Celebrating 20 years of representing Dallas employees, including Rasha Zeyadeh, Deontae Wherry, Fadi Yousef, Clara Mann*, Kalandra Wheeler, Jeannie Buckingham*, Austin Campbell, Julie St. John, Colin Walsh, and Jairo Castellanos. *Indicates non-lawyer staff.

Dallas Employment Lawyer Fadi Yousef

Dallas Employment Lawyer Fadi Yousef

In recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has invaded virtually every industry, from technology on your phone, to cameras at your city’s traffic lights, to drones used by the military. Employment and hiring practices are not exceptions.

AI systems are created by humans and then learn on their own by analyzing data. Over time, an AI system is supposed to improve its efficiency and results. In the employment context, AI is used in most steps of the hiring process, including advertising for the job, scanning resumes and job applications, selecting applicants for interviews, and even analyzing applicants’ facial expressions and behavior during recorded interviews.

Employment Lawyer Rasha Zeyadeh

Rasha Zeyadeh

In an unsurprising turn of events, the State of Texas is ending its participation in the federal pandemic unemployment benefit programs early. Jobless Texans will lose access to federal unemployment aid, including a $300 per week supplemental benefit effective June 26, 2021, three months prior to the federal expiration of the programs. More than a million Texans will be impacted when the State stops receiving unemployment benefits under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The final benefit week that the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) will pay federal pandemic unemployment benefits under the ARPA is the benefit week ending June 26, 2021.

This decision will end the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for those who traditionally do not qualify for regular state benefits, such as self-employed and independent contractors, or exhausted all other benefits; Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program (PEUC) that extends regular state benefits; and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program (FPUC), which provides an additional $300 weekly benefit payment. These programs were created with the CARES Act and were recently extended under the ARPA. However, the caveat is they require the governor’s approval. In other words, if the governor of your state rejects these benefits, you are unable to access them. To no surprise, following pressure from business groups, Governor Greg Abbott declared that Texas will no longer receive any federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits effective June 26, 2021. 

Paige Melendez

Dallas Employment Lawyer Paige Melendez

A common misconception in employment law is that to be a plaintiff you must have been or are a model employee. This myth prevents many potential plaintiffs from pursuing action against their employers. My aim in this article is to address this misconception and hopefully dispel it.  

In its simplest form, employment law boils down to a three-step process: 1) there is discrimination or retaliation, 2) this discrimination or retaliation is because of a protected characteristic or protected activity and 3) an adverse action was taken against the employee as a result. Within this framework there are little details and deviations that cannot be ignored. However, in its simplicity it also showcases how the law does not expect perfection. 

Austin Campbell

Austin Campbell

Many employees may be unsure what to do if they discover they have been treated unlawfully by their employer.  Going straight into a lawsuit can be a scary step, and is not always the right one.  If you thought “there must be some government agency that can investigate and fix what happened,” often you would be right.  However, that is not always the case, and sometimes the existence of that agency can complicate things.  This article gives a basic overview of the “exhaustion of administrative remedies,” so that if you find yourself in that situation, you might know to avoid some pitfalls in the law and take advantage of opportunities to right how you were wronged.  

Not all employment laws are created equal.  Some, like the laws that prohibit things like sex, race, or age discrimination, are “administered” by agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Texas Workforce Commission—Civil Rights Division (for equivalent Texas laws).  That means that you can file a complaint with those agencies to be investigated and (ideally) resolved before any lawsuit needs to be filed.  Similarly, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration administers OSH Act retaliation claims, the Department of Labor administers unpaid overtime claims, and the National Labor Relations Board administers claims (like for anti-union activities) under the National Labor Relations Act.  There are lots of agencies like those.    

Austin Campbell

Austin Campbell

Wage theft—when employers fail to pay their employees the amounts they are legally required to for the work their employees perform—is by some estimates more common than all forms of robbery combined. Ross Eisenbrey, Wage Theft Is a Bigger Problem than Other Theft – But Not Enough Is Done to Protect Workers, Econ. Pol’y Inst. (Apr. 2, 2014), available at http://www.epi.org/publication/wage-theft-bigger-problem-theft-protect [https://perma.cc/E6FY-F992]. A significant part of that is unpaid overtime in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

Given the magnitude of the problem and the limited resources of the U.S. Department of Labor, the burden is often on you as the employee to sue and prove that you are owed overtime pay, as well as how much you are owed. The FLSA requires employers to keep records of employees’ wages and hours, but does not allow an employee to sue employer just for failing to keep proper records. Thus, often—especially in situations where your employer is illegally treating you as a salaried employee to avoid paying you overtime altogether—you can have a hard time even figuring out what you are actually owed.

Austin CampbellIncreasingly, employers in Texas have been inserting what might be called “liquidated damages” clauses into employment agreements like non-competes or severance agreements. At a basic level, a liquidated damages clause is an agreement that a party to a contract will pay a specific amount if they breach some part of the contract.

