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Employment Issues During a Pandemic

By: Melinda H. Barlow July 21, 2020 no comments

Employment Issues During a Pandemic

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many business owners are finding themselves at a crossroads. You may have even asked yourself: How do I handle complicated employment issues during a pandemic?

As a business owner in Texas, it’s important to know that Texas is an at-will employment state. However, when you terminate an employee or change their job, you may be at risk of facing a legal claim. If termination or reassignment appears adverse, i.e. if it’s less money, less responsibility, less career opportunity, or even if the employee receives a lesser favored shift, that employee may have a claim that the company’s actions were not made for a legitimate business reason, but rather had discriminatory intent.

When considering layoffs, reductions in forces, and/or reorganizations, consider if you are impacting individuals that are in a protected class. A protected class is a group of people that are qualified for special protection from state or federal statutes. Protected classes can include individuals of a common race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, and/or with disabilities. You should consider this whether terminating or reorganizing with only one employee or if you are considering changes with multiple employees. When dealing with multiple employees, you must both consider the impact on that individual, as well as determine if it is affecting a protected class disproportionally.  

Here are a few tips to help you navigate employment issues during a pandemic:

  1. Make a spreadsheet of all potentially affected positions.
  2. Review your spreadsheet and answer the following question: Are there any protected classes that have been disproportionately impacted?
  3. If you answered yes to the above, consider consulting with an attorney. An attorney can work with you to protect any and all communication regarding the employment matter. At any rate, you are going to have to address that issue. 
  4. Keep statistical data for any layoffs or reorganizations that you do. 
    • You need to build a file to support your Legitimate Non-Discriminatory Reason. You are looking at objective things that are unrelated to their gender, age, etc.
  5. If you have a policy you need to follow it. For example, if the policy states that the person with the lowest seniority in his/her position will be laid off first, then act accordingly. This is not a time to deter from policies that have been put in place. 
  6. If you do not have a policy, then create objective standards to apply to each employee group, and each employee consistently across the board.
  7. When reorganizing or reclassifying, the new job description should show a significant change, not just a new title.

Do you have questions about how to handle employment issues during a pandemic? The attorneys at Harris Cook can help. Contact our office at (817) 275-8765 to get the counsel you need.