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Houston Employment Law Blog

Why severance agreements are more complex than most employees realize

There is a natural tendency to assume that whenever the topic of a severance agreement is broached in connection with the impending departure of an executive- or management-level employee, matters will invariably turn contentious.

While it's true that higher-level employees and their employers often part ways on less than amicable terms, it's also equally true that the two sides are frequently willing and able to engage in productive discussions.   

Here's what you need to know about sexual harassment

The subjugation of one person by another sounds like something that should not be part of a civilized society. Sadly, those who desire to have power over another person often still do so. In the workplace, some co-workers, supervisors and managers use sexual harassment as their tool here in Texas and elsewhere.

Victims are often made to feel as though their jobs depend on giving in to or ignoring demands for sexual favors, unwanted sexual advances or other physical or verbal sexual conduct. The victim's work environment becomes hostile and intolerable, and the harassment continues despite the objections of the victim. Most people recognize two separate types of sexual harassment.

What qualifies as workplace discrimination?

Federal and state laws protect workers here in Texas and elsewhere from being denied employment opportunities based on certain characteristics over which they have no control. The U.S Department of Justice outlines certain types of workplace discrimination prohibited by law. If an employee believes that he or she faces discrimination for one of the following, legal action could be warranted.

An employer cannot discriminate against someone based on that person's race or skin color (for example, African American or Asian). If an individual is from another country, the law protects him or her from discrimination by an employer based on that fact. Sex discrimination occurs when an employer is biased against an employee based on gender, gender identity or because of pregnancy.

Did complaint of race discrimination cause retaliatory behavior?

It might seem odd to many Texas residents that in today's society, such a question even needs to be asked anymore. Nevertheless, a federal court in another part of the country needs to answer this question after a worker filed a complaint alleging that he suffered retaliation when he complained of race discrimination in his workplace. Discrimination of many types continues to occur here in Texas and elsewhere, and not enough employees are willing to take a stand against it for fear of being terminated, harassed or retaliated against.

The man who filed this lawsuit claims that his co-workers and supervisors consistently harassed him and made derogatory racial comments on a regular basis. When he attempted to complain about the behavior, his work environment grew hostile. In fact, he claims that he was demoted in retaliation for lodging a complaint with the company and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Wrongful termination claim of former Verizon employee settles

As the average age of the population rises and the economy requires people to work longer, many older Americans continue to work longer than their parents and grandparents did. In theory, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act should protect these workers from losing their jobs based on their age. However, as many Texas residents can attest, in practice, workers become victims of wrongful termination every day across the country for this reason.

Consider the case of a 28-year Verizon employee who was terminated from his position in June 2015. The man spent the last 15 years of his career with the cell phone giant as a systems technician. Up until eight weeks before his termination, he had no significant disciplinary issues and did his job well. Then he received a new supervisor who he says began making discriminatory comments regarding him and other older employees.

Did your employer terminate you for taking FMLA leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") is available to eligible employees who need to be absent from work due to their chronic or serious health condition or that of a close relative, the birth of a child or any medical condition that requires an absence of three consecutive days or more from work. Under the FMLA, an eligible employee may take up to 12 weeks leave per year. An employee must who has been on FMLA leave must generally be returned to the same or substantially similar job following FMLA leave.

It is unlawful for an employer to terminate or retaliate against an employee for exercising his or her rights under the FMLA.

A federal law turns 50, but age discrimination still persists

Approximately 50 years ago, the federal government passed a law intended to protect older Americans in the workplace. Many older Texas workers could attest to the fact that age discrimination persists in spite of the law. In 2015, a field study was done to determine whether those workers are right.

The study's focus was to determine whether employers favor younger applicants over older ones when all other things remain as equal as possible. Fake resumes were created that gave the fictitious applicants the same skills. The ages of these applicants were divided into three groups.

Is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act working?

The federal government took actions back in 1967 to ensure that older Americans, including those here in Texas, are able to find gainful employment regardless of their age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act as modified to remove the upper age limit protection of 65 turns 50 years old this year. The question is whether it is working.

The simple answer is that it "sort of" works. In 2016, approximately 20,857 claims of age discrimination were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That might not seem like a lot considering the number of people employed across the country, but that number only includes the people who actually filed a complaint. Many more choose not to file claims for a variety of reasons.

Pregnant? Don't forget about FMLA leave

The birth of a child is one of the most exciting, frightening and joyous times in the lives of many Texas residents. Most working parents want to take as much time as they can after their children are born to be with them in the first weeks of their lives. Under FMLA, those parents could get their wish. 

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows leave for pregnancies with serious complications. If a doctor determines that an absence from work is needed to protect the mother and the unborn child, FMLA leave would be available. During the first year of a child's life or the first year after an adoption, both men and women may take this leave. Employees may either take the leave intermittently (with an employer's approval) or all at once up to 12 weeks per calendar year.

Throwing money at sexual harassment claims is not enough

Corrections officers across the country, including those here in Texas, have a difficult job. The last thing they need is to deal with sexual harassment from other officers and supervisors. Unfortunately, it is prevalent in many prisons, and one state's legislature recently blasted its department of corrections for allowing the behavior to continue.

During the first half of 2016, approximately $4 million was paid to corrections officers who suffered sexual harassment at work. The state's lawmakers accuse its DOC of failing to address the root of the problem and instead simply throwing money at it. In addition, the women who came forward about the harassment suffered retaliation as well.

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