What is “at-will” employment really? In a sentence, an employer can discharge or discipline an employee for any reason, whether it is a “good” reason or a “bad” one, so long as it is not an unlawful reason. Most Texas employers (and employees) are familiar with the usual list of “unlawful reasons” like race, gender, national origin, disability, age, and religion. But there are a handful of lesser known state and federal laws which often catch employers unaware. Did you know that . . .
- Section 525 of the United States Bankruptcy Code prohibits private employers from discharging or discriminating against an individual because he/she has filed for bankruptcy or is associated with a person who has filed for bankruptcy.
- It is a felony offense under Section 276.001 of the Texas Election Code for a person to withhold wages or another benefit of employment (or to threaten to do so) in retaliation for voting for or against a particular candidate or refusing to say how he/she voted.
- Section 158.209 of the Texas Family Code makes it unlawful for an employer to use an order or writ of withholding as grounds for refusing to hire or fire an employee.
- Texas Government Code § 431.006 prohibits private employers from terminating an employee who is a member of the military forces of any state because the employee is ordered to authorized training or active duty.
The Bottom Line for Employers:
“At-will” employment has it limits. Employers should continue to familiarize themselves with all applicable laws governing the workplace; train their managers and supervisors accordingly; and draft policies where appropriate. These laws may not be as familiar as Title VII, but can be just as costly if not diligently observed.