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Labor and Employment

Good business sense combined with good people sense is perhaps the best way to describe our approach to labor and employment law at Varnum

Our labor and employment attorneys understand the importance of human resource management and development in your business strategy. We have built a practice that responds quickly to your needs, looks for practical, cost-effective business solutions, and holds to sound human resource principles.

With one of the most experienced labor and employment practices in the region, Varnum has extensive knowledge in all areas of labor law and employer/employee relations. Clients range from large corporations and universities to small retailers and service firms – public, private, union and nonunion employers – throughout the Midwest and across the country.

Employment Litigation Defense

Varnum has handled employment litigation matters for a broad range of employers, from local businesses and institutions to Fortune 100 companies throughout the country. We are experienced in defending our clients against the full spectrum of employment cases, from individual plaintiff claims to class actions, and are familiar with all phases of the litigation process, from the pretrial and trial stages through the appellate processes that may include Supreme Court review.


Varnum’s employment litigation attorneys possess comprehensive experience in all areas of employment law, including:

  • Breach of contract
  • Defamation
  • Discrimination based on race, age, sex, national origin, religion, disability, marital status, height, weight or other protected characteristic
  • Enforcement and drafting of pre-dispute arbitration agreements
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Negligent hiring
  • Negligent job evaluation
  • Noncompetition covenants
  • Retiree health insurance
  • Tortious interference with contractual relations
  • Unlawful harassment investigations and litigation
  • Unemployment
  • Wage and hour issues
  • Whistleblowers’ Protection Act
  • Workplace violence
  • Wrongful discharge

Union Negotiations

The labor practice at Varnum is one of the most experienced in the Midwest in the area of traditional labor work. Varnum attorneys have worked for many years with leading companies in Michigan and throughout the country to manage their complex relationships with labor unions such as:

  • UAW
  • Teamsters
  • International Association of Machinists
  • Steel Workers
  • Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE)
  • Operating Engineers
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
  • Michigan Nurses Association
  • IUE-CWA (Electronic, electrical, machine, furniture and communication workers)
  • AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees)

Over time, Varnum has established a strong reputation for fairness and integrity with the leadership of these organizations. Whether at the bargaining table or at a grievance hearing, that reputation enables Varnum attorneys to be very effective in representing an employer’s interests.

Varnum attorneys have also worked to establish strong working relationships with courts and regulatory authorities that oversee labor relations, such as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In fact, two of our partners were recently considered for presidential appointment to the NLRB’s highest decision-making body.

Working relationships with these agencies based on mutual respect can be as important as knowledge of the law in ensuring that Varnum clients receive a fair hearing.

Wage and Hour Law

In the past several years, the number of wage-hour cases filed in federal and state courts has skyrocketed, even as the number of other types of employment cases filed has declined. The penalties assessed against employers, including unpaid wages, double damages and attorneys’ fees, has also risen dramatically. Given this increased threat of litigation, the high price it brings, and ongoing changes in federal and state laws and regulations, wage and hour compliance has become a crucial issue for Michigan employers.

Wage and Hour Compliance

By providing employers with proactive advice and recommendations, Varnum’s wage and hour attorneys offer clients the tools they need to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in order to avoid costly lawsuits. We counsel clients on how to avoid wage-hour liability through a wide range of methods, including:

  • Comprehensive wage-hour audits
  • Drafting appropriate policies on time recording and record keeping
  • Verifying that overtime is properly recorded and calculated correctly
  • Determining which activities must be counted as “hours worked” under the law
  • Reviewing job descriptions and duties to determine which employees are exempt from overtime pay
  • Determining appropriate classification of independent contractors
  • Assessing litigation threats

If litigation cannot be avoided, we have extensive experience representing employers in both single-plaintiff cases and large wage-hour class and collective action lawsuits. Varnum’s wage and hour attorneys have successfully represented clients in cases alleging failure to pay the minimum wage, failure to pay for overtime, failure to pay for “donning and doffing” time, failure to pay for off-the-clock work, retaliation for wage-hour complaints, and improper classification of employees as exempt or as independent contractors.

Our clients are from such diverse industries as:

  • Retail
  • Food processing
  • Health care
  • Agriculture
  • Energy
  • Manufacturing
  • Trucking
  • Technical education
  • Internet services

Workers’ Compensation Defense

Navigating workers’ compensation law can be like trying to find your way through a strange city without a map. Varnum offers the counsel and representation you need to negotiate the twists and turns.

Our attorneys and consultants provide aggressive, cost-effective solutions to private and public employers, as well as to insured and self-insured entities. Our workers’ compensation services range from managing contested cases to assessing cost-containment methods.

Other services include:

  • Representing employer interests in administrative hearings and trials
  • Pursuing appeals at all levels of the state court system
  • Answering questions about commercial carrier insurance coverage and settlements
  • Helping clients attain self-insured status
  • Advising clients on the benefits and risks of self-insurance

Workplace Safety and Health/MIOSHA

Fatality investigations, enforcement appeals and compliance strategies are all part of Varnum’s occupational safety and health practice. Clients benefit from the strong working relationships Varnum attorneys have developed with OSHA and MIOSHA regulators.

Unique to Varnum is the way in which the firm cross-staffs its occupational health and safety practice with the firm’s environmental practice. This model grows from the reality that our clients often integrate these functions within their operations; Varnum’s team approach is geared to match the needs of the client.

With the thousands of statutory and regulatory rules that govern workplace safety, Varnum attorneys are active in local and national occupational and health groups so they can remain up to date on emerging trends and issues.

“Varnum has guided us through challenging labor issues across the United States, from state issues to DOL issues. We value their advice.”

CFO, industrial manufacturer

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