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Boca Raton Employment Law Blog

Standing up for what's right shouldn't get you punished at work

Sometimes workers have to report inappropriate or illegal practices in the workplace, and unfortunately their appropriate action can lead to retaliation from their coworkers or superiors. This can include demotion, dismissal, termination or discipline for reporting or thinking about reporting racial or sexual harassment or the harassment of a fellow employee.

What does someone do when they suspect they are or will be retaliated against for reporting inappropriate behavior at work?

Employers and making reasonable accommodations

Most disabled workers at Florida companies are protected under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act from illegal workplace discrimination. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for workers who are disabled unless the requested accommodations would present undue hardships for the company. If your employer has refused to make reasonable accommodations that would allow you to do your job, you may have the basis for seeking damages.

Examples of reasonable accommodations might include such things as modifying your schedule, modifying equipment, acquiring equipment or allowing needed breaks. If your employer denied such adjustments, you may file a claim as long as your requests were reasonable ones.

Sikh truck drivers reach $260k settlement in religious discrimination case

The Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination due to a person's sincerely held religious beliefs, and employers are responsible for fairly hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs and making accommodations for their employees to practice their religion. Employers who only hire or promote those that share the same faith as them, or refuse to reasonable accommodate a faith-based activity are acting unlawfully.

Truck drivers allegedly denied accommodation and employment

Four Sikh truck drivers sued trucking giant J.B. Hunt for religious discrimination for failing to make reasonable accommodations for the trucker's religious requirement to not cut their hair. J.B. Hunt asks employees to provide a hair sample for drug-testing before they could be hired. The Sikh drivers refused due to their religious beliefs, and suggested they could complete another kind of drug testing.

FMLA leave mistakes for employers to avoid

Employers in Florida and the rest of the nation should be aware of the proper protocol for Family and Medical Leave Act administration. Workers should also be cognizant as well so that they can recognize when their rights are being violated.

One of the mistakes an employer can make is failing to recognize an employee's notice of the need for FMLA leave. An employer is duty-bound to adhere to FMLA regulations if FMLA leave is requested, or if the employer learns that the leave may qualify under FMLA. It is not necessary for employees to expressly state that they require FMLA leave.

EEOC argument may end anti-gay discrimination in Florida

On Nov. 4, a judge in Pennsylvania ruled that an anti-discrimination case could proceed. The rationale was that anti-gay discrimination was considered discrimination based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In this case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took action against a health care facility based on the actions of one employee. That person reportedly used several offensive slurs to describe an individual who worked under his supervision.

These comments were allegedly made on a weekly basis, which led the EEOC to conclude that the man was working in a hostile workplace. In addition to the alleged discrimination in this case, that supervisor is also under investigation for harassing female workers. In the case involving harassment against the male employee, the EEOC argues that harassing someone for being a homosexual is sex stereotyping.

Greater protections may be ahead for LGBT workers

Workers in Florida and throughout the country may soon have greaterprotection for workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Some state and local laws already offer protection, while federal executive orders prohibit discrimination against people who work for the federal government or for government contractors. Some large businesses have also offered such protections, but many smaller ones do not.

However, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission interprets Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as applying to sexual orientation and gender identity. Furthermore, the EEOC has announced its intention to more aggressively pursue protection of these rights. While the EEOC's interpretations of law are not binding on judges, courts often follow the agency's lead.

Gender reassignment surgery and the FMLA

Some transgender peopleundergo gender reassignment surgery to complete their transition. Though this type of surgery requires hospitalization, it is unclear whether a transgender worker can take legally protected time off from work to undergo the procedure. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees in Florida and around the country can take 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year in order to address serious health conditions.

Transgender employment rights and discrimination issues are being discussed more lately, but many of the discussions are still theoretical. So far, there have not been any employment discrimination claims filed over gender reassignment surgery and the FMLA. If a transgender worker was denied FMLA leave for gender reassignment surgery, the worker could raise the issue in court. How a judge would rule in that type of case is still unknown.

Executive Order requires compliance from federal contractors.

Although President Obama signed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order in July 2014, the implementation schedule is just now taking effect. In August 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FAR Council) presented final rules and provided guidance in applying the new regulations. While it has been reported that the majority of federal contractors have complied with the requirements of the order, there are cases where employees have not been paid appropriate wages, have worked in a hazardous environment and have suffered from discriminatory practices.

As an employee, you deserve to know how this order extends protections. Here are important points to know about this Executive Order:

Undocumented workers have access to workers' comp benefits

According to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), hiring undocumented workers is illegal when employers know their employee's residential status. Although the law also requires employers to fire employees upon determining that employees are not authorized to work in the U.S., employers are still responsible for extending workers' compensation benefits to undocumented workers who are injured on the job.

It is the case that many workers are concerned about filing a workers' compensation claim because they fear they may lose their job upon requesting financial assistance. For undocumented workers, the stakes are higher than loss of employment: the threat of deportation.

Sexual harassment common in the fast food industry

Many Florida residents who work in the restaurant industry experience sexual harassment on the job. According to a report by Hart Research Associates, 40 percent of female fast food workers in non-managerial positions around the country are victims of such behavior. Another study that was conducted by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United found that 90 percent of male and female restaurant employees working at casual full-service restaurant chains have been sexually harassed.

The HRA study on sexual harassment in the fast food industry was conducted by polling 1,217 female workers aged 16 and up. While 40 percent of the women had experienced some form of unwanted sexual behavior, 28 percent experienced multiple incidents of sexual harassment.

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