Labor and Employment
Most employers have a strong commitment to honesty and fairness in the workplace. Yet their companies can still have trouble by unwittingly running afoul of the law – or by facing an unsupported allegation of misconduct. Ungaretti & Harris labor and employment litigators know how to identify the problems that can become employment lawsuits, and work to prevent problems or resolve controversies in the most effective way possible. If you are faced with an employment lawsuit, we’ll work to resolve it – and are committed to giving you a tough, aggressive, but cost-effective defense against employment-related claims before regulators and in court.
Your potential labor and employment controversies are as wide-ranging as the many federal and state laws and regulations that you operate under, and we can defend and resolve them. We’ve focused our efforts in a number of areas that we believe are the greatest potential concerns for your company:
Proactive counsel to ensure that your internal policies and procedures avoid problems and comply with the law.
Wage and hour compliance and claims.
Discrimination and harassment allegations of every type – age, race, gender, disability.
Whistleblower allegations of retaliation involving any of the 14 federal statutes protecting employees who report violations of the law, as well as the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
Workplace torts that run the gamut from defamation and infliction of emotional stress to violation of non-compete agreements.
Claims and coverage disputes under employment practices liability insurance.
National Scope of Practice
We are nationwide outside litigation counsel in labor and employment law for Fortune 500 companies such as Kellogg Company, United Airlines and Deloitte & Touche. Our work for these and other concerns requires us to litigate various and varied employment litigation in venues throughout the United States.
No matter what size or type of industry you are in or where you reside on the economic food chain, Ungaretti & Harris has probably represented an employer like you in labor and employment litigation. We have defended a major national pharmaceutical producer in whistleblower actions, a leading Illinois utility facing allegations of discrimination and a telecommunications corporation charged with sexual harassment. We have a very strong focus on representing hospitals and other health care providers, have defended numerous gaming companies, and advise professional services companies such as software consultants, accounting firms and stockbrokers. Even if your business focus is not the same as these companies, we have the capabilities to help any size and type of employer.
Labor and employment litigation often involves high stakes and intense time pressure. Any problem that arises could quickly become a bet-the-company issue for you. That’s why our labor and employment litigators are committed to giving you the most responsive service possible. These strengths set us apart from other typical law firms:
When you call, we’ll respond – promptly and without fail. Issues like sexual harassment and workplace violence demand immediate attention, and we provide it. If you’re in the middle of a dispute over a non-compete agreement, we know that you need a temporary restraining order hearing under way at once. Our lawyers will speak with you whenever necessary, at home or from home.
You are at the center of our litigation strategy. Every strategy we recommend and every action we take is with your business objectives in mind. We don’t litigate for the sake of litigation, but we’re not afraid to take an aggressive approach to a dispute on your behalf when it’s warranted.
Your employment litigation invariably starts out as a smaller problem. We think proactively and frequently can identify potential major issues when they’re small, and work to defuse them.
The best approach to employment law problems is to keep them from occurring. Our lawyers will help you develop and implement a sound strategy for administering your personnel relationships in a way that identifies potential problems before they become concerns for your company. You get asked the right questions about your current compliance policies, in order to find areas that may be out of date or need improvement. The goal is to help you eliminate problems, and avoid risk, and the key to that is developing personnel policies that meet all legal requirements and minimize your likelihood of employment-related claims and lawsuits. You get a review and revision of your existing policies and procedures, or creation of a customized new employee handbook for your company. Then we’ll help your managers effectively implement the policies, making sure they become part of everyday business practices.
Whether your company currently deals with third party representation, or seeks to maintain a workplace free of such involvement, our low-profile but highly effective labor relations counsel can be crucial to helping you maintain a competitive workplace while minimizing conflicts and maximizing your management flexibility. In unionized workplaces, you get a highly skilled and responsive partner that works alongside your human and labor relations personnel to:
Engage in collective bargaining, including multi-union, multi-location talks.
Respond to grievance and arbitration actions.
Manage reductions in force, drug testing, discipline proceedings and strikes.
Represent you in NLRB proceedings.
If you face a union organizing drive, count on receiving help to:
Maintain a positive working environment.
Communicate fully with all employees.
Comply with National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election law.
Counter aggressive unionizing efforts without creating a “union-busting” controversy.
