Employment Law Attorneys | The Woodlands, Texas

Whether you're an individual needing representation or an employer who wants to stay compliant, we'll help you understand workplace laws pertaining to discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
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Discrimination, Harassment, And Retaliation
In The Workplace

Successful businesses require safe and fair working conditions and treat their employees with respect. No one knows this better than the attorneys at Starzyk & Associates, P.C. Since we represent both employers and employees, we see the big picture. We regularly help our clients comply with various federal and state employment discrimination laws and navigate complex administrative proceedings and lawsuits.

For general information about employment discrimination laws, please see below:

  1. What Laws Prohibit Employment Discrimination And Harassment?
    1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
    2. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
    3. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
    4. The Americans with Disabilities Act
    5. The Texas Commission on Human Rights Act
  2. What Employers Are Covered?
  3. What Agencies Enforce Employment Discrimination Laws?
  4. What Statutes Of Limitation Apply?
  5. What is the Texas Workers' Compensation Act?
  6. What Whistleblower Protections Exist In Texas?
I. What Laws Prohibit Discrimination And Harassment?

Both federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, and age. These laws also make it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a Charge of Discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)

Title VII is the backbone of employment discrimination law. This federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. This includes firing, demoting, or treating someone unfairly because they belong to one of the protected categories.

Workplace harassment is also prohibited by Title VII.

Sexual harassment may include:

  • Direct requests for sexual favors;
  • Inappropriate touching;
  • Overtly sexual comments or comments about a person's physical appearance;
  • Repeated requests for dates and not taking "no" for an answer.
  • Patronizing behavior not used with other colleagues;
  • Posting inappropriate photos or jokes;
  • Other actions which create a hostile workplace for persons of either gender.

Racial or ethnic harassment may include:

  • Racial slurs and derogatory remarks;
  • Encouraging others to behave in a racist way;
  • Making stereotypical assumptions about workers because of their race;
  • Offensive jokes or comments;
  • Other degrading treatment.

Religious harassment may include:

  • Antagonizing or ridiculing an employee because of their religious beliefs;
  • Preaching to an employee in an unwanted and offensive way;
  • Scheduling examinations or other selection activities in conflict with a current or prospective employee's religious needs;
  • Maintaining a restrictive dress code;
  • Refusing to allow observance of a Sabbath or religious holiday.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Employers may violate the act by:

  • Refusing to hire a woman because of her pregnancy or assumptions about pregnant workers;
  • Treating the pregnant employee differently from other temporarily disabled employees - for example, by not providing modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave or leave without pay;
  • Forcing a pregnant employee to leave work when she can still perform their job;
  • Requiring a pregnant employee to remain on leave until after the baby's birth;
  • Mandating a rule which prohibits an employee from returning to work for a predetermined length of time after childbirth;
  • Refusing to hold open a job for a pregnancy related absence for the same amount of time as other disabilities.

Note: Employees covered by the PDA may also be covered by the ADA and FMLA.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)

This federal law protects people who are 40 or older from discrimination because of age. Many employment practices can lead to suspicion of age discrimination:

  • Making derogatory comments and jokes about age;
  • Not hiring an older employee because of "over-qualification";
  • Firing older employees and promoting younger ones to replace them;
  • Re-assigning older employees to inferior positions;
  • Attempting to deny or limit benefits because of age;
  • Mandatory retirement based on age.

Whether age discrimination has actually occurred is a fact-intensive inquiry. Downsizing and other business decisions may justify terminating older employees, but companies must be careful their decisions are based on legitimate reasons and not improper age-based motives.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

This federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the private sector and in state and local governments. It covers physical disabilities, mental disabilities, medical illnesses, and even protects employees when their employer regards them as disabled.

Employers must reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of an individual with a disability unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business. For example, an employee diagnosed with sleep apnea requests his employer for a different shift and a more flexible schedule in order to deal with his illness. Under the ADA, an employer could be required to accommodate such a request. Depending on the disability, reasonable accommodations might also include:

  • Making existing facilities accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
  • Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position;
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters;
  • Reasonable time for leave.

