Our Employment Law FAQs
Do you have questions about your rights under employment laws in Fort Worth? Read answers to common questions in our Frequently Asked Questions section.
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I signed a non-disclosure agreement with my employer. Is this legal in Texas?
When signing a non-disclosure agreement, an employee agrees not to disclose any trade secrets or other confidential information of his employer both during and after his employment. While some people confuse them, a non-disclosure agreement is different from a non-compete agreement, which may limit a person’s ability to do similar work after leaving his job. Non-disclosure agreements are often legally binding in Texas.
When Is a Non-Disclosure Agreement Valid?A non-disclosure agreement can be a provision in an employment contract or a separate agreement. Here are some guidelines on when these agreements are considered valid in Texas:
- To be binding, the agreement must be based on adequate consideration, which are mutual, non-illusory promises between an employer and employee. For example, the employer’s promise of continued employment may not be sufficient consideration for a non-disclosure agreement to be valid. Some consideration, such as additional wages, must be offered by the company.
- If the non-disclosure clause prohibits the employee from using his general skill and knowledge, a court may decide that it is actually a non-compete agreement in disguise. While non-disclosure clauses are usually enforced by Texas courts, non-compete agreements must meet certain requirements, such as being limited in scope, time period, and geographical area, and no broader than necessary to protect the employer’s good will.
- A non-disclosure clause may be legal, even if the agreement contains other unenforceable non-compete or non-solicitation provisions.
What Happens If You Breach a Non-Disclosure Agreement?If a person enters into a valid non-disclosure agreement, he could face civil penalties if he later violates it. This issue usually comes up after an employee has left his job for employment with a competitor, or takes a job with a competitor after he’s been terminated. He could be liable for damages under a breach of contract legal theory. The agreement may have a provision that sets the amount of damages owed for violation of this clause. Do you have questions about signing an employment contract that contains a non-disclosure agreement? Is your employer claiming you violated this agreement? Walt Taylor is an experienced employment law attorney in the Dallas, Fort Worth, and Mid-Cities area. He is here to review your contract and advise you on the legality of your non-disclosure clause and other provisions in your contract so that your legal rights are protected. Contact us online or call 817.380.4888 to schedule your free consultation today.
What Happens If There Is no Non-Disclosure Agreement?You need to know that, even in the absence of a non-compete, an employee may still be obligated to protect trade secrets of his employer, even after resignation or termination. Laws such as the Federal Defend Trade Secrets Act and the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act are still in effect. You should consult with an experienced attorney before running the risk of violating these statutes, or any duties that may arise under common law.
What Is A Non-Solicitation Agreement?When you start a new job, or sometimes when you leave and are receiving a severance payment, your employer may ask you to sign a non-solicitation agreement. Non-solicitation agreements are subject to the same rules as non-competes, regardless of what they are called. This agreement could be a separate contract between you and your employer, or it could be a clause in an employment contract. Before signing it, it is important to understand what you are agreeing to and to have it reviewed by an experienced employment law attorney to be certain that your legal rights are protected.
What Is a Non-Solicitation Agreement?A non-solicitation agreement prohibits an employee from soliciting clients or employees of a former employer. While a company may require a new hire to sign one, it can be entered into at any time during the worker’s tenure. It is often used by service and sales companies.Many people confuse a non-solicitation agreement with a non-compete agreement, but they are different. When a person signs a non-compete agreement, he is agreeing not to work in a particular job or industry.
Are Non-Solicitation Agreements Enforceable in TexasDespite this difference, agreements prohibiting solicitation must comply with Texas’ statutory requirements – the same laws that govern non-competes. Here’s what is required:● There must be valid consideration for the agreement.● The non-solicitation agreement must be part of or ancillary to an employment contract or other valid agreement.● The employee must only be prohibited from soliciting employees or clients for a reasonable period of time.● The non-solicitation must be confined to a reasonable geographical area. For example, an industry-wide prohibition most likely would not be enforceable.● The scope of the non-solicitation must be reasonable.Is your employer asking you to sign a non-solicitation agreement? Are you thinking of leaving your job but are worried about the enforceability of a contract you already signed? Have you already left or been terminated, have you been sued or are you being threatened with suit for enforcement of a non-solicitation agreement? Walt Taylor is here to review your agreement and to answer your questions. He represents employees throughout the Dallas, Fort Worth, and Mid-Cities areas.To schedule a consultation with Walt (sometimes for no fee, depending on the circumstances), call our office directly at 817.380.4888 or fill out our online form to schedule your free consultation.
