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Houston Business & Commercial Law Blog

The new federal overtime law

Cost of living in Texas and around the country is always a hot political topic in the media, particularly in regards to the federal minimum wage and overtime laws and how they affect both employers and workers. While it is probably true that most companies want to be fair to their employees, they must also consider how the rate of pay will affect the business’s ability to remain profitable. However, the federal government is making changes in federal employment laws, and employers will soon need to adapt accordingly.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the laws that affect overtime exemptions will go into effect on Dec. 1, 2016. While currently, those who make a salary of at least $455 each week, or $23,660 annually, are exempt from receiving overtime pay, the new rule raises that amount to $913 per workweek and $47,476 per year. However, an employer may count as much as 10 percent of the salary as coming from commissions and other incentive payments, as well as mandatory bonuses. These changes do not stop there because the law requires that they be assessed and, when appropriate, updated, every three years.

What happens to a former employee’s unclaimed paycheck?

Regardless of how an employee parts ways with your company in Texas, it is typical for the last paycheck to be issued a few days or even one or two weeks later. You must pay for all the hours that the employee worked to stay within the bounds of the law. However, if there is no direct deposit set up, and the employee does not come to get the check, you may be wondering whether you must hold it indefinitely.

According to the Houston Chronicle, at no point does the right to the employee’s unclaimed wages revert back to you. If the employee never comes to get it, you may report the amount of the check to the state as abandoned. Many companies take this step after three to five years, but your company can create a policy to deal with the situation in the way that works best for you. Once the account has been turned over to the state, your responsibility for it ends. The employee would have to prove his or her identity to the state in order to receive the money.

Benefits of an arbitration clause in an employment contract

Litigation against your business in Texas may lead to damaging media attention, even when an employee’s complaint is proven to be invalid in court. By drafting employment contracts with very specific terms, you may be able to prevent opportunities for employees or former employees to file unwarranted lawsuits against your company. At the Jackson Law Firm, we often assist companies in creating employment contracts with provisions that are perceived as beneficial to workers while protecting employers’ interests.

The Houston Chronicle states that arbitration clauses are legally binding, according to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, and they may be used in individual employment contracts as well as collective bargaining agreements. Arbitration is typically settled much more quickly than litigation because it eliminates the appeals process as well as the potential for a protracted court battle. It also saves you and your employee the cost of court and attorney fees.

Avoiding age discrimination litigation

There are many reasons that an employer in Texas may decide to end an employment relationship with a worker, and it is often a difficult decision, no matter how necessary. Disappointment or anger over the loss of a job may lead an employee who is 40 years old or older to believe that the action is a result of age discrimination rather than his or her own failure. Understanding federal and state antidiscrimination laws that deal with age can help an employer to eliminate the appearance of wrongful termination and prevent the negative consequences of litigation.

The AARP explains that the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects employees over the age of 40 from age discrimination in many circumstances, including forced retirement as well as termination. There are some job-specific exceptions where age may be a factor, though, and the law applies only to workers who are classified as employees and not independent contractors.

Understanding the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2015

Trade secret protections for business owners in Texas include both state and federal laws. However, these are not always defined well enough to prevent a wayward employee from embezzlement or fraud of a company’s private resources. According to Congress.gov, the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2015 is an attempt to inhibit unfair competition from former employees at the federal level.

If a company owner discovers that a trade secret has been stolen, the proposed law would allow him or her to apply for a seizure order. The materials would be expropriated by the court to prevent the alleged theft from resulting in use or distribution of the trade secret during the litigation.

Commercial real estate contract of purchase and sale

When purchasing commercial real estate in Houston, a person or company must go through a process in order to ensure that the transaction is legal and binding. According to the Houston Chronicle, these complex business deals typically require a purchase and sale contract with terms that must be fulfilled to complete the real estate sale. Otherwise, the final agreement may not be binding.

Information about the buyer, the seller, the property and the financing must all be provided in the contract. The American Bar Association explains that the offer and acceptance are also a necessary part of the contract of purchase and sale, and they define the details about the real estate and the purchase price. The seller may look at these and then make a change to the amount of the purchase. This is known as a counteroffer, and it cannot be considered an acceptance unless the buyer subsequently agrees to it.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

From civil rights to safety, the federal government has created rules and regulations for employers in Texas and other states in the nation to follow. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a federal employment law targeted specifically at eliminating fatal and nonfatal injuries and illnesses on jobsites across the country.

The Act included the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the government agency that researches safety issues and creates industry-specific standards and guidelines. OSHA is responsible for providing information to employers on how to comply with regulations, as well as educational materials for them to pass on to employees.

When you need legal advice

In the course of starting and running a company in Houston, Texas, an entrepreneur may encounter dozens of legal issues that require at least a rudimentary familiarity with business law. Filing forms and applications, getting an employer identification number and ensuring that buildings are compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are just a few examples of instances where it might be necessary to find legal information before proceeding.

According to the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, sometimes it is important to seek legal advice from an attorney. Contracts with shareholders, vendors, employees and clients are legal documents, so it is essential for them to be correct to prevent litigation in the future. While anyone has the right to self-representation, only an attorney can represent another person.

Copyright infringement and your rights

As a business owner in Houston, Texas, you may own one or more creative works such as original documents, computer programs, recordings or other tangible intellectual property that are essential to your company’s bottom line. You should have exclusive rights to these, including the sole authority to copy, distribute, perform, display or otherwise use them. In fact, if the work is protected by copyright law, this is exactly the case. We at The Jackson Law Firm have provided advice to many who are unsure of their legal rights regarding their copyrighted works.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright infringement occurs when your business’s property is used by another company or person without obtaining your permission. For example, maybe a rival company is using a logo design that consumers could easily mistake as your own. When a copyright has been infringed upon, and you have suffered damages as a direct result, you have the right to recover these from the other party. This could include lost revenue to your company and damaged reputation. In addition, that person or company must turn over the revenues garnered from the use of your property.

Avoiding implied contracts in the employee manual

Laws in Houston, Texas, typically support employers in setting the guidelines for employment relationships for the good of the company. This includes an at-will employment doctrine stating that the employment could end without a reason. The Texas Municipal League explains this law allows an employer to dismiss an employee whenever he or she believes it is necessary, unless it is a case involving discrimination against a protected class or retaliation. However, there are a few exceptions to the law, and one of these could be located in the company’s own policies and procedures.

Naturally, the terms of a formal employment contract must be met to avoid litigation, and these often include the length of time the employee will remain with the company. Even if an employer does not draw up a formal employee contract that outlines circumstances regarding dismissal, the company may have a policy that clarifies these explicitly. For example, there may be a “three strikes and you’re out” policy that is based on performance. The employer may believe there is no need for documentation of the worker’s poor performance because of the at-will employment doctrine. But, the former employee may disagree and file a claim against the company.

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