Note: Employees covered by the ADA may also be covered by the FMLA and TWCA

Texas Commission On Human Rights Act of 1983 (TCHRA)

This state law mirrors federal law and prohibits employment discrimination because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or age. An employer who fails or refuses to hire an individual, discharges an individual, or discriminates in any other manner against an individual in connection with compensation or the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment commits an unlawful employment practice.

II. What Employers Are Covered?

Laws prohibiting discrimination in employment often make an exception for small businesses. Usually, an employer must employ at least 15 employees to be covered. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, an employer must employ at least 20 employees.

III. What Agencies Enforce Employment Discrimination Laws?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency charged with enforcing Title VII laws against discrimination.

The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law. Any employee who desires to start a lawsuit against an employer for an unlawful employment practice must first exhaust his administrative remedies and file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC or its state equivalent. Generally, the EEOC's role is to investigate the Charge, assess whether the allegations are supported by reasonable cause, and make a finding. It also has the authority to issue subpoenas and may even choose to file a lawsuit. A civil action may only be filed in court if the EEOC has dismissed the Charge or issued a right-to-sue letter.

In Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division serves a similar role as the EEOC.

IV. What Statutes Of Limitation Apply?

Unlike many other causes of action, employment discrimination lawsuits have a short statute of limitations.

In Texas, to bring a claim in state court, a person must file a Charge of Discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division (TWC) within 180 days after occurrence of the alleged act of unlawful employment discrimination. To bring a claim in federal court, a person must file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days after occurrence of the alleged act of unlawful employment discrimination.

V. What Is The Texas Workers' Compensation Act?

The Texas Workers' Compensation Act (TWCA) is a state law that establishes an insurance system for accidental work-related injuries. When an employee is injured in the course and scope of employment, the employer or the insurance company pays for medical care and lost wages due to the injury. The employee does not have to prove the employer was as fault, and the negligence of co-workers is not taken into account.

Who is covered?

Unlike workers' compensation laws in every other state, the TWCA allows private Texas employers to choose whether to subscribe to workers' compensation insurance. However, the TWCA encourages Texas companies to participate by abolishing several common law defenses should they choose to remain uninsured. This dramatically increases employer liability.

The Texas Legislature intended the TWCA to benefit both employers and employees: Injured employees are relieved from having to sue their employers for damages; employers substantially cut their liability for on-the-job injuries.

Discrimination, Retaliation, And Other Interference With Employees' Rights

Texas law prohibits an employer from discriminating or retaliating against an employee for filing a worker's compensation claim. This includes terminating, demoting, threatening, or creating a hostile work environment. An employee is generally protected if she engages in one of the following activities:

  • Filing a workers' compensation claim in good faith or taking steps to file a claim;
  • Hiring an attorney for representation in a workers' compensation claim;
  • Testifying or planning to testify in a workers' compensation proceeding.

Statute of Limitations

If an employee is injured on the job and wishes to receive workers' compensation benefits, he or she must promptly notify the employer of the injury. The notice must be given within 30 days of the date of the injury, or within 30 days of the date it first becomes apparent that the injury or illness is work-related. Failure to meet this deadline may threaten the right to benefits. Notice must be given to the employer or to a supervisor.

The limitations period for an action for workers' compensation retaliation is two years.

Note: Employees who are injured on the job may also have rights under the ADA and FMLA.

VI. What Whistleblower Protections Exist In Texas?

In Texas, a patchwork of federal and state laws exist which offer some protection to employees who report employer wrongdoing. Some of these laws include:

  • The Texas Whistleblower Protection Act - a state law that provides protection for public employees who report violations of certain laws by their employer or another public employee to an appropriate law enforcement authority.
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act - a federal law that provides protection for private employees whose employer is publicly traded under the jurisdiction of the SEC.
  • The Qui Tam Provision Of The Federal Civil False Claims Act - a federal law that allows private individuals to bring actions against federal contractors defrauding the government and protects against retaliation.

For more information, see http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/whistle.htm.
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