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7 Texas Work Laws that Surprise Transplants

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Moving to Texas? You’re not alone. Job seekers are moving to the Lone Star State in droves. According to a new U.S. Census Bureau report, seven of the 15 fastest-growing cities are in Texas. Texas is taking on a staggering number of transplants from California, New York, and Chicago alone.

With our breakfast tacos and gun racks, landing in Texas can feel like landing on the moon. Texas work laws can contribute to that sentiment, especially if you’re arriving from a worker-focused regulation-heavy state like California, New York, or Illinois. In Texas, work laws are some of the most employer-friendly in the country. It’s great news if you’re a business owner, but the rules (or lack of them) can be confusing if you’re a worker used to everything from your bathroom breaks to your interview questions being regulated.

Check out the following Texas work laws often catch job transplants off-guard.

  1. Right-to-work. As a right-to-work state, Texas’ work laws allow employees to choose whether or not to join labor unions. Workers are protected from threats, force, intimidation, or coercion based on that choice and cannot be denied employment because of it or be forced to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. Only 27 states have right-to-work laws in place, so there’s a chance that if you’re in a field in which unions are common—like in education, manufacturing, public service/security, or a skilled trade—you need to familiarize yourself with these rights for the first time.
  2. Employment at-will. Texas is an employment at-will state, which means an employee can be terminated at any time and for any reason (or for no reason at all). This makes wrongful termination much harder to prove in Texas than in many other states. Even so, certain federal lines can never be crossed, including ones that may violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act (terminating someone without notice due to findings in a background check) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations deeming protected-class discrimination illegal. There are also certain circumstances outlined by the Texas Workforce Commission that present grey areas for at-will terminations, including issues surrounding final wage payments, mass layoffs, ignoring established company procedures, and firing an employee during a heated exchange.
  3. Salary history. Were you asked by a Texas employer about your salary history and are wondering whether they just broke the law? They didn’t. While the salary history ban is spreading nationwide, it’s still a very legal question to ask in Texas. That being said, fewer and fewer Texas employers are asking the question outright or are at least respectful if you deflect it thoughtfully. For more tips on negotiating salary with Texas employers, see this previous blog post.
  4. Mandatory paid sick leave. Texas does not have mandatory sick leave pay as some other states do, but certain cities like Austin and San Antonio are trying to put local mandates in place. Austin’s was the first to be passed but was quickly struck down with a temporary injunction, so it’s not currently enforced. As of this posting, the Texas Legislature is working on a bill to reverse the ordinance and prevent others from taking hold in the state, which will affect San Antonio’s similar law slated to go into effect soon. Check for updates on this changing situation before assuming whether your Texas employer does (or does not) need to pay you during time off for an illness. Also, during the hiring process, pay attention to the employer’s policies on PTO and paid sick leave when they outline their benefits. It’s common for Texas employers to have voluntary paid sick leave policies in place.
  5. Non-compete agreements. As Attorney Amy Beckstead points out, Texas non-compete agreements “abide by Goldilocks’ golden rule: not too hot (unreasonably restrictive on the employee) and not too cold (overly broad in scope). This means the agreement must be reasonable concerning time (one year or less is often considered reasonable), geographical area (within a certain metro area or region, depending on what the employee does for the company) and the scope of activity to be restrained (prohibiting an employee from performing the same or similar job functions at a direct competitor).” While this might seem flexible, it’s far more restrictive than what California requires. Many California agreements prohibited only the use of trade secrets which, according to Corporate Counsel Magazine, is “the one restraint that remains legal under California law.”
  6. Ban-the-box/Fair chance hiring. If you’re applying for jobs in Texas and have an unsavory past involving a criminal conviction, only Austin employers with 15 or more employees are banned from finding out through a background check before a job offer is made. Take a look at the city’s policy here. Statewide, however, Texas has other laws in place to promote hiring job candidates who may have criminal records. For one, the timeframe for criminal background checks is limited to seven years for jobs paying less than $75,000 annually. Second, Texas passed a law to help alleviate employers’ liability concerns by prohibiting most causes of action “against an employer, general contractor, premises owner, or [another] third party solely for negligently hiring or failing to adequately supervise an employee, based on evidence that the employee has been convicted of an offense.”
  7. Accrued vacation and PTO. No Texas or federal law requires employers to make payouts of accrued but unused paid leave. Most employers, however, will offer it up as an employee benefit so, again, be sure to look for it in the company’s policies. That’s where Texas employers must describe how and at what rate vacation leave can be earned, explain whether they allow carryover of vacation leave from year to year, and state whether the company pays employees for unused vacation leave when they leave the company.

With no mandatory meal breaks and other only-in-Texas work laws, job seekers from outside the state may find themselves in unfamiliar territory. If any of these or other areas are essential to you, talk to a Texas recruiter about what to expect and what to look for in a Lone Star employer who is a good match.


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