There are two forms of illegal discrimination under Texas employment law. One is a refusal to hire or promote a person because of certain protected characteristics. The other is wrongful termination, or firing an employee because of those same characteristics. In Texas, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of his or her sex, race, age, religion, national origin or any disability he or she may have. Although this state’s law does not specifically list sexual orientation as an illegal reason to fire or refuse to hire someone, it is illegal for employers to inquire about an applicant’s sexual orientation or family life.
Some characteristics are not protected. For example, it is legal for an employer to refuse to hire anyone with a criminal record, and to fire a current employee if he or she turns out to have such a record. But because merely being accused of a crime does not make a person guilty, it is illegal for an employer to ask about any arrests or accusations during a job interview. Employers may only inquire about convictions. Employers are also allowed to ask about an applicant’s legal status as it relates to work, and about any accommodations the employee may need. If the employee cannot perform the job he or she is applying for without reasonable accommodations, it is not considered discrimination if he or she is turned down for the job.
In Texas, employees are assumed to be “at will.” This means that, under typical circumstances, employees can leave a job at any time for any reason. Conversely, employers can let an employee go at any time for any reason that does not fall under illegal discrimination.
The law recognizes only two exceptions to at will employment. They are both related to the contract an employee and his or her new employer may sign. The contract may specify that the employment will last a set amount of time, or that the employee can only be let go under certain specific circumstances. If such a contract is signed, then the employer is obligated to keep the employee until the time is up or the employee violates the contract, and the employee is obligated to continue working at that job until the contract expires. Texas law requires that the wording of this contract be very specific. It is not enough for employers to outline job requirements, then fire employees who do not meet these requirements. The contract must explicitly state that an employee’s job will be terminated under specific conditions, then describe those conditions.