Category: Blog

Tips for Dealing with Workplace Harassment

Workplace Harassment Laws

Harassment in the workplace can be an extremely stressful and traumatic experience. While incidents of workplace harassment don’t often make it to the news, they are a common occurrence. Women and men routinely endure harassment and discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

Harassment refers to any type of unwanted behavior – verbal or physical – based on an individual’s personal characteristics. Harassment in the workplace is not just inappropriate but also prohibited by state and federal laws. A vast majority of workplace harassment incidents go unreported. The law protects employees from workplace harassment.

Examples of workplace harassment include offensive jokes, slurs, racial epithets, name calling, physical threats, intimidation, insults, offensive objects or pictures or any type of constant harassment that interferes with one’s job performance. The victim doesn’t have to be the person who has been directly harassed. Anyone who is affected by the offensive or harassing conduct can be considered the victim under the law. Also, the victim does not have to suffer economic harm for the offense to be considered harassment.

Dealing with Workplace Harassment

If you have been harassed or discriminated against in the workplace, here are a few valuable tips for dealing with the incidents effectively.

Make use of the resources that are available. One of the first steps you should take is to refer to your company’s employee handbook. Contact the human resources department or the appropriate person in the company and file an internal complaint. If you find them to be non-responsive or hostile, contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC to speak with a counselor. It might also be in your best interest to contact an Orange County workplace harassment lawyer who can help guide you regarding your legal rights and options.

Report incidents of harassment right away. If you have been harassed at work, report the incident or incidents to your supervisor or the person within your company who has been designated to deal with these matters. Check to see if your company has policies or protocols to report workplace harassment, and follow them closely. Maintain copies of any written complaints you make to your employer.

Document any incidents of harassment. As soon as you experience harassment, write down precisely what occurred. Be as specific as possible including documenting dates, places, times and potential witnesses. Be as accurate and as objective as possible. Don’t keep these records at work, but at some other safe location where you will have access to it and where you can be assured it won’t get destroyed or lost.

When it comes to documenting harassment, context is very important. Be specific about the type of incident. If the harassment is written or recorded, save copies for your records. The more detailed your documentation, the more likely you are to be able to demonstrate a pattern of persistent harassment.

Consult with other colleagues you can trust. It is very likely that other employees have experienced similar harassment and/or discrimination. Ask your colleagues to document incidents and report their own incidents. Banding together with colleagues will ensure that you have strength in numbers and may help protect you against retaliation.

Get witnesses to help corroborate your statements. If it is possible, talk to co-workers who might have witnessed your harassment. You may be able to find individuals who have been harassed by the same individual or those who would be willing to support your case. The testimony of eyewitnesses can be extremely valuable to your case. Also, think about all the information you might need to strengthen your case. This might include any memos, emails, texts and other communications, which serve as valuable evidence.

Assert yourself. Standing up against harassment can be a daunting challenge. But, it might be important to demonstrate that you are capable and have the courage to speak up on your behalf and make sure your voice is heard. If you don’t assert yourself, the harassing behavior might continue. One way to do this might be to be specific about how the harasser’s actions are affecting you and your ability to do your job effectively.

See if you can find a new job. Sometimes, the only way you can stop workplace harassment is to simply walk away. You may need to start looking for a new job. While it might feel frightening to have to leave your job because of someone else’s wrongdoing, sometimes, the stress of making a change might be better than the trauma of being constantly harassed. You can still file a complaint against your employer seeking compensation for your losses.

File a complaint with the EEOC. If you don’t trust your company’s process, it is important that you file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to make sure that your legal rights are protected. Filing with the EEOC is required before you can file a lawsuit against your employer. Typically, such lawsuits should be filed within 180 days of the harassing act occurring.

Remain calm. While it’s natural to get flustered and stressed out after the incident, it is important to remain focused on your job and continue to maintain meticulous records of your performance as well as the harassment. See if you can obtain support from friends and family members. This could help provide emotional and moral support as you go through a difficult time.

Self-care is important. Your personal well-being may have an impact on your ability to cope with workplace harassment. If you are not eating, sleeping and caring for your physical health, it may become more difficult for you to cope with other pressures. Take time to care for yourself. In addition to getting the support of family and friends, get involved in hobbies, social activities and perhaps even charity work that can give you tremendous peace of mind and a sense of self-worth.

