Employment
Monday, 01 July 2013 14:47

The Perils of Equity-Based Compensation

Employers frequently want to attract new, super-talented management to an existing Company, or potentially worse, have already promised to give one or more trusted and loyal current employees equity as part of their compensation package as soon as the time is right.  Unfortunately, this is easier said than safely done. 

Clearly, equity can be a powerful, seemingly low-cost form of compensation and motivation.  Having your most valued employees vested in something beyond their pay check certainly seems like a fine idea.  If the Company does well, the employee shares in that growth in the form of annual distributions or a buy-out upon death, disability, retirement or other termination of employment.  So, what do I have against such an idea?

Monday, 06 May 2013 14:08

Rules Applicable to Summer Internships

With summer just around the corner, employers are inundated with requests by students for summer internships. If your company offers such opportunities, taking a few moments to review the applicable regulations will help assure that the program complies with the law.

It goes without saying that a paid intern is an employee and subject to all applicable state and federal employment laws including those pertaining to minimum wage and overtime. Even if the internship is unpaid, failure to follow Department of Labor guidelines could lead to legal liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Department of Labor Guidelines

The Fair Labor Standards Act (the FLSA) provides, of course, that individuals in an employment relationship must be paid for services performed. When is an unpaid intern an employee? According to guidelines published by the Department of Labor, if the following factors are met, there is no employment relationship and the intern need not be paid:

The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of this intern;

The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If all of these factors are met, the Department of Labor will conclude that an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA. In such circumstances, minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern.

Different rules apply for governmental agencies and non-profit organizations. Internships offered by governmental agencies, private non-profit food banks and non-profit organizations providing religious, charitable, civic, or humanitarian services are generally permissible so long as the intern volunteers his or her time freely and without anticipation of compensation.

A permissible unpaid internship will include some or all of these features:

  1. It is structured around a classroom experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations;
  2. Academic credit is offered by a sponsoring institution;
  3. The internship provides the intern with skills that can be used in multiple employment settings as opposed to specific training in the employer’s operations;
  4. The intern does not perform the routine work of the employer;
  5. The employer is not dependent upon the work of the intern;
  6. Job shadowing opportunities that allow an intern to learn certain functions under the close and constant supervision of regular employees, but the intern performs no or minimal work.
  7. The internship is of a fixed duration established at the outset of the internship.

Factors which indicate an employment relationship (and trigger the requirement to pay wages) include:

  1. The intern is engaged in the operations of the employer;
  2. The intern is performing productive work such as, for example, filing, clerical work or assisting customers;
  3. The employer uses interns in lieu of hiring additional employees or offering more hours to existing employees;
  4. The intern receives the same level of supervision as other employees;
  5. The intern is offered employment to begin immediately upon the conclusion of the internship, effectively transforming the “internship” into a trial period of employment.

Summer internships, paid or unpaid, provide valuable experience to students. Employers need only exercise some caution is structuring the internship to avoid running afoul of DOL regulations. The DOL Fact Sheet on summer internships is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm


Restrictions against competition are frequently included in employment agreements and agreements for the sale of business assets or stock.  The restriction against competition is designed to secure a time period for the employer or buyer of business assets, as the case may be, during which the employer/buyer is free from competition for a departed employee or seller so as to facilitate the transition and better protect their own business assets and customer relationships.  If properly drafted and implemented, restrictions against competition are enforceable under Pennsylvania law.

The primary method of enforcement in the event of breach is a preliminary injunction in equity.  In order to prevail on a petition for preliminary injunction, a petitioner must demonstrate several factors including (1) the need to prevent irreparable harm which cannot be compensated by money damages, (2) that more harm will result from the denial of the preliminary injunction than from granting same, (3) that the injunction will restore the parties to the status quo, (4) the likelihood of success on the merits, (5) that the injunction is designed to abate the offending activity, and (6) that the injunction will not negatively impact public policy.   In most cases the issues of likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable harm incapable of compensation with money damages represent the contested issues.

In Bucks County, the petition for preliminary injunction must be accompanied by a verified complaint and an order for hearing.  The petition is often, though not always, heard by the initial pre-trial judge assigned to the case at the time of filing.  Court administration reviews all petitions for preliminary injunction and assigns the presiding judge, courtroom and date for evidence to be taken.  The order for hearing is an essential aspect of the petition; without it, no hearing will be scheduled.

The petitioner in any injunction matter bears a heavy burden.  Adequate evidence as to the need for enforcement of the covenant, the potential irreparable harm and right to relief must be presented.  Because the entry of injunctive relief is an extraordinary remedy, the evidence must be clear and persuasive.  In employment and business asset transfer cases, the language of the restriction in the applicable agreements must be constrained to those aspects of competition which are reasonably necessary for the protection of the employer/buyer.  For example, a covenant which is overbroad in terms of geography, time or scope will not be enforced.

Preliminary injunctive relief may be acquired in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas if supported by the underlying agreement and if properly perfected under the practices and procedures employed in the County.

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