Articles Posted in Workers’ Rights

Most people on social media assume that their posts, while not necessarily private, are beyond the access of their employers. Indeed, part of what makes social media so valuable is that users are able to express themselves and their beliefs freely and without fear. However, many employees over the last few years have learned the hard way that employers can often find ways to access their posts. But when a Texas employer finds something they don’t like on an employee’s social media account, can the employer actually take action based on the employee’s social media posts?

Legal News GavelThe answer, as is often the case with legal questions of this nature, is “it depends.” As a general matter, Texas is an at-will employment state, meaning that a Texas employer can terminate an employee for any reason at all, so long as it is not an illegal reason. Thus, if an employer does not like something that an employee posted on social media, the employer may be able to fire that employee over it.

Texas employers cannot discriminate, however. And if the post in question was expressing participation in or support of a protected group, the line of what the employer is permitted to do becomes blurry. That is because engaging in discriminatory employment practices regarding protected classes is illegal. In Texas, the classes that are protected by both state and federal anti-discrimination statutes are:

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Under Title VII to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from discriminating against their employees based on a number of criteria, including religion. Of course, under Title VII, employers are prohibited from making hiring or firing decisions based on a person’s religion, but the protection granted to employees under Title VII goes beyond that. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency given broad authority to oversee the enforcement of Title VII.

Legal News GavelEmployers must also allow for certain accommodations to be made for an employee’s religious beliefs. According to the EEOC, the following are examples of accommodations that employers have been required to make based on an employee’s religion:

  • Allowing an exception to be made for an employee dress code;
  • Permitting an employee to take time off for a religious holiday;
  • Excusing an employee from a staff prayer or other religious invocation;
  • Granting an employee permission to pray at certain times of the day;
  • Keeping an employee off the schedule during their day of Sabbath or worship.

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The federal minimum wage for hourly employees is $7.25 per hour. Unlike other states that allow for a higher minimum wage, the Texas minimum wage is $7.25. Advocates of a higher minimum wage have cited the unrealistic expectation that people are able to live on $7.25 per hour. Furthermore, they have argued that a higher minimum wage will foster the economic growth of the United States and close the gap between low- and middle-income families.

Legal News GavelOn the other side, those in favor of keeping the minimum wage lower argue that employers cannot keep up with the higher wages and will have to lay off more employees, increasing the unemployment rate. However, despite the opposition to increasing the minimum wage, the fact remains that individuals in these positions often face many obstacles surviving on so little income. In some cases, employers will try to get around complying with the minimum wage requirement, which leads employees to face even more issues.

There are very few instances when an employer does not need to comply with federal minimum-wage standards. Some exceptions are if the employee is a farm worker, student learner, independent contractor, or tipped employee. If an employee is not sure if they fall into one of these categories, or they believe their employer is not complying with federal statutes, they should contact a Dallas wage and hour attorney.

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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to offer employees with disabilities reasonable accommodations that will provide them with the ability to apply for or perform the necessary functions of their positions. Employers will often attempt to shrug off this responsibility by claiming that providing the employee with a reasonable accommodation would cause the company to suffer an undue hardship. However, in order to prove an undue hardship and avoid a Texas disability discrimination claim, the employer must provide evidence showing that the accommodation would result in a significant expense or difficulty.

Legal News GavelAlthough employees may request a specific reasonable accommodation, employers may provide their own accommodations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) looks at various factors to determine whether the hardship is significant or whether the accommodation is appropriate.

When Is Light Duty Considered a Reasonable Accommodation?

Those who have immigrated to the United States have played a pivotal role in our nation’s success. Indeed, the goal of encouraging immigrants to assist in growing the United States’ economy was one of the reasons that Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VII. Similarly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was enacted as an omnibus bill designed to address discrimination beyond employment, focusing on voting, education, and public accommodations.

Legal News GavelThe purview of Title VII and the EEOC intersect in many ways. Most recently, the EEOC has issued clarification regarding the scope of national origin discrimination when accent discrimination is alleged.

Title VII National Origin Discrimination

Title VII prohibits qualifying employers from discriminating against an individual because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Discrimination can take many forms, including failure to interview or hire, disparate compensation or benefits, or terminating an employee because of those enumerated characteristics. A Texas national origin discrimination claim can be appropriate in these situations.

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In Texas, final compensation policies and practices are regulated by the state’s Payday Law. Among other things, the law instructs employers and employees on their rights after an employee leaves employment. In cases in which an employee is fired, discharged, laid off, or involved in any other involuntary separation, they are due their pay within six calendar days. In instances in which the employee leaves voluntarily, such as by quitting or retiring, they are due their final pay on the next regularly scheduled payday.

Legal News GavelTexas Severance Pay

Under the Texas Payday Law, Texas employers are not required to provide their employees with severance pay, although many employers do provide this or may be required to provide this for a multitude of reasons, such as provisions in Texas employment contracts.

Severance pay is a type of compensation that some companies offer when employees are terminated due to no fault of their own. This is usually applicable in situations in which an employee has worked at a particular job for some length of time or in a certain position and has been let go. Generally, employers use a set formula to determine when an employer will be due severance pay. The theory behind severance pay is to compensate the employee for the lack of advance notice of their termination. Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not mandate severance pay, many Texas employers offer this type of compensation.

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In 1979, the United States Civil Service Commission established the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which is an agency designed to prevent federal employers from engaging in prohibited personnel practices. Under the MSPB, federal employees are entitled to a hearing after they are terminated, suspended, or demoted because of their performance or conduct.

Legal News GavelThe MSPB process is crucial for employees who believe that their conduct did not warrant the adverse employment action taken against them. The Civil Service Reform Act mandates that federal employees are given their due process when terminated. This is to prevent powerful federal employers from engaging in arbitrary employment actions. Of course, when a federal employer takes an adverse action against an employee, there are lasting impacts on that person’s personal and professional life.

The MSPB is a complex entity, and there are many roadblocks that an employee may encounter, due to the nature of the employing agency and the processes involved. First, employees should consult with an attorney to determine whether their adverse employment action will trigger an MSPB appeal. Although it seems clear in some situations, MSPB protections are not extended to all types of federal positions. However, some common situations when an appeal is triggered are when there is an adverse action or a forced retirement. Furthermore, even though the MSPB will attempt to handle a claim within six months, the Board may also pressure the parties to settle in order to more quickly resolve the matter. A Texas employment lawyer can guide employees in effectively working through these steps.

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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.

Legal News GavelMany 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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Recently, a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling prohibiting Texas employers from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the plaintiff in that case was ultimately unsuccessful in establishing a case of Texas sexual orientation discrimination, the decision paved the way for gender-identity discrimination lawsuits.

Legal News GavelUnder Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, certain qualifying employers are not allowed to discriminate or harass an employee based on that person’s sex. Discrimination covers all aspects of employment, including things such as termination, hiring, promotions, and benefits.

More and more advocates are beginning to speak out about gender identity and the related discrimination many of these individuals face in their professional and personal lives. Historically, Title VII has not protected these individuals from discrimination by their employers; however, recent cases have begun to change the tide in how these cases are handled.

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Legal News GavelStudies 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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