Can I Sue My
Employer for Firing
Me During the
Coronavirus Pandemic?

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Can laid off employees sue their employers?

The global coronavirus pandemic has caused major changes to how people around the country are working. Some have transitioned to working from home or are taking paid leave. Unfortunately, many others—especially those in the entertainment, service, and retail industries—have seen drastic reductions in hours or have been laid off. Can laid off employees sue their employers for their termination?

Generally speaking, employment in Texas is considered at-will. This means that your employer can fire you at any time for any reason or no reason at all. However, your employer cannot fire you for reasons that are against the law.

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Need an Austin Employment Lawyer?

While the current coronavirus crisis does not change employment law, it may give employers another layer of protection in making their employment decisions. That’s why it’s more important than ever to consult with an attorney to see if you have a case. If you think your employer owes you wages or broke the law when they terminated you, reach out to an attorney today to enforce your workplace rights.

Can I Sue My Employer?

There are plenty of federal and state laws that protect employees in the workplace. If you feel your rights are being violated, the best thing to do is pick up the phone. We can evaluate your potential claim for free.

Discrimination

Your employer cannot fire you because of your:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Age (over 40)
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Military Service

Although “smoking gun” evidence of discrimination is best, discrimination is usually found by indirect evidence. Ask questions such as:

  • Was I fired or demoted while less qualified employees kept their jobs?
  • Was I being singled out for discipline while others outside of my protected status were not?
  • When they laid off employees, did they mostly fire employees of one sex, race, age group, etc.?

Retaliation

Texas employers are not allowed to retaliate against employees who engage in protected activities. These activities include:

  • Discussing wages with other employees;
  • Reporting discrimination or helping investigate discrimination;
  • Becoming pregnant;
  • Using medical or family leave;
  • Refusing to follow orders that would be unlawful or discriminatory;
  • Requesting a religious accommodation;
  • Requesting an accommodation due to disability;

It’s more common for employers to get in trouble for their response to a harassment claim, rather than the claim itself. They cannot act in a way that would discourage an employee from complaining about future discrimination or unlawful behavior.

Breach of Employment Contract

The usual at-will employment rules don’t apply if you signed a contract with your employer, which is more common for upper management, executive positions, or union workers. An employment contract should not be confused with an employment handbook that only spells out your employer’s workplace expectations and policies.

If your employer failed to follow the terms of your employment agreement, such as by terminating you before the end of the contract, you may have a claim against them for breach of contract.

Unpaid Overtime

In Texas, hourly workers are entitled to overtime pay for every (time and a half) for every hour they work over 40 hours a week. Salaried workers are exempt from overtime laws if they are properly classified as exempt workers.

You might be entitled to sue for overtime wages if you:

  • Worked off the clock. Employers must pay you for all the work you performed. They cannot force you to work before or after your shifts, during your breaks, or at home after your shift without paying you.
  • Were misclassified as an exempt salary worker. To be properly classified as an exempt employee, you typically have to be doing management or high-level administrative work. Your job duties—not your job title—determine if you entitled to overtime or not.

Workers who did not receive overtime pay can sue their employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). You can sue for at least the last 2 years of unpaid overtime. The FLSA can give an employee “double damages” for the overtime money owed, plus attorneys’ fees and court costs. This means that the employees usually don’t have to pay anything out of pocket to hire an attorney to get their wages back.

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