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.

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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20201124_104652-203x300Beginning in January 2020, the state of Texas increased the number of people who are considered “mandatory reporters” under Title IX. The mandatory reporters are tasked with immediately reporting Title IX related incidents like dating violence and stalking when they become aware of it. If a mandatory reporter fails to make this report, they are subject to criminal and employment penalties. When this law went into effect, it was looked at as a great step forward in universities combatting sexual violence on their campuses by tasking more people with reporting duties and having penalties for those who do not. Sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking have always been huge issues on college campuses, and it is only recently that the law has made a stride to try and close out loopholes in university reporting requirements. The flip side is that not reporting or being named in a Title IX complaint can have adverse consequences on a person’s employment. These adverse consequences are where Title IX and Title VII clash, and the fall-out can have damaging effects on both. 

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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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rasha-zeyadehSexual harassment in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. It has always been an issue. In light of the #Metoo movement, employees nationwide are more willing to publicly condemn their harassers and hold employers accountable for their inaction. As Valentine’s Day approaches, this blog will highlight various examples of sexual harassment in the workplace, and explore behaviors that, while inappropriate, do not rise to the level of sexual harassment.  

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC guidelines define sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • • Submission to such conduct is a term or condition of an individual’s employment. 
  • • Submission or rejection of the conduct is a basis for employment decisions.
  • • Conduct of a sexual nature has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with work performance.
  • • Conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment. 

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deontae-wherryBy all accounts, we can agree that the year 2020 was unconventional in every way. We were forced to live our lives in ways that many of us never imagined. And when we thought things were going to get better, it seems things only got worse. As we enter into the new year, it is our hope that our best days are ahead of us with the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine (“vaccine”). 

No one knows how long it will be before everyone is vaccinated or even if the rushed vaccine will work. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, while Americans’ confidence in the vaccine is increasing, many groups remain hesitant about getting vaccinated. It is becoming clear that whether we want the vaccine or not, employers are going to have a critical role in the administration of the vaccine.  This article discusses employees’ rights as it relates to employer-mandate vaccinations. 

On December 16, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) published its guidance related to workplaces requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. This guidance helps us better understand what we can expect in the days and months ahead. Nevertheless, employers must not violate employment laws in mandating or administrating the vaccine. 

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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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