SEBRIS BUSTO JAMES provides high quality and cost-effective alternatives to the large multi-practice corporate law firms in the Seattle area—addressing workplace legal issues exclusively. Primary areas of focus of the firm are listed below.
Administrative Charges and Complaints
In the employment law arena, there are many administrative agencies charged with investigating claims of legal violations and enforcing the law. These include:
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Federal anti-discrimination laws;
- Washington State Human Rights Commission (Washington’s Law Against Discrimination
- U.S. Department of Labor (FLSA, FMLA, USERRA, and others)
- Washington Department of Labor and Industries (State wage and hour, workplace safety, and workers’ compensation laws)
- Employment Security Department (unemployment claims)
Responding thoroughly and effectively to administrative charges is often an employer’s best chance to resolve a dispute in a relatively cost-effective manner, by either prevailing before the agency, which may preclude or discourage a lawsuit, or reaching an early settlement of matters where there is potential liability.
Administrative charges may require a written response, or may involve witness interviews and even a hearing. Sebris Busto James lawyers can assist you in presenting your best case before an agency. We can formally appear as your attorneys, conducting the investigation of the matter, writing the response on your behalf, and attending witness interviews or hearings as necessary. Alternatively, we can assist “behind the scenes,” helping you investigate and respond to the charge. Either way, you will be in good hands.
Sebris Busto James emphasizes prevention in its approach to employment law, because we believe that our clients have better things to do than engage in litigation. When litigation becomes unavoidable, however, we are zealous and tenacious advocates who get results.
Sebris Busto James’ attorneys represent clients in the whole gamut of employment litigation, including:
- Wrongful Discharge
- Workplace Harassment
- Wage and Hour
- Non-competition Agreements and Trade Secrets
Our attorneys are experienced litigators who provide employers with outstanding representation every step of the way. We can appear quickly to respond to a complaint or demand letter. We are thorough and efficient in conducting discovery. We have an excellent track record of obtaining summary judgment before trial, but we are also experienced and successful trial lawyers. We stay on top of legal and technical developments so that we can utilize the best possible legal strategies on the client’s behalf.
At the same time, we do not engage in litigation for the sport of it, at our client’s expense. We look for opportunities to explore settlement of claims when that is the client’s wish. We encourage and participate in mediation and arbitration of claims to reduce costs when feasible. In short, we work hard to resolve litigation in whatever way meets the business goals of our clients.
Human Resources Policies and Systems
It used to be that an employer’s Employee Handbook was just a communication piece that made employees feel good about working at the organization. In recent years, however, it has become a potential liability document. Poorly written handbooks are often held against employers in claims of wrongful discharge, discrimination, harassment, and wage and hour violations. Usually it is because the employer’s handbook or policy manual made promises that the employer did not keep. Other human resources forms and processes can also be important tools for minimizing liability and making employees feel valued.
At Sebris Busto James, we believe that an employer who sets up its human resources systems right at the beginning will experience less legal entanglements with its employees. This starts with your employment application and hiring process (including interviewing and background checks), carries through your handbook, pay systems and performance management systems, and continues through termination of employment and the giving of references.
Did you know:
- An employment application should include a statement that an employee who misrepresents facts will not be eligible for hire or may be terminated?
- Employers have to report newly hired employees to DSHS within 20 days for purposes of tracking child support “deadbeats?”
- A harassment policy needs to have at least two different avenues for reporting complaints and a guarantee of no retaliation to be effective in limiting employer liability?
- Progressive discipline policies can result in a finding that employees are not “at-will” and result in wrongful discharge liability?
- Washington employees are entitled to leave for maternity disability in addition to FMLA leave? Employees have a right to a written statement of reasons for termination of employment if they request it?
Sebris Busto James attorneys know all the ins and outs of managing your human resources in compliance with state and federal laws. We have the expertise to help you set up your systems right in the first place, and forms and checklists to make it easier. You don’t have to start from scratch; contact us and see how we can help.
Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining
Although the percentage of employees represented by labor unions has dropped in recent years, the Pacific Northwest is still one of the hottest parts of the country for union activity. Certain industries, such as healthcare and transportation, are still heavily unionized. Many unions are becoming more aggressive and creative in both their organizing techniques and their approach to representing their members. Whether you have a union in place or are seeking to avoid unionization, experienced labor law advice is critical.
