not settle.  The insurance company may upgrade its valuation of your case simply because you have a lawyer.

An attorney can also help with your personal injury case by ensuring that all of your possible items of damage are covered by a settlement.  Attorneys know what questions to ask and areas to review with your doctors, which is often more important than what your medical records have to say.

It is also helpful to have an attorney’s guidance on what has happened in other cases with similar injuries to yours.  Although each case is unique and needs to be separately analyzed, broad generalizations can be made about the fair settlement, for example, of a whiplash case as compared to a broken shoulder.