Texas Whistleblower Act

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:

  1. regulate under or enforce the law alleged to be violated in the report;  or
  2. 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:

  1. injunctive relief;
  2. actual damages;
  3. court costs;  and
  4. 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:

  1. reinstatement to the employee’s former position or an equivalent position;
  2. compensation for wages lost during the period of suspension or termination;  and
  3. 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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Family Medical Leave Act Texas – FMLA

Family Medical Leave Act Texas – FMLA

In the course of life, unfortunate situations may arise in which one must be absent from work for a prolonged period of time. Oftentimes, that unfortunate situation maybe one’s illness or the illness of a family member. Fortunately, the Family Medical Leave Act may lend protection to those who need to take a leave from work for medical purposes.

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What is the Family Medical Leave Act?

The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that is designed to protect eligible employees to taking an unpaid leave from work for the reasons outlined in the Act. It is important to note that Texas does not have its own family and medical leave law, but instead falls under the umbrella of the federal statute.

Who is Protected by the Family Medical Leave Act?

The Family Medical Leave Act does not apply to all illnesses and circumstances.

The Act states,

(a) In general

(1) Entitlement to leave Subject to section 2613 of this title, an eligible employee shall be entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following:

(A) Because of the birth of a son or daughter of the employee and in order to care for such son or daughter.

(B) Because of the placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care.

(C) In order to care for the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent, of the employee, if such spouse, son, daughter, or parent has a serious health condition.

(D) Because of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee.

(E) Because of any qualifying exigency (as the Secretary shall, by regulation, determine) arising out of the fact that the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent of the employee is on covered active duty (or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty) in the Armed Forces.

In short, employees are eligible for a total of 12 workweeks within one year of: the birth of a child; the adoption of a child; to care for a spouse, son, daughter, parent or oneself because of a serious health conditions; or care for a family member who was wounded in the armed forces.

Texas Payday Law

Texas Payday Law

In the normal course of any business, employers hire individuals to perform a task or service. In turn, the employees expect to compensated for that service. For the purposes of this article, an independent contractor or anyone who has is close family relative of the employer, is not considered an employee. The Texas Payday Law is applicable to all employees regardless of the size of the employer’s organization. What is the Texas Payday Law? Let’s discuss.

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What is the Texas Payday Law?

Chapter 61 of the Texas Labor Code, which outlines the Texas Payday Law, is purposefully designed to deter employers from withholding payment to their employees.

Section 61.011 of the Law states,

(a) An employer shall pay wages to each employee who is exempt from the overtime pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. Section 201 et seq.) at least once a month.
(b) An employer shall pay wages to an employee other than an employee covered by Subsection (a) at least twice a month.
(c) If wages are paid twice a month, each pay period must consist as nearly as possible of an equal number of days.

This subsection ensures that employees are to be paid in a timely matter. Depending on how employees are characterized as per the law, payment may be received at least once a month or at least twice a month; if payment is received twice a month, there should be an equal number of days between the two days of payment.

What is Considered Proper Payment under the Texas Payday Law?

Under the Texas Payday Law, compensation could be rendered through payment of regular compensation for the services provided by the employee; bonuses and commissions; and fringe benefits depending on the employer.

Payment to the employee may be delivered in a check, cash, or electronic wiring of funds directly to the employee’s designated bank account. It is important to note that all other forms of payment might not be covered under the Texas Payday Law and may be challenged.

What Happens to an Employee’s Payment if the Employment is Terminated?

Under Section 61.014 of the Texas Payday Law,

(a) An employer shall pay in full an employee who is discharged from employment not later than the sixth day after the date the employee is discharged.
(b) An employer shall pay in full an employee who leaves employment other than by discharge not later than the next regularly scheduled payday.

How are Employers Penalized for not Paying Employees in a Timely Manner?

The Texas Payday law allows the Texas Workforce Commission to penalize employers in a monetary amount.

Additionally, Section 61.019 of the Texas Payday Law states,

(a) An employer commits an offense if:

  1. at the time of hiring an employee, the employer intends to avoid payment of wages owed to the employee; and

  2. the employer fails after demand to pay those wages.

(b) An employer commits an offense if the employer:

  1.  intends to avoid payment of wages owed to an employee;

  2. intends to continue to employ the employee; and

  3. fails after demand to pay those wages.

