Employment Law

Virginia, D.C., and Maryland Attorneys

Employment Law

Employment law and workplace matters cover a vast array of issues – from a simple review of employment contracts to wrongful termination or harassment suits. Our insightful team of attorneys serve both businesses and employees with a strong commitment to fair, positive outcomes. Trust us to put our decades of business experience to work for you.

Areas of Concentration

An employment contract can be much more than a piece of paper with some signatures on it (though it sometimes is a written contract). It can also be an agreement that’s implied by either the employer or employee from words or actions. Employee handbooks and company policies can also fall under the umbrella of employment contracts. 


For this reason, it’s important that both businesses and employees understand what their rights and responsibilities are when crafting these contracts or implying things about their working relationship. Miscommunication can easily arise about terms and conditions of benefits, vacation time, and grievance procedures. 


When it comes to employment contracts, clarity and legal integrity are key. We can help you draft, maintain, or defend your employment contracts to help your business and employees thrive. 


We’re here to help you navigate the minefield of contracts, whether you are an individual or a business owner.

ERISA stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. It is a federal law passed in 1974 that establishes minimum standards for pension plans, health insurance, and other welfare benefit plans. The act applies to most private employers who offer benefit plans. It protects employees from being wronged due to financial mismanagement by the people who are responsible for the plan’s administration. It also protects employers by giving measurable standards for their benefit plans.


If you are trying to access employer-sponsored disability benefits, worried about the handling of your retirement funds, or trying to access the same health insurance your co-workers have, then you may have an ERISA claim.  Filing a claim for an ERISA violation can be relatively complicated. There are regulations around how benefits are determined and how one can file a claim. If you believe you have a claim as an employee, we can assist you in getting the best, most just outcome for you. We are also skilled in helping businesses make sure that their benefit plans are in line with ERISA standards. 


Don’t risk your employee benefits. Contact us for help with your ERISA issues.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law with two parts: the minimum wage and the “time and a half” rule for overtime work. The minimum wage applies to most workers, whether they are paid hourly or on a salary, and guarantees that their companies have to pay them at least $7.25 per hour of work (now $9.50 in Virginia and rising in many jurisdictions). The overtime rules kick in when an employee works more than 40 hours in a given week. For each hour (or part of an hour) above 40, the company has to pay 1.5 times what they usually pay.


Unlike many federal employment laws, the FLSA applies to all employers that do business in “interstate commerce,” regardless of their size. Almost universal telephone and Internet communication means that the great majority of companies are subject to the FLSA. Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland all have state statutes that also cover minimum wage, wage payment, and overtime. 


There are a lot of exceptions to the minimum wage–for example, certain kinds of piece work or farm labor. Some salaried employees are exempt from the overtime rules. While many companies say that certain employees are exempt, they can be mistaken. In this situation, the FLSA has rules for calculating what your “wage” was and determines your overtime rate based on that.


As with most employment laws, the FLSA exemptions and exceptions depend on the facts of your job duties. If you think you aren’t getting paid the minimum wage or the overtime you’re owed, please contact us to set up a consultation.


You deserve to be paid as the law provides. We’ll help you get there.

Many companies ask their employees to sign contracts that say the employee can’t work for a competing business for a certain period of time after being terminated from the company–a “noncompetition clause.” These provisions generally have three parts: time limit, geographic scope, and prohibited activities.


Courts generally review noncompetition clauses by asking the question, “Is this reasonable?” on a case-by-case basis. If you’re a software developer, and your noncompetition clause says you can’t work for any competitor anywhere in the world in any job (even as a janitor), a court probably won’t enforce it. If it says you can’t write code for the company’s main competitor across the street for the next six months, that’s a different story. Every noncompetition clause is different, and every job is different.


