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Houston Legal Blog

Constructive discharge and workplace discrimination

Some Texas employees may face so much discrimination or harassment at work that they have little choice but to resign. It may then be possible for these employees to take their employers to court on what is known as a "constructive discharge" " claim. However, it might be difficult to prove, and it requires a higher level of harassment or discrimination than what is required to establish a hostile work environment.

For a person to claim discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the person usually must stay at the job. The basic idea behind a constructive discharge is that an employee is placed in a situation in which a reasonable person would have little choice but to quit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit named three conditions that must be in place before leaving a job is considered a constructive discharge. The person must show that there was intentional discrimination, that working conditions were deliberately made unbearable and that circumstances resulted in a situation in which the only option was quitting.

Employment law tips for Texas employees and employers

The workplace can be a complicated environment, involving people from a wide variety of backgrounds and even different expectations regarding what constitutes professionalism.

When there is too much ambiguity in these matters, the potential for disputes can be high. That is why employers and employees need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities in the workplace. Moreover, there are steps that employers can take to minimize the potential for conflict, support employees appropriately and guard against liabilities.

What are the differences between employees and independent contractors?

Whether you are an employer, employee or contractor, it is vital to know the difference between employee and independent contractor classifications.

The IRS lists three categories for differentiation. The legal distinction is important and can spill over into many areas. Here is a look at the primary differences.

After-acquired evidence may be crucial

In a Texas wrongful termination case, the term "after-acquired evidence" might refer to evidence gathered by the company after the employee has been fired. It's common in these cases for the employer to look for valid reasons for termination in the employee's history, in anticipation of a complaint or after the complaint has been filed.

The Supreme Court addressed the issue of after-acquired evidence in 1995, finding that it would not prevent the employee from proving discrimination, but that it could limit the type or amount of relief available to the employee. After-acquired evidence can limit the potential money damages available and give the court reasons not to require reinstatement or front pay.

How to avoid harassment at work

Texas employers should make preventing harassment in the workplace one of their top priorities. One way that this can be done is by training employees to recognize and avoid specific actions that could be seen as harassment. For instance, companies can provide examples of behavior to avoid such as asking colleagues on dates or sending emails containing lewd jokes or other inappropriate language.

Both employees and managers should be provided with proper training as it relates to harassment. Managers should be taught how to respond to claims of harassment as well as how to properly document and investigate such claims. Employees should be given training throughout their time with a company to help them understand current policies as well as changes to workplace harassment laws. If a complaint is brought forth by an employee, the company should take it seriously and avoid retaliating against the person who complained.

Bias may be considered discrimination

Employees in Texas and across the country may face discrimination in the workplace. Sometimes, discriminatory practices or behaviors may be overt and obvious, but the pattern is often subtle and difficult to determine. The law is typically broad and inclusive when it comes to discriminatory practices and even bias that makes employees feel excluded based on protected factors such as gender, religion or sexual orientation may constitute discrimination.

Biased practices have a strong effect on workplace performance according to a study on the subject. The study found that 66 percent of people reported that biased treatment had a large impact on their commitment, motivation, morale and desire to advance further in their company or position. Subtle biased actions are the most difficult. They may be more difficult to report and describe or identify as discrimination.

Settlement for Disney employees over costume costs

Texas workers who are required to wear uniforms on the job may be interested to learn that Disney employees will receive a settlement totaling $3.8 million in a dispute related to costumes. According to a Department of Labor investigation, two Disney resorts violated overtime pay, minimum wage and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. One of Disney's violations was that in requiring employees to purchase costumes, the pay to those employees dropped below minimum wage.

More than 16,000 workers in Florida will receive back pay as a result of the settlement. According to one attorney, the company might have committed even more violations if those resorts were located in other states.

Class action lawsuit targets employee break periods

The number of employees who are suing their employers for workplace violations such as failure to pay overtime and other wage and hour violations has substantially increased in recent years, according to human resource management experts. One of the most significant of these cases is a lawsuit involving inadequate break periods that could have far-reaching consequences for employers in Houston and around the nation.

A man who worked for a San Diego shipyard company brought an class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and more than 1,900 fellow employees. He and his colleagues were working on a contract for the U.S. Navy that required security checkpoints to both enter and exit the ship. He alleged that the checkpoints led to long waiting periods, which meant that some employees did not receive a 30-minute meal break as is required by California labor law. He also alleged that the company forced its employees to purchase uniforms from the company without reimbursement.

Noncompete agreement language can be crucial

When a Texas company is sold, the purchaser often requests the seller's owner to enter into a noncompete agreement. These agreements are usually limited to a specified number of years and to geographic locations in close proximity to the company. In late 2016, a Texas appellate court ruled on the enforceability of one such agreement.

In the case, an office equipment company had purchased the assets of a similar business. As part of the transaction, the seller's owner agreed that he would not compete with the purchaser for a period of two years after the closing date. The purchase agreement also provided that he would become an employee of the purchaser for four years and that the noncompete provision would be voided if his employment was terminated within two years other than for cause.

Frequently asked questions about unpaid wages in Texas

If you are denied payment either of the minimum wage or overtime, you can recover the wages you are owed by reporting a wage and hour violation. Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are required to pay wages and overtime. Due to varying state laws regarding wages and hours, some employees can get confused and end up not filing complaints about wrongfully-denied payments. Here are some frequently asked questions about wage theft and employee rights in Texas to help you understand the details:

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