There is such thing as a proper liquidated damages clause, and there are situations (especially in commercial contracts) where clauses like that are appropriate. However, when used in the employment context often they can be wildly inappropriate, and may even cross the line into being penalty clauses that you might then have to fight to overturn. Employers may even try to demand that you agree that these damages are reasonable and not a penalty, even when that is not true. The purpose of this article is to give employees a basic idea of the things they should look out for—at least, when it comes to “liquidated damages”—before signing a contract with their employer

Generally, in a lawsuit over breach of a contract the party that breached the agreement does not have to pay any more than the amount of harm they actually caused the other side. Usually the parties would need to fight over exactly what that number would be as part of the lawsuit. But in Texas, if that number would be difficult or impossible to estimate, parties to a contract are allowed to agree to a “reasonable forecast” of those damages, just in case one party does breach the agreement. To put it another way, in situations where it would probably be prohibitively expensive or flat out impossible to put an exact dollar value on how much a party would be harmed by a breach of contract, the parties can negotiate “just compensation” ahead of time. A proper liquidated damages clause should make it so the parties do not need to argue over their actual damages at all, rather than piling on top of actual damages.

Employment Lawyer Rasha Zeyadeh

Rasha Zeyadeh

Section 9501 of the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) fully funds COBRA health insurance plan payments for qualifying individuals between the dates of April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021. This benefit is funded by the employers who will then receive a tax credit to offset the cost of COBRA coverage. Notably, the benefit is not available to employees who voluntarily quit their job or who were terminated on the basis of “gross misconduct,” and the 18- and 36-month limit to coverage still apply. 

Before the world of COVID-19, nearly all employees who separated from their jobs had the option of electing to remain on their employee-sponsored health insurance by enrolling in a COBRA plan. I say “nearly all employee” because COBRA is only available to employee who worked for a company that employs 20 or more employees. However, Texas has passed its own version of COBRA known as “mini-COBRA,” which applies to businesses with fewer than 20 employees and only provides 9 months of coverage. 

On March 11, 2021, President Biden Signed the American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) into law. The ARPA extends the unemployment benefits that were available under the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) and the December 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, (both of which were set to expire after March 14, 2021) through September 6, 2021. 

To reap the benefits of the ARPA, you must meet your state’s eligibility requirements. In the state of Texas, if COVID-19 is the only reason you cannot work, you are considered able to work according to the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”). Hence, in order to remain eligible for benefits, you must be able and available to work and search for work as instructed by the TWC. Unless you are exempt, the number of work search activities you must complete and report each week is determined by your county of residence. 

However, according to the TWC, each benefits case is evaluated on an individual basis. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TWC has compiled a list of reasons benefits would be granted even if you refuse suitable work. Among those reasons are if you are 65 years or older, and/or have a medical condition, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or a weakened immune system, or at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19, and/or if someone in your household is at high risk for contracting COVID-19. 

Top10Blog-PostMost Federal employees enjoy an entire administrative regime dedicated to vindicating their unique rights. Out of this regime there are three big enforcement mechanisms that come to mind: Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) offices, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). These three agencies are often entangled together, but each of them is dedicated in some way to addressing PPPs or prohibited personnel practices. A PPP is exactly what the name implies: certain practices in a Federal workplace that are unallowed under the law. The law lists out about 14 things which qualify as “prohibited.” It is important to note, however, that not all Federal employees can find relief through reporting these practices. Employees of local or state governments, uniformed military members, people who work in Congress or for the courts, United States Postal Service employees (except in specific situations), and finally employees of the FBI and CIA are not covered. The list of who is not covered is more expansive, than what is listed above, but those are the ones that may be the most relevant to the general body of Federal employees. To get a better idea of what the different PPPs are and how they would function, below are brief illustrations of the main PPPs using Official, an agency official in a supervisory capacity, C a favored employee, and D a non-favored employee.

First, there is a PPP that prohibits discrimination based on protected characteristics under federal law. This PPP tracks Title VII for the most part, but also adds in marital status and political affiliation to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability. Discrimination PPPs are handled primarily through a Federal agency’s EEO office, but the Office of Special Counsel may step in if the discrimination is based on marital status or political affiliation. Adversity based on political affiliation is also covered in a different PPP. For example, if Official attempted to influence D to hand out flyers for a specific political candidate or decided not to promote D because she refused to hand out flyers, it would be considered a separate PPP from discrimination based on political affiliation. 

There are also four PPPs that have to do with violations of the merit systems that civil service is based off of. Things like considering a recommendation that was made by someone else outside of the agency. For example, if Official heard from Friend that C would be a good fit for the job and hires C based off of what Friend told him and not through his personal assessment – it is considered a PPP. Likewise if Official decided to give D an artificially low rating so that she would not be eligible for promotion, the Official would be considered to be “obstructing competition.” Official would also commit a PPP if he approached D and told her she should not apply for the promotion to remove her from competition because Official knew C was applying for the same job. In that same vein, Official could also not change the requirements for that promotion to give C an unauthorized advantage. Finally, if Official’s daughter were to apply to a position in his agency, Official could not hire her because she’s his daughter. This would also apply if Official called up his friend at another agency and attempted to influence the other agency to hire his daughter. 

rasha-zeyadehCOVID-19, virtual learning, social distancing, unemployment, civil unrest, the election cycle, and the winter apocalypse. What a decade. Right now more than ever, we need to hold tight to the concept of empathy. As we react to our individual challenges, it is important that we acknowledge and understand the challenges faced by others. We do not have to agree with one another. We do not have to embrace the same feelings or share the same perspective. We simply need to be there for each other during a time that requires isolation and physical distancing. 

Within a matter of weeks, our world changed dramatically. Millions of children across the United States began their Spring Break with travel plans ahead, only for those plans to be cancelled and Spring Break to be extended well into the summer. Americans went into complete isolation. Nursing homes went on complete lockdown. Celebrations and vacations were cancelled. We have been urged to remain distant and isolated. We must wear a mask or be denied service. We are living in a unique time that presents unique challenges.  

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