Texas Employment Law: How to Legally Terminate an Employee
Updated: Mar 23, 2019
Employee terminations are among the most difficult and risky workplace interactions. Whatever the reason for a termination, it can become contentious and can potentially expose your business to legal action. But with some preventative planning and basic knowledge of your rights as an employer, you can reduce risk. Here are a few things to be aware of. It’s not a comprehensive list, and each situation is different. But it at least scratches the surface of the issues to be aware of.
“At Will” in Texas
Texas is an “At Will” employment state. This means that both the employer and the employee have the right to end the employment relationship at any time for any reason (other than an illegal or otherwise prohibited reason) and with or without cause. An employer can fire an employee without having to provide a reason just as an employee can choose to quit at any time without providing cause. But there are exceptions.
Have You Agreed Otherwise?
The At Will doctrine can be modified or even eliminated if the parties have agreed to additional terms as part of a mutual employment agreement. So the employer should document, standardize, and understand all of their written employment agreements, as well as ensure that their employment applications and standardized offer letters emphasize the At Will nature of employment.
Written, binding contracts can override the basic At Will doctrine and extend additional protections to an employee. So it’s important to know what (if any) specific employment agreements are in place for your employees and what protections they convey.
Federal Protections and Appearances
Employment law is legislated at the federal and state level, and extends protections to specific, protected classes of individual employees. So it’s important to confirm that the reason for terminating the employee isn’t related to their being part of a protected class of employees. Employment decisions motivated by age, religion, race, gender, pregnancy and national origin are all prohibited. Other laws prohibit adverse actions in retaliation for such things as filing a workers compensation claim, serving on a jury, “whistleblowing” and others.
An Ounce of Prevention
Once you’ve understood the risks, there are also several management options that can help you reduce your risks. One of the best (and simplest) is to create written records of your company’s expectations for employees and to thoroughly document escalating problems that lead to the need for termination.
Make sure your employees are aware of your company’s expectations, rules and duties. Maintain an official set of employment rules and expectations and provide them to employees. Provide a copy of the “Handbook” to each employee upon their start date and have them sign to acknowledge that they received and reviewed it.
Additionally, as you enter into a disciplinary process with any employee, keep a written record of your interactions. Consider having an additional management level employee witness counseling or disciplinary meetings. Provide written warnings, document unsatisfactory work or work habits, and, if possible, have the employee acknowledge them by signing off on the documentation.
When in Doubt, Seek Legal Help
If you’re in doubt about your rights regarding a termination issue, you should always seek the aid of a trained legal professional who is familiar with the laws in your location. If you have such a need now or would just like to set up protections for future employee relations, please contact The Law Office of Phil Griffis.