These contracts often include a confidentiality clause that states you can’t take secret information from the first company and use it at the second company. There may also be a “nonsolicitation clause” that bars you from trying to hire the company’s employees for a certain period of time. These clauses are also usually valid, but courts analyze them using the same time/geography/work approach, and if the provision is too broad, some courts will entirely refuse to enforce it.


If you find yourself subject to a noncompetition clause in your employment contract that you think is unfair, contact us. We’ll compare it to others that the courts have reviewed, and tell you whether it’s worth fighting.


Have questions about a clause in your employment contract? Call us.

Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia are all “employment at will” states. That means that if you don’t have a contract, you can be fired for any reason or no reason–as long as it’s not an illegal reason. Illegal reasons vary somewhat by state and county, but no matter where you are, federal law provides certain protections.


Depending on the size of your employer, the type of work they perform, and whether they are a private company, you may be protected against discrimination based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, age, or military status. Virginia and Maryland go further and prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Virginia adds gender identity and veteran status. The District of Columbia prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression, political affiliation, and even personal appearance. “Discrimination” generally includes termination, failure to promote, differential treatment in pay, failure to hire, and working conditions, but it may be broader in your case.


If you’re not the victim of discrimination but complain about discrimination against someone else, you’re protected, as well, and may even be able to sue under these laws’ retaliation provisions. The same applies to union activity, complaints about unpaid wages, and complaints about fraudulent billing in government contracting.


Discrimination claims often have short deadlines, so if you think you may have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, it’s best to speak with an attorney without delay. We can help you determine if you have a claim and what the next steps should be.


Fired for “no reason”? We can help.

When a problem arises between an employee and their employer, there is often a lot at stake. Not only is there often a legitimate grievance, but in some cases, the employee has lost their job or is concerned about losing it. For the employer, situations sometimes arise that open them up to harm to their reputation or even litigation. For this reason, many employees and employers try to solve employment disputes before they escalate.


Whatever the problem may be, employment disputes can be complex and nerve-wracking for everyone involved. Confident, skilled counsel is necessary to settle issues without resorting to costly litigation. Our attorneys are familiar with employment law, so that they can confidently and successfully fight for you and get you a just outcome.


There’s a lot at stake when your employment is on the line. We can help you navigate toward a positive solution.

The laws against discrimination pertain not only to specific actions taken by an employer, such as hiring and firing, but also to the creation and maintenance of the general working environment. 


While there is no law requiring an employer to create or maintain a “good” or “fair” workplace, the discrimination laws do prohibit a workplace where people are treated differently because of a prohibited characteristic such as:

  • An individual’s age (40 and older)
  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy (including childbirth, lactation, and related medical conditions)
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Genetic information (including testing and characteristics)
  • Veteran status
  • Uniformed service member status,
  • Other categories protected under various state and local laws and ordinances

While it is not possible to list all of the circumstances that may constitute workplace harassment, the following are some examples:

  • The use of disparaging or abusive words or phrases, slurs, negative stereotyping, or threatening, intimidating, or hostile acts that relate to the above-protected categories
  • Written or graphic material that insults, stereotypes, or shows aversion or hostility toward an individual or group because of one of the above-protected categories that is placed on walls, bulletin boards, email, voicemail, or elsewhere on our premises, or circulated in the workplace
  • A display of symbols, slogans, or items that are associated with hate or intolerance toward any select group.

Employees are protected from illegal harassment by customers, clients, vendors, and visitors.


Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly as a term or condition of an individual’s employment; (2) submission to, or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.


Some examples of sexual harassment are:

  • Unwelcome requests for sexual favors
  • Lewd or derogatory comments or jokes
  • Comments regarding sexual behavior or the body of another
  • Sexual innuendo and other vocal activity such as catcalls or whistles
  • Obscene letters, notes, emails, invitations, photographs, cartoons, articles, or other written or pictorial materials of a sexual nature
  • Repeated requests for dates after being informed that interest is unwelcome
  • Retaliating against another for refusing a sexual advance or reporting an incident of possible sexual harassment to the employer or any government agency
  • Offering or providing favors or employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
  • Any unwanted physical touching or assaults

An employer is only liable for workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, if it knows about the harassment and refuses to remedy it. As such, employers should have clear anti-discrimination policies and procedures through which employees can make complaints of discrimination which are then investigated and remedied. If you’ve been harassed where you work, we can help you decide on the best course of action. No one should have to be a victim of workplace harassment.


