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Joel P. Bennett's employment law tips for businesses

April 25, 2011

From his Georgetown office, Joel P. Bennett concentrates his law practice on employment law and serves as an expert witness in cases involving legal malpractice in employment law cases.  He's been gracious enough to share some tips for small businesses on dealing with employment issues for The Georgetown Dish. But first, a little about Joel P. Bennett.

Prior to starting his own practice in 1976, Mr. Bennett was an associate with the law firm of Stein, Mitchell and Mezines in Washington, D.C.  , a trial attorney with the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC and a law clerk to the Hon. Richard W. McLaren on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. He is a member of NELA and has been on the board of the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association since it was founded and served as its first secretary. Mr. Bennett is a graduate of Brown University and the Georgetown University Law Center, where he served on the law journal. He spent his junior year of college abroad at the London School of Economics. Mr. Bennett has also served as Chair of the Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association, President of the voluntary Bar Association of the District of Columbia, co-founder and first chair of the Law Practice Management Section of the mandatory District of Columbia Bar, chair of the Litigation Section of the District of Columbia Bar and a member of the Steering Committee of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the District of Columbia Bar.

JOEL. P. BENNETT'S TIPS FOR BUSINESSES TO AVOID EMPLOYMENT LAW PROBLEMS

1. Confirm terms of employment in writing

I have had many cases for employers where disputes dragged on and cost the employer significant attorney’s fees because all agreements were oral and the parties had different recollections of what had been said. It is also “penny-wise and pound foolish” as the British say, not to have your attorney review any such documents before they are given to the employee. I have had cases where letters confirming employment were ambiguous and lead to expensive litigation that could have been avoided if an attorney had reviewed the letter before it was sent to the prospective employee.

2. Document all problems with employees and advise employees of problems in writing

While small businesses do not have sophisticated personnel manuals and procedures, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes. In termination cases, the employer’s defense is made much stronger when there is evidence of contemporary written counseling of the employee for deficiencies of performance or misconduct. The employer should have the employee sign and date all such documents to prove receipt. Written employee evaluations for each year are also a good practice, with interim written counseling for any problems.

3. Have a general knowledge of the federal and D.C. laws that apply to you as an employer

Use the Internet to educate yourself; for examples of useful web sites see www.dc.gov; www.eeoc.gov; www.dol.gov.

4. Know when to consult an attorney for guidance

It is more important to know what you do not know and than what you know. A small company I have represented incurred substantial attorney’s fees because it had a misunderstanding of the legal requirements for paying overtime and was sued by several employees. Thousands of dollars could have been saved if the employer had consulted a knowledgeable employment attorney when starting the business or if the employer had consulted the overtime section of the web site of the U.S. Department of Labor.

5. Be familiar with federal and local wage and hour laws on overtime and payment obligations

This is a particularly tricky area of the law. The regulations are voluminous but are available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/

6. Be fair and pleasant to all employees but not overly familiar to avoid sexual harassment claims

Do not engage in sexual banter or jokes. Do not engage in physical contact with employees. If you have multiple employees, have a written sexual harassment policy and a policy for filing complaints. Give each employee a copy of your policy and get a written receipt for the policy.

7. Do not have employees work off the clock

See the web site noted in 5 above for wage and hour rules and regulations. This are tricky and must be consulted to avoid expensive litigation.

8. Do not treat employees as independent contractors unless you meet the IRS test

See www.irs.gov and insert the phrase “independent contractor” in the search box to pull up the IRS publications on this. If you improperly designate an employee as an independent contractor you could be liable for back taxes, interest and penalties.

9. Keep good records on employee hours worked, absences and leave used

If you are investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor or sued by a former employee and you do not have accurate, contemporaneous written records, the employee’s recollection may win out against you.

10. Do not enter into any contracts with employees, including severance agreements, without consulting an attorney

Again-do not be penny-wise and pound foolish and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is much less expensive to consult a knowledgeable and experienced employment law attorney at the time of terminating an employee than to pay to have a lawsuit defended later, even if you win.


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Easter at 1789 Restaurant

April 13, 2011

On Easter Sunday, April 24, executive chef Daniel Giusti will be dishing up an a la carte menu that incorporates only the freshest spring ingredients. The a la carte brunch will be served from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. featuring complimentary canapés, while the fuzzy Easter Bunny makes a guest appearance at each table delivering candy to the children.
 
During brunch service the first and second courses are included in the entrée price, which ranges from $28 to $38, and dessert is priced at $8. To conclude the day, an a la carte Easter dinner will be served from 4:00 to 8:00 pm.
For reservations or additional information please call at 202.965.1789.
 
