Articles Posted in Employee Rights

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. 

fadi-yousefWhat does it really mean to be an “at will” employee in Texas? You’ve certainly heard of this term often. In the next few paragraphs, I will talk about what that term really means in the eyes of the law and how it impacts you, and I’ll also discuss the exceptions to at will employment.

The first thing you should know is that Texas is an “at will” employment state. At will employment simply means that your employer can fire you at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. That actually includes false, malicious, unfair, or unethical reasons, as long as those reasons aren’t illegal, or in violation of a contract (we’ll discuss below). At the same time, it also means that you, the employee, can quit your job at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. But what if your employer required you to give two weeks’ notice before you quit; does that mean you’re not an at will employee? In general, if your employer requires two weeks’ notice before you quit but reserves the right to fire you without notice, then your employment is likely still at will. This means if you quit without notice, you may be violating your employer’s policy, but not any law or contract.

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20201124_104652-203x300For an employee in Texas there are very few protections because Texas is an at-will employment state. An employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason, and it is protected under Texas state law. The only thing an employer cannot do is terminate someone or take an adverse action against them for an illegal reason where their motivation is based on an employee’s protected characteristic. On that backdrop, it would seem that an employee has no recourse against an employer who is treating employees poorly, but not illegally. However, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) does more than protect unions, it also creates an avenue for employees to raise concerns about the terms and conditions of their employment. The NLRA was meant as a way for workers to advocate for themselves, which most of the time takes the form of creating a union, but the protection is not limited to union members. Section 7 (aptly named “Rights of Employees”) states that “employees shall have the right…to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”  This provision is given teeth by a later section which states that things like an employer’s interference with or restraint of these Section 7 rights is an unfair labor practice. The NLRA even created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is an independent Federal agency that operates to enforce these provisions. Based on this history and structure, the NLRA gives employees a toolbox that can be used to approach an employer about their employment and have that activity protected by law. 

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austin-campbellUsually when your employer has done something illegal to you, it hits you directly in the pocketbook.  For example, maybe your employer illegally denied you an earned bonus, failed to pay overtime you were owed, or fired you in retaliation for a protected complaint.  Often that loss of income can put you as the employee in a precarious financial position.  Unfortunately, you might have no choice but to declare bankruptcy.  

The intersection between employment law and bankruptcy law can be complex and unintuitive; a full explanation of it is beyond the scope of this article.  However, bankruptcy can impose legal—not just financial—barriers on your ability to protect your rights as an employee.  This article is meant to put employees on notice of some steps they can take in a bankruptcy situation, to reduce the chance of losing their ability to vindicate their rights and recoup their economic losses.   

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fadi-yousef“Hostile work environment” and “harassment” are probably two of the most common terms I hear in my everyday practice. Both terms are generally interchangeable under the law and mean the same thing. Workplace harassment takes different forms such as being subjected to yelling, bullying, intimidation, ridicule, belittlement, false accusations, and profanity. Because Texas is an at-will employment state, however, not every harassment is illegal. In fact, most forms of harassment are legal.

There are a few requirements for the harassment to be illegal. First, it must be discriminatory—meaning that it must be based on a protected characteristic, like race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. If the motive behind the harassment is something else that is not protected, like personal hatred or big egos, then the harassment, no matter how awful, is not illegal (with a very narrow exception discussed below).

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20201124_104652-203x300The weather is getting colder and nationally, the United States is experiencing a new spike in COVID-19 cases. The country is trying to jump multiple hurdles all at the same time and one of them happens to be dealing with the new increase in people contracting the virus. Thankfully, the legislation that dealt with the first wave of the virus is still here to help supply leave due to sickness. The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” or FFCRA provides relief to anyone who falls ill because of COVID-19 between now and December 31, 2020 when the Act expires. This short window of application may be extended or replaced by further legislation, but whether that will occur before the deadline passes is unclear. However, it is still worthwhile to examine what mechanisms are in place to deal with sick leave currently. One mechanism that Congress added as part of the FFCRA is the “Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act” or EPSLA. EPSLA gives paid sick leave to certain employees if they fall ill or are caring for someone who falls ill from COVID-19. To determine whether EPSLA covers you, we have to ask 4 main questions: 1) Are you an employee who EPSLA covers; 2) Is your employer required to give you paid sick leave under EPSLA; 3) How much leave can you take and what does that leave look like; and 4) What are your options if you think your employer is violating EPSLA. Each question will be addressed in turn.

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rasha-zeyadehFalse imprisonment is the wrongful restraint, confinement or detainment of a person without that person’s consent. False imprisonment is a crime and can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the imprisonment. Additionally, false imprisonment is a common law tort and can arise in the employment context. To successfully sue your employer for false imprisonment, you must show:

  1. 1. you were detained, confined, or restrained against your will by your employer in the workplace; 
  2. 2. you did not consent to being detained; and
  3. 3. the detention was unreasonable or unlawful.

In order to show that you were detained, confined or restrained against your will, you must show that there was an impediment to your freedom. In other words, you must prove that your employer prevented you from leaving the room or area in which you were confined. Common examples of an employer confining an employee include, locking the door or placing someone or something at the door to block the exit. Keep in mind, however, that you must be completely confined in order for your employer’s action to qualify as false imprisonment. For instance, blocking your ability to exit the room in one direction is not enough. If there is another reasonable way to exit the room heading in a different direction, then false imprisonment has not occurred. 

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20201124_104652-203x300As the country heads into the second half of fall fraught with holiday breaks and the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 on the horizon, child-care concerns remain prevalent. The holiday season brings vast uncertainty about school closings and the availability of other childcare options, normally, but this year that uncertainty is ratcheted up by adding in COVID-19. Therefore, it seems appropriate to discuss the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and how it could help some employees navigate the season as our country continues to slog through this pandemic. The FFCRA was passed in mid-March of 2020 to try and provide relief to employees. This aid was partly carried out through the “Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act” or “expansion act,” which expands the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to allow for some employees to take leave to care for their children. Below, there is a brief discussion on who gets to take this new child-care leave, how this new child-care leave operates, and what that means for employees who are attempting to take advantage of the new provisions.

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deontae-wherryThe False Claims Act (FCA) is a longstanding federal statute that was originally enacted to combat defense contractors who committed fraud against the federal government during the Civil War. Since the 1860s, the FCA has been revised and has become an authoritative tool to prevent fraud committed against the federal government. Understanding the federal government cannot know every individual or company who knowingly submit fraudulent claims, the FCA’s whistleblower provision allows individuals and employees to bring a qui tam action on behalf of the government.

Since 1986, after Congress strengthened the FCA, the government has recovered more than $62 billion in civil false claims. According to the Department of Justice, the government collected more than $3 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud and false claims against the government in the fiscal year 2019. Moreover, during the 2019 fiscal year, the government paid out more than $265 million to individuals, like you, who exposed fraud and filed qui tam actions. With these significant payouts, there is no reason to remain silent if you know your employer is defrauding the federal government.

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fadi-yousefWorkers’ compensation is a form of insurance that pays for wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured on the job or in the course of employment. Texas is a unique state that makes workers’ compensation voluntary for employers. For that reason, most private employers in Texas may choose to affirmatively “opt-out” of the state workers’ compensation system. Those who “opt-in” are called “subscribers” and those who “opt-out” are called “non-subscribers.”

In Texas, workers’ compensation retaliation is governed by Chapter 451 of the Texas Labor Code. Thus, a claim for retaliation is commonly known as a Chapter 451 claim. Chapter 451 makes it illegal for employers to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against an employee because the employee has:

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