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Wrongful termination in Texas

The relationship between employers and their employees have become very complicated over the last three decades, as courts and legislative bodies have added new provisions to protect the interests of workers and to prevent employers from exploiting their positions of power over the work force.

Two groups of states

These laws have divided the 50 states into two large groups:

  • At will states. Those that permit an employee or employer to terminate the employment relationship without any reason. These states are known as “at-will states” because the employment relationship depends upon the will of the employer and the employee. Texas belongs to this group.
  • Contract states. The other group is known as “contractual states” because the employer-employee relationship is presumed to rest upon an implied contract between the employer and the employee.

Despite the fact that Texas is general recognized as an “at will” state, the legislature, courts, and the federal government have established a number of situations that can excuse an employer’s decision to discharge an employee or an employee’s decision to quit his employment.

Exceptions to the “at will” rule

Despite the breadth and age of the “at will” rule, an employer in Texas has significant leeway in deciding to terminate an employee.

The most common exception to the “at will” rule was created by the Texas commission on Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”). This law prohibits an employer from terminating or otherwise discriminating against employees because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin or age.

If an employee can prove that one or more of these reasons was the motivating factor in the decision to fire the employee, the employee can recover damages, back pay, and attorneys’ fees. If the decision to discharge was based on other reasons, the employee may recover additional damages.

An employer may not retaliate against an employee who has made a charge of discrimination against the employer. A similar rule applies to employees who have filed workers’ compensation claims.


Many different entities, from large corporations to small non-profits such as condominium homeowners associations, have employees who are covered by the “at-will” rule and its exceptions. The management of those entities should familiarize themselves with the scope of the “at will” rule and its several exceptions.