Articles Posted in Workers’ Rights

When employees are involved in an actual or perceived workplace conflict, such as a claim of employment discrimination, employers will often conduct an internal investigation in order to protect their own interests. Although workplace investigations can bolster an employee’s claim in some cases, these investigations can also be very detrimental. In certain situations, an internal investigation can hurt an employee if they are being falsely accused of certain conduct or if their allegations are being ignored.

Magnifying GlassMany times, employers do not properly conduct workplace investigations because they do not effectively plan the investigation, they ignore complaints, or they wait too long to conduct the investigation. Furthermore, employers may also lose their sense of objectivity, become aggressive, or fail to keep proper records of their investigation. It is very important that employees have appropriate support and assistance during these investigations, since the outcome can have a lasting impact on their professional and personal lives.

When an employee is asked to participate in or attend a workplace investigation, it is important that they have a Dallas employment attorney assist them through the process. Many employers will try and minimize the significance of the investigation in an attempt to get the employee to participate in the process without an attorney.

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clockStudies have found that employers underpaying workers is a huge problem in America. Texas is not immune from this problem. From 2014 to July 2017, $29.5 million in back pay was awarded to workers under the Texas Payday Law. However, this figure may not represent what’s truly owed. It doesn’t include back pay owed to workers who don’t realize they’ve been shorted, or who are undocumented and are afraid to involve the government for fear of deportation or other retaliation.

From January 2014 – July 2017, there were 42,788 complaints filed under Texas law. Eight hundred employers were assessed bad-faith penalties of $1.17 million for knowing underpayment of workers. Under Texas law, individual penalties cannot be more than the lesser of $1,000 or unpaid wages.

Sometimes Texas employers require or encourage workers to do work “off the clock.” This is work that isn’t compensated and isn’t tallied as part of your weekly hours when calculating overtime. Off-the-clock work may be illegal. Assuming you are a nonexempt employee, the time you spend doing things for your employer is supposed to be compensated. However, in some cases, employees do not realize this. They may volunteer to do work off the clock so that they seem appropriately enthusiastic about their careers, or simply because they enjoy working.

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waiterWaiters and bartenders are among the least compensated people in the nation. Their median hourly wage is $9.61 each hour. Under the Obama Administration’s 2011 regulations, their tips are their property. These regulations prevent an employer from using the tips for any reasons other than as a credit against its usual obligation to pay its employees minimum wage or in order to create a valid tip pool. Valid tip pools are sharing arrangements among employees who customarily get tips, like wait staff, but they don’t include employees who don’t customarily get tips, such as dishwashers or janitors.

Moreover, under section 3(m) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer is permitted to take a tip credit toward its minimum wage obligation for tipped employees that’s equal to the difference between the required cash wage and the federal minimum wage. In certain situations, an employer is able to claim additional overtime tip credit against its overtime duties.

The United States Department of Labor has estimated that around the country, there are about 1.08 million wait staff and 219,000 bartenders who receive tips in 280,000 establishments.

US CapitolThe Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is an entity that protects your rights if you are a federal civil service employee. The purpose of the board is to provide federal employees with the chance to appeal personnel decisions that are not in their favor or that are unfair. It is separate from partisan politics and is supposed to be an independent system. The President appoints the board members of this entity.

The MSPB is organized with multiple regional offices, although board members serve at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. Often, appeals happen in D.C., since that is where many federal workers do their jobs. Among the regional or field offices is one in Dallas.

At these offices, administrative law judges hear cases related to federal workers and agencies. The board members are supposed to protect the federal merit system, working together with the administrative law judges, attorneys, and staff at the MSPB to successfully implement the mission of the entity.

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welding torchTexas workplace violence includes any threat or violent action taken against a worker. It can happen both on the job and away from the workplace. Nobody is immune from workplace violence, and some workers are at a higher risk of injury from a violent coworker due to the nature of their workplace. Some workers at heightened risk are those who exchange money with the public, health care and social service workers, those who work in community settings with extensive public contact, those who deliver goods or services, and those who work in small groups late at night or early in the morning.

Among the leading causes of job-related deaths, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are homicides and physical assaults. A violent coworker is a workplace safety issue that employers should take affirmative steps to address.

Every workplace is supposed to develop and maintain a workplace violence prevention program, as well as employee handbooks or manuals of standard procedures that address this problem. All employees should be aware of the policy and understand that claims of workplace violence will be promptly investigated and addressed. Employers may also owe a duty to provide their employees with safety education and steps on what to do if they’re attacked by a violent coworker. It can also be helpful for an employer to install video surveillance, provide staff who work in the field with cell phones, and minimize access to work locations by outsiders.

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bookThe Texas Board of Legal Specialization was established by the Texas State Bar in 1974 with the goal of promoting the quality and availability of attorneys’ services in certain areas of the law. The idea behind establishing this Board was that by allowing attorneys to become specialized, the standards of the legal profession would be higher, and clients would be better served. The Board certifies lawyers in 23 specific areas of law, including Labor and Employment, as well as certifying paralegals in seven legal areas. The Board is the only organization permitted to certify attorneys in specialized areas.

The process of achieving Board Certification is extremely rigorous. Attorneys who wish to become certified need to practice for at least five years with three years of substantial involvement in a particular area of law, finish Continuing Legal Education requirements related to the specialization from a provider that’s approved, provide at least five qualified vetted references, give documentation on relevant experience, and pass an exam that lasts for a day and is comprehensive.

These requirements are all on top of the requirements necessary to become a lawyer in the first place. Over 100,000 attorneys are licensed to practice in the state, but of these, only 7,350 are Board Certified. Within Texas, a Board Certification in Labor and Employment Law signifies that an attorney has significant experience in employment law matters and has also showed special competence within that area.

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flowersMany people in Texas and elsewhere get confused between “employment at will” and “right to work.” Both of these terms are legal terms associated with employment law, but they have distinct meanings that are crucial to understand.

Employment at will is a common law doctrine. It means that the employer can terminate the employee arbitrarily and for any reason. An employee is also allowed to leave at will for no reason or any reason. Generally speaking, when employment is at will, employers can change the terms and conditions of employment and either increase or reduce wages.

However, in many cases, an employer and an employee do sign an employment contract. In some cases, the contract specifies that termination is only for just cause, or the employer and employee agree verbally that the employment will end only because of a just cause within a specific window of time. Sometimes employee handbooks provide language that shows employment is not at will, as do certain collective bargaining agreements.

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craneNeil M. Gorsuch has recently become the 113th justice of the United States Supreme Court. Republicans had refused to consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, claiming that the choice of a justice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia should belong to the president who succeeded Obama. Once Democrats filibustered, they altered the Senate rules in order to push Judge Gorsuch through. Appointed by President Trump and aggressively pushed through the confirmation process, Judge Gorsuch may be able to serve on the Court for 30 or more years and is likely to leave a lasting impression on the Court’s jurisprudence.

The confirmation is a potential disaster for workers’ rights. Although Judge Gorsuch is a highly esteemed judge, his past decisions show far more sympathy for corporations than their employees. He is highly likely to rule in a similar fashion in the future, although there have been Supreme Court justices in the past whose views shifted once they were on the bench.

Judge Gorsuch’s decisions during his decade-long tenure on the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit have shown he believes that corporations should have the same rights of religious freedom and free speech as people. This approach—placing corporations on the same playing field as human beings—has helped big business in the past and evinces little concern for workers and their lives.

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