What-You-Should-Know-Before-Signing-a-California-Employment-Contract-1.jpg (2149×1159)The best part of job hunting is, without a doubt, receiving a job offer and no longer having to keep job hunting. So, if your job offer comes with an employment contract, the impulse to rush forward, sign and put interviewing in the rearview may be hard to resist. However, you may come to regret that haste, and wish you had taken the time to review (and potentially renegotiate) your employment contract. After all, those few pieces of paper define the terms and expectations of your chosen career.

So, once you’ve put the celebratory champagne on ice, where should you dedicate your attention and what should you know when deciding whether or not to sign?

  1. Understand what a contract is and what it is not. An employment contract is a legally binding document between you and your employer, be it a large corporation or a single individual. This contract will outline your income, how and where you will work, your pathways for professional growth and also assign individual risk and liability. What your contract leaves out is as important as what it actually says.
  2. Don’t forget to pay attention to the details. Make sure to read how the contract defines your job title, responsibilities and place of work. This defines the scope of your responsibilities and what your employer can or cannot require you to do. When job descriptions are vague or overly broad, an employer has the ability to shift the goalposts by asking you to take on unwanted duties. Likewise, if your place of work is not specific, then you may find yourself on thin ice should you object to an employer-ordered transfer to a new location at a later date. And importantly, if working remotely is a possibility, then your contract should reflect this.
  3. Count your hours. A first step is to understand if you are an exempt or nonexempt employee with regards to overtime. Employees who are nonexempt in the state of California are entitled to overtime payments (at 1.5 times their normal rate of pay) for hours worked beyond the 40 hour workweek. Note that exceptions to this rule apply even for nonexempt employees. Regardless of whether you are exempt or nonexempt, you’ll want to check whether your contract specifies that you will work beyond eight hours a day and/or 40 hours a week, or on evenings and weekends. And, if so, are there limits to this requirement? And if you are not entitled to it under California law, will they nevertheless pay overtime? Should a contract simply require you to “work the necessary hours that a job entails,” define what is expected in that statement. If you anticipate that you will need flexible hours, or that you cannot work overtime, it is best to establish that from the outset and in writing.
  4. Consider the entire compensation package. Don’t stop reading after you see the base salary. First, you should be clear on whether your employment will be as an employee or as an independent contractor, as this will affect your tax obligations and benefits. You will also want to know whether the salary listed is gross or if it is post tax deductions (such as income tax, social security and Medicare), whether it is guaranteed or incentive based, and whether health benefits and retirement savings are deducted from the salary. Also, depending on your job, be certain that the contract delineates the expenses that you may responsible for (such as transportation, mandatory continuing education, etc.). If you have to check your email and make calls during business travel, will roaming charges be covered? Or will a dedicated work phone be provided? If you are required to drive to meetings not located at your home office, will gas and depreciation be reimbursed?
  5. Define the mileposts. Words like productivity and promotion can be a bit slippery when you really need to define them. Your employment contract should define productivity (is it billed hours, fees collected, etc.?). And with that in mind, the contract should lay out the specifics of annual pay increases, stepwise salary increases, and profit-sharing, as they may apply.
  6. Plan for the bad times. Although we all hope that our next job is our last job, there’s a chance that you and your employer may part ways. Your contract may stipulate whether you may be terminated for cause or without cause. If you are employed and may be terminated without cause, any party may end the employment without specifying a reason. However, it should be stated that sufficient written notice must be given. And if your employment states that you may be terminated for cause, review the section that lists the reasons for which you may be terminated. Be aware of subjective language like “inappropriate behavior” or “actions that are negative for the business.” Also, if it is not present, you want a clause that gives you a chance to rectify the problem and defines the period of time during which you may do so. In both circumstances, you may want to know whether you are compensated for unused vacation days, whether you are entitled to ownership of any client records or information, and whether a non-compete clause would prevent you from seeking alternate employment in your same industry.

Remember that initial contracts are often worded in the best interest of the employer, and are truly an invitation to negotiate. And while negotiation is strengthened by an awareness of industry-wide employment practices and a firm grasp of your own priorities, the secret to a successful strategy is knowing how and when to make your requests.

Aiman-Smith & Marcy is a California law firm focusing on employment law that provides a knowledgeable, multi-dimensional perspective on issues of employment.

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Lisseth Bayona


Education and Background

I am a Los Angeles native and daughter of Salvadorian immigrants. From an early age, my parents instilled the value of hard work and education in me and my two siblings. Their perseverance enabled each of us to graduate from college and earn professional degrees.

My interest and commitment to workers’ rights have roots in my parents’ experiences as undocumented workers in Los Angeles. Witnessing the challenges they faced inspired me to pursue a career where I can help individuals confronted with similar struggles. To help someone in those moments is very satisfying. I love connecting with people and learning about their stories. I believe that dignity in the workplace is a right of all workers, not a convenience or privilege reserved for employees of a certain race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Legal Experience

I received my J.D. from the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law. While there, I served as a judicial extern to the Honorable Patrick J. Walsh of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where I drafted a criminal judicial opinion. Also, while at Gould, I served as an extern for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. As a Criminal Division Extern, I had the opportunity to work closely with a trial team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys on a money laundering case which further sparked my interest in litigation.

