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Tennessee Employment Law Attorney Representing Employers and Executives in Breach of Contract Litigation

Tennessee is an at-will employment state, meaning most private sector employers can fire their employees for any reason – a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. There are, of course, limits to the employer’s ability to terminate. For instance, a termination cannot be for an unlawful reason, such as illegal discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability or other covered reasons, or in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Another limit on the employer’s ability to terminate an employee occurs when there is a contract in place. In fact, an employment contract completely does away with the “at-will” nature of employment and replaces it with the terms of the contract itself. When there is an employment contract, the terms of the contract control when and why the employee can be terminated. Whether a contract was intentionally created or implied by other facts, disputes can arise over the interpretation of the contract and whether its terms were properly complied with or not.

At the Law Offices of Cary Schwimmer, we help Tennessee small business owners draft employment agreements that clearly spell out employee duties and expectations, along with grounds for termination. Additionally, we provide creative problem-solving and effective representation in the resolution of employment disputes alleging breach of contract by employee or employer. From pre-litigation advice, strategy and risk management to representation in negotiation, mediation, arbitration or litigation, Memphis employment law attorney Cary Schwimmer can help resolve your dispute efficiently and effectively.

How Employment Contracts Operate

An employment contract may be drafted for a fixed period of time, or it may be open-ended. A contract for a fixed term will end at the conclusion of that term, or earlier if the contract is breached. Grounds for termination during the contract term (or at any time if the contract is continuous) may be spelled out in the contract, or the contract may be silent on the topic. Contracts may include a list of specific grounds (e.g., incompetence, insubordination, repeated absence, etc.) or be written more generally, such as termination for “good cause” or simply “for cause.”

If grounds for termination are not specified, termination can still be sought on breach of contract grounds, namely that some term or condition of the contract has not been fulfilled or has been violated. An employment contract typically includes all the terms and conditions of employment, along with wages, hours, fringe benefits, severance, duties, termination and notice provisions. An employer may allege that an employee is not properly performing duties under the contract, which would constitute a breach. Likewise, the employee may claim the employer is not making payments as promised under the contract, or is breaching contractual employment promises in some other way.

Is There a Contract or Not?

Sometimes an initial question is whether there is an employment contract in place at all, or if the employment is at will. Contracts can be written, oral, express or implied, and all types of contracts can be valid and enforceable under different circumstances. Certain contracts must be in writing, but even these can sometimes be modified orally. In the case of employment contracts, there may be an express written employment agreement between employer and employee, or a global collective bargaining agreement that governs the terms and conditions of employment (including grounds and procedures for termination) of all members of the bargaining unit.

Even without an express written contract, other written documents can also be construed as granting contractual rights, or rights to continued employment. For instance, if the employee is provided with a company handbook or company policies, wording in these documents may state what is expected of employees, expressing or at least implying that continued employment is conditioned on meeting these expectations. The flip side of this implication is that an employee will not be fired if he or she is following company rules and guidelines regarding behavior and performance. An employee may also allege that oral promises of continued employment were made, or that longstanding company practices amounted to a policy regarding employment and termination.

Help with Employment Contracts from Preeminent Tennessee Employment Lawyer

The lesson for employers is to be very careful when negotiating or drafting employment contracts, and to be equally diligent when crafting company policies, employee handbooks or other documents. Once granted, contractual rights to continued employment need to be honored according to the terms of the contract. Otherwise, a fired employee may have a claim for breach of contract and be able to recover actual damages from the employer as well as reinstatement or other remedies. Care must be taken to only grant employment contract rights that you intend to honor.

For practical advice and assistance in creating employment agreements or policies, or for representation in the resolution of an employment breach of contract dispute, contact the Law Offices of Cary Schwimmer in Memphis for help from a knowledgeable and experienced Tennessee employment law attorney.

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