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Is Texas an At-Will Employment State?

Employment attorneyYes, Texas is an at-will state. At-will employment suggests that an employer and employee have equally bargained for the exchange of labor (from the employee) and payment of wages (from the employer) and freely engage in that transaction without the existence of an employment contract. This means that an employer may fire an employee for cause or no cause at all.

It is a strange legal fiction. Employees rarely are on an equal playing field to bargain for terms of employment. Employees are generally subject to terms decided by the employer with a single option to reject those terms – quit. However, it is the state of the law, as seemingly absurd as it may be. Although Texas long ago adopted the at-will framework, this does not mean that the employer has complete power. There are several limitations to the at-will employment doctrine. I will discuss three general areas:

Employment contracts in Texas

First, employees and employers can create an employment contract which lays out some or all of the terms of employment. When a contract is created, the relationship is no longer at-will. There is a governing document (the contract) and contract law may limit the employer’s conduct to the employee. For example, the contract may specify that the employee receive $50,000 annually and terminated only for cause. In that case, the employer cannot discharge the employee because it dislikes the employee, has no work, etc. In the event the employer violates the contract, there are remedies under contract law (or the terms of the contract itself) to compensate the employee for the breach.

Collective Bargaining Agreements in Dallas-Fort Worth

Second, a collective bargaining agreement may govern the employment relationship. This normally occurs through a formal union that has bargained on behalf of the employees to establish specific terms of employment. A collective bargaining agreement is a contract, and is governed by contract law to an extent, but it is specifically covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the right of employees to unionize and work under a collective bargaining agreement. A collective bargaining agreement also destroys the at-will employment status because the employees and employer agree to work under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

Civil rights laws in Texas and Fort Worth employment attorneys

Third, civil rights and welfare laws protect employees under certain situations from employer conduct. These laws include many areas, such as discrimination (e.g. Title VII, Age Discrimination Act, Equal Pay Act), workplace safety (e.g. OSHA), wage payment (Fair Labor Standards Act), worker health (FMLA, ADA) and so forth. The employer must conform working conditions, treatment of employees and exchange of payment for labor to federal and state laws. Although these laws do not prevent the employer from terminating an employee without cause, they prevent an employer from terminating an employee for a malevolent cause. If you believe your rights have been violated you should speak with a Fort Worth employment attorney or Dallas employment attorney. You should contact my office to discuss your case.