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Houston Employment Law Blog

Know these 5 major reasons why employees sue

Being an employer is often fraught with thorny legal complexities. Not only must an employer efficiently run its business and manage its employees, it must do so while navigating a legal minefield. In our ever-litigious climate, many employers regularly face the threat of potential lawsuits from employees. To guard against frivolous lawsuits, employers should be aware of some of the main reasons that prompt employees to sue.

What follows is a list of the five common reasons why workers sue their employers.

Trade secrets, non-competes, and complex litigation

Some companies provide services to their customers, while others produce products. For the companies that provide services, they need to have amazing customer satisfaction and top-tier communication skills so that their customers are happy with the service. For the companies that provide products, they also need to have amazing customer satisfaction, but to achieve that they need unique products (and pieces to their products) to differentiate them from other companies.

This is where trade secrets come into play. A trade secret is a unique piece of information -- may that be a tasty recipe, a critical cog or part, or a special method for production -- that provides that differentiation. It makes a product, and by extension a company, more competitive in the marketplace. These trade secrets are, unsurprisingly, closely guarded. Trade secret laws and intellectual property law cover a lot of ground in this area, as well as non-compete agreements and non-disclosure agreements.

Avoid this risky employment contract loophole

Easily the most explosive scandal to come out of Hollywood this year is the onslaught of sexual assault allegations against movie tycoon Harvey Weinstein. Over 35 women, including several female employees of The Weinstein Company, have alleged that they were victims of the producer's sexual abuse.

Allegations of workplace sexual harassment are a nightmare for employers and employees alike, and many companies are taking measures to prevent a similar scandal within their ranks. One overlooked detail that has emerged from the case could serve as an important warning for business owners: Weinstein's employment contract may have had a loophole that allowed him to sexually harass women.

On sexual harassment claims and the need for legal help

Sexual harassment has been a massive topic in the news lately. It has been a critical issue in the world of employment law for ages, but the Harvey Weinstein case has opened up the collective eyes of our society to the scary nature of this problem. As such, both employees and employers need to be cognizant of sexual harassment and how to not only prevent it from happening in the first place but also how to proceed when a legal case is made out of sexual harassment allegations.

In some cases, sexual harassment claims involve "quid pro quo." This means that an employer (manager, supervisor, officer, or owner) is asking for sexual favors in exchange for some bonus or benefit, such as a promotion or a raise. In other cases, the sexual harassment claims may be born out of a hostile work environment involving sexual remarks, conduct, or advances.

What you should know about hiring contractors vs. employees

Employees and independent contractors are two types of workers who often perform similar duties, but in fact have different legal definitions. A company may be composed of employees and contractors who work side by side and collaborate frequently, even performing similar jobs. But there are major distinctions between the two, and it isn't just their job title.

A smart employer should know some fundamental distinctions when deciding which type of worker to hire. This is crucial in order for both the employer and the worker to fulfill their legal obligations to each other. Here, we'll elaborate some of the key differences between contract workers versus employees.

Former deputy receives thousands in wrongful termination suit

Most businesses in the United States operate on an "at-will employment" basis. This means it can be difficult to build cases for wrongful termination because both the employer and the employee may usually end the arrangement at any time, with little or no notice, for almost any reason. There are some reasons for termination, however, that are not protected by at-will employment laws. These include those that would violate federal anti-discrimination laws (such as termination on the basis of race or gender), those that would breach a contract between employer and employee and those that would result from retaliation after an employee lodged a complaint.

Jeffrey Randleman's job loss in 2014 is a case of termination due to retaliation. The (now-former) North Carolina deputy had testified against Sheriff Terry Johnson in a 2013 case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice which alleged racial discrimination. This was actually the second such case against Johnson - he had previously been accused of racial discrimination in 2012, but was found not liable.

Can new dads take FMLA leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act stipulates that pregnant women and new mothers may take up to 12 weeks of leave from work. Taking some time off from work is often necessary for a mom-to-be to receive prenatal care or recover while she is incapacitated, or for a mother to care for her brand-new infant.

With the roles of mothers and fathers constantly evolving in our modern society, men as well as women have expressed interest in taking leave to care for their children. We know that the FMLA allows leave for new mothers, but does it also allow leave for new fathers? The answer is yes--with a few important caveats.

Disclosing a means of protection: NDA

A woman went to HR with a complaint about her boss: he had propositioned her. She stayed in the job for a few months afterwards, but eventually left with a severance package. In exchange for the $40,000 package, she signed a nondisclosure agreement.

She had agreed "not disclose to any person or entity any information about anyone at the firm." She also agreed that she would not sue or disparage the firm.

4 employment clauses that could prove to be problematic

The start of any employment relationship is often full of hope and ambition. Employers are eager to fill empty roles with talented people and employees are ready to get to work. In the midst of this anticipation, it can be easy for parties to make some costly missteps when it comes to signing an employment contract.

One such misstep is to sign something without reading it. Whether you are an employer or an employee, it is crucial that you read and understand the terms in a contract before you sign it, including the four clauses we discuss in this post.

Will the Supreme Court weigh in on FMLA standards?

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) may dig into what standard is best to determine whether an employee has a valid claim under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

What is the FMLA? The FMLA is a law that essentially provides employees with leave for certain medical and family reasons. Employers cannot negatively retaliate against an employee who takes FMLA leave. This includes termination of employment or other forms of discipline.

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