Ping® – Arts, Entertainment, Media & Advertising Law News – “Five Rs” To Remember

“Five Rs” To Remember When Letting Employees Go

It is inevitable in almost every business. You will need to let an employee go. Whether it’s a seasoned designer coming with plug-and-play experience or a fresh face just out of design school, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Recently, several of my designer clients have had to fire an employee due to the employee’s misconduct. This could be anything from soliciting and directing company clients and prospects, to doing personal consulting work on the company’s dime, to taking property and information. Regardless of the reason, here are five “R”s to keep in mind.

1. Review the contract.

2. Reconcile and pay.

3. Request return of property.

4. Reiterate respectfulness. 

5. Reserve rights.

With those ideas in mind, let’s consider each one. A little more.

1. Review the contract/offer letter. This is always the first step and will provide guidance on termination rights, procedures and remedies, if any.

2. Reconcile and pay what’s owed. See number 1. Ensure that except for payment of contractual and statutory amounts, no other salary, commissions, overtime, bonuses, vacation pay, sick pay, severance pay, additional severance pay or other payments or benefits whatsoever will be paid.

3. Request return of property and information, in whatever form. Request all property any and all property or documents the employee created or received in the course of employment, including, but not limited to e-mails, passwords, documents and other electronic information, hardware such as laptop computers and cellular telephones, calculators, smartphones and other electronic equipment (mobile phone, tablet, etc.), software, keys, company credit cards, calling cards, parking transponder, information technology equipment, client lists, files and other confidential and proprietary documents, in any media or format, including electronic files.

4. Reiterate a professional’s obligation to remain respectful. Specific admonition of non-disparagement such as “refrain from saying, making, writing or causing to be made or written, disparaging or harmful comments about us, our employees and/or our clients.”

5. Reserve rights. Close your termination notice by expressly reserving legal and equitable rights and remedies.

Please note that this is not legal advice and you should consult your own lawyer regarding your rights and obligations in the context of terminating your employee’s employment.

Drafting Contract Termination Clauses – Termination for Breach by Non-Breaching Party

One of the key issues that must be examined when negotiating or drafting any contract is how the parties may get out of, or “terminate,” that contract. While many attorneys will rest on standard “termination for breach with notice and cure” language, the recent case of Powertech Tech. v. Tessera, Inc. demonstrates how artful drafting can put limitations on a party’s right to terminate. The Opinion in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case No. C 11-6121 can be found here.

Powertech and Tessera were parties to a patent license agreement, although the court’s reasoning does not seem limited to only those types of agreements. The license agreement allowed Powertech to use Tessera’s patents in exchange for payment of license fees.

The contract contained the following clause regarding termination for breach:

“Termination for Breach. Either party may terminate this Agreement due to the other party’s breach of this Agreement, such as failure to perform its duties, obligations, or responsibilities herein (including, without limitation, failure to pay royalties and provide reports as set forth herein). The parties agree that such breach will cause substantial damages to the party not in breach. Therefore, the parties agree to work together to mitigate the effect of any such breach; however, the non-breaching party may terminate this Agreement if such breach is not cured or sufficiently mitigated (to the non-breaching party’s satisfaction) within sixty (60) days of notice thereof.”

The court held that Powertech was not permitted to terminate a license agreement with Tessera for Tessera’s breach because Powertech itself was in breach of the agreement by its failure to pay royalties to Tessera.

Acknowledging Powertech’s argument that Tessera was itself in breach, that in and of itself did not give Powertech the right to terminate the contract. Only a “non-breaching” party may terminate the agreement. Said the court “[a]lthough the first sentence of the termination clause is broad – ‘Either party may terminate this Agreement due to the other party’s breach’ — the language of the clause as a whole makes clear that only a non-breaching party may terminate. Reading the clause as a whole, the court concluded “[t]he termination clause refers to a “breaching party” and a “non-breaching party” in every sentence after the first… [therefore]…the clause requires the party seeking to terminate for the other party’s purported breach to be substantially in compliance with its own obligations first.

The Powertech agreement’s termination clause is useful because it put conditions on a party’s ability to terminate the agreement even when the other party was in breach.