What is a severance agreement?If you are being terminated or laid off from your job in Dallas, Fort Worth or the Mid-Cities area, your employer may ask you to sign a severance agreement. This is an agreement between you and your company where the employer offers you a certain sum of money in exchange for your release of certain legal rights spelled out in the contract (typically all of them or nearly all of them). Unless your employer agreed to pay you severance pay in an employment contract,, an employer’s offer of this monetary compensation is usually completely voluntary, although occasionally the employer may offer it to avoid claims the employer believes you may have..
Terms That Can Be Included in a Severance AgreementSeverance agreements can contain many different terms, depending on the employer. Some terms that might be in yours include:
Release of ClaimsA release of claims clause will generally be an agreement by you to waive your right to sue your employer for any claim you have (whether you know about it or not), such as for any type of discrimination, retaliation, overtime or wage claims, etc.
Non-Compete AgreementThis agreement would prevent you from working for a competitor for a certain period of time in a specific geographic area; if you have not already signed a similar non-compete with this employer, you may be giving up significant rights.
Confidentiality AgreementA confidentiality clause may prevent you from disclosing the specific terms of the severance agreement, or it may prevent you from disclosing certain confidential information of the old employer to a new employer or anyone else.
When Is a Severance Agreement Not Valid?In most cases, a severance agreement signed by a business and its employee is a binding contract between them. However, in certain situations, some or all of the agreement may not be valid.Here are a few circumstances in which it would likely not be valid:● The severance payment is money that you are already owed, such as your last paycheck.● You were coerced into signing the agreement or did so under duress. You must meet certain legal proof requirements to prevail on these claims.● If you are over 40 years old, you cannot waive your rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) or the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA). For example,certain language must be in the agreement, and you must be given a review period after signing it and a short period of time right to revoke it after signing.● The agreement may violate the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which provides protections to employees when medium to larger employees make large layoffs or close plant locations.Before you sign a severance agreement, it is important to have it reviewed by an experienced employment law attorney to protect your legal rights and be certain that it is in your best interests. Attorney Walt Taylor will review severance agreements in advance and meet with you to discuss the specific facts of your case, for a reduced flat fee from his normal hourly billing rate. To learn more about these agreements and to get other questions answered, call our office directly at 817.380.4888 to schedule a consultation with Attorney Walt Taylor.
I had a contract with my employer, but I was fired. How do I know if the firing was legal?Most people in Dallas-Fort Worth and the Mid-Cities are at-will employees who can be fired from their jobs or can quit for any reason. However, some employers will enter into an employment contract that governs many of the terms of the employee’s employment, which may sometimes include the right to be terminated only for cause. If you are working under such an employment contract and are discharged, you may have a claim of breach of contract against your employer.
What Is an Enforceable Contract?For any contract to be valid in Texas, something of value must be exchanged by the contracting parties. In the employment context, the employer offers wages, and the employee is providing his or her services. Employment contracts may be oral or written; however, for an oral contract to be legally binding, the terms of the contract be performable within a year. Otherwise, Texas’ statute of frauds requires that the agreement must be in writing. It can be very difficult to prove the existence of an oral contract.A contract may be a formal written agreement that has the title “Employment Contract,” but it doesn’t have to in order to be considered a legal contract. Offers of employment contained in letters, emails, and faxes can be considered contracts, if they provide a fixed term of employment or the right to be terminated only for cause. An employee handbook with such terms can in limited situations create an employment contract, although most employee handbooks expressly disclaim creating any contract.An employment contract does not need to include every term of employment. However, it should include enough material terms and sufficiently definite terms to make it enforceable. These provisions generally include:
● Job title and/or job description and duties● Wages and benefits● Length of employment● Grounds for termination of the employment if it is not for a fixed period of timeAn express disclaimer that nothing in the agreement alters the at-will nature of the employment may negate all of the above, except possibly an “only for cause” termination provision.
What Are Your Rights If Your Employer Terminates You in Breach of Your Employment Agreement?If you are working under an employment contract, your employer must comply with its provisions when terminating your employment or altering your compensation. If your company failed to do this, you could have a claim for breach of contract that entitles you to compensation for your lost wages and attorney’s fees.
