Labor & Employment law, in general, deals with the relationship between employers and employees. As shown below, various work place issues can arise in which legal assistance can be important.
- “At Will” Employment – In Oklahoma, the employer-employee relationship is “at will.” Unless a specific written contract for a specific term exists, either the employer or the employee may terminate the relationship at any time, with or without cause, subject to certain restrictions. Most employment relationships are “at will.”
- Discrimination – Illegal and actionable discrimination occurs when an employee suffers “an adverse employment action” based upon the employee’s age, sex, race, national origin, religion, disability, or veteran status. An adverse employment action may be a transfer to a less favorable position or location, a demotion, a cut in pay, or termination. Discrimination also includes a “hostile work environment.” Both state and federal law address illegal discrimination. To provide a defense to certain claims, employers should have a written policy that prohibits illegal discrimination. The policy should provide a good framework for the reporting and investigation of such claims. Employers must enforce the policy uniformly and, when necessary, take immediate and appropriate corrective action when an investigation reveals discrimination has occurred. Employees who believe they have been subjected to illegal discrimination should follow the employer’s anti-discrimination policy and report the behavior. If the employer does not appropriately respond, the employee may have a claim which can be pursued in court. To pursue a federal action, the employee must file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The EEOC will most likely investigate, suggest mediation, and eventually issue a “90-day letter.” The 90-day letter is a prerequisite to filing a discrimination lawsuit in federal court.
- Workers Compensation – Oklahoma’s Workers Compensation laws govern medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation, wage replacement and other benefits to employees who have been injured on the job or who develop an occupational disease during employment. In addition, employers may not discriminate or retaliate against an employee for filing a Workers Compensation claim or hiring a lawyer for representation in a claim. Further, an employer may not discharge an employee during a period of total temporary disability solely on the basis of absence from work or to avoid paying temporary total disability benefits.
- Wage and Hour – The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) sets standards for minimum wage and overtime. The FLSA also governs child labor and authorization for non-U.S. citizens working under the Immigration and Nationality Act. In Oklahoma, the Department of Labor investigates the validity of wage claims and helps pursue payment on behalf of employees when warranted.
- Unemployment Benefits – The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (“OESC”) regulates benefits for employees who lose their jobs. Benefits are not available for employees who voluntarily leave employment or whose employment was terminated for serious misconduct. Employees may need legal assistance if the employer challenges their claims and the OESC denies benefits. Legal assistance can be valuable for the employer and/or the employee for an OESC hearing (usually conducted by telephone), an appeal, or an OESC claim regarding over-payment.
- Wrongful Termination – Oklahoma recognizes a narrow exception to the “employment at will” doctrine. If an employee is discharged for (1) refusing to act in violation of an established and well-defined public policy or (2) acting in a manner consistent with a clear and compelling public policy, that employee may have a claim for wrongful termination. For example, a fireman who was fired in retaliation for exposing and opposing the unlawful and unsafe burning of structures owned by the fire chief under the guise of a ‘training exercise’ had a claim against his employer. Public policy may be expressed by the Constitution, or statutes, or case law.
At Logan & Lowry, LLP we assist clients, whether employers or employees, with navigating the intricacies of employment law from start to finish. Our practice offers flexibility and is tailored to the needs of our clients. For many, we provide the full range of assistance, while others seek our assistance on specific employment law issues. Contact us to learn more.