Your education and previous work experience has prepared you well for your new job in terms of professional skills, but every workplace is different, dealing with your new employer is unlike anything you have encountered while working for other organizations. What do you do if your employer promises to pay you a certain amount but then pays you less, whether this agreement was verbal or specified in an employment contract? What do you do if your employer keeps assigning you more and more time-consuming tasks that were not part of your original job description, without paying you more? What happens if your employer treats you poorly or denies you promotions for which you are eligible, and you suspect that your employer is basing this decision on your race, gender, or religion and not on your job performance? A Houston employee counseling lawyer can help you navigate the thorny issues you may encounter in the workplace.
Should You Hire a Lawyer Before You Sign an Employment Contract?
If you have been in the workforce for years but are only signing an employment contract for the first time, this is because not all jobs require a contract in Texas. Because of the at-will employment laws observed in Texas and in other states, employment relationships are on an at will basis unless the employer and the employee have signed a written contract stating otherwise. In an at-will employment relationship, your employer can fire you anytime, and you can quit anytime.
In an employment contract, you and your employer can agree to almost any terms you choose, as long as they do not require either party to break the law. For example, you cannot contractually agree to a rate of pay that is lower than the legal minimum wage. Employment contracts often indicate the length of the contract period and how to terminate or renew the contractual relationship. They also include details about employee compensation and benefits and about the employee’s work duties. Although it is easy to focus on the articles of your employment contract that relate to your work duties and your pay, the dispute resolution provisions are also important. Even if you read your employment contract, the implications of arbitration clauses, force majeure clauses, and the like may not be obvious to you. Therefore, you should review the contract with an employment lawyer before you sign.
Wage and Hour Disputes
Whether or not you have an employment contract, you are entitled to fair pay and fair working conditions. In Texas, the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which is the federal minimum wage. Tipped employees must receive $2.13 per hour from the employer except for shifts when the employee’s tips are so low that the tips for the day plus $2.13 per hour add up to less than $7.25 per hour. In Houston, the minimum wage is $14.00 per hour as of December 2022, and it will increase to $15.00 per hour in October 2023.
Most employees are entitled to overtime pay, which is 1.5 times the employee’s hourly rate. Seasonal employees are not eligible for overtime pay; examples of ineligible seasonal jobs are waterparks open only in the summer and Christmas tree shops open only in November and December. Likewise, if you get paid an annual salary instead of an hourly wage, you are probably not eligible for overtime.
Breach of Contract Disputes
If you have signed an employment contract, you have the right to sue your employer if they do not abide by the terms of the contract. Your employer also has the right to sue you if you do not fulfill your contractual obligations. If your employer is not fulfilling their contractual obligations, or if you are unable to fulfill your obligations, you should meet with an employer sooner rather than later. If your contract contains provisions about how to repair a breach of contract, your employer can help you ensure that you follow the instructions in those provisions so that you do not harm your case in a breach of contract lawsuit in the event that you and your employer are not able to resolve the dispute without going to court.
Employment Discrimination Claims
Whether or not you have an employment contract, the law protects you from employment discrimination. A protected characteristic is a personal characteristic or an aspect of your personal or family history based on which it is against the law for your employer to refuse to hire you or to treat you unfairly. Examples of protected characteristics include race, religion, age, gender, national origin, military status, and disability. Age discrimination laws only protect employees ages 40 and older; it is legal for employers to prefer older, more experienced workers after younger workers who are new to the profession. Military jobs can be open only to servicemembers, but civilian jobs cannot exclude current or former members of the military. Likewise, some federal jobs are only open to United States citizens, but employers cannot give preference to applicants born in the United States over naturalized citizens. The only job for which being born in the United States is a prerequisite is President of the United States.
Refusal to hire is only one of the many manifestations of employment discrimination. It is also discrimination if your employer terminates your employment, demotes you, or changes your work assignment to something less desirable. Unfairly negative performance reviews and unfairly negative references to future employers also count as employment discrimination. It is also discrimination if an employer harasses you because of a protected characteristic or repeatedly makes derogatory comments in your presence about a protected category to which you belong.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, About Disputes With Your Employer
The Houston employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, can help you resolve disputes related to payment, working conditions and hours, contracts, discrimination, and other matters. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, in Houston, Texas, to set up a consultation.