Wrongful termination, also called unlawful termination, is an employment law concept that refers to a situation in which an employer fires an employee for an illegal reason. This includes reasons that:
- Violate federal, state, or local laws;
- Go against public policy; or
- Breach the terms of the employment agreement.
Wrongful termination also occurs when an employer terminates an employee who refused to obey illegal work instructions. This may include unlawful actions such as skirting safety regulations for a specific job task or requesting the employee commit more serious crimes such as larceny, which is a felony offense.
Another manner in which an employee may be unlawfully terminated is when the employer ignores their own company policies regarding the termination process. An example is if the employer fails to follow proper protocols when they release an employee from their position.
If an employer terminates an employee for an unlawful reason, they may face legal consequences for those actions. The employer may be required to compensate the employee, which may include:
- Reimbursing the employee in back pay;
- Reinstating the employee to their prior position;
- Paying the employee monetary compensation; or
- Various other forms of relief.
Texas employment termination laws also prevent employers from firing an employee based on a protected characteristic. These characteristics include:
- National origin;
- Disability; and citizenship status.
The majority of employment situations are considered at-will employment. This means that the employee is hired for an unspecified amount of time during which the employer may terminate them at any time without cause.
Without cause means that the employee may be terminated for any reason or for no reason at all, as long as the reason is not illegal or unlawful. The laws in each state vary regarding the requirements, but there are certain reasons that are generally not accepted as a proper basis for terminating an employee. These include:
- Discrimination, based on the factors listed above;
- Breach of an employment contract; and
- A public policy exception, such as retaliatory termination or whistleblowing.
Texas at-will employment laws are similar to other states. Most employment is considered at-will. This means the employer may terminate the employee for any reason, no matter how irrational or arbitrary, or even for no reason at all.
The employee’s termination may occur at any time and for any legitimate purpose. Because of this, proving wrongful termination may be difficult. The protected characteristics for employees are under federal law, therefore they apply in Texas as well.
What if My Employer Breached the Employment Contract?
If an individual has a written employment contract that promises them a job or job security, they are not an at-will employee. An employee can avoid getting fired for no reason in Texas if they have an implied employment contract. An implied contract can be formed based on clear statements made by the employer that they have a secured job and cannot be fired for just any reason.
For example, if the employee handbook states that an employee will be fired only for good cause, the employee may have an implied contract. If an individual has an employment contract, and the employer fires them without good cause, they have a legal claim for breach of contract.
What is the Illegal Act Exception?
As in the majority of other states, employers in Texas are not always permitted to terminate an employee for any reason at all. There are exceptions to the at-will employee termination rule.
In the state of Texas, public employees may only sue for wrongful termination when they are fired for refusing to perform an illegal act. An illegal act is any action that would create criminal liability under Texas laws or the laws of the United States. It is important to note that an employee refusing to violate a statute that would only create civil liability is not covered.
In Texas, there is not a cause of action for wrongful termination when a private employee reports an employer’s illegal activity and is fired for that reason. However, there are such protections for Texas government employees.
What is the Workers’ Compensation Exception?
In Texas, an employer may not terminate an employee for making a worker’s compensation claim. However, the terminated employee must show that their claim for worker’s compensation was a necessary precursor to their termination. In other words, the employee must show that if they had not made the worker’s compensation claim, they would not have been terminated.
Do I Have a Wrongful Termination Claim in Texas?
Whether or not an individual has a wrongful termination claim in Texas depends on whether all of the facts that led to the termination would create a case for wrongful termination. If the motivation of the employer in firing the employee was unlawful, the employee may be able to bring a wrongful termination claim even if they were considered an at-will employee.
Determining whether an individual has a worker’s compensation claim may be difficult. It is important to consult with a Texas attorney in order to determine whether or not the individual has a claim.
How Can I File a Wrongful Termination Claim in Texas?
Before filing a claim in Texas, the individual must file a complaint with the appropriate government agency in the state of Texas. The Texas Workforce Commission is the government entity that enforces the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination.
Typically, the state’s fair employment practices agencies will record the complaint that the individual filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate the allegations. The investigation may result in a remedy for the employee, such as requiring the employer to change their hiring and firing policies. If the outcome is insufficient to remedy the issue, the EEOC will issue the individual a Right to Sue letter.
The individual then has 90 days from receiving the Right to Sue letter to sue their former employer. The most common remedy that is awarded involves monetary damages. The amount the individual will receive depends on the facts of the case and the laws of the jurisdiction.
It is important to note that there is a statute of limitations for wrongful termination in Texas, or a time limit in which the individual must file their claim. For most claims, the statute of limitations is 180 days from the date of the employee’s termination. In some cases, the time limit is extended to 300 days.
Because of this time limitation, it is essential for the terminated employee to act as quickly as possible in filing their claim. It is also important to keep any relevant documentation. In most cases, a lawsuit must be filed within 2 years.
Should I Consult a Texas Attorney?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced Texas wrongful termination lawyer for any wrongful termination issues in Texas. Wrongful termination is a complex area of law and may be difficult to prove.
A lawyer for wrongful termination in Texas can review your case, determine if you have a claim for wrongful termination, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. If you are required to file any claims with state or federal agencies, your lawyer will assist you with that process.
You can use LegalMatch’s fast and easy process to present your employment issue for immediate review by pre-screened and qualified employment attorneys. There are LegalMatch member lawyers in cities all over Texas, including Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Having an attorney may mean the difference between losing your job and receiving the remedies you are due.