Contact an experienced Orange County employment lawyer. If you have been harassed at work, it is important that you contact an experienced attorney who can help you hold the at-fault parties accountable and help you secure compensation for your losses such as lost income, lost opportunities such as promotions and job training, and emotional distress.

Japanese Employee Dies from Exhaustion – How ‘Salaryman’ Culture Affects the Workforce

Japanese Employee Dies from Exhaustion – How ‘Salaryman’ Culture Affects the Workforce

The circumstances surrounding the death of 31 year old Miwa Sado have just been made public, though she passed away in 2013. Sado was a political reporter, and an overworked one at that – which it has now been revealed was the cause of her death by heart failure. NHK (Sado’s former employer) reported that she had worked about 159 hours of overtime in the month before her death. This means that she was working in just one week what most full time employees clock in a full (two week) pay period.

Stories such as Sado’s are not unfamiliar to Japanese culture – they even have a special term for it, “karoshi” which translates to “death by overwork”. The term was originally coined in the 1970s as Japan’s economy boomed. Labor lawyers and civil rights groups have been pressing for legislative change since the 1980s, but the trend has continued in spite of this.

In December 2015, a similar tragedy took place. Matsuri Takashi, a 24 year old employee of Dentsu, an advertising agency, jumped to her death from the company dormitory. “Ms. Takashi’s death was caused by serious depression triggered by overwork and harassment,” Hiroshi Kawahito, a lawyer representing her case, told CNN Money. In the month leading to her death, Takashi clocked about 105 hours of overtime, according to investigators. After concluding its investigation, Dentsu announced that they would be capping overtime hours to a maximum of 65 per month.

But how do work hours measure up across different countries? According to the International Labour Organization, Americans work an average of 137 hours more per year than Japanese workers. The United States is arguably the most overworked developed nation in the world – and it comes down to more than just hours worked per week.

  • The United States is the only industrialized country which has no legally required annual leave program – even Japanese workers are required to receive 10 days off per year
  • The United States is not one of the 134 countries which sets a limit on maximum hours worked per week
  • There is no federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States
  • The U.S. is the only country in the Americas without paid parental leave (maternal or paternal) to care for/bond with new children – the average in most other countries is 12 weeks of paid leave and 20 weeks of paid leave throughout Europe.

 

Sources:

https://20somethingfinance.com/american-hours-worked-productivity-vacation/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/10/06/japan-struggles-karoshi-death-overwork-after-deaths-2-young-women/738915001/

http://money.cnn.com/2017/10/05/news/japan-work-overwork-woman-dies-karoshi/index.html

sex discrimination

Research giant LexisNexis to pay gender discrimination settlement

LexisNexis is one of the world’s top research content providers to the legal, business, law enforcement, government, and corporate industries. Their sister company, LexisNexis Risk Solutions has agreed to pay more than $1.2 million to female employees in management due to the U.S. Labor Department’s allegations that they were subject to gender discrimination. This includes 185 affected female employees in the Alpharetta office as well as 26 female employees at the Boca Raton location. The company has also agreed to pay an additional $45,000 in salary adjustments to women at the Boca Raton operation.

The settlement comes three and a half years after the investigations were initiated. Two separate investigations had been conducted by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. They found that pay discrepancies had affected 211 women total. The allegations did not arise from a particular employee complaint, but rather from LexisNexis providing pay transparency information to the DOL. Upon review, the information appeared to violate Executive Order 11246 – which requires pay transparency and prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or gender identity by government contractors (which LexisNexis happens to be). In 2015 and 2016, the company had “millions of dollars in federal contracts with the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation and Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration”. “It is unlawful for federal contractors to discriminate in pay on the basis of sex,” said Acting OFCCP Director Thomas M. Dowd. “Through this settlement, the affected class members will be compensated for their losses. We are pleased that the contractor worked cooperatively with us and has agreed to review and revise pay policies and procedures as necessary.”

The Department of Labor website FAQ section states that “If a business or organization has a Federal contract, subcontract, or federally–assisted construction contract it may be subject to the requirements of Executive Order 11246. Generally speaking, any business or organization that (1) holds a single federal contract, subcontract, or federally assisted construction contract in excess of $10,000; (2) has federal contracts or subcontracts that have a combined total in excess of $10,000 in any 12–month period; or (3) holds government bills of lading, serves as a depository of federal funds, or is an issuing and paying agency for U.S. savings bonds and notes in any amount will be subject to the requirements of Executive Order 11246.

