Texas is an “at-will” employment state. This classification allows employers to terminate an employee for almost any reason. Texas employers can modify or terminate any or all of the terms of an employment relationship with or without warning or cause. Although this arrangement seems inherently unfair — and in some cases it is — there are some protections for employees.
The statutory exceptions that protect Texas employees from wrongful termination include state and federal employment discrimination laws, protected activity statutes, whistleblowing protections, anti-retaliation laws, military or jury duty requirements, and union activity protections. Additionally, the courts have enumerated public policy and contractual exceptions. The Texas Supreme Court created one of these exceptions in Sabine Pilot Svs. V. Hauck. The Sabine Pilot Rule prohibits employers from terminating employees based on their refusal to engage in illegal activities.
The Sabine Pilot Doctrine provides Texas employees with employment protections if they face wrongful termination because they refuse to commit an illegal act. To assert this protection, the employer must have demanded the employee commit an act that could lead to criminal prosecution, if committed. Common examples include asking employees to forge safety documents, release confidential information, provide customers with unprescribed medications, and dispose of hazardous materials in an unsafe way.
Texas employees who assert this doctrine must prove their employer required they commit an illegal act; the employee refused to act; the employee was terminated or constructively discharged; and the employee’s refusal was the sole cause of the employee’s termination. Employees can use direct or circumstantial evidence to prove retaliation.
Employers will often claim they did not ask the employee to engage in illegal behavior or that the employee’s termination was based on another reason. In some cases, employers will try to provide evidence that the action they asked the employee to engage in was not criminal. Texas employees should contact an experienced employment lawyer if their employer asks them to commit illegal acts.
Has Your Texas Employer Retaliated Against You?
If you believe your employer has terminated or constructively discharged you for failing to commit an illegal act, contact our Texas employment law attorneys at Rob Wiley, P.C. and 214-528-6500 to schedule a consultation.