Employment law was hot before COVID-19. Now that corner of the legal world sizzles.
If an employee does not want to (or cannot) return to the workplace — because of high risk for the coronavirus, say, or the need to care for a young child who is doing fully remote learning — can he or she be fired?
How enforceable is a waiver acknowledging workplace risks during the pandemic? What about non-compete clauses, at a time when it is so difficult to find any work at all?
You — business owners, workers, everyone — have questions. Saluck, Halper & Lehrman have answers.
The new law firm was launched recently by 3 Westport and Weston women. They represent businesses and employees in all areas of employment law. But as a historic pandemic rages, they spend most of their time on COVID-related cases.
It’s not easy. The issues — and laws, and precedents — change daily. But Jill Saluck, Jill Halper and Randi Lehrman are the right attorneys, at the right time.
None grew up around here. They all moved to Westport with their husbands and children, and became friends. They paused their legal careers, to raise families. As their kids grew, they decided to rejoin the workforce.
And to represent it.
“Employment law has been extremely relevant the past few years, because of the focus on #MeToo and sexual harassment,” says Halper. (If her name sounds familiar, it’s because her husband is 1979 Staples High School graduate David Halper. His mother, artist Roe Halper, still works and teaches in the same house where she raised David.)
Now it’s even more far-reaching. The coronavirus impacts nearly every aspect of employment law: disability rights, family medical leave, OSHA and workplace safety, unemployment, discrimination based on age and pregnancy, and much more.
“This is far more complex than anything I’ve dealt with before,” Halper says.
For example, the firm — with offices in Westport and White Plains — has worked with a private school, as it prepared to reopen. Among the questions: Are teachers “essential workers”? Which safeguards are absolutely necessary, and which are merely important? How do sick leave policies work during a pandemic?
“This is all uncharted territory,” Halper says. “It’s new for employers, for employees, and for all of us. And the federal and state mandates change every day.”
In early spring, most of the questions she and her colleagues fielded involved unemployment: qualifications for benefits, denials of appeal — that sort of thing. Employers and employees wondered about furloughs — a term many had never heard.
These days, Halper says, the focus has shifted to reopening, and the return to work.
There are contract law questions too. For instance: If a construction project or consulting contract can’t be completed because of COVID, is a “force majeure” clause in place? If so, does a pandemic qualify as an “unforeseen circumstance”?
Each of the 3 brings a different strength to SHL. Lehrman is an excellent litigator. Saluck is a strong writer and researcher. Halper calls herself “a good negotiator.”
Though the partners are all women — in a field where law firms often seem dominated by men — they downplay their gender.
“We are just 3 people doing something entrepreneurial,” Halper says. Still, she admits, “it’s good to be role models for our daughters. And sons.”