Sebris Busto James lawyers are active and experienced in all aspects of labor relations.
Union Avoidance: We assist clients in managing their workforce in a way that makes unionization efforts less likely.
Union Representation Elections:Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining When a Union comes calling, we strategically plan a legally sound management campaign that maximizes your chances of defeating the organizing effort.
Collective Bargaining: We are expert in both traditional and interest based bargaining, assisting clients either at the bargaining table or behind the scenes to achieve a favorable union contract.
Unfair Labor Practice Representation: We represent clients before the National Labor Relations Board and the Public Employee Relations Commissions in connection with administrative charges.
Grievance Handling and Arbitration: We advise clients on responding to grievances, and our attorneys have extensive experience representing clients from many industries in labor arbitrations.
As with all our practice areas, we stay on the cutting edge of developments in union-management relations so that you get the best representation possible.
Management and Employee Training
As the employment laws become increasingly complex, employers are finding that the actions of their supervisors and employees can result in legal liability for the employer before its human resources department or its attorneys know what is happening. Workplace harassment is the best example. In some circumstances, the employer can be liable for actions taken by employees and/or managers even though the affected employee never objected to the conduct or filed an internal complaint. It is no longer enough for one or two persons within an organization to understand the law.
So what’s the answer? Management and employee training. Sebris Busto James has created many dynamic training programs that educate managers and/or employees in their obligations under the employment laws. These are not dry technical recitations of statutes and case law. These are practical, interactive workshops that approach the law from the point of view of what your management team needs to know to do their job of managing people while minimizing potential liability for themselves and the company. Our standard training programs include:
- Workplace Harassment
- Equal Employment Opportunity
- Performance Management and Progressive Discipline
- Wage and Hour Issues
- Investigating Employee Misconduct
- Hiring the Right Employee
- Union Avoidance
- Managing Employee Health Issues and Attendance
These training programs can be adapted to fit your workplace and your budget. In addition, we can design and present programs customized from scratch to address the issues you choose. Our training programs can be the “ounce of prevention” that is worth many pounds of cure.
Anyone who has ever been sued knows that litigation is expensive, time consuming, and difficult, even if you ultimately prevail. At Sebris Busto James, we believe in a proactive approach to employment law and employee relations that reduces legal entanglements with employees. Many of our clients contact us on a regular basis about human resources matters before there is a legal claim. We regularly consult with our clients about:
- Employment terminations
- Progressive discipline and performance management
- Compensation and benefits practices
- Labor/management relations
- Wage and hour compliance
- Responding to complaints of harassment, discrimination and retaliation
- Employee non-competition, confidentiality and intellectual property issues
- Workplace safety issues, including OSHA and substance abuse
- Workplace violence situations
- Leaves of absence
- Accommodating disabled employees
Our experienced counselors know that it is your business, not ours. Our role is to help you solve a business problem that has legal risk involved – not to tell you what you have to do. In partnership with you, we try to come up with solutions that are both legal and realistic for your business.
Our work can be limited to answering questions as they come up, or more proactive and systemic. We can help you establish systems and policies that keep you from having to address the same problems over and over again. Our level of involvement depends on your needs.
“I’m being sexually harassed.”
“I think I was passed over for promotion because of my race.”
“I am working in a hostile environment.”
Hearing such statements from an employee is an employer’s worst nightmare. To make it worse, the law increasingly imposes on an employer the obligation to do a thorough investigation of such allegations, or potentially face liability in a lawsuit based in part on the lack of a thorough and fair investigation.
Sebris Busto James attorneys can help. We are frequently called on to conduct or assist with investigations of harassment, discrimination and other workplace misconduct claims. As your attorneys, we can conduct the investigation for you and give advice based on our findings, or we can work behind the scenes, assisting you with the process and helping you evaluate your findings.
We also function as independent workplace investigators. In this capacity, we are fact finders only and the employer works with its usual attorney to evaluate the evidence and decide how to respond to the complaint after the investigation is completed.
In either capacity, we bring to the table our knowledge of employment law, experience in litigating employment matters and practical understanding of human resources issues to provide the best investigation possible.