The question everyone hates to ask: when should you hire an employment law attorney?
Now I’m sure you’re expecting me to have a simple answer to the question I just posed, and that answer would be: all the time, for everything. Well say good-bye to the greedy attorney stereotype, because I’m here to tell you that’s not true.
Let’s start off with something simple: don’t wait until you get sued to hire an attorney. The best, and most cost-effective solution, is to prevent problems. But, of course, you don’t want to waste money on a lawyer, when you don’t necessarily need one.
If you have been served with a complaint or writ of summons, or if you have received a demand letter from an attorney, you need to lawyer up right away. Failing to answer legal pleadings within the required amount of time could have disastrous consequences, and your potential attorney will need time to properly respond. Even a demand letter from an attorney should command your attention, because it may present an opportunity to evaluate the case, and possibly settle it for considerably less than the cost of a lawsuit. At this point, an attorney isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Retain a good one, and do it fast.
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If you’re looking to terminate an employee (especially if you think they could make a legal claim against you), you have questions about properly paying your employees, or you need to know whether your workers are independent contractors, then you need to look into hiring an attorney soon. Wage and hour issues and worker classification issues are growing more and more common, mostly due to the Department of Labor’s decision to crackdown on violators.
Unfortunately, the Fair Labor Standards Act and worker misclassification are also extremely complicated, and aren’t matters that should be tackled on a whim. While an experienced human resources professional shouldn’t have trouble taking care of many FLSA, classification or leave questions, there are times when a novel issue will crop up. Even when you feel comfortable, it may be a good idea to consider a review of payment, leave or other policies, just to ensure that new statutory provisions or case law hasn’t changed.
Call When Able
Maybe your business is growing, and you need an employee handbook or updated policies. Or maybe its been a few years since your employee handbook has been updated. Handbooks and policies aren’t immediate needs, and can be treated as such. If you don’t have a handbook, or your policies are outdated, you’re not in immediate danger. The problems crop up when you enforce a policy, and updates to the law have rendered the policy unlawful. The true danger is the enforcement, rather than the existence of the policy, so that provides some flexibility on when you need to address any problems.
Let it Go
Calling an attorney isn’t always the right answer. If you only have a few employees, then you probably don’t need an employee handbook. If you need to let someone go, and there aren’t any factors complicating the termination, you probably don’t need to consult counsel beforehand. Where little is at stake, hiring an attorney will likely be a waste of your hard-earned money, and I would rather you spend it on ways to protect and help your business.
When deciding whether or not to hire an attorney, just use your common sense. It is important to know the limits of your knowledge and abilities, and call on someone more experienced if you need help. The more complicated the issue, the greater chance you should be retaining counsel to assist. And, as a general rule, the larger your company, the more likely and more often you will need counsel. And if your attorney wants you to contact him or her for every, single issue that arises, then maybe its time to look into retaining new counsel.