Sunday, September 14, 2014




Know your rights: You are not entitled to rest break at work

By By Richard Alderman
Sept. 28, 2013 at 4:28 a.m.


I work eight hours a day at a local company. The work is not physically hard but still tiring. My boss gives us a short lunch break but no other rest breaks during the day. Doesn't the law require that workers get short rest breaks during the day?

My understanding of Texas and federal law is that there is no requirement an employer gives employees a rest break. I agree, it would be the right thing to do and probably would help employee morale and productivity, but there is no legal requirement.

I was going to sue a contractor for doing faulty work. Before I had a chance to do anything, he filed suit in justice court against me for not paying the full amount. Do I still have the right to file my claim?

You may still file your claim, but you do not file it as a separate lawsuit. You file what is called a "counterclaim" in the contractor's lawsuit. You also need to file an "answer" to his lawsuit explaining why you did not pay and don't owe him any money. The court then hears both claims and rules on them at the same time.

I have a power of attorney for my 87 year-old mother. The nursing home where she is staying has started sending her bills to me. Am I responsible for her debts because of the power of attorney?

If they are sending you her bills to pay on her behalf, you should not be concerned. On the other hand, if they are sending bills to you for her obligations, you need to make it clear that you are not a responsible party. The power of attorney gives you the right to sign documents and act on behalf of your mother. It does not impose any liability upon you for her debts. For you to be responsible to the nursing home, you must agree to pay. Unless you have signed something or otherwise agreed to pay her bills, you have no liability.

My attorney does not handle bankruptcy matters. How do I find an attorney who is competent in bankruptcy? I owe so much money; I think I need to file bankruptcy.

If you are satisfied with your present attorney, the first thing you should do is ask him or her for a referral. You also should speak with friends and relatives to find out if they have dealt with a bankruptcy attorney. Finally, many attorneys are "board certified" in consumer bankruptcy. You can find their names in the yellow pages or online.

I am 67 years old. I don't pay property taxes because of my over-65 exemptions. Someone just told me that when I die, my estate would have to pay all the back taxes plus interest. Is this true?

It is not true. Your estate will not owe any taxes based on you asserting your exemptions. Your question, however, points out the difference between a tax "exemption" and a tax "deferment." Under the property tax system, you pay taxes based on the value of your property. Some portion of that value is "exempt," and no taxes are due on that portion. The amount of the exemption increases at age 65. In your case, there are no taxes due because the amount of the exemption is greater than the value of your property. On the other hand, if you owe taxes even when the exemption is applied, you have the right to defer the taxes when you reach age 65. This means that you do not have to pay when the taxes are assessed. The taxes, however, are still owed. Taxes, plus interest, must be paid when you die or sell the property. If you had your taxes deferred, your estate would have to pay the taxes plus interest after your death.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a website at peopleslawyer.net.

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