On September 22, 2020, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced a new proposed rule that would, if it becomes final, change the test the DOL uses to determine if a worker is an “independent contractor” or an “employee” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The result of this proposed rule change will inevitably be that thousands of employees will be reclassified as independent contractors under the FLSA. The FLSA is the federal law mandates employers to pay their employees minimum wage, overtime for time worked over 40 hours, and other record keeping requirements. My goal is to provide a brief overview of the new proposed changes and hidden dangers in the DOL’s proposed rule change.
In today’s world we cannot ignore that social media is a huge part of our everyday lives. What you post is available for others to see. Even if your social media accounts are private, your posts are available to be seen by your family, friends, and even coworkers once you’ve accepted or extended a “Friend Request.”
But, that’s my private life, right? It can’t affect my employment, right? Wrong.
Social Media and Applying for a Job
On August 27, 2020, the Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas at Dallas reversed the dismissal of Fernando Herrera’s Texas Whistleblower case against Dallas Independent School District. In doing so, it ordered the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
The lawsuit alleges DISD terminated Mr. Herrera because he complained to Child Protective Services (“CPS”) about suspected child abuse by other DISD teachers. The lawsuit was initially filed in June 2018 in Dallas District Court.
The lawsuit states Mr. Herrera made two reports to CPS. The first report was made on or about March 31, 2017 after Mr. Herrera witnessed a DISD teacher inappropriately touching a student in front of several other teachers. The second report was made on May 16, 2017 after a concerned parent informed Mr. Herrera she suspected a teacher inappropriately touched a student. On May 17, 2017, DISD put Mr. Herrera on administrative leave.
We have a lot of potential clients come to us because they are working in what they consider to be a hostile work environment. Their boss yells at them, belittles them, intimidates them, mocks them, etc. Sometimes this treatment is constant. Sometimes this treatment is intermittent but extreme. But generally speaking, these are not petty slights or simple annoyances; it is something more. Overall, these employees are working in an environment a reasonable employee would consider hostile, intimidating, or abusive.
Common sense would dictate that an employer should not be allowed to subject its employees to such treatment. However, unfortunately, there is no federal or Texas law that broadly protects employees from a hostile work environment.
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides eligible employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. When employees request or take leave, these workers have protections from FMLA interference and retaliation. This means that employers may not interfere with a worker’s rights to take FMLA leave and may not take adverse employment actions (e.g., write ups, demotions, terminations) against employees for exercising their rights under the FMLA.
Am I protected under the FMLA?
For employees to have protections under the FMLA, their employer must have a minimum of 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of the work location. Additionally, the employee must have worked for the employer for at least a year and must have worked at least 1,250 hours during that year. If all these conditions are not met, the employee may not be protected by the FMLA.
One would be hard pressed to find someone who does not know that we are afforded free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Similarly, we are also afforded the same right under the Texas Constitution Article 1 Section 8. Indeed, there are very few rights that are as well-known as the right to free speech, yet, the implications or effects that this fundamental right has in our workplace are often misunderstood and overestimated. My goal is to help clarify or shed light on a few misconceptions that I often see in my day to day practice.
When someone gets treated unlawfully at their job because of that person’s race, age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin, or color that person suffers more than just loss of income. A person’s job is often tied to their identity, their reputation, their sense of worth, and sense of purpose. Losing a job, not getting a promotion, not getting hired, or being subjected to severe or pervasive harassment causes very real pain and suffering. It can strain friendships, estrange family members, break up marriages, and ruin lives. Because unlawful employment discrimination causes that kind of actual damage, most employment laws allow a person to recover money for those things. In employment law, these damages are called compensatory damages and can be recovered in lawsuits against private employers, state and local government employers, and federal agencies.
Unfortunately, layoffs happen and oftentimes come as a complete surprise to those affected. Layoffs also oftentimes come with a severance offer.
Sometimes an employer just offers up the severance free and clear without the employees who have been laid off having to do anything at all to receive it. However, this is not the norm. More often getting the severance is made contingent on the employee signing a severance agreement.
Severance agreements are legal documents and can be incredibly complicated and confusing and leave employees wondering what to do. On the one hand, an employee who has just lost their job clearly wants the money. But on the other hand, that employee may be concerned about what they are giving up in exchange for that money. They also may be wondering if they can get more money. The best way to know for sure is to consult with a Texas Employment Lawyer.
One of the questions I get all of the time during consultations is, “what does it mean to be an ‘at will’ employee?” If you have this question, then you are in luck because that is what this week’s blog is all about!
First, “at will” employment is the default employment relationship in the state of Texas. That means if you do not have a contract or agreement defining some other type of employment relationship with your company, then you are an “at will” employee. By far, most employees are “at will” employees.
Every day our office receives calls and online inquiries from workers seeking legal advice. They want to know whether their boss’s actions are illegal and whether they have claims to pursue. And, if the answer to both of those questions is yes, they have to think about whether they are ready to take action to protect their rights. But still, before even contacting an attorney they may be afraid. They don’t know when they need an attorney, how long to wait before contacting an attorney, or even if contacting an attorney is the right choice for them. That’s why consultations are a very important part of the practice of law.
How do I know I need an employment attorney?
If you are even asking this question the safest answer is seek a consultation.