Not every employee leaves the job happily. Some are terminated for cause, which may not sit right with the former employee. Some will soon accept the employer’s decision and move on. But others will want to fight and try to get more money from the employer.
The latter may retain the services of an attorney who sends you a demand letter. A demand letter is a formal document sent by an attorney on the former employee’s behalf in an attempt to resolve their grievance and avoid the filing of a lawsuit. In terms of employment law, this demand is usually a request for money. However, a demand could also ask:
- That a termination be characterized as a resignation;
- For a positive reference for future employment; or
- Some other kind of nonmonetary relief.
A former employee’s demand letter will go further than simply stating his or her demand. Most of the letter typically will consist of the argument as to how and why the employer wronged the former employee, violated California and/or federal law, or disregarded company policies and procedures. The demand letter may also claim that the employer failed to comply with wage and hour law, terminated the employee’s employment illegally, retaliated against him or her, or subjected the employee to a hostile work environment and illegal discrimination. It may also be accompanied by a letter requiring production of the employees personnel records.
If you receive a demand letter, you should seek the advice of an experienced California employment attorney, like those at Eanet, PC. Your attorney should be well-versed in the steps to be taken in response, evaluating liability and damages, and assessing potential cross-claims and defenses. By no means should you respond on your own because you may make the situation worse by exposing you and your company to additional liability.
Consider these four actions that you can take in preparation for your initial conversation with your attorney:
1. Read the Demand Letter Carefully and Gather Records
It’s essential that you take time to read the letter and digest its contents. This will give you information and details that will be needed to speak with your attorney. By carefully reading the letter, you will be able to discuss it thoroughly with your attorney and accurately, so you can work together to prepare your response.
Also, start the process of gathering the relevant records—the employee’s personnel file and wage records, for starters. It is also important that you take steps to preserve any documents, such as emails, texts, or intra-company chat messages, that may be relevant to the employee’s claims.
2. Don't Disregard the Letter
There may be severe ramifications for ignoring a former employee’s demand letter. These types of letters often include a deadline for your response. If you ignore the letter, it probably is not going to go away, and you may have lost a chance to resolve the dispute quickly and without a lawsuit.
Once the former employee’s attorney files a lawsuit in state or federal court, there may be little that can done to quickly and efficiently stop the case.
No matter what you think of the former employee or their claims, try to keep your emotions in check and act reasonably and with he advice of counsel to address the issue.
3. Consider the Validity of the Writer’s Position
As mentioned above, having thoroughly read the demand letter in full, you can then make an honest assessment of the validity of the former employee’s arguments, including any money that you might legitimately owe them and go over that with your lawyer. You can also note any discrepancies in the former employee’s version of the facts. Plus, you can list any deductions or counterclaims you would like to discuss with your counsel, such as if the former employee stole trade secrets or other company resources.
4. Try to Uncover the Writer’s Motivation for Sending the Letter
As you consider the contents of the letter, try to ascertain the former employee’s motives, support, and level of expectations. While it’s common for a demand letter to contain bombastic language in an attempt to evoke a serious tone and that need for compliance, it’s often a bluff designed to intimidate you into a settlement. That’s why an experienced employment attorney is so valuable. They see this act every day and can read between the lines to determine what’s really at stake and what the writer is truly after.
Again, speak to an experienced employment attorney. He or she will help you respond to the former employee’s lawyer on your behalf. In addition to their knowledge and skills, engaging an attorney to write your response adds legitimacy to your response. It also ensures that your reply contains relevant legal arguments, the appropriate tone, and vocabulary.
Finally, in addition to financial considerations, consider the price you and your company will pay in terms of stress, productivity loss, and emotions that disputing the demand letter will have. Work with an experienced California employment attorney like those at Eanet, PC to respond to a demand letter from a former employee correctly and with your best interest in mind.