Issues To Watch For In Employment Agreements

Whether signed at the beginning or at the end of employment, employment agreements can have a huge impact during employment and for many years thereafter. It is a natural impulse to sign anything required by an employer at the beginning of the relationship-the "honeymoon period". However, it is important for every employee to review and consider any agreement before signing.

  • Get it in writing! It is amazing how frequently employees rely upon promises about future raises, length of employment, or other terms which are not in a written agreement. Any employment agreement signed at the outset of employment should include everything the parties have discussed which is an important factor in the decision to begin work. Most written agreements include language that specifically makes unwritten promises unenforceable.
  • Employment at-will. In most situations, a Georgia employee without a written contract of employment is considered to be employed "at will"; this means either party can end the relationship at any time for any reason, or no reason. Very few employees would agree to the other terms of an employment agreement if he or she considered that the employer might actually decide to terminate the employment in the first week, but the agreement is signed based on the assumption that the employer will go along in good faith. An agreement to begin at-will employment may include provisions (such as non-compete language) which may dramatically restrict the employee's future options; those restrictions could be enforceable even if the employee was fired the first day.
  • Non-competition and other restrictive covenants. Provisions restricting an employee's options for future employment, preventing her from soliciting customers, or agreements to keep information confidential can appear in agreements at the beginning of employment, or contracts at the end of employment (such as severance agreements). Due to changes in the law, such provisions are more readily enforced by Georgia courts now than in the past. Particularly for experienced employees, consideration should be given to excluding customers who will be following them to the new employer, or other limitations on restrictions agreed to at the beginning of employment.
  • Severance. Employers have a great variety of policies regarding severance, depending on the length of service, reasons for termination, position level, and other factors: there is really no "standard" amount of severance, nor is any severance required. Many employers will offer a small amount of severance in exchange for a general release of all claims. The value of any potential employment-related claims can often be very difficult to estimate, but this factor should be considered.

PLEASE NOTE: This article is intended for general informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice, and should not be used as guidance in any specific situation or serve as a substitute for advice from qualified counsel.