You also must be certain that you comply with the terms of your contract if you decide to leave your employment, or if you are considering trying to enforce it while still working for that employer. For example, you may be required to give a certain amount of advance notice before your resignation takes effect. If you break the contract, you may forfeit benefits or be liable for damages to your employer.
Before signing an employment contract, you should have it reviewed by an experienced employment attorney to be certain that your rights are protected or that you at least know what the agreement means and what it requires of you to avoid a breach. A lawyer can also pursue your claim for breach of contract if you are wrongfully terminated in breach of the contract. To have your contract reviewed, or to learn more about your legal rights and options, call our office to schedule a free consultation with attorney Walt Taylor today.
Can I be fired for refusing to commit a criminal act in Texas?If you are like most workers in Texas, you are an at-will employee, which gives your employer the right to terminate you for no reason or for a completely arbitrary reason. However, you may fall into a narrow exception to this rule if you are discharged because your employer asked you to engage in a criminal act and you refused to do so. In this situation, you may have a wrongful discharge claim against your employer and be entitled to compensation for your losses.
How the Criminal Act Exception to At-Will Employment WorksThis type of claim is a public policy exception created by the Texas Supreme Court in a case called Sabine Pilot and is designed to encourage employees to follow the law and to discourage employers from asking them to commit illegal acts. But the exception only applies in limited situations. Here’s what must be established to have a valid wrongful discharge claim:
● An employee must show that he was fired or constructively discharged solely because he refused to commit a criminal act. If there is any other reason for the discharge, such as the worker’s age or job performance, this exception does not apply.● The act that the person refused to perform must have violated criminal, not civil, law.● The employer must have requested that the worker commit the criminal act. No advance, express threat that he would be fired if he refused the request is required for this exception to apply.Examples of illegal termination under this rule include being fired for refusing to violate environmental laws or refusing to sign false insurance forms. However, reporting a criminal act—even if asked not to by a supervisor—would not be grounds for a wrongful discharge claim (except possibly for public employees, who may have the benefit of the Texas Whistleblower Act.
Do you believe you were fired because you refused to commit a criminal act? Attorney Walt Taylor can help you hold your employer accountable for compensating you for your lost wages and the other damages you may be entitled to. He represents clients throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth and Mid-Cities areas. To learn about his extensive experience fighting for the rights of workers wrongfully terminated, call our office directly at 817.380.4888 to schedule your free consultation today.
What is constructive discharge in Texas?Constructive discharge is a specific type of wrongful termination claim in Texas. It occurs when an employer does not directly fire an employee, but instead makes the working conditions so intolerable that the person is forced to quit. These claims are very challenging to prove, and you should consult with an experienced employment law attorney right away (and before quitting) if you believe you have a constructive discharge claim against your current or former employer.
What Constitutes Constructive Dismissal in Texas?Under Texas law, constructive discharge occurs when working conditions become so abhorrent that a reasonable person in the employee’s situation would have felt compelled to resign his job. Courts use an objective standard in determining what an ordinary person would do. Constructive discharge does not arise from every bad working condition, such as verbal abuse, never being given a raise, or being denied a promotion.Constructive discharge only protects an employee if the discrimination is based on an employee’s status in a protected class or the employee’s having engaged in a protected activity. Examples include:● Age discrimination● Discrimination based on race or national origin● Sexual harassment● Disability discrimination● Retaliation for filing a worker’s compensation claim, complaining about discrimination, wage and hour law violations, or safety hazards
Factors That May Establish a Constructive Discharge ClaimThe courts look at many factors to determine whether a worker has established a claim of constructive dismissal. Some of the facts include:● Past or future demotion● Reduction in pay● Reduction in the person’s job duties or a large increase in responsibilities that would have resulted in unpaid overtime● Assignment to a different supervisor● Verbal abuse or discrimination by the employer or co-worker with the goal of termination of the victim● Request that the victim engage in illegal activities● Change in employment to a less favorable status● Offer of early retirement● Depth of the investigation of any complaint by the employee● Time between the employer’s actions and the employee’s resignationWhile it can be very difficult to prove a constructive discharge claim, and one of these factors standing alone is not likely to be sufficient, constructive discharge claims can be successful, which is why you need the assistance of an experienced employment law attorney.To discuss your situation and your possible legal claims of wrongful termination against your employer in the Dallas/Fort Worth or Mid-Cities area, please contact us online or call our office directly at 817.380.4888 today to schedule your free consultation.
