Reduction in Force
A reduction in force happens if an employer institutes layoffs, a mass termination or a restructuring of the company. It usually involves permanent termination of employees, but it can also include mandatory furloughs, reduction in work hours, or shifting of employee tasks in order to reduce the number of jobs available. In Texas, there is no law that stops your employer from conducting layoffs or closing a plant or jobsite. However, in some cases, employees who lose their jobs due to a reduction in force have options available to them. At Wiley Walsh, P.C., our Austin wrongful termination attorneys may be able to help.Preserve Your Rights During a Reduction in Force
A reduction in force typically involves more than one step. Once a decision is made to lay off workers, there may be a stage of assessment about which employees to terminate and another stage of offering benefits to certain employees to ease the period after their termination. Termination can depend on multiple factors, including each employee's individual performance and the company's needs and budget. Severance packages and outplacement services may be provided to all or some employees. Sometimes the employer chooses to only provide unemployment compensation.
Texas employment is at-will, which means that an employer can terminate employees at any point for any reason as long as it is not violating the law in doing so. It is a legal violation for an employer to consider protected traits, such as race, national origin, religion, gender, age, or disability, when assessing which employees to terminate. For example, if an employer only terminates people of a certain age, it can be liable for employment discrimination, even though the termination was called a "layoff" or reduction in force.
Similarly, if your coworkers and you engaged in protected activities with regard to discrimination, hazardous substances, occupational safety and health, general public evacuation, or workers' compensation, you are protected against layoffs based on retaliation. If an employer decides to lay off a department who supported a worker who had been harassed by a supervisor due to their gender identity, the employer could be liable for wrongful termination. In another example, a hospital could be liable for wrongful termination if it laid off employees who reported the hospital's legal violations to a law enforcement agency. Similarly, if an employer laid off workers who filed a complaint about the way that the employer deals with hazardous substances under the Hazard Communication Act, this could be a basis for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
A collective bargaining agreement or private employment contract can also protect an employee who is laid off by providing a basis for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit in connection with a reduction in force. If you negotiated a "just cause" provision in your contract, or your union did, you may be able to sue for wrongful termination if you do not believe that the reasons for your termination meet the standard of "just cause."
Additionally, companies that have more than 100 employees in Texas are supposed to follow the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act in connection with mass layoffs or a plant layoff. Companies are also covered if they have at least 100 employees who work a combined 4,000 hours or more each week. Specifically, they need to provide a notice of termination directly to each employee in writing.
You can file a federal lawsuit to assert your rights under WARN, and you can be awarded damages for compensation or benefits that you lost because of a WARN violation for up to a total of 60 days. However, the amount that you recover can be reduced by the wages that you earned or severance payments that an employer made voluntarily during that period. There are certain exceptions.Explore Your Options with an Employment Lawyer in Austin
If you face a reduction in force that you believe was discriminatory in nature or in violation of your WARN rights, you should consult an attorney. You may be able to recover monetary damages or other remedies. 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 if you need an employment discrimination lawyer.