When Should I Hire an Employment Lawyer?

Hiring an Employment Law Lawyer

Almost all of us work for an employer other than ourselves at some point in our lives. And, in the vast majority of cases, things go smoothly and we never need to consider hiring an employment lawyer.

When things do not go so smoothly, the question arises: Why and when-—if ever—should I hire a lawyer?

My response may sound flippant, but the best time to hire an employment lawyer is the first time you think about it. There is a simple reason for this. An employment lawyer will give you good and candid advice about what your legal rights are—if any.  An employment lawyer can lay out what options are available to you in the situation—if any.

Waiting too long to hire an employment lawyer can drastically reduce those options. Or, if you wait too long, you may find you have no options because the statute of limitations has expired.

When should I consider hiring a lawyer?

There may be multiple occasions during the employment relationship when you should hire a lawyer.

The first is at the outset of the employment relationship. When you start a new job, you often are presented with a raft of paperwork to sign. Included within that paperwork are many documents with important legal consequences. These can include things such as arbitration agreements, non-compete agreements, intellectual property assignments, and confidentiality agreements. These documents are often long, complex, and full of legalese.

When presented with these documents, it makes sense to press the “time out” button and take the time to have the documents reviewed by your own attorney. You may not have the ability to negotiate the terms, but you will at least get an explanation from your own attorney about what you are signing and how it will affect you when you move from that job to the next. This is particularly important if you are asked to sign a non-compete agreement.

You may need an attorney during the employment relationship if you feel you are being harassed or discriminated against because of your race, age, gender, national origin, disability, religion, or some other characteristic protected by law. You may feel you are subjected to sexual harassment or paid less than other employees not in a protected category.

Often, what happens to an employee is unfair, but it may not be illegal. But you won’t know whether your treatment has crossed the line from unfair to illegal without getting the benefit of legal advice.

You may need an attorney at the end of the employment relationship.  If you have been fired and you think it is because of a discriminatory or retaliatory reason, then you should talk to a lawyer to see if you have a claim.  Or, if you are being laid off and presented with a severance package, get counsel to assist you in reviewing the proposed package.


When should I hire a lawyer?

Contrary to popular belief, it is acceptable to hire a lawyer to represent you while you work for your employer. Often, it is necessary.

People are often reluctant to do so for two reasons. First, there is the expense of hiring the lawyer and people often think they can work the situation out on their own. It can be expensive. But getting fired and the resulting financial fall-out usually is far more expensive. If there is a way to circumvent that situation or to negotiate a favorable package on the way out of the door, then the cost of retaining counsel is well worth it.

Second, people fear retaliation for hiring a lawyer to confront their employer.  That is a legitimate fear. But under many statutes, an employer cannot retaliate against you for engaging in your legal rights. Often, when you hire counsel and your lawyers assists you in notifying your employer about a possible claim, you are engaging in “protected activity” as the law defines it. If you are then subjected to retaliation, then your employer has just created an additional claim for you to assert.

Many people fear they will be viewed negatively if they “lawyer up” in a situation.  And that sometimes is true. But I often remind my clients that the companies for which they work always get the benefit of counsel in any significant legal transactions. A company should not view an employee negatively for doing the very thing that a company always does—which is get the benefit of good legal advice when needed.

If you are working for a company and are concerned about how you are treated, we recommend that you seek counsel quickly. Employers dislike being in legal disputes with current employees. It is often far easier to find a resolution to an employment dispute when you still work for the company than after you are no longer employed.  While it may seem counterintuitive, it is true. Hiring a lawyer while you still work for a company is often the least expensive way to resolve a dispute, both financially and emotionally.