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Boca Raton Employment Law Blog

Some former cancer patients still face workplace discrimination

People in Florida that once had cancer might still face some workplace discrimination despite the 2009 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act that are intended to protect them. The Journal of Oncology Practice published a study that found that since those amendments were enacted, employees were more likely to file claims dealing with workplace relations and employment terms. The number of claims concerning termination, hiring and reasonable accommodation was relatively unchanged. After the amendments passed, courts were more likely to conclude that claims pertaining to employment terms had merit and roughly equally inclined to find that claims in the other categories had credence.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, it applied to people who faced discrimination in the workplace based on their disabilities. However, it still did not protect those individuals whose cancer was in remission but continued to face discrimination based on long-term effects of the disease. In 2009, amendments were passed to the ADA to protect people who had disabilities that were either well-managed or in remission but nonetheless interfered with at least one major life activity.

Your rights as a pregnant woman in the workplace

As a pregnant woman in the workplace, you have certain rights, and two federal statutes protect these rights. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers a broad range of types of discrimination that may take place in a work environment. It also covers the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which dictates that any type of discrimination against a pregnant woman because of her condition is also a form of sex discrimination.

The other statute is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which grants parents who meet certain criteria up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from the workplace without them having to fear losing their positions or insurance benefits. For the FMLA to apply to you, you must be employed by a company that also employs at least 49 others, and you must have worked there for at least one full year before taking your unpaid leave.

Racist jokes at work: Are they illegal?

People with a sense of humor are often admired, but sometimes things go too far. If you are dealing with racist jokes in the workplace, you should know what constitutes harassment and discrimination based on race. Learn about the laws that protect employees like you from racial harassment and when jokes cross the line into unwelcome and menacing conduct. 

When jokes become harassment

HR departments often fail to address sexual harassment

Employers in Florida and around the country are expected to take steps to address discrimination or harassment in the workplace based on race, disability, gender, religion, age or national origin, and they generally rely on human resources departments to investigate claims of mistreatment and enforce company policies. However, several of the civil rights activists and attorneys who spoke at the Women in the World Summit, which was held in New York in early April, said that corporate HR departments are often a part of the problem.

Many federal laws dealing with workplace discrimination and harassment such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and employers hoping to avoid sanctions are encouraged to put clear discrimination policies into place and investigate complaints thoroughly. However, many such policies are not properly enforced or allow exceptions to be made for senior executives or top performers according to labor advocates.

Employee's retaliation claim can continue, court rules

Florida employees may be interested to learn that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that an employee could continue his retaliation claim against his employer. The employee claimed that the company fired him for taking his leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act instead of inappropriately touching another co-worker as alleged by the company.

The employee was hired as a full-time employee by a supply company in late 2012. His job was to take items off conveyor belts and package them up for delivery. In July 2014, he alleged that he passed out at work due to an inoperable brain tumor and other life-impacting disorders. As a result, he requested FMLA leave. He used another day of medical leave in August. In September, he allegedly fell behind in his work. Shortly afterward, he was told by his employer that he was being fired after inappropriately touching another employee.

Why sexual harassment cases continue to occur in the workplace

Florida employees may have seen several major reports of large, well-known companies that failed to protect their workers against sexual harassment in the workplace. For example, scandals at Sterling Jewelers and Uber indicate that many companies do not have proper policies to control or prevent sexual harassment from occurring. If a company does have a policy and protocols in place, they are often for show and fail to actually protect the employees.

In many cases, the policies and procedures that are intended to protect the employee from sexual harassment instead protect the company. For example, companies may provide hotlines where employees can report sexual harassment but do not provide actual effective means to deal with the complaints when they are filed. Further, the internal processes can be used to hurt the employee further and make it difficult for them to seek resolutions that actually work. Some companies have gone so far as to use internal arbitration systems. This prevents employees from being able to hold the employer accountable through the legal system.

FMLA leave and discrimination

Florida employees who work at companies that have at least 50 employees and who have worked at least one year and 1,250 hours may be eligible to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. As a courtesy, an employer might also extend unpaid leave to an employee who has not yet been employed long enough to qualify for FMLA. However, if this is the case, and employees pass their 12-month anniversary while they are on leave, they become eligible for FMLA.

This means that the employee could then take the full FMLA leave. Furthermore, the employer may be discriminating against the employee if they fire them during this time.

Miki Agrawal accused of sexual harassment

Some Florida residents may have heard of Miki Agrawal, the founder and former CEO of Thinx. A complaint has been filed with the New York Commission on Human Rights by a former employee that details allegations of rampant sexual harassment and abuse by Agrawal of her employees.

The complaint was filed by the company's former head of public relations. New York Magazine published an expose in which it detailed the allegations. According to its report, the former employee described a hostile environment in which Agrawal would inappropriately touch her breasts and make comments about her body, including at industry events. While she states that she did not believe that Agrawal was hitting on her, she found it demeaning and jarring when she was inappropriately touched.

Are you an independent worker or an employee?

When you perform a job for a business, you can either be paid as an employee or as an independent contractor. As an employee, your employer has an obligation to pay for your taxes, provide certain benefits and offer workplace rights, such as minimum wage and rest breaks. When you are an independent contractor, you are considered self-employed and do not get those benefits accorded to an employee.

So which one are you?

What behaviors qualify as sexual harassment?

Whether you work for a large corporation, a small cupcake shop or a mid-sized real estate business, you have the right to do your job in an atmosphere that is safe and comfortable. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is a common problem in many industries, and one that does not discriminate between men and women.

Even a seemingly minor touch or inappropriate comment can be considered sexual harassment. You should be aware of what to watch for if you feel uncomfortable on the job because of the actions of another person.

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