Attorney Eric Dama

Having a child, especially your first, is an exciting time but also one that presents seemingly endless questions and challenges. One of the most common concerns for all new parents is how to juggle their careers with the new responsibilities of being a parent to a newborn child. Inevitably, parents will have to figure out who will stay home with the baby, for how long, and what impact this will have on the family’s finances.

Over the past few decades, the traditional fixed gender roles of parents have progressed. This welcome change has recognized both a mother’s valuable role outside the home as a breadwinner, as well as a father’s role at home with the children. Along with this shift, lawmakers are beginning to address a father’s need or desire to stay home with his newborn baby and also to take care of the mother .

Texas, unfortunately, is somewhat behind the curve as it pertains to paid paternity leave. In fact, only a few states currently offer paid paternity leave. Of course, this does not stop an employer from offering paid paternity leave on their own. And if an employer chooses to make paid paternity leave available for some employees, it must be provided in a non-discriminate manner without regard to an employee’s age, race, or religion. Unpaid paternity leave is a different matter and is available to many Texas fathers under the federal government’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

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Employees of organizations are privy to all sorts of information that is not available to the public. Thus, it is not uncommon for an employee to discover that their employer is defrauding the government. When an employee discovers their employer is engaging in fraud, they can blow the whistle on their employer’s illegal conduct by filing a Texas qui tam lawsuit.

A qui tam lawsuit is essentially a whistleblower claim. The term qui tam is short for the Latin term, “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur,” which roughly translates to “he who brings the action for the king as well as himself.” The idea behind a qui tam lawsuit is to incentivize those with knowledge that an organization is defrauding the government to come forward.

An employee who has knowledge of an employer’s fraud can file a civil lawsuit under the False Claims Act seeking to recover compensation for the employer’s fraud on behalf of the government. Once a qui tam lawsuit is filed, it is kept under seal while the Justice Department investigates the claim. During this period, the subject is not made aware they are under investigation.

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Traditionally, a company would arrange to have most of the services needed to run the business performed in-house, meaning necessary services would be provided by employees of the company. However, over the past several decades, the use of independent contractors has skyrocketed. Thus, while independent contractors were historically only found in specific fields, such as construction, photography, and consulting, more industries are hiring independent contractors, including technology companies, law offices, marketing firms, and even medical offices.

As a general definition, an independent contractor is someone who performs work for a company but is not an employee of the company. The definition of an independent contractor can depend on the state in which the company operates. However, in general, the focus of the inquiry is on the amount of control the company retains over the work product and individual performing the work. The more control an employer exercises in how the work is completed, the more likely the worker will be considered an employee. In Texas, the Department of Workforce Services uses a twenty-point comparative approach to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The IRS uses a somewhat similar approach, called the “control test,” which focuses primarily on the amount of control the company retains over the assigned work.

It is essential for a worker to understand his or her relationship with a company and what rights you have. Just because a company labels you as an independent contractor does not make it so; the ultimate determination will be left to the courts.

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Most Texas employees have heard of the National Labor Review Board, or NLRB as it’s more commonly referred to. However, surprisingly few know what the NLRB is or how important the agency is to employees. Very generally, the NLRB protects the rights of employees to organize in pursuit of better wages or conditions. In pursuit of this goal, the NLRB fulfills many roles.

The NLRB is an independent federal agency formed in 1935 with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which was enacted to “protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices.” The NLRB consists of a five-member board, a general counsel, and dozens of judges in addition to a large support staff spread across its central Washington, D.C. office and 26 smaller regional offices. The primary purpose of the NLRB is to enforce the NLRA.

How Does the NLRB Help Employees?

The NLRB is primarily concerned with protecting the rights of employees to organize. Importantly, the NLRB does not only protect unionized employees, but it safeguards any group of employees that bands together seeking to improve their working conditions or wages. Thus, one of the primary roles of the NLRB is to investigate claims of unfair labor practices that are made by employees to any of the 26 regional offices.

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When an employee is hired, in many, if not most instances, he or she is required to sign some form of employment agreement. These contracts outline the duties and expectations of both the employer and the employee. Frequently, Texas employment contracts include an arbitration clause, which is an agreement between the parties that any dispute arising from the employment relationship will be resolved out of the court system by an independent arbitrator.

For the most part, Texas employment arbitration agreements favor the more sophisticated party. For one, the costs of defending a case in arbitration is lower than a traditional Texas employment case in the court system. Additionally, depending on the terms of the arbitration agreement, certain rules of evidence may not apply. Moreover, an arbitrator’s conclusion is generally final and thus not appealable.

