RESTRICTIONS ON EMPLOYERS RIGHTS TO DISCHARGE “AT WILL” EMPLOYEES IN TEXAS

Fired.jpgTexas is an employment-at-will state which means that, absent an express agreement to the contrary, either party in an employment relationship may end the relationship or change the terms and conditions of employment at any time for any reason, or for no particular reason at all, with or without notice. Therefore, in Texas, an employee can terminate the working relationship at any time and for any reason. Employers have similar liberties, but there are some restrictions. These restrictions prevent employers from firing people on grounds that violate their legal rights. If your employer terminates you in violation of these restrictions, this is what is known as wrongful termination
The restrictions on the employer’s right to terminate at-will employees are contained in state and federal statutes and by the judicial decisions of the courts.

Statutory restrictions include:

  • An employer may not discharge an employee based upon the employee’s race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, or citizenship, in violation of state and federal employment discrimination statutes;
  • An employer may not discharge an employee who engages in a protected activity. A protected activity is something the law entitles an employee to do without fear of retaliation from his employer;
  • An employer may not discharge an employee for bringing potential or suspected wrongdoing to the attention of competent government authorities. This is protected by state and federal whistleblower statutes;
  • An employer may not discharge an employee for filing various types of claims, such as OSHA, workers’ compensation, or employment discrimination;
  • An employer may not discharge an employee for military duty;
  • An employer may not discharge an employee for jury duty;
  • An employer may not discharge an employee for voting; and
  • An employer may not discharge an employee for engaging in union activity.

Restrictions created by judicial decision include:

  • Violations of public policy. An employer may not discharge an employee for refusing to commit a criminal act; and
  • Breach of contract. An employer may not discharge an employee if the discharge would violate the terms of a written employment agreement between the employer and the employee.

If you have been injured on the job, Section 451.001 of the Texas Labor Code provides protection for the injured employee. Under this statute, an employer may not discharge or discriminate against an employee in any manner because the employee has:

  • Filed a worker’s compensation claim in good faith; or
  • Hired a lawyer to represent the employee in such claim.

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In Castro v. U.S. Natural Resources, Inc. 880 S.W.2d 62 (Tex. App – San Antonio 1994) the court made clear that discharge and discrimination are two separate claims under the Section 451.001. In this case, U.S. Resources, Inc’s main defense to Castro’s claim was that it did not “terminate” his employment by placing him on indefinite leave of absence, and therefore did not “discharge” him in violation of the Section 451.001. However, the court disagreed, and stated that changing the employee’s status from full time salaried employee to that of long term disability leave of absence, without pay, was discrimination under Section 451.001 because the statute contemplated a situation where an employer tries to avoid liability under the Act by retaliating against an employee in a manner other than outright discharge by including the prohibition that employer’s may not discriminate against the employee in any manner.

An employer who violates Section 451.001 of the Texas Labor Code is liable for reasonable damages incurred by the employee as a result of the violation and, in addition, the employee may be entitled to reinstatement, back and future pay, promotion, punitive damages, and an injunction against future illegal conduct.

At the Law Office of Stephen O’Rear, P.C. we help people who have been wrongfully discharged for filing a worker’s compensation claim.