One of my favorite websites is the mythbuster site, www.snopes.com. It gives me a place to exercise my skepticism about whether the Proctor and Gamble logo is secretly a satanic symbol, whether a picture of a great white shark attacking a British military diver hanging from a ladder suspended by a helicopter is real and whether Madelyn Murray O’Hair (who died in 1995) is circulating a petition to have all religious broadcasting banned from the airwaves (all untrue, by the way).
I wish there were a similar website for the urban myths surrounding employment law. There is a lot of misinformation out there that is believed by both employees and employers. These myths cause confusion and employment law errors that can be costly.
To most people’s surprise, Texas has relatively few employment laws. Employers in this “employment at will” state can make just about any policy or take any employment action they want as long as it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender, race, age, etc. There are a few other exceptions to the “at will” rule, of course, but historically the Texas courts and legislature have decided to stay out of the squabbles common to the workplace.
However, many people believe that the following myths are actually Texas laws that an employer must follow:
· Myth: An employer must have good cause to fire an employee. “At will employment” means that an employee can be fired at the will of the employer, with bad cause, good cause or no cause at all. By the same token, an employee can quit at any time. There are some exceptions to this based on written contracts, the discrimination statutes, the right to file a worker’s compensation claim, and a few other limited laws. Employers should understand that while not illegal, having no cause for a termination means the employee may collect unemployment benefits which could cause an increase in the employer’s payroll tax rate.
· Myth: An employer must provide health insurance and other benefits. Benefits are optional. While most employers understand that offering benefits is essential to staying competitive in the employment market, no law requires that benefits be provided to employees in Texas.
· Myth: An employer must give employees paid time off, such as maternity leave. No law requires the provision paid time off. If an employee gets paid vacation and sick leave, that is simply the employer being generous. Even the Family and Medical Leave Act (which applies only to companies with 50 or more employees) requires only unpaid leave to be provided to an employee for the birth or adoption of a child or during a serious health condition of the employee or an immediate family member.
· Myth: An employee is entitled to see his/her employment file or documents pertaining to performance or discipline. While some states have laws allowing an employee to review his/her personnel file, Texas leaves it up to the employer. The files and their contents belong to the employer and access is solely at the employer’s discretion.
· Myth: Employees have to retire at 65 or some other “mandatory” retirement age. Except in some very limited circumstances such as pilots and police, no employer can require an employee to retire at a certain age. If an 80-year-old employee can perform the job and wants to continue working, the employer cannot require the employee to retire. The employer can make it tempting to older employees to retire by offering attractive retirement packages. The employer can also discipline any employee by termination or otherwise if the employee is not producing adequate job results.
· Myth: Employers must give employees a “pink slip” or otherwise explain a firing in writing. While it is a good practice to explain to the employee the reasons for discharge, no Texas or federal law requires written notice of any kind.
· Myth: An employer must accept an employee’s two-week notice. Many employers believe that a quitting employee is a liability and make the day the notice is given the employee’s last day. This is allowed by Texas law, which says nothing regarding required notice. Similarly, an employer doesn’t have to pay wages for the two-week period if the employee doesn’t actually work those days. No particular severance pay is required by law either.
· Myth: An employer has to pay a departing employee for unused vacation. Texas payday law assumes that accrued but unused vacations are not paid at time of termination unless the departing employee can prove through a written policy or long-term practice that the employer has promised to pay for this time not worked.
If you have a question about your knowledge of Texas employment laws, don’t trust what you have read about lawsuits in other states or seen on television. Call an employment lawyer before you take action. As an employer you may be pleasantly surprised how favorable the Texas laws can sometimes be to employers.