Employment & Employee Benefits Law
I have significant experience and expertise in the areas of Employment Law and Employee Benefits Law, including the Airline Industry. Employment Law includes any law which governs the employer/employee relationship. Most employment law disputes arise in two, overlapping areas: (1) wrongful discharge and (2) unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, etc.
With regard to wrongful discharge, the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland all follow the doctrine of employment-at-will. Employment-at-will means that the employer can terminate an employee at any time and for any reason. Simply put, in general your employer can terminate you for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all. Similarly, you can leave your employer at any time, for any reason.
There are four exceptions to the doctrine of employment-at-will. The first exception to the doctrine of employment-at-will are the various federal and state laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, etc. Under Federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, if an employee believes he or she has been terminated, demoted, denied a promotion, or otherwise adversely affected because of unlawful discrimination, he or she must first file a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days. Generally, failure to file a discrimination claim within the time limit will bar the claim. The EEOC will then investigate the claim. If the EEOC finds the claim has merit, it will attempt to resolve it by conciliation or litigation. If the EEOC finds that there is no discrimination, or if it is unable to resolve it and decides not to pursue legal action, and that is usually the case, it will issue what is called “a right-to-sue letter.” Only after the right-to-sue letter is issued can the employee take his/her claim of discrimination to Federal court. Under Federal law, Title VII, you must file your lawsuit within ninety days of receiving a right-to-sue letter or, again, your claim is barred.
In the District of Columbia, the local law is the D.C. Human Rights Act. It is actually better in many respects than Title VII. Under the DCHRA, the employee has the option of filing a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights, or filing a complaint directly in D.C. Superior Court. In discrimination cases in D.C. I prefer the DCHRA and I prefer going directly to court.
The second exception to the “employment-at-will” doctrine arises if the employee is covered by a union collective bargaining agreement or contract. Union contracts prohibit an employer from firing an employee, except for “good cause.” Typically, a question of whether an employer had “good cause” to terminate a particular employee will be decided by the grievance/arbitration machinery established by the union’s contract with the employer. There is an extensive body of arbitration law defining what constitutes “good cause” generally, and in particular industries. Wrongful discharge claims and any other dispute that calls for interpretation of the union contract must be resolved by the grievance/arbitration procedures in that contract. You cannot take such disputes to court, without first going through the grievance/arbitration procedures.
The third exception to the “employment-at-will” doctrine is where an employee has an individual contract of employment. Such employment contracts must state that the employment will last for a specific period, one or two, or more years. Such individual employment contracts may also provide for bonuses or severance pay, and may include non-compete, or confidentiality provisions, which come into play,if the employee leaves the employer. In other, rare cases, some courts have found that an employee handbook may constitute a contract between an employer and its employees.
Finally, in almost all states, the courts have carved out another narrow exceptions to the doctrine of employment-at-will. For example, in the District of Columbia, an employer may not terminate an employee for refusing to engage in unlawful activity, in other words, break the law, or when the termination is against a specific, clear and express public policy. A classic example would be a truck driver who refuses his employer’s order to take a truck overloaded in violation of federal highway safety weight limits, and is terminated. Another example would be an employee who is terminated for testifying truthfully, but against his employer’s interests, when subpoenaed before a governmental committee investigating a particular problem and considering legislation to address that problem.
Employee benefit laws are those local, state and federal laws governing employee benefits such as health insurance, disability insurance, and retirement benefits. The most important law by far, is the federal law known as ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. ERISA does not require an employer to provide any particular benefits, but if the employer does provide employee benefits, it must follow ERISA in providing those benefits. ERISA requires the employer to provide employee benefits according to a written plan, the plan must be available to employees, and the employer must follow the terms of the plan in providing those benefits in a consistent, non-discriminatory manner.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation, or if you believe you have been wrongfully denied health, disability or retirement benefits, please contact me for a free consultation.
Law Office of Daniel S. Kozma
2120 L. Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20037