Personal Interests

In my free time, I enjoy urban vegetable gardening, traveling, and spending time with my nephew and niece. I also love to spend time at San Onofre Beach learning to surf, although admittedly, I am not very good.



Hallie L. Von Rock

Attorney (SBN 233152)

Education and Background

I moved to the Bay Area from Washington after graduating high school. I had been accepted to UC Berkeley through a program where I could defer for two years while getting my California residency and attending community college, which was significant since I was paying for college on my own. I began working for Randall Aiman-Smith and Reed Marcy in 1996 as an office manager while taking night classes. My first foray into the legal world was soon after starting at the firm when I was ready to transfer to UC Berkeley. Rather than accepting my resident status, the Board of Regents took the position that California residency required a student to be in California “two calendar years.” Randall and Reed took up my case with the same verve as they helped their actual clients and I got the chance to comb through the UC Berkeley library to read their codes and regulations to support my position. In that experience, I learned what is was like to feel helpless against a big organization and then to have dedicated attorneys in my corner to take up my cause.

After a break to pursue my major in art history, I went to UC Hastings College of Law and continued working with Randall and Reed. Having worked together now for over 25 years, we have a unique ability to work collaboratively and finish each other’s sentences. I have strived throughout my career to make a difference in the lives of our clients. At the end of the day, if I am helping someone to get compensation for losses they suffered, then I know that all the work put into a case has been worth it.

Legal Experience

I have extensive experience in civil litigation and class action cases, including conducting discovery and depositions, calculating damages analysis, preparing motions for certification, writing appellate documents, and overseeing claims administration. We have handled several class actions against retailers where plaintiffs claimed they were forced to purchase clothing to wear to work and were not compensated for these purchases, including against Abercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange, Uniqlo, Dollar Tree, and Ross. Recently, I was trial counsel in a defamation claim against Bank of America on behalf of a former employee who claimed the Bank blacklisted her with future employers. The jury found Bank of America liable, including for punitive damages.

Personal Interests

Aiman-Smith & Marcy has sponsored me in the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon. When I race, I often wear a “Rockstar Ronan” shirt to support research for childhood cancer through The Ronan Thompson Foundation.


University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1999

Hastings College of the Law, University of California, J.D., 2004

Randall Aiman-Smith

Abogado (SBN 124599)

Aiman-Smith & Marcy. Oakland consumer fraud attorneys.

Educación y antecedentes

Fui afortunado. A pesar de no haber terminado la escuela secundaria o la universidad, pude -aunque con mucho trabajo- ser admitido y sobresalir en una de las mejores escuelas de derecho del país: La Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Berkeley. Mientras estuve allí, tuve el privilegio de ser editor de la California Law Review y miembro del Moot Court Board, asesorando en la redacción de escritos y en la defensa de apelaciones a otros estudiantes. Después de salir de la escuela de derecho, en mis primeros años de práctica, enseñé la escritura legal y la defensa de apelación en la Universidad de California, Hastings College of the Law. También, a lo largo de los años, he sido presentador en eventos de educación legal continua.

Experiencia legal

He sido abogado durante 35 años. He dedicado mi práctica exclusivamente a representar a empleados, consumidores e inversores en los tribunales estatales y federales de primera instancia y en los tribunales de apelación. Me gusta ir a los tribunales por mis clientes y he llevado muchos casos con jurado en los tribunales estatales y federales.

¿Ejemplos? En 2010, fui la abogada principal, junto con los otros abogados del bufete, en el caso Williams v. Union Pacific Railroad donde, después de cuatro años de preparación, el bufete obtuvo un veredicto del jurado de 1.670.000 dólares para una empleada afroamericana. En Rivero v. Surdyka, fui el abogado principal en el juicio y la apelación de un caso de derechos civiles que duró 15 años, incluyendo un juicio completo y tres apelaciones al Noveno Circuito, concluyendo finalmente con una sentencia para los demandantes de más de 2.300.000 dólares. Estos casos ilustran el lema del bufete: compromiso – resultados. Hay que comprometerse con un caso, a veces durante mucho tiempo, para obtener el resultado que el cliente merece.

No siempre ganamos en el juicio. Cuando eso ocurre, el compromiso significa llevar el caso al siguiente nivel y recurrirlo. En el caso Rivero, antes mencionado, eso fue lo que ocurrió: el tribunal desestimó el caso -habíamos perdido- pero apelamos y conseguimos una victoria para nuestros clientes que mantuvimos a través de dos apelaciones más. Desde entonces, el bufete ha conseguido muchas victorias en apelación que reivindican los derechos de los empleados y los consumidores.

A lo largo de los años he sido abogado de los demandantes en numerosos casos individuales y acciones colectivas. Puede sonar cursi, o difícil de creer, pero después de todo este tiempo, y después de todas las grandes experiencias que he tenido, mi parte favorita de ser abogado es cuando consigo dar un cheque a mi cliente.



Facultad de Derecho, Universidad de California, Berkeley, J.D., 1986