Private employment is usually at will in Texas, which means that you can be terminated at any time for any reason that is not illegal. In contrast, public employees typically have more protections. Some federal employees may have civil service protections through the Merit Systems Protection Board. Additionally, government employees may have a property interest in their jobs that entitles them to due process before they can be terminated. For example, a union may have negotiated certain employment terms related to discipline and other matters in a government employee's contract. Due process often involves a hearing in which the employee must defend against the employer's claims. If you believe that your due process rights were violated as a government employee, you should consult an Austin public employment attorney about whether you may have a valid claim of wrongful termination.Understanding Your Due Process Rights in the Workplace
The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that state actors are not permitted to deprive anyone of their life, liberty, or property without providing due process. Public employees have a property interest in their employment that is protected under the Fourteenth Amendment when there is a contract stating this interest, the employer's past practices and policies with regard to other employees give an employee a property interest, or a regulation or law provides a property interest.
Due process does not mean that the employee keeps their job regardless of what happens, but it does mean that certain protections are available, such as being given the opportunity to be heard at a hearing and being given advance notice. For example, a tenured professor who works for the government is typically terminated only after the government shows just cause and provides a hearing. A non-tenured teacher does not have a protected property interest in their job and can typically be dismissed without due process.
Public employers that refuse to abide by due process can be sued for damages. Due process can be both procedural and substantive. Procedural rights relate to the steps that an employer must take before a termination can occur. For example, a public employee who has a constitutionally protected property interest is supposed to be given a hearing before being discharged so that they can argue their case. Generally, the employee needs to be given notice of the charges and the evidence against them, and they must have an opportunity to be heard on the matter that is appropriate to the circumstances before a termination can occur.
The court will look at the private interest that was affected, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures that were used or not used, the value of any additional procedural safeguards, and what the government's interest is. Each situation needs to be evaluated on its own merits. The United States Supreme Court found, for example, that the state had a substantial interest in removing a public employee from his job as a police officer after he had been arrested and charged with drug crimes, and the arrest and the filing of charges gave substantial assurance that the suspension was not unwarranted. However, when a public employee's name or integrity was at stake because of the termination, such that there was a stigma to that person's reputation as well as a deprivation of an additional interest, the Supreme Court found that the employee was entitled to notice and a hearing to clear his name.
There is some reluctance to recognize substantive due process rights. However, the Supreme Court has suggested that public employees have a substantive due process right in being free from arbitrary or capricious state actions. This is not a well-developed legal area, and outcomes can vary significantly.Consult a Skillful Wrongful Termination Attorney in Austin
If you believe your due process rights have been violated as a government employee in Texas, you should consult a wrongful termination lawyer about whether the facts of your situation give rise to a claim. The Austin attorneys at Wiley Walsh, P.C. represent employees in cities such as Austin, Georgetown, Round Rock, Cedar Park, Pflugerville, Leander, Del Valle, Kyle, San Marcos, San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Fredericksburg. Call us at (512) 271-5527 or use our online form to set up an appointment.