Being harassed at work? Call us.

In Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, fired and laid off employees can usually collect unemployment benefits from the state where they worked. However, employers often fight these cases because they have to pay into the unemployment benefits systems based on how many of their fired employees have collected benefits. 


Companies will sometimes fight on the grounds that they fired the employee for “misconduct.” The definition of “misconduct” varies among the three states but generally means the employee broke one of the employer’s rules. If you’re having trouble collecting your unemployment benefits, you have legal recourse. We’ll review your case and determine the appropriate course of action so you can receive the benefits you deserve.


Get the benefits you deserve. We’ll help.

When your employment is terminated, your employer may offer you a severance agreement in which they pay you a set amount of money (severance) and you agree not to sue the employer for anything. Any offers of severance need to be considered carefully. Before signing an agreement, here are some things to consider:

  1. Your employer assuredly spoke with an attorney prior to offering the severance and the employer’s attorney probably wrote the agreement. As such, it’s best to have your own attorney (who is more concerned with your best interest) review it.
  1. Employment law is complicated. When you sign a severance agreement, you are agreeing not to make any legal claims, such as for discrimination, whistleblowing, failure to provide disability accommodations, or anything else. Before giving up those rights, it makes sense to find out whether you have any such potential claims.
  1. Severance agreements often contain non-disparagement clauses (mutual or one-way promises not to bad-mouth the other party), liquidated damages clauses (requiring payment if you violate a provision), confidentiality (even from close friends and colleagues), and reaffirmations of restrictive covenants (like non-compete agreements, which may be unenforceable). 

These provisions are important and should be discussed. A consultation with an experienced attorney who has reviewed your documents will help you understand all these provisions and make an informed decision. Many times, signing the agreement is the right choice. Other times, there are good factual and legal grounds to negotiate for a higher amount of severance, or for changes in the terms of the agreement. 


Losing your job can be stressful. We can help remove one of those stress points by making sure that any severance agreement that you do sign is fair and gives you reasonable value for the claims you are setting aside. And if not, we are prepared to represent you in bringing those claims forward.


Losing your job is difficult. We’ll help you get through it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on all parts of our society, perhaps none so much as in the workplace. There are protections in place for employees who find themselves affected by the pandemic at work – whether that means job loss, mask guidelines, or sick leave. 


If you have questions related to your employment and COVID-19, please visit our COVID-19 Information Center.

You try to dress appropriately for the workplace.  Yet your boss, or a co-worker, makes repeated comments about your appearance.  Your boss asks you to come to his house to pick up some paperwork.  Once you are there, he says the papers are in the bedroom.  You follow him in to retrieve them, and he grabs you.  Or maybe you go to talk to your boss about a raise, and he suggests the two of you go out after work to get to know each other better.


That’s #MeToo. 

A few years ago, “MeToo” exploded into the forefront of media coverage when some well-known people were accused of improper sexual conduct.  But those allegations were not new to tens of thousands of women nationwide who have endured sexual harassment and other improper conduct ever since they entered the workplace.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally made such conduct a violation of the law, and the Civil Rights Act Amendments of 1991 gave victims the right to a trial by jury and award of compensatory damages.  Yet, this conduct continues.


Our firm represents women who are demoted, fired, or otherwise professionally retaliated against for refusing the sexual advances of their supervisors or co-workers; who are subjected to sexual assaults or other sexual harassment at work; or who are negatively-affected by an “old boys” club mentality. We fight the “old boys’ network” for our clients. We bring both our negotiating skills and our litigation experience to the table to give you the best and broadest representation possible, no matter what your situation may be.  If you are caught in such a situation at work, we are here to help.


