News & opinion Guess What – You’re Fired!

Guess What – You’re Fired!

A “Donald Trump” Primer on Employment Law in Texas

One of the most common calls I receive in my office are calls involving employment situations. On a weekly basis I’ll get a call from someone who was fired regarding their situation. The call invariably ends with the question, “Can they fire me for that?” About nine times out of ten, the answer is “yes.” Texas is essentially an “employment at will” state. Basically this means that, unless you have an employment contract, you can be fired or you can quit at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. Say the boss doesn’t like your shoes? She can fire you. Say you don’t like the tie the boss is wearing? You can quit.

As with everything else in the law, however, there are always exceptions. For instance, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that you cannot be fired for refusing to perform an illegal act. If you refuse to dump that fifty-five gallon barrel of toxic waste into Lake Conroe, your job is still secure!

Also, you cannot be fired for discrimination based on your age. Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of age if they are over 39. And yes, in case you are wondering, it is a bit depressing to realize that this law applies to me now!

Here’s an interesting question: Can you be fired for refusing to take a drug test? Here’s a very lawyer like answer: Probably. Remember, private employers can fire you for any reason or for no reason at all. If your employer can fire you because they don’t like your shoes, they will likely have the right to fire you for your refusal to take a drug test. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they tend to involve public employers. (But honestly, do we really want intoxicated mail carriers wandering our streets?)

Okay, forget the drug test. Can you be fired for refusing to take a lie detector test? This is actually one of those exceptions I mentioned earlier. Federal law actually prohibits an employer from asking an employee or prospective employee to take a lie detector test. It is also illegal to refuse to hire or to fire someone for refusing to take the test. There are some exceptions to this rule that involve an employer’s ongoing investigation regarding economic loss or theft. But hey, what fun would the law be if there weren’t exceptions to the exceptions?

What do we do when laws appear to contradict one another? I recently had a call from someone who was fired for simply stating their opinion about a matter at work. They called me, very upset, and felt that their constitutional right to free speech was violated. I ended up giving them a good news / bad news answer. The good news is that you do have a constitutionally protected right to free speech. The U.S. Government cannot restrict your right to express yourself. The bad news is that your employer can fire you for expressing yourself at work. The First Amendment to the Constitution protects you from the government’s attempt to restrict what you say, but it does not affect your employer’s right to fire you for saying it. Besides, the guy ordering his pizza from you probably isn’t all that interested in your opinion on the Iraq war anyway!

Stewart J. Guss is a licensed attorney practicing in the Houston area for 15 years. He concentrates in the areas of personal injury, insurance law, consumer law, and small business issues. Mr. Guss maintains an office in the Cypress area and is proud to serve the entire Houston area. He may be reached at 800-898-4877 or via email at [email protected].

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