What does “at-will” employment mean in Texas?
“At-will” employment means that your employer can fire you with or without cause. In other words your employer can fire you for no reason at all or even a bad reason as long as it is not an illegal reason. There are many illegal reason (race, color, religion, sex, age, discrimination, national origin to name a few), but you cannot be fired if you have an actual contract of employment.
So what constitutes a contract of employment. Does a policy and procedure booklet or employee handbook create a contract? The answer in Texas seems to be an emphatic “NO” (as long as the handbook is properly drafted which it almost certainly is). Your employer can generally violate its own policies without being subject to liability. However, some employees have actual contracts of employments. These are usually doctors, sales people, or highly compensated employees. If you do have a contract please obtain a lawyers advice before signing such a contract. It is very difficult for a lawyer to do much for you once you have signed a contract other than advise you on if the employer breached the agreement.
However in some states an employer can create a contract of employment by making oral promises of continued employment. (New Mexico is one of these states where an employer can create a contract by such promises). Recently in Texas an employee tried to prove up a contract of employment by his employer with oral statements. In Teemac v. Frito-Lay, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93500, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92375 (N.D. Tex. 2015) an employer representative’s statements to the plaintiff that the “[Company] is a place you can grow” and “you can grow at this plant as long as you do your job good,” were insufficient to rebut the presumption that the employment was “at will.” This has been true with nearly every singe case in Texas. For the most part if you want to have a contract of employment or a guarantee of employment then you should have a written contract in place that states the length of the employment contract, the salary to be received and that you can only be fired during the contract for “good cause”. Unfortunately most employers will not sign such agreements so most employees in Texas remain “at-will” employees. Every week I meet with fired and injured workers in El Paso, Texas who believe they have been the subject of wrongful termination because they were fired in violation their companies policies and procedures. They are always shocked to learn that they cannot sue sue for such violations. However, if the company does violate their own policies and procedures this could be additional evidence if the employee thinks they have been fired for an illegal reason such as age, race, color religion, gender, national origin or disability or work injury. Always remember that your claim for Texas unemployment benefits are still available if you were fired without good cause and proof that the employer did not follow its own polices and procedures will, in most causes, assure you of receiving those benefits if your otherwise qualify. You should contact a competent board certified employment lawyer if you believe you were subject to wrongful termination.