You Were Laid Off – What Are Your Legal Rights?

Every day it seems that there is another local headline of significant layoffs by a company trying to increase its profits.  Even in Texas, where the economy has been stronger than elsewhere, there are substantial layoffs every month.  Employers in Texas took 627 mass layoff actions in 2012 resulting in layoffs of 69,068 workers.  All of this is a way of saying that if you’ve been laid off, you are not alone.  And if you have experienced a layoff, you need to determine – quickly – what your legal rights are and whether you may have a claim against your former employer.  The three decisions you should make quickly are (1) whether to file for unemployment, (2) whether you have a wrongful termination claim and (3) whether you have an unpaid overtime claim.

Should you file for unemployment benefits?

Unemployment in Texas is overseen by the Texas Workforce Commission.  An employee must be out of work through no fault of their own to qualify for unemployment benefits in Texas. Workers that are laid off, lose their job in a reduction-in-force, or are “downsized” for economic reasons will meet this requirement. In Texas, employees fired for work-related misconduct may not qualify for unemployment benefits.

For more information on unemployment benefits in Texas, click here.

Do you have a claim for wrongful termination?

Texas is an employment at-will state.  This means that absent a statute or an express agreement (i.e. an employment contract) providing otherwise, the employer or employee may terminate or modify the employment relationship for any reason or no reason at all.  There are a number of statutory exceptions to the at-will employment rule in Texas.  For example, an employee cannot be fired on the basis of race, color, disability, religion, national origin, age or sex.  An employee cannot be discharged for filing a worker’s compensation claim in good faith.  A worker cannot be terminated because of active-duty service or training with the military.  An employee cannot be discharged for serving on a jury.  An employee cannot be fired for filing a claim for unpaid overtime.  Moreover, there are a number of state and federal statutes that protect whistleblowers who have notified appropriate authorities of illegal or otherwise prohibited activity.  The deadlines for filing wrongful termination claims under these various statutes vary considerably, but suffice to say that an employee should consult with an employment attorney as soon as possible after being laid off to preserve his or her legal rights.

Do you have a claim for unpaid overtime?

The Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, is the applicable law on overtime pay in Texas.  The FLSA requires most employees to be paid one-and-a-half times their regular rate of pay for each hour worked in any week above forty.  Employers sometimes misclassify their employees in an attempt to avoid paying them overtime that is required under the FLSA.  One of the most common myths pertaining to unpaid overtime is that one must be a current employee to receive overtime pay that was denied to you. This is not true – under the FLSA, you do not have to be a current employee to recover unpaid overtime. Individuals who were laid off or who resigned are still entitled to receive unpaid overtime if they were otherwise eligible for overtime pay under the FLSA.

For more information regarding unpaid overtime, click here and here.  An attorney who is familiar with the overtime pay laws can advise you of your legal rights and whether you may have a claim for unpaid overtime.  If you have questions regarding unpaid overtime, you should consult with an employment attorney as soon as possible.

In closing, you should know that there are employment attorneys who may be available to help you enforce your legal rights after you have been laid off.  If you are laid off, and you believe you may have a claim for wrongful termination or unpaid overtime, do not sign any documents that your employer asks you to sign until you have consulted with an employment attorney, as doing so could waive your legal rights.

About the author: Josh Borsellino is a Texas attorney that handles business litigation, unpaid overtime claims and other employment disputes.  His office is located in Fort Worth, Texas, and he is licensed to practice law in every state and federal court in Texas.  He regularly advises employees on their legal rights, and will accept clients in Fort Worth, Dallas, Denton, Arlington, Midland, Odessa, Abilene, Cleburne, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and across Texas.