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Operating in Texas and Louisiana? Don’t rely on union contract to handle safety

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Watch out if—like many Texas energy-industry employers—you also operate in Louisiana under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that covers workplace safety. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals just made life a little harder for you.

Here’s why: Federal law says a collective bargaining agreement that covers workplace safety can preempt state workplace safety rules in states where such rights can be waived. They can in Texas. But that’s not true next door in Louisiana.

As a result, employees working in Texas who sue in federal court over safety violations must show the em­ployer violated the contract. But employees working in Louisiana can choose to sue under contract—that is, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement or tort law—using state safety rules.

Recent case: Herbert McKnight sued Dresser Inc., alleging the company didn’t protect him from hearing loss.

The lawsuit was filed in Louisi­­ana state court as a tort claim under state workplace safety laws.

Dresser sought to move the case to federal court, alleging the union contract pre-empted state law claims. It said the contract was McKnight’s only remedy.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It concluded that Louisi­­ana didn’t allow employees to waive state workplace safety laws, allowing Mc­­Knight to sue in state court if he chose. (McKnight, et al., v. Dresser, Inc., et al., No. 11-30072, 5th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Before sending em­­ployees to work in a neighboring state, check to see if different employment laws will apply.

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