Texas employers are becoming more concerned with employees’ conduct outside the workplace, particularly when an employee’s actions are posted on social media sites and could reflect poorly on the business. According to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, many Texas business owners have concerns about employee behavior negatively impacting the company, whether it is the employee engaging in political events outside the workplace or engaging in conduct that the business owner finds morally or ethically reprehensible. Yet many employers in Texas do not fully understand their rights when it comes to holding employees accountable for conduct outside the workplace.
As an employer, can you terminate an employee for speech or conduct made outside work? In general, if the employee is an at-will employee and does not have an employment contract, you likely do have the ability to fire that employee. However, there are limitations and exceptions. In addition, you should know that your rights and obligations as an employer change when there is an employment contract in place, which likely outlines the specific types of conduct for which an employee can be terminated.
Employment at Will and Terminating Workers for Conduct Outside the Job
Generally speaking, since Texas is an employment-at-will state, employers do have the right to fire an employee for conduct outside work—from engaging in political speech on social media to attending certain events or engaging in activities that may be as common as smoking cigarettes when workplace policy prohibits it. However, there are important exceptions.
An employer cannot terminate an employee for conduct outside work if that termination would amount to unlawful discrimination. For example, if an employee attends a mosque and an employer thinks it will hurt its business to have Muslims employed, the employer needs to know that employees have protections against religious discrimination. Similarly, if an employee posts on social media about having an invisible disability and the employer does not believe that information would be appealing to clients or customers, the employer needs to know that the employee has rights against disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Before you terminate an employee for conduct outside work, it is critical to seek advice from an employment lawyer who can advise you. You do not want to end up in a situation in which you are facing a wrongful termination claim that you cannot win.
Employees with Employment Contracts
When you have employees who are working under terms of employment contracts, your options to fire one of those employees for certain conduct outside the workplace is likely more limited. Employment contracts should expressly outline the terms under which the employee can be terminated and likewise, the terms under which an employee can decide to leave the position.
If the employment contract specifies particular conditions under which termination is appropriate but does not include specific types of prohibited conduct outside the workplace, it will be much more difficult for an employer to fire an employee for such reasons. However, you may be able to work with a Dallas employment lawyer to create enforceable employment contracts that delineate behavior outside the workplace that would be grounds for termination.
Seek Advice from a Dallas Employment Law Attorney
When you have questions or concerns about your right to terminate an employee for conduct outside of work, you should seek advice as soon as you can from one of our Dallas employment law attorneys. We have years of experience serving employers and business owners in Texas, and we can provide you with the information you need to ensure that you remain in compliance with state and federal law. Contact Simon Paschal PLLC today to learn more about how our firm can assist you.