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Are You Blowing It and Not Even Knowing It?
Texas At-Will Employment
By Laura S. Fowler
Dear Readers: Well… It’s summertime. Let’s have a little fun! Each week this summer, The Fowler Law Firm will send you an Electronic Alert like this one, designed to do two equally important things: (1) Inform you about a challenge many others like you regularly ask that costs them money or forfeits an opportunity; and (2) Showcase the skills and resources of The Fowler Law Firm PC in our award-winning Practice Sections.
Reply to this Electronic Alert to ask a question or make a comment in strictest confidence. Have a great Summer of 2016!
Your institution or business employs nineteen (19) full-time employees. You don’t have a dedicated Human Resources Director. Four (4) new employees were just hired. Your team member who interviewed the candidates, selected the finalists, and made each one an oral offer told the new employees during the interview what their pay per month would be. He then gave each one an employee handbook and asked them to sign that they had received and read the handbook before they were given a chance to read it. Your employee handbook clearly states each employee is at-will and compensated at an hourly wage unless otherwise stated in the employee contract. Each new employee received by mail a letter intended to welcome them to your team, advising them what their annual salary and benefits package was valued at, and asking them to sign and return. Your summer intern found the letter on the internet and thought it would be a great form to use.
On Day 3, you realize it is not working out with one of the new employees. You advise the employee it is not in the best interest of the employer to continue the relationship and you are proposing to terminate the employment relationship. What can you do and how much do you owe the employee?
- Terminate the employee and pay only through the hours actually worked by the employee?
- Terminate the employee and pay through the end of the month?
- Terminate the employee and pay through the end of the year?
- Fire the summer intern and vow never to have an internship program again!
The Correct Answer Is… This is a mess! There is a reason even small institutions and entities hire qualified human resource professionals. This is a good example of why it actually is not possible to predict with certainty what the courts would do with this set of facts. Every utterance by the employer will be constructed most strictly against the employer. All conflicts in the wording will be interpreted in the manner which favors the employee. If you dedicate one person to handling every aspect of human resources, you might avoid all these problems or at least mitigate the damage.
In your every employment adventure, we wish you the very best!
Laura Fowler will speak at Texas Association of Community College Business Officials, SCORE-Austin and Capitol Area Maintenance Officials (CAMO) this summer on this topic. For details of time and locations, contact Laura S. Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (512) 441-1411.
The Fowler Law Firm Education Law Section is nationally ranked as a US News and World Reports Best Law Firm in the United States – Education Law- Tier 1 Designee. For more information about our firm and our community outreach please contact us at www.thefowlerlawfirm.com, or at (512) 441-1411.
Receipt of this Electronic Alert or printer-friendly version does not establish or constitute an attorney-client relationship. This information is not intended as a substitute for careful review by legal counsel of your own choosing. As with any legal issue, please consult your attorney with questions.