Texas employers have lots of control and power over their employees, but state and federal laws provide some employee protections that limit what actions employers can take. Many jobs are "at-will" - meaning the employer may terminate an employee for any reason or for no reason at all - as long as the motivation for discharge is not illegal. For example, most people understand that almost all Texas employers may not take negative actions against employees based on unlawful discrimination.
But many Texans do not know about illegal employer retaliation. Broadly, Texas and federal laws prohibit employers from terminating or taking other negative actions against employees in retaliation for the workers having exercised certain legal rights or having reported employer wrongdoing in several settings.
In addition to wrongful termination, other negative employment actions against workers can include demotion, elimination or reduction of perks and benefits, unequal pay or benefits for the same or similar work, failure to promote, and more. Here are some of the better-known retaliation laws.
Federal law protects workers from employer retaliation for reporting employer fraud against the federal government to appropriate authorities. This often comes up in the context of medical providers falsely filing federal Medicare or Medicaid claims. Some prominent Texas lawsuits have recently dealt with the issue of state government entity immunity in such suits, such as that of a state university-affiliated medical center, but there may be complex ways for experienced employment attorneys to find legal remedies for employees even in this context.
Whistleblower protections are also in place for employees who report that their employers have broken certain federal securities laws.
State government whistleblowers
Texas state law establishes the right of a state public employee to sue for damages, including reinstatement, for retaliation by his or her state employer after the employee reported to authorities illegal activity by or at the state employer. Texas law, however, does not protect employees of private employers in many similar situations.
Worker' comp retaliation
Texas employers may not retaliate against employees for filing workers' compensation claims, or for supporting others in their workers' comp claims.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act or FMLA grant the right for many employees to take leave for important family situations like birth, adoption, severe illness, and more. An employer may not take retaliatory action against an employee for exercising his or her FMLA rights.
Workplace safety violations
Both federal and Texas state laws provide legal remedies for workers wrongfully terminated for reporting that their employers were in violation of work safety laws.
Retaliation for discrimination claims
Generally, under Texas and federal laws, an employer may not retaliate against an employee for asserting a claim of illegal employment discrimination or harassment.
Texas law allows a worker to sue his or her employer for wrongful discharge if the employer directed the worker to do something that would have subjected him or her to criminal liability and the employee refused to do so.
This article barely scratches the surface of employer retaliation law. Any Texan who feels he or she has been retaliated against by his or her employer for asserting a right, resisting illegal acts at work, reporting something unlawful in the workplace to authorities or similar circumstances should speak with an experienced Texas employment attorney as soon as possible. Whistleblower and illegal employment retaliation claims are extremely complicated and knowledgeable legal counsel is imperative to help preserve a worker's legal rights and meet deadlines.