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Boca Raton Employment Law Blog

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.

When refusing reasonable accommodations lead to theft

Florida employees who suffer from a disability such as diabetes may be interested to learn that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused a retailer of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act after it fired an employee for eating food before she had paid for it. In this case, the employee, who had diabetes, was denied the request to keep juice with her at the register.

The employee reportedly was working one day when she suffered a sudden hypoglycemic attack. Because she could not leave her register to go get a snack to keep her symptoms under control, she took a bottle of juice out of the cooler and drank it immediately. Once she was no longer suffering from the attack, she paid for the item. The complaint stated that she did alert a manager to what she had needed to do but was then fired for it.

Stopping disability discrimination in the workplace

Disabled individuals are one of the segments of the populations that have low representation in the workforce. People with disabilities that live in Florida and across the nation should know that there has been an increase in the filing of discrimination charges.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission processed nearly 27,000 charges of disability discrimination in 2015. This was as disabled individuals lacked employment at a much higher rate than individuals without a disability, as shown by data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 17.5 percent of disabled individuals were employed in the same year. In comparison, 65 percent of individuals with no disabilities were employed.

Be aware of the impact of signing a non-competitive agreement

For readers who are new to the state or who are beginning a job search Florida, the concept of the non-compete agreement may be a foreign one. When job applicants do not have the luxury of fielding several job offers, what is of primary importance may be obtaining a job capable of paying the bills. In many cases, it isn't until an individual seeks to expand her employment opportunities that she realizes the restrictions associated with the employment contract signed.

While employers argue that non-compete agreements ensure loyalty of their employees, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs declare the contracts to be harmful to others beyond those immediately employed by the corporations that make signing the contract a prerequisite to obtaining employment.

Court ruling may clarify the rights of Florida employees

A ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found that whistleblower provisions in the False Claims Act protect an individual from retaliation even if a lawsuit is not a distinct possibility. Originally, individuals were protected when they took action to further a claim under the act. However, the distinct possibility criteria was added prior to 2009, and it held that a retaliation suit was only merited if a viable action was to be taken under the FCA.

In 2009 and 2010, two amendments to the FCA were added to clarify what was considered a protected activity. The second of the two amendments offered expanded protection to whistleblowers who were taking action to stop one or more violations. In its ruling, the 4th Circuit said that Congress had intended to create a new and broader form of protection. However, it dismissed the plaintiff's claim, as the practice being complained about was underbilling the government, and thus the plaintiff could not have reasonably believed that this was an FCA violation.

Disabled? Your employer must reasonably accommodate you.

It could be something as simple as requesting a quiet workspace. Or it could be something as significant as asking to have a new desk that accommodates your wheelchair. If it is reasonable and does not constitute an "undue hardship" on the part of your employer, your disability request must be provided.

What is considered a disability?

The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) act was signed into law in July 1990. The act created a requirement that your employer make changes to your work environment that allow you to work. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the following is required for any employer with a disabled employed:

Court dismisses racial discrimination claim on dreadlock ban

While some people may argue that not hiring people with dreadlocks is racial discrimination, a court recently ruled that it isn't. This decision could have ramifications in workplaces across Florida. According to the court's decision, racial discrimination is interpreted as discrimination against biological traits, not hairstyles that are generally associated with a particular race.

The recent court case involved a woman who was hired to work at Catastrophe Management Solutions on the condition that she cut her dreadlocks off. When the woman refused to change her hairstyle, the employer rescinded the initial job offer. Alleging racial discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a claim against CMS on the woman's behalf. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case in a 3-0 decision.

Keep incriminating emails in retaliation cases

Retaliation claims comprise more claims than race discrimination, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These claims make up nearly 45 percent of all claims filed by Florida employees and others throughout the country. Being able to recognize this type of treatment and knowing what to do in this situation can help applicants and employees who find themselves in this precarious position.

Workplace retaliation occurs when an employer illegally retaliates against an employee or applicant because that person carried out a protected activity. This activity may be complaining about an illegal practice, filing a discrimination claim, assisting in a discrimination claim investigation or being a whistleblower to name a few. Examples of adverse action include firing, demoting, harassing, reassigning, decreasing pay or failing to promote the individual. Retaliation may even include writing a bad review for an employee so as to later justify action against the employee. Retaliation can be anything that alters the terms and conditions of employment, such as being assigned to an undesirable work task, excluding the employee or applicant for opportunities and social settings, changing fringe benefits or not providing training.

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