LexisNexis has agreed to pay the settlement but does not consider it an admission of guilt, as a release from the company clarifies. The full statement reads: “LexisNexis Risk Solutions is committed to ensuring all employees are treated fairly and afforded equal employment opportunities. The findings [by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] were not based on any individual complaints; rather they were derived from statistical analysis conducted by the agency. The company disagrees with the OFCCP’s findings and does not believe it violated any federal laws. After three and a half years of cooperation during the agency’s review, we ultimately agreed to the settlement to avoid committing additional time and resources for continued legal proceedings.”

LexisNexis is not the only company accused of pay discrepancies based on gender discrimination in a large scale. Pharmaceutical company Merck is currently facing a class action lawsuit of more than 400 women alleging that they also faced gender discrimination. The case began in May 2013 with a single plaintiff, Kelli Smith. She filed the case alleging Merck had discriminated against women by denying them proper pay and promotions, by forcing pregnant women to take leave, and by fostering a hostile work environment which encouraged/allowed sexual harassment. Early in 2014 several other women joined the case, leading to a number which is now in the hundreds.

Gender discrimination cases appear to either be on the rise, or at the very least be starting to receive the media attention they deserve.

 

Sources:

https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/ofccp/ofccp20170112

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-lexisnexis-discrimination-settlement-20170112-story.html

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lexisnexis_risk_solutions_pays_1.2m_to_resolve_pay_bias_allegations

http://fortune.com/2016/07/21/women-suing-merck-sex-discrimination/

https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/statutes/eo11246.htm

What a Trump Presidency Might Mean for Family Leave Laws

With the Electoral College officially selecting Donald J. Trump as the next President of the United States, many are now wondering what changes may take place upon his inauguration. Particularly relating to employment, you can expect to see many changes including family leave time for workers.

Trump has proposed a plan which would give women who recently gave birth (note, not all new mothers) 6 weeks of partial paid leave through an expansion of unemployment. While this may initially sound great, upon inspection of the plan there is much to be desired. The first issue arises from the source of funding for the program, which is supposed to be unemployment. This is a social service which is grossly underfunded as is, without adding the element of maternity leave. Because of the lack of funding, it is estimated that women on this plan would only receive approximately 30% of their weekly wages.

Other glaring issues with the program include the length of time offered. Six weeks is far below the recommended minimum of 12 weeks for parental bonding time after a child is born/adopted. This brings us to the next issue – the coverage would only be available to women that just gave birth. This means that fathers and adoptive/foster parents are ineligible to the benefits.

There are alternatives to Trump’s proposed plan, including a bill sponsored by Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and New York State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called the FAMILY Act. The acronym stands for Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, and would require all employers (regardless of company size) to provide employees (regardless of age/duration of employment) with 12 weeks of paid leave for various reasons. It would not only provide coverage to women that just gave birth, but also to new fathers, adoptive parents, foster parents, or people needing to take time off for their own serious medical condition/to care for a family member with a serious medical condition. In contrast to Trump’s plan which would be through unemployment, FAMILY would be run by a new office of the Social Security Administration. It would be funded by small contributions by employees and employers as a payroll deduction. This may be a concern upon first hearing about the plan, but the deduction is extremely minimal – 2 cents for every $10 earned by the worker. It would enable participants in the program to make up to 66% of their regular weekly wages during their time away from work. Both insurance benefits and administrative costs would be covered by the contributions. In order for the plan to work, all employees would be required to participate in the contribution if the bill is passed (you can’t opt out). If people were able to opt-out, the structure of the funding would be changed drastically, making the deductions too great for those that want to participate.

The FAMILY Act had been gaining support in Congress, and was expected to pass under a Hillary Clinton administration. However, now that Republicans will be controlling both the White House and Congress, the bill will most likely be facing bigger impediments than it did previously.

In order to encourage opponents of paid family to support the policy, a non-profit organization called PL+US intends to put the pressure on nay-sayers. IN addition to a possible political action committee, PL+US will be launching a campaign highlighting companies with excellent paid leave policies – as well as highlighting companies with the worst leave policies.

