Unlawful Termination During Covid-19 Pandemic

Because of state and local at-will employment laws, companies in Texas may be able to fire employees without warning or reason, under certain circumstances. However, there are some legal protections for workers against wrongful termination and retaliation.

Helping Employees Fired Without Warning or Reason During Covid-19 Pandemic

Because of state and local at-will employment laws, companies in Texas may be able to fire employees without warning or reason, under certain circumstances. However, there are some legal protections for workers against wrongful termination and retaliation. A legal rule, referred to as the Sabine Pilot doctrine, prevents employers from firing employees for refusing to commit an illegal act at their employer’s request.

If you have been fired for refusing to perform some illegal act at the request of your employer, call our employment lawyers today. The Sabine Pilot doctrine might apply to you and you may be entitled to damages for wrongful termination.

Workers

What Is Sabine Pilot?

Like many legal causes of action, the Sabine Pilot doctrine is named after a court case, and was established by the Supreme Court of Texas in the 1985 case of Sabine Pilot Service, Inc. v. Hauck. In this lawsuit, Michael Hauck alleged that his former employer, Sabine Pilot, fired him because he refused to engage in criminal activity on the company’s behalf.

An officer for Sabine Pilot told Hauck, a deckhand, that part of his daily responsibilities included pumping bilges off of the boat and into a waterway, in violation of the law. Hauck called the U.S. Coast Guard, and a guardsman told Hauck that it was illegal to pump the bilges into the waterways. Therefore, Hauck refused to pump the bilges, and Sabine Pilot fired him.

Though Sabine Pilot testified that they terminated Hauck because of other “derelictions of duty,” like refusing to swab the deck and man a radio watch, Hauck won his case, and the court deemed his firing illegal. According to the court, the sole reason Hauck lost his job was his unwillingness to pump the bilges.

What Does Sabine Pilot Mean?

The successful challenge to established at-will employment laws in Texas is significant because it means that company superiors cannot intimidate employees into crossing legal and ethical bounds.

In a concurring opinion in the Sabine Pilot case, Texas Supreme Court Justice William Kilgarin, wrote, “Absolute employment at will…belongs in a museum, not in our law.” Kilgarin said, “Allowing an employer to require an employee to break a law or face termination cannot help but promote a thorough disrespect for the laws and legal institutions of our society.” In other words, holding employers accountable for intimidation and lawbreaking ensures that we continue to live in a free and just country.

Have you been fired for refusing to act illegally or unethically?

Have you been fired during the COVID-19 pandemic for refusing to violate stay at home, shelter in place, or non-essential worker orders from the Government? If you have been fired because of the coronavirus and your refusal to violate state and federal guidelines and orders, you should know more about what damages can be claimed in a Sabine Pilot case. Contacting a lawyer experienced in employment law is crucial for getting the most out of your case.

You may receive compensation for:

  • Lost wages: If your employer wrongfully terminated you, you will immediate lose a steady paycheck. You may be able to recover damages for lost wages you have suffered as a result of the termination and lost wages you can expect to suffer in the future. 
  • Lost benefits: If your employment came with retirement and medical benefits, losing your job can cost you access to health care and your long term long-term financial security.  You may be able to recover damage for the economic (money value) of the loss of such benefits. 
  • Punitive Damages: Punitive damages extend beyond actual, quantifiable damages. In some cases, the conduct of the defendant is so reckless and malicious that the court requires the defendant to pay more money as punishment.

If you feel these damages might apply to your case, call us today for a free consultation at (512) 371-6101, or click here to submit a confidential email. 

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Attorney Chris Cagle has been selected as a Texas "Super Lawyer" from 2009 through 2019 by Thomson Reuters, as published in Texas Monthly Magazine. Chris has also been included in the Multi MIllion Dollar Advocates.

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