Most of us spend a substantial part of our lives at work. Employment is rewarding on the basic level (i.e., providing an income) and it is often also rewarding on the professional or personal level. There are many laws that cover or regulate employment in this country and in Texas. Most people will never need to seek the assistance of an attorney in connection with their employment, but some will. This basic primer will describe some of the most commonly seen workplace issues that may turn out to be “legal issues.” You should always seek the assistance of an attorney if you believe you have a legal issue.
Things that are usually not a “legal issue”
Many events happen at work that are annoying, unprofessional, or maybe just plain wrong, but they aren’t legal issues an attorney can help you with. These include being terminated from at- will employment for a non-discriminatory reason, interpersonal clashes (i.e., a manager you just don’t like), and the requirement that you abide by company policies including those about attendance and punctuality.
Here are a few truly legal issues that an attorney might be able to help you with:
Payment of Wages
You are entitled to be paid for the hours you actually worked. If an employer docks your pay improperly, fails to pay you at least minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour), fails to pay you overtime (time and a half for each hour over 40 in a work week), or requires you to “work off the clock,” you might have a legal issue an attorney can assist you with. The Texas Workforce Commission has an excellent resource for employees who are not paid for hours they actually work. To file a wage claim, you can visit: http://www.twc.state.tx.us/jobseekers/how-submit- wage-claim-under-texas-payday-law
Employers cannot discriminate based on certain protected characteristics. Generally speaking, those are race, color, sex, gender, age (over 40) national origin, religion, and disability. Proving unlawful discrimination can be difficult so it is best to seek the help of an attorney if you think you have been subjected to discrimination. It is also prohibited to retaliate against an employee who opposes or reports unlawful discrimination (see wrongful termination below). To consult with an attorney call 713-237-9429 and request a referral.
There are other types of discrimination, such as discrimination based on military or immigration status that may be prohibited as well.
If you are an at-will employee (meaning you don’t have an employment contract), you can be fired for just about any non-discriminatory reason, or no reason at all. No one likes to be fired or laid off. Most terminations are not something that you can sue over – but some are. An attorney can help you determine if your termination was improper. A few examples of wrongful termination include: (1) termination because you filed a workers’ compensation claim in good faith; (2) termination because you were a whistleblower (reported an illegal act); or (3) termination because you filed a charge of discrimination (i.e., retaliation).
Employers must provide a safe workplace environment free from hazards – including sexual harassers. If you believe you are being subject to sexual harassment, immediately let your supervisor or HR know and document everything. Check with an attorney to see if you have a claim against an employer who fails to take the necessary steps to address sexual harassment in the workplace. To consult with an attorney call 713-237-9429 and request a referral.
This is just a basic introduction to some of the most common workplace legal issues. It is best to check with a labor & employment attorney if you believe you have a legal issue.