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Houston Legal Blog

Restaurant servers fear theft of tips under proposed regulations

Existing wage regulations set by the U.S. Department of Labor allow servers in Texas restaurants to keep their tips and bar management from requiring tip sharing with kitchen staff. If a proposed change to the regulation becomes official, then restaurant owners will gain the ability to pool tips and distribute them between servers and cooks. Although some people in the food industry accept that this change could ease income disparity between front and back workers, the regulations as proposed leave open the possibility that management could keep the tip money.

The proposed regulation would give employers the option to forgo the tip credit that allows servers to be paid below minimum wage. After raising all employees to minimum wage, the restaurant owner could pool tips and distribute them or legally keep the money. The National Restaurant Association recognizes this issue but still supports the proposed regulatory changes without any adjustment to prevent management from keeping tips.

The colorful world of trademarks

Barbie has her own color - a trademark pink that distinguishes her packaging and logo from that of other dolls and toys. This may be the reason why so many little girls who love Barbie also love the color pink. For some products, the consumer automatically associates the brand with the color, and this is a plus for you if you want your product to stand out in a crowd.

If your product or service is similar to others in your industry, you likely want to find a way to make its marketing unique and then protect that marketing. One way to do that is through trademark protection. Many companies trademark their brands and logos, and a few have successfully trademarked a distinctive color.

Understanding gray areas in Title VII

Texas employers likely know that sex discrimination is banned under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, there is still a gray area surrounding termination for issues that may only impact one sex. One woman sued her employer claiming that she was fired after health issues related to the onset of menopause. These health issues allegedly caused her to stain an office chair, which was one of the reasons why she was terminated.

While the case was settled before the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit could issue a ruling, there are some questions as to how the court could and should have ruled. A representative from the National Women's Law Center argued that the case represented termination based on something unique to a person's sex. Therefore, it would be unlawful to terminate based on that reason. Others argued that it wouldn't be discrimination if both genders were treated the same way as it relates to physical conditions.

Pregnant women have rights in the workplace

Pregnancy, although it is covered under the Family Medical Leave Act, is not a disability. Women often work through their entire pregnancies and return to their jobs within two months of delivering their babies. Unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination is a real problem in workplaces today. It's important for pregnant women to know their rights so they can protect themselves and their source of income.

Federal labor law protects pregnant women who apply or work for companies with 15 or more employees. Although women are not required to disclose a pregnancy to a potential employer, revealing it during the interview process could benefit pregnant women. For example, the interviewer's reaction to the information may give a woman insight into how the company treats mothers and help her decide whether she wants to work there. Having this conversation early may give a new hire a chance to learn about the options available to her if she needs to take time off work later to deal with an illness or even to care for a sick child.

Companies' responses to sexual harassment

There is no profession or occupation in Texas in which sexual harassment is not an issue. However, despite the prevalence of sexual harassment, a mere 30 percent of women who are victimized by sexual harassers make internal complaints. An even lower percentage will file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, despite the fact that the companies may have knowledge that the sexual harassment is taking place.

The manner in which a company addresses a complaint or just an indication of sexual harassment has a substantial effect on the perception of the company. There have been publicized cases in which the denial of a company's board that there was no knowledge of sexual harassment seem to push the bounds of credibility. However, there are many institutions that will ignore the behavior of executives, effective salespeople, top performers and any other employees who have been financially beneficial.

Standing up to sexual orientation discrimination in Texas workplaces

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a reality in many workplaces in Texas. This type of discrimination can occur at any point during employment, including the hiring process.

If you believe you have been discriminated against or harassed on the basis of your perceived or actual sexual orientation, it's important to understand a number of legal matters that are specific to this type of discrimination.

Hostile work environments

Federal law protects Texas workers from having to endure a hostile work environment. Antidiscrimination laws make it clear that taunts, insults and name-calling based on things like sex, race, religion and national origin can make it difficult for employees to function in the workplace. As a result, a worker can take action against an employer for encouraging or even just permitting these conditions.

One question that some employers and workers may have is how a hostile work environment can be defined. For example, does there have to be a long-standing pattern of harassment, or can an employee take action after one particularly egregious incident?

What makes a noncompete agreement valid?

Whether you're an employer looking for new hires or a worker considering new employment opportunities, it's important to have a general understanding of current state and federal employment laws. These laws often change, and if you sign any type of agreement without fully understanding its contents and any obligations or responsibilities set therein, you could wind up facing significant legal trouble if something goes awry down the line.

For instance, these days many employers use noncompete agreements, which are designed to protect employers' interests, particularly with regard to intellectual property and trade secrets. For a noncompete clause to be valid, several requirements must be met.

Jealous wife causes case about sex discrimination at work

Many workers in Texas encounter workplace discrimination in many ways, but a case before a federal court will be addressing a relatively unusual type of situation. The matter regards the complaint of a former employee of a forklift company who lost her job because the company president's wife did not want him interacting with any female employees.

The former employee's case cites Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers from discrimination on the basis of sex. Few legal precedents exist that could guide a court's decision about this complaint. Other cases that involved spousal jealousy at work focused on a single employee and not all female employees. Because the president's wife placed a complete ban on interaction with any women, the case could potentially represent an example of sex discrimination. The jealous wife was also an employee of the company.

Court rules against docking paychecks for long restroom breaks

In a recent case, an appellate court determined that deducting pay from employees who spend more than a minute and a half in the restroom is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This ruling could have impacts on Texas work environments.

The appellate review emanated from a case involving Progressive Business Publications, a company that publishes industry newsletters and trade journals. Court records indicate that PBP convinced employees to enter into a flexible agreement in relation to the performance of their duties; the workers could take as much personal time as they needed to when stepping away from their workstations, but only with the understanding that they would not be paid for this time.

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