Like other contractual agreements, arbitration agreements can be enforceable if they are voluntarily entered into by both parties, are not overly broad in their scope, and do not provide an unfair benefit to one party. Thus, just because an employee signed an employment contract that contains an arbitration clause does not necessarily mean that the clause will be enforceable. At the same time, an arbitration agreement can be enforced even if the employee does not sign the agreement, particularly if they continue to work knowing that there is an arbitration policy.

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Recently, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion that will have a significant impact in federal age discrimination cases against government employers. In the case Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, the Court held the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies to government employers of all sizes.

The ADEA

When the ADEA was passed in 1967, it added age to the list of characteristics that could not be used by an employer as a basis for an adverse employment decision. Under section 630(b), the ADEA defines the term employer as “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees.” However, the statute also states that an employer “also means … a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the Court’s opinion, the plaintiffs were two men, aged 46 and 54, who were terminated from their positions by the defendant fire department when the fire department began facing budgetary concerns. The fire department was a political subdivision of the State of Arizona. At the time they were fired, the employees were the oldest two firefighters in the department.

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Texas is home to a large number of the country’s veterans. In fact, it is estimated there are over 1.6 million veterans in Texas, putting Texas behind only California as the country’s most veteran-populated state. As a result, veterans make up a sizable portion of the Texas workforce.

Unfortunately, veterans, like many other groups, are still facing issues of discrimination in the workplace. However, under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), public and private employers are prohibited from discriminating against an employee based on an employee’s past, present, or future military service.

Unlike other types of workplace discrimination, such as discrimination based on an employee’s race, color, national origin, sex, gender, or religion, discrimination against veterans is not included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Instead, veterans are protected by USERRA, which provides comprehensive protection to veterans. The Act protects those who are currently serving in, or previously served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Army National Guard, Coast Guard, Air Force, Air National Guard. Additionally, the Act protects those whose service was both voluntary and involuntary.

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For many Texas employees, monetary pay is only a part of the overall compensation package offered by employers. For employees who have children or care for a sick family member, the paid- and unpaid-leave benefits provided by many employers are just as important as one’s salary or wages. Unfortunately, Texas employers are not required under any state or federal law to provide paid-leave benefits to employees, except under certain circumstances.

As a general rule, a Texas employer can decide whether to offer benefits to its employees. There are times, however, where an employer is required to provide certain benefits to its employees. One example is where an employer’s written policy provides benefits to employees, but the employer denies a qualifying employee access to these benefits. The Texas Payday Law states that an agreement to provide paid or unpaid leave is an enforceable term of the wage agreement. Thus, an employer who may not be required by law to offer benefits becomes obligated to provide them if there is a written policy offering benefits to qualifying employees.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law enacted in 1990 designed to protect individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against. The ADA prohibits discrimination against those individuals who have disabilities in all areas of public life. The ADA applies to areas such as public and private places, transportation, employment, and education. This means that both private and public employers are covered under the ADA.

What Is Considered a Disability under the ADA?

Almost ten years ago, an amendment to the ADA was signed into law clarifying what is considered a disability for the purposes of the ADA. To qualify for protection under the ADA, a person’s impairment must be substantial. Impairment is considered substantial when it restricts or limits a major life activity. Some things considered major life activities are learning, working, walking, breathing, hearing, and seeing.

When Do ADA Protections Apply and What Is Covered?

An employer is required to provide protections under the ADA if the employee has a disability and is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. Essentially, the individual must be able to meet the employer’s requirements, and then must be able to perform the job with or without accommodations. Under the ADA, an employer cannot have any discriminatory practices in areas such as compensation, benefits, hiring, training, firing, and recruiting.

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For those who work in the service industry, the importance of tips cannot be overstated. Many service employees work primarily for tips, meaning that their employer only provides them with a minimal level of base hourly compensation. Thus, for many service employees, their lives literally depend on the amount of tips they bring in.

On its face, the concept of tipping seems to only benefit the employee receiving the tip. However, over the years, employers have also found ways to benefit from society’s expectation that an employee will be tipped for the services they provide. For example, under Texas law, an employer is able to pay a tip-eligible employee less than those employees who do not receive tips by taking a “tip credit.”

A tip credit is an adjustment that employers can make to a tipped employee’s wage, assuming that the employee will make up the difference in tips. For example, the minimum wage in Texas is $7.25/hour. However, an employer only needs to pay a tip-eligible employee $2.13/hour. The remaining $5.12/hour is considered a tip credit. If, however, the employee does not bring in at least an additional $5.12/hour, the employer will be required to pay the difference. Thus, tipping allows for an employer to pay its tipped employees less than they pay non-tipped employees.

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