Know your rights: Negative recommendation doesn't give employee the right to sue

By Richard Alderman
May 11, 2013 at 12:11 a.m.

I was recently asked to give a recommendation about a former employee. The employee did not do a very good job, and that is what I would like to say, but I am afraid of being sued. I have heard many stories of employers being sued because they said something negative about a former employee. What is the law?

There has never been a law that gives an employee the right to recover damages against an employer simply because the employer gave a negative recommendation. Liability in such cases is based on the fact that the recommendation is not just negative, it was also false and known to be false by the employer.

Texas law recognizes an employer's right to make a truthful recommendation regarding a former employee and protects employers who act in good faith. Under the law, an employer is immune from liability unless "it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the information disclosed was known by that employer to be false at the time of the disclosure and was made with malice or in reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the information disclosed."

The bottom line is anyone can file a lawsuit, but recovering damages based on a negative recommendation is very unlikely.

My husband has a small construction company. He recently did some remodeling work. While working, he fell and injured his foot. Can he collect his medical bills from the owner's homeowner's insurance policy?

First, whether a person has insurance does not change liability. Insurance simply pays claims that the insured person would have to pay. For example, if you cause an automobile accident, your automobile insurance company will pay the amount of money you owe. The question then is whether the homeowner is liable for your husband's injuries?

Based on what you say, there is no legal basis for the homeowner to be liable for your husband's injury. It sounds like you husband simply had an accident while working at the house. Unless the owner was negligent or in some way caused your husband to fall, the homeowner has no liability.

Because the homeowner has no responsibility, there is no basis to file a claim against the homeowner's insurance policy. This is why it is so important that we all have medical insurance to cover our medical bills when they are caused due to illness, disease or accident.

My father died. In his will, he left me $25,000. What else am I entitled to? My brothers and sisters got much more than I did.

When a person dies with a will, the will determines how the deceased's property is divided after death. All of the people who receive property pursuant to the will are called beneficiaries.

If the will leaves one beneficiary a sum of money, that is all that person is entitled to. It doesn't matter if others receive more or less than you do. There is no law that says brothers and sisters must receive equal shares of the estate.

The only additional property you might be entitled to would be property left to you in a joint account or an account on which you were the beneficiary.

For example, your father might have a life insurance policy that names you as the beneficiary. The proceeds of that policy would go directly to you and would not be part of the estate, distributed in accordance with the terms of the will.

Can an employer require overtime for its employees? I have been told if I don't work overtime, I will be fired.

Your relationship with your employer is just a matter of contract law. Basically, your employer proposes the terms of your employment, and you can either accept, make a counteroffer or refuse.

Unless you have a contract or union agreement that says otherwise, the hours you work are part of this negotiation. If you refuse to accept the terms offered, the employer has the right to fire you. Of course, if you work overtime, he must pay you overtime pay.

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 Web page at



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