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Houston Legal Blog

New overtime regulations headed to OIRA review

Proposed overtime rules from the U.S. Department of Labor have reportedly been sent for review to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The labor department designed the rules to replace the regulations that were meant to take effect on December 1, 2016, but were instead declared invalid by a federal district court in Texas.

The OIRA will determine if the proposed regulations comply with Executive Order 12866. This order tasks the agency with the consideration of alternatives, incorporation of public comments and measurement of costs and benefits. The review process does not require a minimum amount of time although the agency could spend 90 days or more on the assessment. A previous announcement from the Wage and Hour Division at the DOL scheduled a notice of proposed rulemaking for March 2019.

Strong contracts can prevent disputes with employees

As a Texas business owner, you understand how important it is to strongly defend the interests of your company against any type of legal claims from your employees. You also know that the best offense is a good defense, meaning that a smart way to protect your company is to avoid disputes whenever possible. One way you can do this is by drafting strong employee contracts.

You may not think that contracts for your employees are necessary, but they can provide various protections for your business. Regardless of how large or small your company is, you may want to consider the legal protections that will allow you to avoid potential issues in the future. Employee contracts are smart, simple ways to clearly define the role, rights and responsibilities of both parties.

How breastfeeding discrimination impacts mothers

Texas mothers who return to work after giving birth still need to take care of their children. However, not all employers provide the resources that they need to successfully breastfeed. Workers who are denied accommodations and speak out against their employers could be at risk of losing their jobs. According to one study, roughly 66 percent of those who claimed breastfeeding discrimination were eventually out of work.

Breastfeeding discrimination can take a variety of forms, such as comments about a woman's breasts or not being given a private place to pump milk. Workers who are terminated for asking for breaks to pump milk could also be victims of discrimination. Research indicates that such discrimination is more likely to occur to women who work in fields dominated by men. Although females make up 16 percent of workers in such fields, they accounted for 43 percent of breastfeeding discrimination claims.

Court rules ADEA does not apply to job applicants

In Texas and across the United States, workers who are 40 or older have long been protected from discrimination based on their age. But a recent court decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit has raised concerns. The decision seeks to draw a distinction between older employees and older job applicants, with a holding that the law only protects workers from discrimination in their current position.

The 7th Circuit case centers around a 58-year-old man who submitted an application for a legal job with a major medical device manufacturer. The man was not granted an interview but later learned the position went to a 29-year-old who was less qualified. This spurred the man to file a lawsuit alleging age discrimination against the medical device company. The lawsuit alleged a disparate impact claim under the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA). After the case went to trial, his appeal eventually made its way to the 7th Circuit. When rendering their decision, the court pointed to the 'plain language" of the ADEA statute in drawing a distinction between employees and applicants.

The law doesn't guarantee you a severance package

If your position requires an employment contract, you may want to consider including a severance package in it. Most employment contracts include a termination date or circumstances under which the contract terminates. If your employer decides not to renew the contract or exercises an option to terminate it during its effective period, you don't want to find yourself empty handed.

The best time to negotiate a severance package is when you negotiate the remainder of your employment contract. Waiting until the termination of your employment may not be in your best interests since the Fair Labor Standards Act does not require your employer to provide you anything upon the termination of your employment other than what you have already earned at that time.

Searching for a job with a noncompete agreement

Texas executives may be concerned about the potential effect a noncompete provision may have on their professional future. This is often a part of an employment agreement, and it typically includes language that prevents the executive from taking work with competitors or launching an independent business for a certain period of time after leaving the firm. While employers tend to favor these agreements in order to protect trade secrets, intellectual property and other insider knowledge, they can pose a significant barrier for employees who want to move on.

Even workers outside the executive sphere are often asked to sign these agreements, especially in industries where intellectual property is a major factor. Indeed, one-fifth of the country's employees are currently working in jobs where they have signed noncompete agreements. Fourteen percent of these workers make less than $40,000 annually, bringing into question whether these agreements are proper for low-wage workers. Many people may want to avoid signing these types of agreements if at all possible but face a difficult time declining work.

Former employees sue for age discrimination

Former agents of a large insurance company that provides coverage in Texas and around the country are suing their former employer for age discrimination. The lawsuit claims that the insurance company fired the workers due to their age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. It also claims that the workers were wrongly classified as independent contractors because the insurance agency controlled nearly all of their job duties directly.

According to representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, age discrimination is an open and common practice in workplaces throughout the country. Due to this problem, the agency announced it would concentrate more on the issue. Some companies use passive aggressive tactics, like reassigning clients, to get rid of older employees while others take a more direct approach through terminations.

Former Blizzard employee describes race discrimination

Texas residents who are fans of gaming might be interested in learning that an ex-employee of Blizzard posted a description of ongoing racial discrimination that he encountered while working for the company. He did so following the reveal of the sexual orientation of Soldier 76 in "Overwatch".

The man, who is of Mexican heritage, wrote that he was originally hired to work on a team at Blizzard on a temporary basis. He stated that everything was fine until his position was made permanent. Once he became a permanent employee, he worked on a team with a man and a woman.

How do you file a complaint if you aren't being paid fairly?

There are state and federal laws in place designed to protect your interests as an hourly employee. These regulations keep employers from paying workers too little or treating them unfairly by withholding breaks. Wage and hour laws cover many issues, yet violations still happen. When workers believe their Texas employer is not following the law, they have the right to file a complaint.

One of the most common violations committed by employers is wage theft. This most likely means that an employer is withholding a portion of wages you earned or is not paying you at least minimum wage. You deserve to receive pay for work you completed, and you deserve a fair wage that meets the minimum state standards. It may be in your interests to learn how to file a complaint and take other steps necessary to protect your interests. 

Retaliation common in sexual harassment cases

Some may wonder why some Texas women who have been victims of sexual harassment at work choose not to report the perpetrators or take action to put a stop to the behavior. Unfortunately, statistics gathered by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Employment Equity make clear why workers in a bad situation often feel forced to make difficult choices. Most employees who complain about harassment on the job face some kind of retaliation at work, according to the researchers.

The study showed that 64 percent of people who made sexual harassment claims against others at work were terminated from their jobs within one year of the complaint. Sixty-eight percent faced some form of retaliation overall. The researchers reviewed over 46,000 complaints about sexual harassment over a four-year period between 2012 and 2016. They examined claims submitted to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as those made before state Fair Employment Practices agencies.

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