Currently, the only national family leave program is The Family & Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to certain employees to care for themselves or a family member in the event of serious illness. However, the fact that the leave is unpaid is not the only problem with the program. It also comes with many stipulations which leaves a majority of workers ineligible for the time off. The first requirement for an employee to be eligible for leave, is that they must work for a “covered employer”. Covered employers are those which a) employ at least 50 people for 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year (private sector) or b) are a public agency (regardless of how many employees). The next qualification is that the employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, and given at least 1,500 hours of service during the past 12 months. Finally, the employee must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius. In some situations, the FMLA leave may be taken intermittently as needed.

While it is impossible to say at this point what may happen in the coming year, one thing is clear – big changes are coming to family leave laws. Hopefully, they will be for the better.

Sources:

https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla

http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/work-family/paid-leave/family-act-fact-sheet.pdf

http://www.nationalpartnership.org/issues/work-family/family-act.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/?referrer=http://qz.com/839086/after-trumps-election-and-clintons-loss-supporters-of-a-paid-parental-leave-bill-in-congress-seek-fresh-help-from-republicans/

http://qz.com/839086/after-trumps-election-and-clintons-loss-supporters-of-a-paid-parental-leave-bill-in-congress-seek-fresh-help-from-republicans/

http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/healthcare/309533-congressional-leaders-should-reject-trumps-maternity-leave

 

Discrimination

Discrimination vs. Disparagement in the Workplace

Does it seem like your boss is always picking on you? For some reason, you get written up for things that your co-workers do without consequence? Maybe your supervisor never approves your vacation time requests? Or do you feel like you were passed over for a promotion, though you were the most qualified candidate? Feeling singled out may lead you to believe you are being discriminated against. Discrimination is broadly defined as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex”. However, in a legal environment, discrimination is defined a bit differently. In order for the treatment you are experiencing to be considered bona fide discrimination, it MUST be based on your gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or some other protected class. To say that your boss “just doesn’t like me” with no prior indication that their dislike is based on a protected attribute does not equal discrimination.

You may be asking, what is a protected class? “Protected class” refers to specific characteristics rather than all people with that characteristic. Per anti-discrimination laws, protected classes include race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age (40 and older). People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because they possess a protected attribute, they are automatically protected from termination for any reason at all. This is not the case. For example, a lay-off of 50 employees includes someone that is 60 years old. They are not automatically protected from termination, though they are over 40 years old. However, if the employer terminated 50 people all over the age of 40, there may be cause to believe they were all let go due to their age, which would be age discrimination.

Another common scenario where one might think they have been “discriminated against”, is after being passed over for a promotion. You begin to search for answers – why didn’t you get the promotion? What could it possibly be? It can’t be your performance…you always receive great reviews. Nor can it be your experience level, as you have been with the company longer than most other employees. So what could it be? While the situation is unfortunate, and maybe unfair, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s illegal. You would want to look back and think, do I have any real evidence to show that this was due to my (age, race, religion, etc.)? Have you ever heard any comments regarding the particular protected class you believe they are discriminating against? Whether the comments were aimed at you or someone else, whether it was serious or a “joke”, they can be very telling. Have you noticed a pattern of this happening to the same group of people in the past? If not, there probably were other factors that led to the decision of who received the promotion.

Often, people believe favoritism and discrimination are akin. Unfortunately, they usually aren’t. Favoritism is of course, frowned upon, and unquestionably bad management. But once again, unless the favoritism is based on certain characteristics, it isn’t discrimination. It’s one thing for an employer to show favor for employees that they, for example, find funny. They are always laughing with these employees and seem to give them better hours, duties, etc. because they just “like them more”, whether or not these employees are actually the hardest working or most deserving of praise. Sense of humor and ability for social interaction is not a protected class. Therefore, if your boss treats you differently because they don’t find you as humorous, it is not discrimination. However, it is entirely different for an employer to give all of the best shifts/promotions/benefits to only white employees. Because race is a protected class, this would be an example of legitimate discrimination. Another example of actual discrimination is if the boss asks everyone to pray out loud every morning. You refuse because it does not align with your religious beliefs. Afterwards, your boss seems to single you out or treat you punitively. As religion is in fact a protected class, this would be considered discrimination, and you may be able to file a claim against the employer.

If after reading this you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace, contact our office. We can evaluate the situation and see if there is a potential case that we can assist you with.