Monday, December 03, 2012

What to do when you are threatened with a non-compete lawsuit.

I recently had two successful outcomes in a non-compete cases on behalf of employees either being sued or threatened with being sued. It got me to thinking what are the ways my clients should prepare for the first meeting with a lawyer in these circumstances. Here are my thoughts:

1. If you are served with legal papers call a lawyer immediately. Employers often ask the Court to grant immediate emergency relief in these cases. Time is of the essence. Bring the Court papers with you. Record the date you are served.  Bring the cease and desist letter if you received one.

2. Bring a copy of the non-compete agreement to your first meeting with a lawyer.

3. Bring copies of your job descriptions at your old job and your new job or be prepared to describe your job duties in detail. An employee's best defense is often that he or she is not the type of employee who can be covered by a non-compete agreement.

4. Did you advise your new employer in writing that you signed a non-compete with your previous employer? If yes, bring a copy of the document that proves this fact. If no, consult a lawyer.

5. Gather other relevant documents presented in an organized fashion, including:
  • Evidence of affirmative claims you have against your former employer. Are you owed wages? Were you mistreated? Employees often can use their own claims to leverage their ways out of a non-compete agreement;
  • Documents you believe your old employer might claim as evidence of your breach.
  • Contact information for your new employer and any potential witnesses.

Maryland Employees: Do Not Lose Earned Wages When You Change Jobs

I have written many times about the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, the basic law that protects employee wages.  The Law states that employees are entitled to the wages that they earned. If an employer fails to pay earned wages, it could be liable for triple damages and attorney's fees.

Below are examples of earned wages that can be recovered in Wage Payment and Collection Law cases.

Commissions. A series of favorable Maryland decisions (reviewed here) state that if an employee performs the work necessary to earn a commission, he is entitled to it -- even if he or she has left the company

Bonuses. Did you do everything you could possibly do to earn the bonus? If so, you probably earned it and are owed it.

Severance. If severance is promised to entice an employee to take a job or to reward an employee for years of service, it likely falls under the category of earned wages.

Straight wages.  Did your employer just fail to pay?  You are owed your wages.

Overtime:  A recent amendment  includes overtime in the Law's definition of wages.

The Law can be enforced in three ways:

1.  You can file a lawsuit.  I recommend you consult a Maryland Employment attorney before doing so.

2.  You can file an administrative complaint with the Maryland Department of Labor (DLLR).  Instructions on how to file such a complaint can be found on the DLLR website.  

3. You can file a criminal complaint for a willful violation.  A warning:  I have not yet seen a criminal wage violation prosecuted.   My impression is that such claims are rarely prosecuted (since they are left to the civil process).

NOTE: Beginning in October 2013, Maryland employees can place a lien on their employer's property under the   Maryland Wage Lien Act.