Employment Law Issues
Texas employees face more problems than the big employment law issues people think about like wrongful termination, employment discrimination and unpaid wages. Employees around Texas in Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso and other parts of the state have to protect their jobs from other challenges including:
- At-will employment
- Employer background checks
- Non-compete agreements
- Employment contracts
- Severance agreements
- Grievance and appeals processes
- Arbitration agreements
- Worker’s compensation
- Unemployment benefits
- Labor law and union bargaining
Employment lawyers in Texas represent clients in these and other labor and employment law issues. If you believe your employer violated your rights on the job, then you should contact an employment lawyer near you right away.
Texas is an at-will employment state which means unless you work under an employment contract or a union agreement, your ongoing employment has very little protection. In at-will employment, you can quit at any time you want. Your employer can fire you for no reason or any reason not prohibited by law. There are few reasons why your employer cannot fire you, such as retaliation for complaining about unpaid wages or because of an unlawful form of employment discrimination. To prove a claim for wrongful termination you must show your employer fired you in breach of an employment contract or in violation of a statute or public policy.
Employer background checks
Employers often conduct background checks on job applicants that inquire into your criminal record, credit report, housing records and job history. Under federal and Texas law, employers can conduct these background checks; however, there are restrictions on how employers conduct background checks and what they must tell you about them.
Employers may not discriminate unlawfully in their use of background checks during the hiring process. It is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age (over forty), race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability and sex. If the employer conducts a background check for a position, then it should conduct the same check on all applicants for that position. An employer who discriminates in the hiring process can be sued under federal and Texas employment discrimination laws.
If employers use an outside investigation or credit agency to conduct background checks, then they must make you aware of the background check and let you know they will use that information as part of the hiring decision.
Texas law also restricts the extent of criminal background checks. For most jobs earning less than $75,000 annually, the employer may only go back seven years into your criminal background. For jobs paying more the employer may go back to your eighteenth birthday.
In addition to discrimination, employers misusing background checks can cause an applicant to lose out on a job opportunity and have a real financial impact. If you believe an employer misused a background check, then you should talk to an employment lawyer in Texas.
Employers sometimes ask employees to sign non-compete agreements that limit an employee’s ability to start a competing business or work for a competitor. Non-compete agreements give employers protection from employees forming relationships with clients and customers and taking those relationships to another business. They also protect an employer’s trade secrets and market advantages.
An employer may enforce a non-compete agreement against you only if the agreement meets specific Texas law requirements. If the non-compete agreement fails to satisfy state law, then the non-compete agreement is unenforceable even if you voluntarily signed it. It is on the employer to prove the non-compete agreement satisfies state law.
A non-compete agreement can create serious problems for employees who want to leave the employer or join a competitor without considering the non-compete agreement. If you signed a non-compete agreement and plan to leave your employer, then you should talk to a Texas employment lawyer before you leave. Your lawyer can advise you on the enforceability of the contract and how to proceed.
Although most Texas employees work under at-will employment, some employees work under a contract. An employment contract defines the terms of employment and takes the employee out of at-will employment. An employment contract may be a simple or complex agreement. Often there are important provisions worth negotiating, such as compensation and the terms in which both parties can terminate the contract. Employment contracts can, under certain circumstances, agree to eliminate employee rights under federal and Texas law. For this reason, you should talk to an employment lawyer before agreeing to any contract.
Under an employment contract generally an employer cannot simply decide to fire you like they can an at-will employee, unless the contract gives the employer that right. If an employer fails to perform the terms of the contract, then it is in breach of the contract. An employee fired in breach of the contract can sue the employer for wrongful termination and other contractual remedies. If you believe your employer breached your contract by wrongfully terminating you or failing to perform all of the terms of the contract, then you should talk to an employment lawyer right away.
When an employer fires an employee or lays off a group of employees, it may choose to offer severance payments in exchange for agreeing not to pursue claims against it. Severance agreements are not required when an employer terminates your employment; however, if the employer offers severance it must comply with federal and Texas law. The terms of severance agreements are limited by federal and state employment discrimination laws. Additionally, like any contract the agreement is subject to state law on contract agreements.
