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What a wonderful world it would be if all employers treated employees with respect, paid their employees in a timely manner at the agreed upon hourly rate or salary, and all employees experienced an organized and amicable workspace! Sadly, that is not the reality for many employees.
Luckily laws are enacted and enforced in order to 1. protect the employee’s rights when they are compromised; and 2. to protect an employer when the employer is accused on compromising the rights of an employee. In order to make sure that these laws are properly enforced in the employer or employee’s favor, hiring a lawyer in order to defend the client’s rights is greatly important. What instances may give rise for the need of an employment lawyer? Let’s explore.
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Why are Employment Lawyers Important?
An employer-employee relationship often begins with the formation and signing of an employment contract. Contracts are usually difficult to interpret without a legal background. An employment lawyer is not only familiar with the formalities of a contract, but can negotiate the terms in favor the client. Therefore, hiring an employment lawyer from the initiation of the employer-employee relationship can oftentimes deter any future misunderstandings and conflicts just by review of the initial contract.
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What Problems May Arise in the Workplace?
It is not uncommon to hear about trouble arising in the workplace. Luckily, an employment lawyer may be helpful to the following instances:
- In the event of a wrongful termination
- In the event that mistreatment by an employer occurs
- In the event that issues in unemployment compensation arises
- In the event of discussing any disagreement or misunderstanding wages and benefits as per the terms of the contract
- In event of any sexual harassment
The potential problems listed above are not exclusive. If an employer is being sued for any of the above-listed, an employment lawyer could also be hired to defend the employer.
Possible Outcomes in Hiring an Employment Lawyer
When filing a claim against an employee or employer, the employment lawyer will exhaust all possibilities to reach the client’s most favorable outcome. That outcome might be reimbursement for lost wages, being reinstated to a position, or ceasing the inappropriate behavior or language. Whatever the relief may be, hiring an employment lawyer will help get that relief to client.
Texas Whistleblower Act
Oftentimes, public employees are hesitant to report behavior or occurrences of the public employing entity to an appropriate law enforcement authorities. Fortunately, the Texas Whistleblower Act was implemented in order to protect individuals who report such behavior or occurrences. What is the Texas Whistleblower Act? Let’s discuss.
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What is the Texas Whistleblower Act?
The Texas Whistleblower Act strictly prohibits a city from taking an unfavorable action against an employee who reports a violation of a law by the employing city or another public employee to an appropriate law enforcement authority.
Chapter 554 of the Texas Government Code, outlines the Texas Whistleblower Act. The Act states,
(a) A state or local governmental entity may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who in good faith reports a violation of law by the employing governmental entity or another public employee to an appropriate law enforcement authority.
(b) In this section, a report is made to an appropriate law enforcement authority if the authority is a part of a state or local governmental entity or of the federal government that the employee in good faith believes is authorized to:
- regulate under or enforce the law alleged to be violated in the report; or
- investigate or prosecute a violation of criminal law.
In sum, the Act protects and supplies remedies to employees who acted with good faith while report the violation. The employee must have had a good faith belief to report the violation; additionally the good faith belief must be reasonable.
The statute itself is vague as to what constitutes an appropriate law enforcement authority. Legal precedent set by Texas case law defines an appropriate law enforcement authority as an agency that has the authority to regulate under, investigate, enforce and prosecute a violation of the employment retaliation laws.
Who is Protected under the Whistleblower Act?
The Act provides protection for the following employees,
(a) A public employee whose employment is suspended or terminated or who is subjected to an adverse personnel action in violation of Section 554.002 is entitled to sue for:
- injunctive relief;
- actual damages;
- court costs; and
- reasonable attorney fees.
It is important to note that under this subsection of the Act, in order to be eligible for relief, the public employee must have actually been suspended, terminated, or who is subjected to adverse personnel action.
What Remedies are Available under the Whistleblower Act?
In addition to injunctive relief, actual damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney fees, a public employee may also recover the following under the Act:
(b) In addition to relief under Subsection (a), a public employee whose employment is suspended or terminated in violation of this chapter is entitled to:
- reinstatement to the employee’s former position or an equivalent position;
- compensation for wages lost during the period of suspension or termination; and
- reinstatement of fringe benefits and seniority rights lost because of the suspension or termination.
What Notice is Required under the Whistleblower Act?
The Whistleblower Act requires that certain notice requirements be met; Section 554.009 of the Act states,
(a) A state or local governmental entity shall inform its employees of their rights under this chapter by posting a sign in a prominent location in the workplace.
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Can Your Employer Use Your Internet Browsing History as Evidence to Fire You
Is your employer watching? Are they monitoring the time you spend on the internet? But more importantly, can they use what they find out as evidence to fire you? In a recent decision, the answer to all of the above was YES.
A nearly 10-year employee was terminated for excessive internet usage – basically for not working while on duty. The union grieved the termination and made an application in advance of the arbitration that the internet investigative report is excluded as inadmissible because it infringed the employee’s privacy and was in violation of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FIPPA”). In the decision, Fraser Health Authority v. H.S.A.B.C., 2011 CarswellBC 1174 (B.C.A.B.), Arbitrator Glass held that there was no privacy violation and the report was admissible
One of the key facts in the decision was that the employer had a clear policy that the computers and the data on them were the property of the employer and that they would be monitored. The policy also stated that personal use of the computers was to be done while on breaks and was not to interfere with the employer’s operations.
The internet investigative report was generated based on data pulled from the employer’s proxy server, which included log records of the URL visited, web category, date and time, IP address of the source computer and the user account when the internet was accessed through the proxy server. The internet report was only requested after the employer had several pieces of evidence from other employees about the individual’s excessive use of the internet.
The employer, in this case, was a public body and therefore under FIPPA including the following:
(a) the collection of that information is expressly authorized under an Act, or
(b) that information relates directly to and is necessary for an operating program or activity of the public body.
The Arbitrator found that the internet investigative report fell within the exception of s. 26(c) and was not in violation of FIPPA. The Arbitrator found that the purpose of the audit was “legitimate and necessary” and the basis for looking into it was “reasonable”. I would suggest that a key factor was that the Arbitrator held that the scope of the internet investigative report was reasonably limited. It was not simply a copy of all the personal data of that employee, it was basically a list of websites visited and the time spent browsing.