If you are about to be fired (or just got fired)…What Should You Do?

Whether you see your own layoff on the horizon or think it could never happen to you, it is important to be prepared for a layoff in today’s economic climate. Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. recently told the New York Times, that the state of our economy right now is “indistinguishable from a recession.” Families are “losing jobs, and they’re getting a double bite as wage growth slows down and inflation kicks up. People are losing out on both ends.” Part of any economic downturn includes layoffs, as companies often look to cutting their payroll as a first option for eliminating costs.

Treading lightly around the office or storming out is the wrong move and could adversely affect your chances of a severance package or preserving your rights. Losing your job can be, and often is a traumatic experience (it ranks up there with divorce, death or bankruptcy for many people). Being prepared for a layoff and knowing your legal rights can help to minimize the negative aspects, and even turn it into a positive event for you and your career growth. So, what should you do?

1. Stay Calm, Don’t Take It Personally

The first reaction for most terminated employees is an emotional one. The pressures of financial and familial obligations can be overwhelming when you see your job and cash flow flash before your eyes. However, your last few hours in the workplace may be your best chance to get important information regarding your employment. If you can, obtain an electronic or hard copy of your personal files (including contact lists, photos), any performance reviews, customer/client commendations, or emails which you think may be important. [In California, you have the right to view your personnel file (California Labor Code §1198.5), which contains important information regarding your hiring, employment and possibly your termination. Ask human resources for a copy of your file before you leave on your last day.

2. Contact Our Firm

If you believe your termination was (or will be) wrongful, or if you simply are not sure please fill out our free wrongful termination submission form on our website for a free, no obligation review. You can also call us at 415.955.0888 or 310.726.0888. Many times these cases start with circumstantial evidence (i.e. it just seems like it was wrong, or something doesn’t seem right). Use our free case submission to organize your facts and submit it to us.

The law favors those who act on their rights. Undue delays result in a violation of a statute of limitations, causing you to lose your rights. Acting quickly also increases the likelihood that evidence (witnesses, documents, etc.) will be available.

3. Don’t Sign Away Your Rights

Do not let company management or human resources intimidate or coerce you into signing anything which you have not fully read or do not understand. Ask questions, ask for time to consult your own attorney – this is a reasonable request that any company should grant. Yes, you may be losing your job, but you don’t want to lose any of your legal rights. Most companies have form separation and release agreements on file for such an occasion which release the company of any and all liability. Do not take the word of a co-worker or superior as to the contents of any document you sign. Ensure you know what the consequences of signing are and consult an attorney.

4. Keep Detailed and Thorough Notes of Any Meetings and Events

Many times, we meet with clients to hear their stories and collect important information about their employment. More often than not, clients call us two, three, even ten days later to say, “I just remembered, there was that one time when . . .” Details can often slip your mind when you are being ushered out your office door, or rumors of layoffs have your head spinning. After conversations or meetings regarding your termination or related events, write down the date, time, and details of each. Ideally, you will already have a record of key workplace related evets written down in a personal notebook or on your home computer (not at the office).

Reliving the details of your layoff may be the last thing you want to do. However, writing down the details in an orderly chronology [date, time, event] will help you recall events to the best of your ability and better assist any attorney who tries to assess your situation or make an argument on your behalf. The smallest details can make the biggest of differences, and many times you may not recognize what those important details are until after consulting with an attorney.

It is perfectly acceptable to ask a friend, or co-worker, to sit in on the meeting and take notes. Having a more objective listener’s perspective can add more details to your timeline, bring a sense of calm to the proceeding and of course serve as a witness.

Apply for Unemployment Benefits

Lastly, apply for unemployment benefits. You can apply via the web at https://eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov/. It is important to do this as soon as possible after your termination. Some people, especially in the higher earning salary brackets (six figures and up) feel reluctant to apply for unemployment. Our position is: Apply for it. You pay into it while you are working, and it is another source (other than your personal savings) to help you bridge the gap economically until you land your next job.

About Adishian Law Group, P.C.

Adishian Law Group is a California law firm with a statewide practice in the areas of Corporate law, Employment law, Real Estate law and Mediation Services. Adishianlaw.com is one of the oldest continually operating law firm websites on the Internet. The firm serves its clientele via three offices located in the major business hubs of El Segundo, Palo Alto and San Francisco. As of March 2013, Adishian Law Group, P.C. has represented individual and corporate clients located across 20 California counties, 4 States outside of California and 9 foreign countries — in over 340 legal matters.

