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Employment relationship

State-specific laws
What state-specific laws govern the employment relationship?

Generally, D.C. laws mirror federal laws regarding the employment relationship: common law at-will employment rules govern. The main D.C. laws that govern the employment relationship are D.C. Code Ann. § 32- 101 and D.C. Code Ann. § 32-1671.

Who do these cover, including categories of workers?

All workers are covered, except workers employed under a contract for a specific period or exempt from the at-will employment rules.

Are there state-specific rules regarding employee/contractor misclassification?

In D.C., four factors are considered in determining a worker’s status:

  • selection and engagement of the worker;
  • method of payment of compensation;
  • power of the service recipient over the worker; and
  • whether the service performed by the worker is a part of the regular business of the service recipient.

In 2013 the D.C. Council enacted the Workplace Fraud Act, partly to deter the perceived misclassification of independent contractors in the construction industry (D.C. Code Ann. § 32-1331.02):

The act presumes an employer-employee relationship exists, unless an employer demonstrates that the worker is an exempt person or an independent contractor (Id. § 32-1331.04).
The act requires employers to maintain records of the following for at least three years:

  • name, address, occupation and classification of employees, exempt persons or independent contractors;
  • each individual’s pay rate and method of payment;
  • each individual’s classification;
  • amount paid to each individual;
  • hours worked by each individual per day and working week; and
  • for individuals not classified as employees, evidence that they are exempt or independent contractors (or employees thereof) (Id. § 32-1331.12).

The act imposes penalties for violations ranging form $1,000 to $20,000, as well as possible stop-work orders and a requirement to pay restitution (Id. § 32-1331.07).

Must an employment contract be in writing?

An employment contract need not be in writing, unless the term of employment exceeds one year.

Are any terms implied into employment contracts?

The general common law expectation of implied duty of good faith and fair dealing is always applicable where employment is not an at-will relationship. Employee handbooks, oral promises, and established company policies may potentially constitute contracts between an employee and employer.

Are mandatory arbitration agreements enforceable?

D.C. enforces mandatory arbitration agreements (D.C. Code Ann. § 16-4406). Under D.C. law, arbitration is predicated on the consent of the parties to a dispute, and the courts determine whether the parties have consented to arbitrate a matter based on the contract between the parties. There must be a “meeting of the minds” as to all material terms to have an enforceable contract. Although a written contract is not required to enforce arbitration, D.C. employers implementing a mandatory arbitration program should have all employees acknowledge its receipt and intention to be bound by the agreement in a formal manner. 

How can employers make changes to existing employment agreements?

As with any contract, the parties must mutually agree to any changes made to existing employment contracts.