Introduction to The Lipp Law Firm in Fairfax, Virginia
I am Attorney Katie Lipp, founder of The Lipp Law Firm. We are an employment and business law firm with client locations in Fairfax and Reston, Virginia, and Washington, DC. We are also able to meet with clients in Arlington, Tysons, Dulles, Chevy Chase, MD, Midtown, DC, Dupont Circle, and Metro Center, DC. Our firm has attorneys barred in the entire DMV area, which includes DC, Maryland, and Virginia. We focus on business and employment matters stemming from new business opportunities, challenges, and employment separations. We do both sides of employment law and represent both employees and employers. However, we tend to represent more companies than employees. A lot of our employment matters focus on employee mobility. Since we are in Northern Virginia, we work heavily in the tech space. We represent a substantial amount of tech companies and handle cases involving non-compete litigation. Additionally, because we do a lot of work pertaining to separation of employment, we often handle severance agreement reviews and negotiation.
Is It Mandatory To Offer a Severance Package to an Employee Who Has Been Fired?
It is not mandatory to offer a severance package to an employee who has been fired. Companies don’t have to provide severance packages to terminated employees. Severance is not guaranteed to the employees, and almost never to contractors. In some circumstances, larger companies have severance plans, but it is not the norm. Most of our corporate clients do not have written severance plans, and so severance is totally discretionary. That being said, you want to make sure that when you are giving out severance, you are being fair and consistent. For instance, if another employee has received severance under similar circumstances, you want to make sure that you are following what you have done in the past and not treating employees differently. If you do not follow similar procedures, that could open you up to some type of EEO or equal employment opportunity charge if the employees fall in different protected classes.
In any event, a severance package is purely discretionary. The purpose of a severance package is to get the company a waiver of claims and for an employee to receive a financial cushion in between jobs. Generally, severance packages are given if it is a no-cause termination. A no-cause termination means that the employee is not at fault. If the employee is at fault, it is less likely that he or she will receive a severance package. However, if there is a valid legal claim that the employee has, and there is a high threat of a lawsuit, the conservative option is to consider whether it makes sense from a business standpoint to offer a severance package. Presenting a severance package usually gives the employer peace of mind regarding the termination, and it reduces the likelihood of a lawsuit by the employee. Thus, it can be a really good way to wrap up a separation of employment and reduce the company’s legal exposure.
How Should a Business Terminate an Employee in Order to Avoid Litigation?
To avoid litigation when terminating an employee, a business should review all of the documents related to the upcoming termination with their legal counsel to ensure that the termination is lawful and well-documented. The documents that should be reviewed include emails between the company and the employee, a copy of the employee’s personnel file, and any other documents that the company could rely on to support the termination. For instance, if somebody is being terminated because they are constantly late, timesheets and any other documents that support why the company is moving toward termination are essential. Our firm reviews these documents and ensures that there are no red flags with the termination. Many times, the company has documentation for the issue, but the company has not discussed the issue with the employee. If the company has not discussed the issue with the employee, the employee should be told and, in some circumstances, given the opportunity to correct the wrongful behavior.
It is important that the employee is placed on notice and counseled with on the issues so that they have a chance to correct it. After we review the relevant documents, we analyze whether the employee is in a protected class. We review the laws that apply to the company depending on its number of employees. Different laws apply depending on the number of employees in a company. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, frequently referred to as Title VII, applies to companies with 15 or more employees. Another law that we look at is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or the ADEA. The ADEA protects employees that are 40 years and older and is applicable to companies with 20 or more employees. Most mid-sized companies will fall within the coverage of Title VII and ADEA.
Even if these two federal statutes don’t apply, there may be local regulations that apply. In Virginia, we have the Virginia Human Rights Act. The Virginia Human Rights Act applies to smaller employers. Again, depending on the size of the company, different laws apply, but generally, we also want to look at whether the employee falls within a protected class. If the employee does fall into a protected class, we want to ensure that we are taking adequate precautions to conduct the termination in the most fair and conservative way possible. At the end of the day, it’s a severing of a relationship, and you want to make sure that you are doing it as professionally and thoroughly as possible.
For more information on The Lipp Law Firm in Fairfax, Virginia, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (571) 660-4077.
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