For more information about this topic or to speak with Chris Adishian:

Telephone: 310.726.0888 | 650.646.4022 | 415.955.0888
Email: askalg@adishianlaw.com
Social Media: @algpc |   LinkedIn | Facebook | YouTube

California Non-Compete Agreements: It’s No Contest after Edwards

Long-term employment when companies quickly become aware the past for most American workers, especially in the technology forward California economy. Employers have benefited from these changes, by receiving the benefit of rapid flexibility in their employee base and hence cost structure. Employees have arguably benefited in some ways as well, by taking advantage of easy mobility within the workforce. Some employers have also gone one step further, by seeking to you protect themselves by adding “non-competition clauses” to their employee’s contracts.

What is a non-competition clause?

Generally speaking, a non-competition clause is any form of language in an employment contract that seeks to limit the employee’s ability to “compete” against his/her former employer once he is no longer employed by that employer.

Governing statutory law

California Business and Professions Code Section 16600 clearly forbids non-competition contracts and non-competition clauses, providing “every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.” In spite of the plain language of Section 16600, companies have continued to require that their employees sign non-competition agreements, asserting that these agreements somehow comply with Section 16600.

California Supreme Court Decision

In Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLC 2008 DJDAR 12286the California Supreme Court unambiguously held that non-competition agreements are void in California. In summary, this case arose out of the collapse of Arthur Andersen. Edwards had been an employee of Arthur Andersen, which was subsequently purchased by HSBC.

Before hiring any of Andersen’s employees, HSBC required them to execute a “Termination of Non-compete Agreement” (TONC) in order to obtain employment with HSBC. Among other things, the TONC required employees to, inter alia, (1) voluntarily resign from Andersen; (2) release Andersen from “any and all” claims, including “claims that in any way arise from or out of, are based upon or relate to Employee’s employment by, association with or compensation from” defendant; (3) continue indefinitely to preserve confidential information and trade secrets except as otherwise required by a court or governmental agency; (4) refrain from disparaging Andersen or its related entities or partners; and (5) cooperate with Andersen in connection with any investigation of, or litigation against, Andersen. Edwards signed the HSBC offer letter, but he did not sign the TONC. In response, Andersen terminated Edwards’s employment and withheld severance benefits. HSBC withdrew its offer of employment to Edwards. Litigation ensued.

At trial, the court “specifically decided that (1) the non-competition agreement did not violate section 16600 because it was narrowly tailored and did not deprive Edwards of his right to pursue his profession;…..” Edwards appealed. The Court of Appeal held that the non-competition agreement was invalid under section 16600. The decision was appealed and the California Supreme Court granted review.

In reaching its decision, a unanimous Court wrote: “We hold that the non-competition agreement here is invalid under section 16600, and we reject the narrow-restraint exception urged by Andersen. Non-competition agreements are invalid under section 16600 in California even if
narrowly drawn, unless they fall within the applicable statutory exceptions of
sections 16601, 16602, or 16602.5.” [J. Kennard and Werdeger concurred with respect to the non-competition issue, and dissented on a separate issue].

Lessons from Edwards

Clarity provided by this decision is significant especially in the California economy particularly Northern California, where high-tech job hopping is more common than not. This decision is also supported by some recent studies that concluded the constant shifting of resources and personal intellectual capital from one company to another was a major contributor to innovation and growth. See generally, The Legal Infrastructure of High Technology Industrial Districts: Silicon Valley, Route 128 and Covenants Not to Compete, 74 N.Y.U.L Rev. 575 (1999).

The lesson is that if a California employer asks you to sign a non-competition agreement it should be viewed as a cautionary sign. If you have already signed a non-competition agreement within California, you should feel comfortable that such an agreement is void, absent the agreement falling “within the applicable statutory exceptions of sections 16601, 16602, or 16602.5.”

About Adishian Law Group, P.C.

Adishian Law Group is a California law firm with a statewide practice in the areas of Corporate law, Employment law, Real Estate law and Mediation Services. Adishianlaw.com is one of the oldest continually operating law firm websites on the Internet. The firm serves its clientele via three offices located in the major business hubs of El Segundo, Palo Alto and San Francisco. As of March 2013, Adishian Law Group, P.C. has represented individual and corporate clients located across 20 California counties, 4 States outside of California and 9 foreign countries — in over 340 legal matters.

For more information about this topic or to speak with Chris Adishian:

Telephone: 310.726.0888 | 650.646.4022 | 415.955.0888
Email: askalg@adishianlaw.com
Social Media: @algpc |   LinkedIn | Facebook | YouTube