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Houston Legal Blog

What makes a contract legal?

Nearly every Texas business deals in contracts. These agreements can be with vendors, suppliers or customers, among others. What they all have in common is that they must comply with the law in order to remain valid.

If a contract does not comply with the laws applicable to it and you become embroiled in a dispute regarding the contract, it may not hold up in court. What you may have thought was a simple case of breach of contract could end up costing you time, money and effort if the contract fails to legally bind you and the other party.

How to spot sexual harassment at work

In 2015, a survey revealed that one out of three women experienced harassment at work at some point. When Texas employees experience such harassment, it may be a violation of their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits sex discrimination, and sexual harassment is deemed to be a form of discrimination.

Harassment can either take the form of quid pro quo or a hostile working environment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a person's success with a company is largely determined by whether or not they succumb to someone else's sexual advances. A hostile workplace occurs when a person is subject to harassment that is abusive or intimidating in nature. In either scenario, sexual harassment could be anything from unwanted sexual advances to comments about people based on their gender even if they are not sexual in nature.

Court case could have implications for Texas employers

A woman claims that she was raped by another worker outside of work. Both the alleged rapist and the victim were workers for the Idaho Department of Corrections. At the time of the incident in August 2011, the man had been on administrative leave for another alleged rape that occurred in July 2011. The IDOC acknowledged to the woman that it knew about his history, and he had three prior complaints prior to the July 2011 incident.

Despite that, he had received no discipline for those prior complaints. A day after reporting the rape, IDOC sent out an email telling others to reach out to the man because he was likely feeling down. When the female employee asked for paid leave as was IDOC policy in extreme or unusual situations, her request was denied. This was the same type of leave that the male employee had been granted after the July 2011 incident.

Are you exempt or non-exempt? Your classification affects overtime pay.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an exempt employee generally does not accrue overtime pay. That right rests with employees classified as non-exempt. Exempt employees often make a flat salary, but non-exempt employees usually receive their pay according to the number of hours they work.

Other differences include the fact that exempt employees must make more than $455 per week. Your job title does not dictate whether you are exempt or not. If exempt employees work more than 40 hours per week, they do not necessarily receive overtime pay. If your employer incorrectly classifies you as exempt, you may be owed overtime pay.

Female former employees sue Oracle for wage disparity

On Sept. 29, it was reported that three former Oracle employees, all female, filed a lawsuit against the company for pay discrimination. The lawsuit, which was seeking class-action status in order to represent all female employees at Oracle, was filed on Aug. 28. The company has locations in Texas.

The lawsuit alleges that Oracle systematically paid its female employees lower wages than their male counterparts even though they performed equal or similar work. The lawsuit also referenced the lawsuit filed against Oracle by the U.S. Department of Labor after the agency reportedly found a pay disparity between female and male employees and discrimination against women in the workplace. Due to the fact that Oracle is required to maintain records of wage rates for all employees located in California, the company should have been aware of the pay disparity.

When employees experience sexual harassment from clients

When many Texas employees think about sexual harassment in the workplace, they might immediately think about it being perpetrated by co-workers, supervisors or bosses. However, a study showed that sexual harassment coming from customers or clients could be just as damaging and as problematic for employees.

Sexual harassment coming from customers or clients may be more common in some industries than others. For example, those who work in the service industry may be more likely to experience harassment from customers simply because they are required to work face-to-face with them. In the study, 2.4 percent of Danish employees who responded said they were exposed to sexual harassment from customers or clients, while 1 percent were exposed to sexual harassment from colleagues.

Workplace discrimination often starts in the hiring process

Some people in Texas take the view that hard work will bring job opportunities and career growth to people regardless of their race. Although success in the workplace requires dedication and skill development, data strongly indicates that blacks and Latinos face discrimination as soon as they even apply for jobs. Applicants from these groups receive fewer chances to interview, which translates into fewer job offers and reduced career potential.

A meta study conducted by university researchers that reviewed 28 field studies going back to 1989 showed that employers called white job applicants for interviews 36 percent more often than black applicants. Employers favored white job seekers with callbacks 24 percent more often than Latinos who applied for jobs. The researchers concluded that in 25 years, blacks had experienced no improvements in racial discrimination although Latinos had made some gains at the point of hire.

Do you have a trademark? You need to know how to protect it.

Creating and registering a trademark are two important steps in defining and distinguishing your business from others.

You may also need to proactively protect your trademark. Otherwise, your business could be exposed to reputation damage, among other losses such as diluting the power of your mark. If you believe someone has infringed upon your trademark, or if you have been falsely accused of infringement, you should waste no time in taking legal action to right the wrong. 

The difference between gig worker and employee

There is a significant difference between Texas workers who are labeled as independent contractors as opposed to employees. Independent contractors are generally responsible for paying their own taxes and finding their own insurance. They may also be required to take steps on their own to obtain payment for services rendered. However, unlike most employees, they are generally allowed to choose when and how they work.

As companies increasingly outsource work, the line between contractor and employee may not be as bright as it once was. For instance, Uber and Lyft classify their drivers as independent contractors despite the fact that their workers insist that they are employees. The basis for their claim lies mostly in their working conditions. Employers should be wary of incorrectly classifying their workers as doing so could result in large financial penalties.

Overtime rule blocked by federal judge in Texas

The salary threshold for overtime pay has not been changed since 2004. It remained at $23,660 for overtime eligibility. President Obama's administration passed a new regulation that would have doubled the salary threshold to $47,000, making many more workers eligible for overtime pay. That rule change has been blocked by a federal judge in Texas, however.

Under the new rule, workers who made less than $47,000 per year would be eligible for overtime compensation for the hours that they worked in excess of 40 in a week even if they were salaried employees. Twenty-one states filed lawsuits against the federal government to try to prevent the rule from being enacted. The federal judge in Texas agreed with the states that the threshold was set too high and would result in many management employees being eligible for overtime pay.

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