Demand Letters & Lawsuits
A demand letter is a letter usually 2-5 pages in length citing various employment laws and accusing an employer of violating these laws. These letters usually follow the same format and include the following:
Threat of monetary risk from civil penalties and attorneys fees
Demand you give them the employee's personnel file
History of cases they have prevailed in
Demand that you may a very large sum of money
Deadline to respond to the letter, turn over documents and pay them money
Invitation to negotiate a settlement before they file a lawsuit
California employment law comes in two categories- wage and hour and FEHA cases, discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Both types of cases have different levels of liability and risk.
Handling the Demand Letter
Once you receive a demand letter you will want to gather and organize the employee's personnel file including:
Signed employment agreements and policies, including handbooks
At some point you may turn this over to the employee's attorney, but these documents will be the first thing an employer defense attorney will ask for.
Next you will want to consult an employer defense attorney. Employers are caution to blindly abide by demand letters and turn over the employee's personnel file. You don't want the employee's attorney to learn your liability before you do.
Handling a Lawsuit
Similar to handling a demand letter, you will want to gather documents. Once served a lawsuit you have a limited amount of time to respond to the lawsuit, typically 30 days from the date you are served. You will want to find an attorney right away so they can review the lawsuit, determine if any of the document is defective and can be challenged, and prepare a strategy with you.
What to Expect
California's employment law is entirely in favor of the employee. Employee attorneys advertise on billboards all over and take the employee's case on contingency, usually getting a percentage of an eventual settlement. Employee's are not coming out of pocket in these cases. That being said, employee attorneys want the most money for the least work and want to settle a case before filing a lawsuit and really having to put in an effort.
You want an employer defense attorney who can come up with a strategy in handling the case, posturing, setting the tone and finding any possible leverage. Once you get a demand letter you are in it. The silver lining- these typically settle. It stings a little, but you will overcome it and will learn a thing or two in the process.
Be aware some laws award attorneys' fees to prevailing employees but not to prevailing employers. Consult with an attorney to understand the risks and stringent requirements employers are held to in employment and labor cases in California. I provide a free 15 minute consultation to assist you in figuring out your next defense steps.