Responsiveness, innovation and focus are what set our labor relations counsel apart from that of other law firms. You get immediate response to all your questions and inquiries, with round-the-clock availability in crisis situations like strikes or TRO proceedings. You benefit from innovative solutions in which effective negotiation solves many disputes short of litigation. And you get focused guidance that resolves problems consistent with your culture and business objectives. What you don’t get is a law firm that itself becomes a problem through overly aggressive or insensitive tactics. Your team is best served by lawyers who work behind the scenes, respond only to you and accomplish your objectives quietly but effectively.
Wage and Hour Disputes
Employers increasingly face class action lawsuits in which salaried employees sue for back overtime pay—and millions of dollars in damages—claiming that under company policies the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime pay exemption for white-collar employees no longer applies to them. Properly classifying and categorizing employees is crucial to your ability to comply with the law and avoid litigation. We work to ensure that you understand the exemption tests and the common mistakes that improperly classify an employee, by:
Auditing existing salary policy and pay practices.
Reviewing the language of written employment policies to make sure they conform to FLSA requirements for exempt and non-exempt employees.
Making sure all exempt employee job descriptions involve management and supervision.
If you are faced with a wage and hour lawsuit we mount a vigorous defense, seeking to deny class certification and working to secure an efficient and effective settlement that dismisses unfounded claims and protects your interests.
Discrimination and Harassment
Any protected class of your employees – by age, race, gender, disability, religion – could bring suit under the discrimination statues, and we have successfully litigated and resolved all types of discrimination matters. We have a special focus in sexual harassment controversies, and know how best to document your efforts at creating a positive working environment. The best way to handle any claim is to prevent it from being filed, and your line managers and human resources people get effective guidance right from the start to handle complaints properly and keep them from becoming lawsuits. If litigation is necessary, you get effective investigation and a carefully drafted position statement that can negate many plaintiff claims. We’ll defend you in state and federal court, in administrative actions before the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and in actions before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and state regulators across the country. A key aspect of that defense is the human factor: careful preparation of your personnel before deposition and trial proceedings so that they are confident and credible witnesses.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act has created an entirely new class of retaliatory discharge claims, by whistleblowers who allege they were fired for uncovering wrongdoing at their workplace. However, Sarbanes-Oxley is just the tip of the iceberg. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) establishes retaliation protection for whistleblowers under 13 other statutes, protecting employees who report violations of various trucking, airline, maritime, nuclear power, pipeline and environmental (air, water, hazardous and toxic substances) laws. You also have to worry about defending whistleblower retaliation claims under various state laws, such as the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
We understand the necessity in such cases to demonstrate that your actions as an employer were proper, and have done so in disputes involving claims that a pharmaceutical manufacturer did not maintain the integrity of clinical test data, and that a utility company was overstating revenues. Despite the notoriety that is sometimes involved, we have had considerable success at showing that employer conduct was legitimate and that discharges were handled properly. You also benefit from our ability to anticipate and manage adverse media and shareholder publicity relating to this kind of litigation.
Disputes over non-compete agreements often pit employers against each other. We’ve handled litigation representing both employees’ former and new employers, and are skilled at securing and resisting TROs and permanent injunctions to protect employer interests in either type of case. The same holds true for drafting these agreements – we can help you to either prevent the disclosure of sensitive information, or to secure your rights to all the information you’re entitled to from your new employees. There are also plenty of other areas for potential workplace controversy. Your company might face tort allegations involving everything from workplace defamation to infliction of emotional distress to wage and hour law violations. In these and many other controversies, we’ll defend you in administrative forums and in state or federal court.
During the past decade insurers have marketed a wide range of insurance policies purporting to protect employers against liability costs in discrimination or other employment lawsuits. If you have such a policy, you could well face an attempt by your carrier to deny coverage if you attempt to file a claim. Ungaretti & Harris has substantial knowledge of these kinds of policies, combining the perspectives of both employment and insurance coverage lawyers. We can advise you on the pitfalls you can face in both buying and using coverage. In a typical example, you may buy a policy to cover the costs of employee claims generated by a reduction in force or a sexual harassment allegation – but if claims do occur, your insurer may want to limit its own costs by denying coverage, seeking to settle for unrealistically low amounts, or limiting your choice of legal counsel to defend claims. In any of these instances, we can help you understand the coverage that you paid for and get the full benefit from it.
When employment disputes become court cases, deciding the right strategy can be critical to the survival of your company. Ungaretti & Harris labor and employment litigators make those decisions with your best interests in mind. We move fast, are always responsive, and combine aggressive action with good business sense. Our experience is comprehensive, and our solutions reflect your needs.