Texas Wrongful Termination Laws
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Have you recently lost your job? If so, you might be wondering whether you have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit. In Texas, as in other states, employees work at will. This means an employee can generally be fired at any time and for any reason, or for no reason at all.
But there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, if your Texas employer fires you for discriminatory reasons, in violation of an employment contract, or in retaliation for exercising your rights, you may have a legal claim against your employer for wrongful termination.
Every state’s laws on wrongful termination are different. This article covers some of the common legal grounds you might have for suing your Texas employer for wrongful termination. But it’s not a comprehensive list of Texas employment rights, which can change as courts issue new rulings and legislators pass or modify laws. To find out the full extent of your legal claims, speak to an experienced Texas employment lawyer. To learn more about Texas employment law, contact the office of the Texas Workforce Commission.
Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on a protected characteristic. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age (if the employee is at least 40), disability, citizenship status, or genetic information. However, only employers with a minimum number of employees must comply with these laws. Most types of discrimination are prohibited once an employer has at least 15 employees. However, for age discrimination the minimum is 20 employees, and for citizenship status discrimination the minimum is four employees.
Texas law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age (40 and older), and genetic information. Texas employers must comply with these laws if they have at least fifteen employees.
These laws also make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for asserting your rights. For example, if you complain to your company’s HR department that you believe you were passed over for promotion because of your age, your employer may not discipline or fire you for your complaint. Likewise, your employer cannot fire you for participating in an investigation of a discrimination complaint (no matter who made the complaint), testifying in court, or making other efforts to stop discriminatory practices.
Before filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit, you must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency. The Texas Workforce Commission enforces the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination; the Commission has offices in Austin. In many cases, state fair employment practices agencies will record your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that enforces federal antidiscrimination laws. However, you should check to make sure. If not, you may also have to file a complaint with the EEOC; you can find contact information for the nearest office at the EEOC’s Field Offices page.
Breach of Contract
If you have a written employment contract promising you job security, you are not an at-will employee. Texas also recognizes implied employment contracts based on clear statements made in an employee handbook. For example, if your employee handbook states that employees will be fired only for good cause, you may have an implied contract. If you have an employment contract, and your employer fires you without good cause, you have a legal claim for breach of contract.
Wage and Hour Issues
Texas has adopted the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. While Texas does not have an overtime law, federal law requires employers to pay employees overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek.
Although some states require employers to offer meal or rest breaks, Texas does not. Under federal law, though, employers who choose to offer breaks of 20 minutes or less must generally pay employees for that time. Employers also must pay their employees for any time during which they must work, even if the employer characterizes that time as a “break.” It is illegal for employers to fire employees in retaliation for exercising their rights under federal wage and hour laws.
Time Off Work
State and federal laws give employees the right to take time off work for certain civic obligations and personal responsibilities. Employers may not discipline or fire workers for exercising these rights. In Texas, these rights include:
- Military leave. Under federal law, employees have the right to take up to five years of leave to serve in the military, with the right to be reinstated when they return to work. (This law also prohibits discrimination against employees based on their military service, protects employees from discharge without good cause for up to one year after they return from military duty, and provides other protections; see Nolo’s article Taking Military Leave for more information.) Texas law gives members of the Texas military forces or the military forces of any other state the right to be reinstated following a call to active duty or training.
- Jury duty. In Texas, employees are entitled to unpaid leave for jury service. Employers who fire or penalize employees for jury service are subject to special damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
- Voting leave. Texas employers must allow employees to take paid time off to vote, unless the employee has two consecutive hours off work while the polls are open.
- Family and medical leave. Texas employees are protected by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, every year for a serious health condition, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to care for a new child, or to handle certain practical matters arising out of a family member’s military service. Employees can take up to 26 weeks off in a single year to care for a family member who is seriously injured while serving in the military. Employees who take FMLA leave must be reinstated to the same position once their leave is over. To learn more, see Nolo’s FMLA page.
Other State Claims
- Workers' compensation. Employers may not fire or otherwise retaliate against employees who file workers' compensation claims, institute legal proceedings to collect workers' comp benefits, or testify in workers' comp hearings.
- Workplace safety. Employers are prohibited from firing employees who, in good faith, report violations of occupational health and safety laws.
What to Do Next
If you think you were fired illegally, talk to a Texas employment lawyer. Whether you want to get your job back, negotiate a settlement, or file a lawsuit, a lawyer can help you assert your legal rights. A lawyer can also inform you of any other claims that you might have under state or local law.