When Do You Have a Wrongful Termination Claim Against Your Texas Employer?

If your employer fires you, then you may have a legal remedy in the form of a suit for wrongful termination.  To assess whether you have a claim, a Texas employment lawyer will ask you several threshold questions:

1.         Did you have a written employment contract?  Most people do not have written contracts, but if you did have a contract, that is the starting point for the discussion.  Did the contract specify how long you would remain an employee?  Did the contract specify the conditions under which you could be fired?  If you had a written contract, then you may have rights that are much greater than those of the average employee.

2.         Were you a government employee?  If you worked for the federal, state, or local government, then you may have a variety of protections that are not available to the average employee.  For example, many federal employees have civil service protection through the Merit Systems Protection Board.

3.         Are you a union member?  If you belong to a union, then the union may be able to file a grievance against your employer.

If the answer to each of those three questions is “no,” then you are an “at-will” employee under Texas law.  This means that your employer can fire you for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all.  Likewise, you can quit your job for any reason at all.  However, you cannot be fired for an illegal reason.

So what are the “illegal reasons”?  The best known category of illegal reasons is unlawful discrimination in violation of the state or federal employment discrimination statutes.  This includes:

--         Race discrimination: You were fired because of your race.

--         Gender discrimination: You were fired because your gender.

--         National origin discrimination: You were fired because of your national origin or ethnicity.

--         Age discrimination: You were fired because you are over 40.

--         Disability discrimination: You were fired because you are disabled, or because you are regarded as disabled.

--          FMLA discrimination: You were fired because you exercised your right to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or your employer replaced you while you were on leave.

Another category of “illegal reasons” are the whistleblower laws.  If you are fired for refusing to commit an illegal act, or for reporting a violation of law by your employer or a co-worker, you may be protected by a whistleblower law.

Finally, it is illegal to fire you in retaliation for the exercise of your legal rights under the discrimination statutes, or for protesting discriminatory conduct.  For example, if you experience sexual harassment, you are required by law to report the harassment to your employer.  If your employer fires you because you reported the harassment, this is illegal retaliation.  Likewise, if you act as a witness in support of another employee, and your employer fires you, this is illegal retaliation.  Similarly, if your employer fires you because you made a workers compensation claim, this is illegal retaliation.

If you think that any of these situations apply to you, then you should seek professional guidance to explore your options.

David C. Holmes is a Houston employment lawyer with The Law Offices of David C. Holmes

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