Before signing a severance agreement you should speak with an employment lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you on the meaning of the terms and explore whether you have claims you should pursue instead of accepting severance. You may have viable employment claims worth substantially more than the severance amount offered. Your employment lawyer may be able to negotiate the amount to avoid the claim.
Grievance and appeals processes
Employees of public employers, unionized workplaces and workers with employment contracts often have grievance or appeals processes as part of their job. These processes may allow the employee to challenge a decision by the employer or an employee may grieve a supervisor over a decision you made. These processes may seem simple on their face although that is often not the case. You may need to present a case that requires you to comply with evidentiary or procedural rules. You may also not know the best way to present your case to the tribunal or hearing officer. These procedures can give you a good opportunity to protect your job so it is important to present a strong case in your favor.
Employment lawyers represent clients in grievance and appeals hearings in addition to other venues like courtrooms and arbitration. By hiring an employment lawyer you give yourself a professional advocate to build and present a strong case on your behalf.
Texas and federal law generally support arbitration agreements, even in most employment settings. Arbitration agreements are agreements to select arbitration as an alternative venue to hear legal claims instead of filing a lawsuit. In Texas an employer can bind you to arbitration to settle disputes as a condition of ongoing employment. No contract is necessary.
Arbitration is a private hearing process similar to a trial but not always as impartial. Your arbitration hearing will take place in front of a private referee. Typically arbitration involves an abbreviated process which can be cheaper but also deprives employees of an opportunity to investigate the employer through discovery. The private “judges” in arbitration may be former judges, attorneys, or industry experts. In many cases arbitrators are pro-business judges or attorneys who represent businesses against employees. Not exactly a fair shake.
If you believe you have a claim against your employer, then you should talk to an employment lawyer. Your employment lawyer will investigate whether an arbitration agreement allegedly exists and consider whether there may be ground to dispute sending your case to arbitration.
Workers’ compensation pays employees for injured suffered at work. Workers’ compensation may pay for medical treatment, lost wages and permanent injuries. Although work comp seems like a straightforward concept, in practice it can be very confusing. There are many rules around how work comp damages are calculated and your employer is incentivized to minimize your claim to avoid an increase in work comp insurance premiums.
In Texas workers’ compensation may be your only remedy for a workplace injury. If your employer, or a co-worker, caused your injury and your employer carries work comp insurance, then your injury claim typically falls within the work comp system. If your employer does not carry work comp insurance or a third party caused your injuries, then you can pursue a personal injury claim.
Whether you have options not to pursue work comp or whether work comp is a better option are not always easy questions to answer. An experienced work comp attorney can investigate your case and advise you on the best course of action.
Under the Texas Labor Code, if your employer terminates you without cause, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits depending upon your length of employment. You may also be eligible if you quit your job for good cause.
Sometimes employers do not contest unemployment claims and you receive an award of unemployment benefits; however, that is not always the case. If your employer challenges that you were fired without cause or that you quit with good cause, then there is a hearing process that may ultimately result in a trial in court. Your employer may also challenge your unemployment claim by lying about the conditions of your employment to argue you are ineligible.
Although the Texas unemployment system is less technical than filing a lawsuit, you may have to present evidence and argue for your position against your employer, who may have hired an attorney. The better your position, the more likely the employer will prepare aggressively to challenge your claim. If your employer challenges your unemployment benefit claim, then you should talk to an employment lawyer about your next step and whether you need counsel for an appeal.
Labor law and union bargaining
Generally, Texas employees enjoy the right to work with their colleagues to improve workplace conditions, join a union and collectively bargain over pay and work conditions. The federal laws that protect your right to join a union and unionize your workplace protect your right from the beginning of a union drive through elections, negotiating agreements and working under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Employers often oppose unionization and in the process may violate your labor law rights. If your employer unlawfully interferes with these rights then you and your coworkers may have claims against your employer under federal labor laws.
If your workplace unionizes, your employer cannot retaliate against you for participating in the union or asserting your rights under a collective bargaining agreement. Violating the CBA can also create claims against your employer. Union workers enjoy different protections under the CBA and labor law generally. Your union may assist you with pursuing these claims but you may want to hire independent counsel to represent you. Often claims against the employer under the CBA or labor law must be pursued through arbitration or another private venue. Your labor lawyer can talk to you about your claim and what process you must follow to pursue it.
Learn more about your employment law rights in Texas
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