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.

austin-campbellThe Family and Medical Leave Act gives eligible employees the right to up to 12 weeks of protected, unpaid leave during any 12-month period. Probably the most important part of FMLA leave is the “protected” aspect—the right, when your leave ends, to be restored to your old job or an equivalent position. Unfortunately, that is not always as straightforward as it sounds, and many employees have been surprised by what was waiting for them at the end of their FMLA leave. An employer that does not return you to work as required by law may be liable for interfering in your FMLA rights.

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rasha-zeyadehThe outbreak of COVID-19 has caused unprecedented changes to the lives of individuals across Texas and across the globe. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), expands unemployment benefit assistance to workers who are eligible under state and federal law before COVID-19 as well as extending benefits to workers who were not eligible for unemployment benefits assistance prior to COVID-19, including self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and gig workers.

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deontae-wherryEarned Paid Sick Leave

In 2019, the City of Dallas joined our other Texas cities when it passed the Earned Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. This ordinance requires employers to provide up to 64 hours of paid sick leave. While courts have restricted the enforcement of similar ordinances around the state, beginning April 1, 2020, the City of Dallas will begin enforcing this ordinance to ensure that employers are providing paid sick leave to employees. It is our hope that courts do not eventually restrict the City of Dallas from enforcing this ordinance to protect employees.

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fadi-yousefCan my employer tell me not to discuss my salary with coworkers?

The answer to this question is no. Federal labor laws prohibit employers from restraining, interfering with, or coercing employees who collectively participate in activities related to the terms and conditions of their employment. Those Terms and conditions cover a broad range of topics, like employees discussing wages, hourly rates, salaries, bonuses, commissions, and any other form of payment. For that reason, an employer cannot tell its employees not to discuss their pay amongst themselves. Otherwise, that would be a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). And it does not matter if the employer has a union. Both unionized and non-unionized employees are protected.

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austin-campbellTo some people, workplace retaliation just means their boss is taking revenge against them for something that they did—after all, that is often what people mean by “retaliation” in everyday life. Regardless of how moral that kind of retaliation is, not all workplace retaliation is the same in the eyes of the law. That is, something your employer does might well be retaliation as people generally understand it, without being illegal in the State of Texas.

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rasha-zeyadehSexual harassment can happen to anyone regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Sexual harassment in the workplace has always been an issue. However, in the wake of the #Metoo movement sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, more and more victims of workplace sexual harassment are now speaking up about workplace harassment and inequality that they’ve endured for far too long.

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Employees can face severe psychological and financial harm when their employer unexpectedly terminates them or lays them off. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) is a legislative attempt to mitigate the widespread negative consequences of unexpected termination and dislocation. The WARN Act requires specific employers to provide their employees with notice before a mass layoff or plant closing. Texas employers that violate WARN provisions may be liable to any affected employee.

The WARN Act typically applies to public, quasi-public, non-profit, and private for-profit employers that employ at least 100 full-time workers. Covered employees include supervisory, managerial, salaried, and hourly workers. However, business partners, striking workers, and temporary facility employees are not covered and are not entitled to notice.

The Act requires employers to give notice when (1) a plant is closing, (2) there is a mass layoff, or (3) over 500 employees are laid off at a single location. The Act also applies in situations in which an employee does not lose their job, but the employee experiences a work reduction of at least 50%. Generally, the Act requires employers to provide their employees with written notice at least 60 days before the closing. Employers cannot rely on verbal announcements, press releases, or notices included with a paycheck.

Many Texas employers require potential applicants and current employees to submit to drug testing. Federal and Texas laws permit private employers to adopt and implement broad drug and alcohol testing policies for their employers, with minimal limitations. However, according to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), government employers must show a compelling justification for drug testing.

The consequences of a failed drug test can be life-altering for an applicant or employee. In some cases, employers will provide rehabilitation services, but more commonly, employers will refuse to hire a potential applicant or terminate an employee. Additionally, employers are allowed to release the test results to the TWC, and this can affect a person’s unemployment compensation. Employees who believe their employer impermissibly drug tested them may have some legal protections.

Most employers should provide their employees with a written drug testing policy that outlines what results will be a violation, which employees require drug testing, and what measures will be taken after a violation. Unfortunately, Texas employers can fire employees that refuse to sign an acknowledgment of the drug testing policy. However, employers need to provide the employee with a warning that there is a risk of termination if they fail to sign the policy. Additionally, the policy needs to be enforced in a non-discriminatory manner.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that businesses and employers provide nursing mothers with certain accommodations in the workplace. The Act applies to all qualified Texas employees, and if their employers do not offer these benefits, the employer may be liable.

Section 7 of the FLSA (the “Act”) requires employers to provide employees with time and resources to breastfeed in the workplace. The Act mandates employers to provide their employees with a “reasonable break time” to express breast milk for their nursing child for up to one year after the child’s birth. Often, these breaks are referred to as “pumping breaks.”

The amount of time the employer is required to provide must be reasonable, but this will vary as to the frequency and number of times needed. Employers have several options on how to allow their employees this reasonable time. Some have periods of downtime, and they may ask their employees to use that time to express milk. In certain instances, employers allow employees to split shifts to enable employees to leave and express milk. If an employer has a formal policy for nursing mothers, they must adhere to these policies and procedures.

Under Texas workers’ compensation law, employees who are unable to work because of injuries or illnesses they suffered during or in the scope of their employment are entitled to income benefits. Injuries are under the course or scope of employment when they occur while the employee was furthering or carrying out the employer’s business interests.

Even though Texas is an at-will state, Chapter 451 of the Texas Labor Code prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who file a workers’ compensation claim. Specifically, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for 1) filing a workers’ compensation claim; 2) hiring a lawyer to represent them in a workers’ compensation claim; 3) imitating procedures under a workers’ compensation claim; or 4) testifying in a workers’ compensation proceeding. Importantly, for these protections to apply, the employer must be a part of the state’s workers’ compensation plan.

Employers may try to hide their true motives behind a legal reason, and it is crucial that Texas employees who believe their employer retaliated, discriminated, or terminated their position based on their workers’ compensation claim seek legal representation.

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