What You Need To Know About Texas Employment Law
No matter what position a person has in a company, all employers must treat every employee fairly and respectfully. There are rules, both locally and at the federal level, for workers and their bosses to ensure this happens.
Employment law, also known as labor law, indeed focuses on the relationship between the employer and the employee, as well as the rights and duties of both. Many employment laws, including laws on minimum wage, were enacted as protective labor legislation. Other employment laws take the form of public benefits, such as unemployment compensation.
When should you speak with an attorney about employment issues?
Did your boss neglect to pay you overtime after you were asked to work more than 40 hours a week? Has a supervisor harassed you because of your religion? Although you meet all the qualifications for a promotion, did your boss select a person who has less experience and is 15 years younger than you? These are a few examples of people who may need an employment lawyer.
Attorneys focusing on workplace issues aim to ensure everyone – employers and employees – get fair treatment. Unfortunately, whether intentionally or not, employers do not always adhere to the labor laws in place. As a result, employees sometimes need expert advice in receiving what is owed to them, and at the same time, employers should be held accountable for their actions and decisions.
Here are some key areas of employment law:
Discrimination: Under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there are federal laws in place to protect employees from discrimination based on someone’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older) or genetic information.
Discriminatory practices include bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination and compensation. Discrimination could also be found in an employer denying an employee a reasonable workplace fix due to either a religious belief or a disability, or improper questions by fellow employees or supervisors about disclosing genetic information or medical information.
It is also essential to recognize it is illegal for someone or an organization to retaliate against the person who has moved forward with a discrimination complaint on any of these matters.
Harassment: Harassment is a form of discrimination that could violate one of several pieces of legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When a harasser’s behavior creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, he or she is breaking the law, and the employer is liable. The harassment can be verbal, psychological, digital (in the form of emails and texts) or physical and done through offensive jokes, slurs, insults or physical assaults. Although those being harassed may not want to report the issue, it is important to recognize that there may be other victims, and the sooner the harassment is reported and halted, the better (and safer) for all.
Unfair wages: When a worker is not receiving proper compensation, the employer is breaking federal laws set in place through the Fair Labor Standard Act and the Equal Pay Act. Workers in the U.S. are entitled to specific minimum wages (differing by state) and overtime when applicable. Further, along with financial payment, the labor laws require workweeks to be limited to 40 regular working hours and no disparity of pay between men and women.
Whistleblower complaints: Whistleblowing is when employees provide information to the government about their employer’s illegal actions, such as mismanagement, wasting funds or committing fraud. Both state and federal laws prohibit employers from retaliating against their employees for whistleblowing.
Wrongful termination: First and foremost, a worker can never be fired because of their age, race, sex or religion. However, in most states, unless there is a contract or bargaining agreement, neither the employer nor the employee must have a reason to terminate the relationship. This is called “at-will’’ employment. Employers are not entirely bound to not letting someone go. Still, an employee can be considered wrongfully terminated if discrimination is involved in the termination, if public policy is violated, or if company policy states guidelines for termination and those guidelines were not followed.
A Look Back At Employment Law History
Challenges in America’s workplaces are nothing new. Here is a look at some of the key events that took place over time surrounding labor laws in the U.S.
The right to strike: Although it did not happen overnight, in the late 18th century, a group of Philadelphia shoemakers decided to join forces fighting for better wages. Calling themselves the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers, the group officially became unified in 1794, and indeed, for a few years, they did see positive results with wage increases. However, in 1805, members of the Journeymen Cordwainers were put on trial in Philadelphia after a strike, and they lost. The case, Commonwealth v. Pullis, made striking a federal crime akin to conspiracy. However, the tale does not end there, 35 years later, in Commonwealth vs. Hunt, the decision was reversed, and unions were granted the legal right to strike.
Protection along the railroads: In the late 1880s, as the railroad expanded across the U.S., it became clear railroad workers needed protection from injuries sustained while on the job. Legislative discussions on protecting workers from physical harm are now recognized as the groundwork for our modern-day worker compensation laws. In a speech to Congress in 1889, then-president Benjamin Harrison said about rail workers:
“It is a reproach to our civilization that any class of American workmen, should in the pursuit of a necessary and useful vocation be subjected to a peril of life and limb as great as that of a soldier in time of war.”
A few years later, in 1908, the Federal Employers Liability Act was enacted to “put on the railroad industry some of the costs of the legs, arms, eyes, and lives which it consumed in its operation.”
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: This was a landmark piece of legislation during the era of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Fair Labor Standards Act focused on several issues plaguing working America for decades. The Act set a minimum wage, required employers to pay overtime, and made it illegal to employ youth under 14. Still in place 83 years later, it protects millions of workers across the country.
Equal Pay Act: During World War II, as men were enlisted in military service, women entered the workforce in droves like never before, and soon the issue of women earning lower wages than their male counterparts became apparent across the U.S. However, the unfairness of it was not officially recognized until 1963. It was then that President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, requiring equal wages and benefits between the sexes. As an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, it also includes guidelines for when differences in pay are permitted, for example, based on merit, seniority, workers’ quality or quantity of production and other factors.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: The next year, under President Lyndon Johnson, the groundbreaking Civil Rights Act was passed, making it a Federal crime (under Title VII of the Act) for employers to discriminate because of a person’s “…race, color, religion, sex and national origin.’’
Fast-forward to June 2020. A landmark decision, considered a significant victory for LGTBQ workers nationwide, was made based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The U.S. Supreme Court voted that federal law forbids job discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status. Currently, many states don’t have legal protections for LGTBQ employees, so this new federal law offers protection.
Future of Employment Law
Employment law continues to evolve. Politics and crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic affect the workplace. The future for employment law will most definitely delve further into areas such as remote work environments, COVID-19 safety protocols, the requirements for COVID-19 vaccines by employers and so much more.
Employment law covers a wide range of issues and can be challenging to navigate. If you have any questions about a workplace issue, our firm has years of experience handling Texas employment issues. No question is too big or too small. Contact us at 1-800-843-3476 or via online chat now.