More broadly speaking, once you bring such a case in court, “#MeToo” refers to the opportunity to bring into evidence other allegations of misconduct against the person who treated you inappropriately, or others in the workplace who have been the subject of other complaints.  Often, we have found, if there is one case of sexual harassment in the workplace, there are others.  Some employers have “gotten the memo” and cleaned up their act, and others haven’t.  Our attorneys are savvy trial lawyers.  They will find the evidence you need to win in court.


You CAN fight back. We will fight with you.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees.  It provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, protected leave each year and requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave.


Employers are required to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:

  • The birth and care of a child
  • Placement of a child for adoption or foster care
  • Caring for an immediate family member with a serious health condition
  • Inability to work because of a serious health condition

Employees are eligible for leave once they’ve worked for their employer for at least a year and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius. Time taken off work due to pregnancy complications can be counted against the 12 weeks of family and medical leave.


If your employer tells you that you cannot take leave for any of the above reasons, or you’re fired while on leave, you may have legal recourse. Meet with one of our skilled attorneys to make sure your rights are protected.


We’ll protect your rights when you need time off work.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. This means that every effort should be made to give a qualified employee the tools they need to do their job and enjoy the same benefits as a non-disabled person would enjoy. This applies to both the hiring process and once the individual is an employee.


 Such accommodations may include physical aides, such as ramps, and assistive technologies; employee policy enhancements, such as intermittent leave or reduced hours; or mental health accommodations, such as advance notice of management meetings or communicating in less adversarial ways . 


Some employers are slow to make these accommodations or resist making them altogether. If you have a disability and your employer isn’t making adjustments, you may have a claim against them. Likewise, if you’re a qualified candidate and didn’t get a job because of your disability, there is help available. We’ll review your case and guide you towards the best solution for you.


You have the right to reasonable workplace accommodations. We can help you get them.

Federal law prohibits employers from firing or harassing you due to your pregnancy. Virginia law requires employers to provide pregnant mothers-to-be and new mothers with accommodations such as additional leave, reduced workload, lactation rooms, etc.


If you are discriminated against due to pregnancy or new motherhood, we will fight for your rights!

Any unwelcomed sexual touching is a sexual battery. All are actionable under various state and, sometimes, federal laws. Some assaults happen in the workplace. Others occur at school, in public organizations, or privately. Sometimes those entities can be held legally liable. We can recover money for you to pay for medical bills, counseling sessions, lost wages, and sometimes, your attorneys’ fees.


MOST IMPORTANTLY – A SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. We will hold the responsible parties accountable.

Virginia enacted a host of new, employee friendly, labor and employment laws on July 1, 2020. The most expansive of those laws, is Virginia Code § 40.1-27.3, the Virginia Whistleblower Protection Law. The Whistleblower Protection law protects employees from retaliation for a number of actions including:

  1. Reporting to a supervisor or any governmental body violations or suspected violations of any federal or state law;
  2. Refusing to engage in a criminal act or carry out an order that would violate federal or state law; or
  3. Otherwise engaging in protected activity by participating in an investigation.

Va. Code § 40.1-27.3 has a one (1) year statute of limitations and allows a prevailing employee in state court to recover attorneys’ fees and uncapped compensation for lost wages, benefits and other remuneration. 

Public sector employees in the Commonwealth of Virginia were prohibited from collective bargaining until Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2 took effect in 2021.  Since that time, a number of localities across the Commonwealth have passed collective bargaining resolutions.  John Cook and Broderick Dunn regularly represent international and local unions and their members. 
In 2023, Cook Craig & Francuzenko, PLLC provided counsel to a union in an election involving 11,000 employees across two bargaining units, which was the largest such election in Virginia history at the time.

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