State employees are any individuals who are hired directly by the state. State employees may include, but are not limited to:
- Court workers;
- Social workers; and
- Individuals who are employed in various state departments, for example, the county attorney’s office.
These employees are generally subject to state-specific protections in terms of employment laws and employee protections. One example would be how a state employee has extended rights to be free from discrimination and extended employee privacy rights.
Some state employee protections may extend to candidates for employment with the state and certain individuals engaged in contract work with the state. This, however, may depend on the employee’s specific contract terms.
What Are Some Common State Employee Legal Issues?
Similar to other types of employment arrangements, a state employee may face common legal issues, including:
- Disputes regarding wages, hours, and overtime pay as defined by the laws of the specific state;
- Disputes related to advancements, promotions, and access to various benefits;
- Instances of discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and other such violations by a state employer;
- Hiring disputes;
- Violations of employee privacy rights; and
- Employee safety and occupational hazards.
Depending upon the employee’s specific work and their position within the department, there may be various other types of legal issues that a state employee may face. One example would be hiring staff who may face different employment and legal issues than supervisors.
What Are State Employment Disputes?
A state employment dispute is a workplace dispute that involves any type of state department or state agency. This may include state-operated divisions, such as:
- Employment divisions;
- Labor or union departments;
- Educational institutions; and
- Other departments.
Specific employment laws govern these categories of state departments. Because the state operates them, they may sometimes be subject to more strict employment laws than a privately run organization.
For example, it is illegal for a state-run organization to:
- Implement or enforce policies involving discrimination towards an individual or a group of individuals;
- Allow conditions of harassment to exist in the workplace;
- Deny workers their rightful wages under state and federal laws; or
- Deny workers benefits to which they are entitled.
These rules apply to individuals who are employed by a state. These rules may also apply to future state employees, for example, individuals being interviewed as candidates for state employment.
What Must I Do if I Am Involved in a Conflict at Work?
Employees may take several actions if they are involved in a workplace conflict and attempt to find a solution. Although the employee may be instructed to consult with their local HR representative, that may be difficult if they disagree with a more senior employee.
If an employee is unsure of what steps to take, they should consult a workplace conflict attorney.
Should I Go Over the Employee Handbook?
If an employee has not already done so, they should study their employee handbook. An employee handbook often outlines the company’s rules and procedures and how they relate to various work-related issues.
Employee handbooks typically contain information on the following topics:
- Attendance policies;
- Sexual harassment policies;
- Alcohol and drug use policies;
- Salaries and any bonus-related information;
- Health, medical, and sick leave benefits; and
- How and where to file a complaint with the company.
Company policies and procedures should be included in employee handbooks to safeguard both the employees and the company. Each policy should be applied consistently per all applicable federal, state, and local laws.
How Do I Approach My Employer about a Conflict at Work?
A quick approach to settling a work conflict is often to communicate directly with the boss. An individual may wish to consult with an employment law attorney if this tactic is unsuccessful.
It is important to review all of the pertinent information regarding the policies and procedures of the company prior to raising any concerns with the boss. It is also a good idea to inform an employer in writing of the issue and provide a summary of the facts related to the employee’s complaint.
It may be helpful if the employee has a potential solution or outcome in mind, for example, being transferred to a different office area or swapping shifts so they would not encounter the other individual. An employee has a better chance of successfully and quickly resolving their issue if they can present a practical solution instead of just a problem.
How Do State Employees File an Employment Complaint?
Employment complaints may be resolved by filing a complaint with their employer’s human resources (HR) divisions. The HR staff may be able to resolve the dispute and propose a remedy for the claimant.
In more serious cases, it is recommended that a state employee file a claim with their state’s employment or labor department. This process involves a state-operated department that processes claims that are associated with the following:
In certain cases, there may be a direct filing route specifically for use by state employees. In the alternative, a state employee may be able to file a federal claim, for example, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
However, it is important to note that a state employee’s ability to file a federal claim for a state employment issue may be considerably limited. If all of these remedies have been exhausted, the employee may be able to file a lawsuit against their employer or other employees who were involved in the conflict.
How Are State Employment Disputes Processed?
Most states have a separate department that processes employment disputes, including harassment and discrimination. For example, this department is the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) in California.
In the State of Texas, this department is the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). A state employee can file their dispute directly with these departments.
After receiving a claim, an employment dispute agency will respond by investigating the claim. This may take several weeks, even up to 1 year.
During this investigation, relevant evidence, statements, and documents will be gathered. The employee who filed the complaint should be prepared to provide this information to the agency.
After the investigation has concluded, the department may provide a remedy, for example, paying the employee back wages or reinstating them to their position if they were subject to wrongful termination, whichever is appropriate.
What if My Dispute Is Not Immediately Resolved?
Sometimes, a state employment agency cannot resolve a dispute immediately. For example, if there is not enough evidence to prove discrimination occurred or if the evidence is too contradictory.
In these cases, the employee may be able to file for an appeal with the agency, if possible. Alternatively, an individual may be required to file their complaint with a federal agency, as discussed above, or in a private lawsuit against their employer.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with State Employment Disputes?
If you are a state employee involved in a workplace dispute, it is best to consult with a workplace lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of the laws in your state and how they apply to your specific situation.
In addition, your lawyer can provide legal guidance and represent you throughout the process. Having a lawyer assist is likely the best and most efficient way to resolve your dispute.