A lawsuit has been filed against Wal-Mart for the way the company fired a long-time female employee who is developmentally disabled.
The garden section employee was allegedly allowed to be sexually harassed by a male co-worker. This harassment included intimate touching, occurred during work hours on the store’s premises, and was allowed to continue for more than five years.
The lawsuit asserts that the company knew how this woman was being treated and made no effort to help her, punish the harasser, or stop the abuse. Instead, when the woman finally complained to her supervisors, she was promptly fired from her job, which she had held for 11 years.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the woman by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the government entity that is responsible for enforcing employment discrimination laws.
Employment laws in the US may differ from state to state, and there is no wrongful termination law that is universal for all states. In Texas, the practice of at-will employment makes it difficult to sue for wrongful termination except under specific circumstances. Employment lawyers will be able to assess your case for merit.
What is wrongful termination?
Wrongful termination is the dismissal or discharge of an employee under circumstances that breach employment law or an employment contract. These circumstances may involve one or more of the following:
- Any type of discrimination
- As retaliation for a claim of discrimination
- As punishment for an employee refusing to participate in anything illegal
- Failure to follow the company’s published (i.e. in the employee handbook) termination process
This is wrongful termination in general terms, but wrongful termination can mean different things from state to state. It should also be noted that a de facto legal relationship between an employer and employee is presumed in the absence of an employment contract, so the employer is still bound by a particular state’s employment law.
What is employment at-will in Texas?
Employment at-will means that an employer may decide to terminate an employee without providing a reason or cause. Employers in Texas and California often designate their employees under this category. The at-will statute, however, is not absolute. In most cases, if an employee can prove that their termination was due to discrimination or retaliation, then a case for wrongful termination may be brought against the employer.
It must be noted, though, that in Texas, the definition of wrongful termination is more stringent. The employee must prove that the termination was due to a refusal to perform or participate in a criminal act as defined by Texas or federal law. An act that construes a violation of civil law does not constitute an illegal act in this context. Dismissal due to an employee whistle-blowing on an employer for unlawful conduct is not recognized as a basis for a wrongful termination case, unless the plaintiff is employed by the government.
There are many ifs and buts in Texas when it comes to wrongful termination. Employment lawyers well versed with Texas employment laws, like the team at Melton and Kumler, would be the best judge of whether a wrongful termination case has merit or not.
The economic losses resulting from the Deepwater Horizon Spill nearly three years ago are still reverberating among those whose livelihood depended on the waters off the Gulf of Mexico, the area worst affected by the oil spill. These include fishers, and those working in the related seafood and tourism industries in Louisiana. The oil spill, rated as one of the worst ecological disasters in petroleum industry history, affected 60,683 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico, or 25% of prime fishing waters.
The Deepwater Horizon is a semi-submersible deep water drilling oil rig owned by Transocean, provided well-completion service by Halliburton Co., and chartered by BP to drill an exploratory well located in the Macondo Prospect off the Louisiana coast. The cause of the April 20, 2010 explosion that sank the rig, claimed 11 lives, and decanted more than 4 million barrels of oil into the sea has yet to be determined, but there is no question that it resulted from the negligent actions of those responsible for the Deepwater Horizon operations.
Among the hardest hit by this disaster have been small entrepreneurs and independent fishers who depended on their catch to sustain their businesses and families. Immediately after the explosion, the demand for Gulf seafood products, which supplies more than 30% of the US market, dropped drastically as news of possible contamination spread. This led to closure of many businesses and sharply raised the prices of seafood in the US due to reduced supply. The economic loss affected thousands of people, culminating in civil and criminal charges against BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and Cameron International Corporation, which provided the blowout preventer that was supposed to prevent inadvertent oil spills but which failed in its function.
Fortunately, many of those who have suffered business economic losses are taking legal action to pursue compensation for the losses they have been forced to endure.
“A laborer is worth his wage.” Whether you look at it from a moral or legal point of view, the message remains the same – any employee ought to be paid for every minute spent working.
There are numerous laws and regulations, both on the state and federal levels, which outline the protections that are to be given to workers, and this includes financial protections for individuals who work more than the standard 40 hour work week. One of the most important and well-known employment regulations is the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 or the FLSA, also called the Wages and Hours Bill, a US federal decree which defined the legal numbers of hours of work per week, the national minimum wage, the allowable number of hours of work and legal pay for overtime, and the prohibition of the hiring of minors to perform “oppressive child labor.” In 1947 another law was executed, the Portal-to-Portal Act, which specified that all work done for the benefit of the employer, regardless of time, ought to be considered as work time under the FLSA and should, therefore, be compensated.
Despite these laws many employees still experience unfair wage practices in the workplace, resulting in unpaid overtime. While there are some employees who, because of the work they perform or their job descriptions, are exempt from overtime pay, even if they work in excess of 40 hours a week. Unfortunately, many employers wrongly classify employees as being exempt in an attempt to disqualify them from receiving time-and-a-half for any hours worked over 40 hours in one week.
Whether you are a temporary employee, a part-time employee, a full-time employee, an hourly or salaried worker, you may be entitled to overtime pay based on the requirements of your position. If you are a business owner, it is essential to familiarize yourself with overtime pay laws so that you don’t wrongly deprive an employee of earned overtime wages and face legal action in an overtime or wage dispute down the road. If you have experienced any unfair treatment at your workplace, seeking the legal consultation of an Austin employment attorney may be helpful for your situation.
To say that business law applies to every facet of business is not an exaggeration. Most business transactions have legal aspects that it would not be wise to ignore. This applies to all types of businesses; whether it is a single proprietorship, partnership, corporation or limited liability company.
Business law is not designed to make running a business difficult; its purpose is to provide clear-cut and enforceable rules and regulations to avoid issues and conflicts. It is the responsibility of both big and small business owners to comply with the law, but not everyone has a handle on what needs to be done and how to do them. Retaining a lawyer to ensure compliance with the law is the safest method for good business practice.
Some of the areas where business law applies include but are not limited to:
- Business formation
- Stockholders’ agreements
- Investigating business fraud
- Financial transactions
- Regulatory compliance (i.e. business license)
A little knowledge of business law can be risky; not knowing the whole picture and its impact on other aspects of the business can lead to making bad decisions. Having a competent and conscientious lawyer on board, especially if there has already been past incidents, means that you can concentrate on managing and growing the business. You will never have to worry about business law compliance.
An in-house legal counsel can also ensure that your business does not get into trouble when dealing with potential clients, other businesses or financial institutions. Contracts and agreements can be properly vetted and analyzed before final commitment, and this lessens the amount of unnecessary work later on.
Business law is designed to protect everyone’s interest and legal rights. It can work for you if you have a thorough understanding and/or if you have competent legal counsel to oversee legal business matters.