How do I begin the process of filing a discrimination or retaliation lawsuit against my employer?In Texas, most people are at-will employees who can be fired for any reason—including a bad or false one – or even for no reason at all. However, individuals have protections from wrongful termination for reasons prohibited under federal and Texas laws. If you were fired illegally, you may have a wrongful termination claim against your former boss. However your claim is based on discrimination or retaliation, you may need to comply with state and federal laws that require you to file an administrative complaint with the EEOC or the Texas Workforce Commissions Civil Rights Division first, in order to have the right to file a lawsuit for compensation for your losses.
Filing an Administrative Complaint: The First Step in Many Wrongful Termination CaseThere are many grounds for wrongful termination cases in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Some of the common illegal practices that can be the basis of a claim include:● Breach of contract● Discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, and other protected classifications● Retaliation for asserting legal rights, such as filing a workers’ compensation claim, reporting a workplace safety issue, or taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)● Being a whistleblower (for public employees and certain designated private sector employees)In many cases, the first step an employee must take before filing a wrongful termination civil lawsuit is to file an administrative complaint with the appropriate state or federal agency. The agency you need to report to and the time period to do so—which is often relatively short—depends on the particular grounds for the illegal firing claim. It is critical to retain an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to ensure that a complaint is filed with the appropriate agency within the deadline for doing so.
Where Do You File an Administrative Complaint for Wrongful Termination Based on DiscriminationOne of the most common claims of wrongful termination is discrimination under federal civil rights and Texas anti-discrimination laws. If this is the basis of your case, you must file an administrative complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission-Civil Rights Division (TWC-CRD) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These agencies have an agreement to work together in processing these claims, so you do not have to file a complaint with both agencies, as long you state in the agency where you file that you want to “cross-file” the complaint with the other agency. You have 180 days from the date of the discrimination to file and assert state law claims, and 300 days to file with the EEOC to assert federal claims. If your retaliation claim arises out of your or someone else’s discrimination complaint, your deadlines are the same and run from the date the retaliation occurred.Were you wrongfully terminated from your employment in the Dallas/Fort Worth area? Attorney Walt Taylor has years of experience fighting for the rights of employees who were illegally fired. Please contact us online or call our office directly at 817.380.4888 to schedule your free consultation and learn more about your legal options.
What types of compensation am I entitled to in a wrongful termination in employment case?
You could be terminated from your job for several illegal reasons in Texas. Discrimination, retaliation for exercising your legal rights, and termination when you take time off for jury duty, military leave, or to vote are not permissible reasons for an employer to fire you under federal and Texas laws. If you believe you were the victim of a wrongful termination, you may decide to take the step of pursuing a civil claim against your employer. When deciding whether to do this, you need to understand the types of compensation you may be entitled to.
Types of Compensation Awarded in Wrongful Termination Cases
The purpose of awarding compensation in a wrongful termination case is to make the victim whole and put him in the same position he would have been in if he had not been wrongfully terminated. This means that you could be awarded these types of damages:
- Compensatory damages. You are entitled to be reimbursed for the out-of-pocket expenses you incurred due to your wrongful termination. The cost of your job search, medical bills, and emotional harm, such as the loss of enjoyment of life, are examples of compensatory damages that you may receive in your settlement.
- Economic damages. The major portion of your claim will be economic damages for the lost wages caused by the termination of your job. This is divided into back pay and front pay. Back pay includes the wages, benefits, and overtime you lost from the date of your termination until the date of your trial or settlement. Front pay is the amount of wages and other benefits you lost from the date of judgment in court until you are reinstated. Many employers are not willing to reinstate an employee, so a front pay award may be awarded instead of reinstatement.
- Emotional distress. You are entitled to be compensated for the emotional distress you suffered due to the loss of your job. This can include compensation for depression, anxiety, insomnia, stress, and other pain and suffering that you experience. This portion of your claim can be difficult to value, which is one reason why you need the assistance of an experienced employment law attorney.
- Punitive damages. When an employer’s actions are especially egregious, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the employer. Depending on the type of wrongful termination claim you have, there may be caps on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded.
- Attorney fees. You may be entitled to be compensated for your reasonable attorney fees under some employment termination laws.
Filing a wrongful termination case can be complicated. You need an experienced employment attorney who understands the federal and state laws that could apply to your situation. To learn about attorney Walt Taylor’s experience helping other clients who were wrongfully terminated and how he can assist you, Please feel free to contact him online or call directly at 817.380.4888 to schedule your free consultation.
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