Failure to pay employees under this section is considered a felony of the third degree under Texas law. An attorney general may also seek injunctive relief in district court against an employer who repeatedly fails to pay wages to the employee.

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Texas Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Texas Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Discrimination in the workplace is not uncommon in the United States. Unfortunately, it is all too common and frequently makes headlines. However, the United States federal government has established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to handle instance of discrimination in the workplace. Want to learn more about the EEOC? Let’s discuss.

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What is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency established in order to administer and enforce federal civil rights laws that target instances of discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC handles discrimination complaints based on the following characteristics:

  1. Race and national origin
  2. Gender/Sex
  3. One’s Children
  4. National Origin
  5. Religion
  6. Age
  7. Disability
  8. Pregnancy
  9. Sexual Orientation
  10. Gender Identity
  11. Gender Information

The EEOC also handles complaints based on any retaliation against and individual for reporting or opposing a discriminatory practice.

Filing a complaint with the EEOC provides federal remedies and deterrence of further discriminatory behavior. It is monumentally important to utilize the EEOC to deter further occurrences of systematic discrimination by employers.

What is the Role of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?

Once a complaint is filed with the EEOC, the federal agency has the authority to investigate the complaint of discrimination against the named employers. The EEOC will then conduct the investigation in a fair and accurate manner to assess the allegations made in the charge. After a fair investigation, the EEOC will make a determination as to the original complaint.

In the instance that discrimination has truly occurred, the EEOC will then put forth efforts to settle the complaint. If the efforts made by the EEOC to settle the complaint prove to be unsuccessful, the EEOC reserves the right to file a lawsuit. It is important to note, that although the EEOC may file a lawsuit to preserve the rights and interests of the general public, the EEOC may choose not to pursue legal action in all instances in which the agency finds discrimination has occurred.

The EEOC attempts to prevent discrimination through a public outreach through specific programs created by the agency.

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Retaliation For Refusing To Commit An Illegal Act In Texas

Retaliation For Refusing To Commit An Illegal Act In Texas

It is not uncommon that an employer asks an employee to commit an illegal or an unethical act in the course of business. Fortunately, Texas law and legal precedent protects employees that find themselves in this predicament.

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Terminating the Working Relationship in Texas

The state of Texas is considered an employment-at-will state. In an at-will state, like Texas, both the employer and employee may terminate the relationship at any time. The employer and employee may do this with or without warning or cause, unless the contract that created the relationship expressly states otherwise.

The Sabine Pilot Doctrine

Although Texas is an employment-at-will state, and employers and employees may terminate the working relationship at any time, there lies one exception to the rule – the Sabine Pilot Doctrine.

The Sabine Pilot Doctrine arose from a Texas Supreme Court case, Sabine Pilot Serv. v. Hauck (Tex. 1985). In the Sabine Pilot case, the Supreme Court’s decision stated that an at-will employee may sue the employer if the employee is fired for refusing to commit an illegal or unethical act. This doctrine prohibits employers from terminating employees for the sole reason of refusing to perform an illegal or unethical act.

Justice Kilgarlin states in his decision,

We now hold that public policy, as expressed in the laws of this state and the United States which carry criminal penalties, requires a very narrow exception to the employment-at-will doctrine announced in East Line & R.R.R. Co. v. Scott. That narrow exception covers only the discharge of an employee for the sole reason that the employee refused to perform and illegal act. We further hold that in the trial of such a case it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his discharge was for no reason other than his refusal to perform an illegal act. (Sabine Pilot Serv.)

It is monumentally important to note that the exception carved out of the Sabine Pilot Doctrine only applies if the sole reason for an employee being discharged is the refusal of committing an illegal or unethical act. This statement also shifts the burden of proof on the plaintiff to prove that the discharge is for no other reason but refusal to commit the illegal act. One must also note that the illegal act in which the employee refuses to commit must also be punishable by criminal penalties.

What Remedies are Available for Refusing to Commit Illegal or Unethical Acts?

If an employee sues an employer under the Sabine Pilot cause of action and proves to be successful, that employee may be entitled to the following remedies:

  1. Past and future lost wages and benefits
  2. Damages for Mental Anguish
  3. Putative damages
  4. Reasonable attorney’s fees
  5. Court costs

The court may also order that the employee be reinstated to the same position or one of equal status. Texas precedent shows that an employee will likely not be successful or have available remedies under a Sabine Pilot cause of action against another employee.

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