Employment laws provide a legal framework for the relationship between employers and employees. They protect employees at all stages of the employment process, from hiring to post-termination. Here are some important things for employees in Texas should know about employment law.
Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, or status as a protected veteran. Generally, an employer cannot ask prospective employees any questions relating to gender, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, or marital status in the course of an employment interview. Examples of prohibited questions include:
- Are you married?
- What does your husband do for a living?
- How old are your children?
- Where do you go to church?
Employers who base hiring decisions on any of these improper, discriminatory factors risk subjecting themselves to potential liability for employment discrimination.
Minimum Wage and Overtime
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour applies to covered, nonexempt employees. Employees of businesses with more than $500,000 in annual gross sales, as well as employees of smaller businesses engaged in interstate commerce, are covered by the federal minimum wage. However, some employees are exempt from the protection of the federal minimum wage. The most common exemptions are for executives, administrative personnel, professional workers, and outside sales employees. Additionally, the federal minimum wage does not apply to workers who receive tips, provided that their combined wages and tips are at least equal to the federal minimum wage.
Federal law also requires that employers compensate all covered, nonexempt employees for overtime work in excess of 40 hours a week at the rate of 1.5 times the employee's usual rate of pay. Exemptions to this rule include executives, administrative personnel, professional employees, outside sales employees, and commissioned sales employees.
In addition to the federal minimum wage and overtime laws, some states enact their own minimum wage laws. These sometimes provide employees with greater benefits. Texas has a minimum wage law which provides for the same minimum wage as that required by federal law.
Employers are required to provide safe work environments under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA covers almost all persons in the workplace with the exception of independent contractors. Workers with a safety complaint can file the grievance with either the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or the Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers' Compensation. Employers can't discriminate in any way against workers who make such a complaint.
Workers' compensation is an employer-funded, state-regulated insurance program that provides benefits to workers who are injured on the job. Workers' compensation benefits pay the worker's medical bills and compensate him for a portion of his lost wages. Employer participation in the workers' compensation system is voluntary. If a company provides its employees with workers' compensation coverage, the workers are usually only entitled to receive benefits from workers' compensation for on-the-job injuries. If an employer does not provide workers' compensation coverage, injured employees are free to pursue any available legal remedies against the employer, including suing for damages.
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to give covered employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for covered events. FMLA applies to all government employers, as well as to all private employers with 50 or more employees.
Additionally, Texas employees are entitled to up to two hours of paid time off to vote. Employers may be subject to fines if they fail to provide employees with this right. State law also requires that employers provide their employees with unpaid time off for jury duty. Employers can't penalize their employees for any work time missed as the result of jury duty.
Federal law prohibits all employee harassment. Harassment is any unwelcome conduct based on gender, age, race or color, religion, national origin, or disability. The conduct must either be a condition of continued employment or so serve and continuous that a reasonable person would find it abusive or intimidating. The victim does not have to be the target the of the unwelcome conduct. The victim might simply be offended by such harassing behavior directed at another employee. A harassment victim an file a legal complaint against the employer and, under some circumstances, can sue the employer for monetary damages.
Termination of Employment
Texas is an at-will employment state. An employer can usually fire an employee for any reason at any time. A major exception exists when an employment contract exists between which limits the employer's ability to terminate the employment relationship at will. Additionally, employers may not fire an employee for an illegal reason, such as discrimination based on age, race, or gender, or in retaliation for filing an employment-related complaint against the company for workers' compensation, an unsafe work environment, or discrimination.
If an employer terminates an employee's position, he must deliver the employee's final paycheck within six calendar days after the termination date. If the employee quits, the employer must deliver the final paycheck to the employee on the next regularly scheduled pay date. In either event, the final paycheck must include the amount of regular wages owed, plus any fringe benefits payable under written company policy.
If an employee's position is terminated for reasons other than misconduct, the employee may be eligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits. Additionally, former employees may be entitled to continuation of their health insurance benefits at their own expense under COBRA. COBRA applies only to employers with 20 or more employees.
Contact a Texas Labor & Employment Lawyer
Employment laws are complex. Employees with questions about their job should speak with a Texas employment lawyer.