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Houston Employment Law Blog

Beware certain risks when firing employees

Texas is an at-will employment state. This means that employees can be fired for any reason, as long as it is not an unlawful reason, typically one of the statutorily enumerated reasons such as discrimination. An employee could be fired for being late, for being early, for not working enough and for working too much. An employee could be fired simply because their supervisor feels like firing them--and it would be perfectly legal.

Still, employers face certain risks when terminating someone. Even though at-will employees can be fired for any reason, their termination could bring unintended consequences.

Combating sexual harassment in the workplace

Trade journal Accounting Today has completed an in-depth analysis of sexual harassment across several industries. In publishing the results, they’ve boiled it down to “10 key findings,” which paint a picture of workplaces where employees understand that harassment is a problem, but they either don't have the awareness to identify it or they don't believe that their reports will lead to real change.

Power dynamics, employee handbooks and guidelines, and company culture have a major impact on the employee experience.

Nearly 50 percent of EEOC complaints due to retaliation

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace civil rights, has released its statistics regarding discrimination claims filed in fiscal year 2017. According to the data, retaliation claims composed nearly half of all the claims received by the EEOC for that year. The second most common complaint was racial discrimination, closely followed by disability discrimination.

Forms of retaliation

Mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment may soon be banned

Mandatory arbitration in workplace sexual harassment cases may soon be a thing of the past. The attorneys general of every state in the nation have joined together, urging Congress to prohibit forced arbitration. The bipartisan group--which includes Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton--is encouraging legislation that would allow victims to take their harassment claims to court.

Mandatory arbitration in the workplace

No, FMLA does not include the death of a pet--for now

Sometimes, it is necessary for an employee to take time off to care for a relative who is ill or to mourn a deceased family member. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), workers can take unpaid time off to care for their family without fear of being fired. But what if an employee considers their pet--perhaps a dog or cat--to be a family member? In this case, is an employee allowed to use FMLA to care for their furry friend?

The question may seem fanciful, but it was actually the subject of a recent lawsuit and court ruling. A Wisconsin man sued his employer after being fired for missing several days of work after his dog died. The court's decision may have implications for the FMLA, employers and pet-lovers.

The basics of restrictive covenants in employment contracts, pt 2

Restrictive covenants are often a necessary component of employment contracts. They can prevent former employees from poaching their colleagues, ensure company secrets remain private and restrict a departing employee's ability to compete with your company. 

In a previous blog post, we went over the three most common types of restrictive covenants. This post will conclude our two-part series on restrictive covenants in employment contracts by discussing a few more examples and examining a few potential complications. 

State employees terminated after allegedly reporting violations of law

Two former high-profile employees with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) are filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the commission. The lawsuit claims that the employees faced retaliation and were wrongfully dismissed after reporting alleged legal violations that they discovered.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Travis County District Court, two female staffers suspected the agency of committing several legal infractions. When they reported these incidents to HHSC, the agency's leadership allegedly lashed out at the claimants, targeting them for reporting the violations. The women state that they were excluded from several important meetings for the programs that they oversaw. One litigant also claims that she was subject to a baseless investigation and that her signature was forged by one of her supervisors on a negative performance review.

The basics of restrictive covenants in employment contracts, pt 1

When you are creating an employment contract, it is sometimes necessary to lay out a few restrictions. For example, if an employee leaves your company, would you want him taking his knowledge of your confidential information and using it to compete with your business? How about if a former employee was to recruit your clients or customers to a competing company? Both of these scenarios could cost any company dearly.

That's why many employers include restrictive covenants in their employment contracts. In this post, we will discuss the three types of restrictive covenants. In our next post in this two-part series, we will go over some more examples of restrictive covenants and a few issues that may arise because of them.

It's a New Year, and time to update your employee handbook?

Employee handbooks are a helpful resource for outlining your company's policies, but if it is outdated or you don't have one, consider incorporating it into your business plan for 2018. A handbook can help set the standard for employee behavior and protect your organization from lawsuits.

Uber accused of illegal spying and stealing trade secrets

Companies have a vested interest in protecting trade secrets from competitors in an effort to maintain an advantage in the marketplace. The government recognizes the need for healthy market competition and will prosecute companies which steal another’s assets.

Uber is being investigated by authorities for allegedly illegal practices under its previous CEO, Travis Kalanick. Some of the allegations include employees pursuing illegal intelligence activities to obtain trade secrets from Uber’s rivals. 

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