Category: Wrongful Termination

Are English-Only Rules Lawful?

According to the 2011 Census, California has the largest ethnic minority population in the United States, counting for 12% of the country’s total ethnic minority population. With such ethnic diversity, employers are tasked with being equal to all ethnicities and employees. As per the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, discrimination based on race or national origin is strictly prohibited.

One point of contention and constant discussion is the idea of maintaining English-only language policies in the workplace. Is it lawful? Can the employer do that? Well, like most areas of the law, maybe.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers may enforce an English-only policy “if it is necessary to promote workplace safety or efficiency.” The EEOC cites the example of employees speaking only English during emergency situations as to avoid confusion or if dealing with customer who speak only English.

An employer may not implement said policy if it is for a discriminatory reason. For instance, in 2012, Delano Regional Medical Center (DRMC) implemented an English speaking policy that applied to Filipino-Americans exclusively. Filipinos were strictly prohibited to speak languages like Tagalog and Ilocano while their Latino counterparts were not only permitted to speak Spanish but were also encouraged to turn in their Filipino co-workers who did speak the banned languages. DRMC faced a class action alleging national origin discrimination and a hostile work environment and agreed to settle the case for $975,000.

Shopkeeper’s Defense Though Lawful, Violates Company Policy

It is a story heard more often than not. Last year, Shannon “Bear” Cochron was robbed at knifepoint while on duty at a New Hampshire gas station. Well, it’s more accurate to say that the robber was attempted to rob Cochron at knifepoint.

When the heavily masked would-be robber approached, Cochrane quickly produced his Ruger pistol and threatened the robber to leave. After slowly backing away from the store clerk, the robber fled the premise.

While the police in the small New Hampshire town commended Cochrane on knowing when it was appropriate to use the weapon, his employers terminated Cochrane for violating company policy. According to said policy, employees are prohibited from carry firearms to work.

Though the circumstances around his termination seem outrageous, the “at-will” presumption in much of the country allows for Cochron to be fired for any reason or no reason at all, as so long as it does not violate public policy (i.e. termination based on discrimination or whistleblowing). While it was within Cochron’s rights as a citizen to bear arms and defend himself, it was outside the gas station company’s policy for an employee.

Don’t be worried for Cochron though. When the incident first broke, Cochron commented, “I would rather find a new job than either be in hospital bed or in a coffin.” Well said Mr. Bear.

Source: Washington Times

Employees Sue the Most in…

This month, a Hiscox survey revealed the states that employees tend to sue employers the most. The reason for these states higher than normal rates is attributed to state-wide labor codes that supersede federal laws in terms of harsher penalties and repercussions.  So who, what, and where?

Coming in at #5 is the state of Georgia. Georgia’s sue rates are 18% higher than other parts of the country. Tied at #4 are Arizona and Mississippi. Both states see, on average, 19% more lawsuits by employees than the national average.

Alabama rings in at #3 with a 25% above average chance that an employee will sue the employer for violations of labor law. Illinois edges out Alabama for the #2 spot with 26% higher average.

And the state that beats them all? Well, California of course! California is #1 with businesses facing a 43% higher chanced of being sued than the national average. California has employee stricter employee protections put in place as compared to other states in the country. The Fair Employment and Housing Act protects from various discrimination risks and covers companies with five or more employees as opposed to the nation’s 15 employee minimum.

The fives lowest suing states are: Massachusetts, Michigan, Kentucky, Washington, and West Virginia.

Alphabet Soup When You’re Sick

When an employee is seriously injured or ill, California and federal law give them many different kinds of protections at work.  Since lawyers and companies love acronyms, employee handbooks are often full of a confusing alphabet soup of terms: CFRA, FMLA, ADA, ADAAA, FEHA, PDLL, PFL, and SDI, to name a few.  Confused yet?  Most people are!

Here is a quick guide to help you decipher all those letters floating around out there:

CFRA – “California Family Rights Act”

The CFRA gives employees up to 12 weeks of leave for their own or a close family member’s “serious health condition,” with protection of the employee’s job.  CFRA leave can help if you are in the hospital with pneumonia, or are put on bed rest at home after a surgery.

FMLA – “Family and Medical Leave Act”

This is the federal version of the CFRA, and usually overlaps with it.

ADA – “Americans with Disabilities Act”

The ADA is the law that protects disabled employees from being fired or discriminated against and tells employers to work with disabled employees to find solutions.  For instance, an employee who has lost a leg might be allowed to use a scooter to get around at work.

ADAAA “Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act”

This law came out a few years ago and offered more protection to employees, mostly by making it easier to show you have a disability.

FEHA – “Fair Employment and Housing Act”

The FEHA is a lot like the ADA.  It used to be a lot more generous to employees than the ADA, until the ADAAA caught federal law up towards the protections California employees already have,

PDLL – “Pregnancy Disability Leave Law”

This California-specific law provides additional job-protected medical leave – up to four months – for a woman disabled by her pregnancy, like if she is put on bed rest or has severe preeclampsia.

PFL – “Paid Family Leave”

PFL is not a kind of leave and does not give an employee extra time away from work.  It is a state program that can help pay an employee a little bit to help ends meet if an employee cannot work while taking care of a family member.

SDI – Short-term Disability Insurance

This is also a state program that can help an employee with financial benefits when the employee is disabled and cannot work.

“That was Easy.” Or so They Thought – Staples Liable for Age Discrimination

The Los Angeles Superior Court has ruled in favor of Bobby Nickel, now 66 years old, and a former employee of Staples Inc. In a lawsuit against the office supply mogul, Nickel alleged age discrimination as the motivation for his wrongful termination.

Nickel began working for Corporate Express in 2002 as a facilities manager. In 2008, Corporate Express was bought out by Staples Inc., and everything changed for Nickel. Up until the buyout, Nickel had nothing but glowing, positive reviews. But now, he was getting written up for minor infractions and subjected to various comments about his age.

Plaintiff claimed that Staples managers were intent on phasing out older employees who were high wage earners. First, Nickel’s supervisor attempted to coerce Nickel to resign. When he refused, his co-workers and other staff began harassing him and taunting his age. He was often referred to as an “old goat” or “old coot.” On one occasion, a reception alerted Nickel that a manager had approached her and asked her to provide a false statement condemning Nickel. She refused.

Nickel was eventually terminated for “stealing a 68 cent bell pepper” from the Staples cafeteria. Staples claimed that “stealing” the bell pepper violated their zero-tolerance theft policy.

Last month, the jury deliberated for 2 days, ending in a more than $26 million judgment in favor of Nickel. $22.8 million was awarded in the form of punitive damages with an additional $3.2 million for compensatory damages. Staples plans to appeal.

Source: LA Daily News