1789 Restaurant is located at 1226 36th Street.


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Witness to history: Tudor Place a Georgetown treasure

March 30, 2011

Built between 1795 and 1816 on a whole city block (on 31st between Q and R Streets), Tudor Place illuminates the history of Georgetown, the “mother” of the nation’s capital.  Six generations of the Peter family lived at Tudor Place.  As the nation developed, those who lived and worked on the estate witnessed first-hand the growth of Georgetown, the city of Washington, and the United States.  The family’s records and their substantial collections serve as a unique doorway to our American history.

Japanese Tea House (Photo by: Tudor Place) Japanese Tea House

Today, Tudor Place is the repository for an extraordinary collection of decorative and everyday objects, manuscripts, letters, account books, diaries, deeds, plats and maps, blueprints, broadsides, early moving picture film, photographs, and books, that span the years 1650-1983. 

Martha Parke Custis Peter (Photo by: Tudor Place) Martha Parke Custis Peter

On June 5, 1805 Thomas Peter (1769-1834) sold land which his wife, Martha Parke Custis Peter (1777-1854), inherited from her step-grandfather, George Washington.  That same day, Thomas purchased eight and a half acres of the Rock of Dumbarton tract to build his family’s seat.  With the completion of their impressive neo-classical home designed by Dr. William Thornton, architect for the first U.S. Capitol building, in 1816, Martha and Thomas Peter elegantly entertained friends and notable politicians. "A gay and fashionable society had grown up there [in Georgetown], trade had prospered, wealth had accumulated, and there had come an ease and culture to its inhabitants that attracted men of fashion and distinction. In this way Georgetown took the national capital under its wing and became the centre of social and diplomatic society."[1]

Boxwood Ellipse (Photo by: Tudor Place) Boxwood Ellipse

Martha and Thomas Peter furnished their home with fine furniture, silver, ceramics, and other objects crafted in Georgetown, Baltimore, Philadelphia, England, and Ireland.  The busy Georgetown port received a wide variety of goods from abroad as well as from other major cities up and down the coast.  William A. Gordon, a clerk for the federal government, recalled in 1860, “At the wharves, which extended along the whole front of the town, were generally numbers of vessels loading and unloading.  Water Street, which was occupied by the wholesale merchants offered many attractions.  It was a busy place, the street crowded with carts and drays, and at certain seasons of the year with lines of large covered wagons, drawn by four or six horse teams with bows of bells on shoulders, and loaded with produce from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia; the warehouses filled with flour, tobacco, whiskey, salt, grain, and other merchandise.”[2]

Bowling Green (Photo by: Tudor Place) Bowling Green

The second owner of Tudor Place, Britannia Peter Kennon (1815-1911),  was widowed just 14 months of marriage to Commodore Beverley Kennon and, with her young daughter, Martha Custis Kennon, returned to Tudor Place in 1844 to live with her mother who died in 1854.   Despite being a southern sympathizer, at the outbreak of the Civil War she opened the house to Union Army officers as boarders to prevent her home from being used as a hospital.   Her son-in-law and beloved Georgetown obstetrician, Dr. Armistead Peter, treated wounded Union soldiers at Union Hospital (also known as Seminary Hospital) at Gay (N) and Washington (30th) Streets.

Tennis at Tudor Place (Photo by: Tudor Place) Tennis at Tudor Place

In 1911 Armistead Peter, Jr. (1870-1960) became the third owner and, using his brother Walter Gibson Peter, completed a renovation in 1914, equipping the house with the latest inventions: electricity; plumbing; a new heating system with steam radiators; an “annunciator” or call bell system; and an intercom system.  An avid hunter, Armistead Peter Jr. would hunt on the Tudor Place grounds, in Rock Creek Park, in the area north of Montrose Park, and in what is now the Foxhall neighborhood.

Tudor Place Kitchen (Photo by: Tudor Place) Tudor Place Kitchen

In 1960 Armistead Peter 3rd (1896-1983), a preservationist, artist, and avid farmer, inherited Tudor Place and preserved it for the future. The beautiful north garden “rooms” are largely his work and include a Circle Garden created with bricks from a house torn down in Georgetown.

Through war and peace, periods of political and social upheaval, and times of financial prosperity and hardship, the property was preserved to educate the public about American history through the lives of those who lived and worked at Tudor Place.

Tudor Place is open Tuesday through Sunday: Museum gift shop, house and garden tours, specialized tours. Visit www.tudorplace.org for hours. Members and the public enjoy educational events throughout the year.  

Tudor Place in Georgetown (Photo by: Tudor Place) Tudor Place in Georgetown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Maud Burr Morris, ed., Records of the Columbia Historical Society, (Washington, DC.: Columbia Historical Society, 1932), Vol. 33-34, p. 144.

[2]William A. Gordon, “Recollections of a Boyhood in Georgetown,” Read before the Society, April 18, 1916, Records of the Columbia Historical Society, (Washington, DC: Columbia Historical Society, 1917), Vol. 20, p. 130.

A Lesson in History (Photo by: Tudor Place) A Lesson in History

 


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