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Boca Raton Employment Law Blog

#MeToo movement casts light on corporate harassment policies

The #MeToo movement began with a series of sexual harassment allegations in the film industry, but it didn't stop there. Employees throughout Florida and the rest of the country are now voicing their concerns about harassment in the workplace. In the wake of these allegations, many major corporations have taken a fresh look at their sexual harassment policies.

A recent survey sent to HR departments throughout the country revealed that around half of all companies have reviewed their sexual harassment policies since the start of the #MeToo movement. Many business owners and HR teams are realizing that this cultural movement could have a major impact on social norms. While most companies already had zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies, some are now changing the definition of sexual harassment.

The challenges faced by whistleblowers in the workplace

"Blowing the whistle" on workplace behaviors such as illegal investments or falsifying earnings can be an intimidating undertaking. In fact, there may be large numbers of potential whistleblowers spread across many industries, but only a few will shine light onto unethical behaviors.

The reality is that whistleblowers face many thorny issues and are understandably afraid to share what they have witnessed at work. Here is a look at some common challenges and how you can address them.

Why sexual harassment training courses fail

While there is a greater emphasis on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, harassment training programs are still likely to fail. There are six key reasons why Florida companies and others may miss the mark when it comes to educating their workers about this problem. First, employees may suspect that their employers are conducting the training to satisfy legal requirements, and that is a sure way to get them to tune out.

Companies may also focus the training on what is objectively legal and what is objectively illegal. However, there may be many actions that could be considered ambiguous at best. Furthermore, employees may not be taught that something can be considered rude even if it's not illegal. Companies may also fail because they don't demonstrate what positive interactions in the workplace look like. This could result in employees avoiding each other in certain situations where they need to work together because they don't want to run afoul of anti-harassment rules.

Employers can do more to fight sexual harassment

The #MeToo movement has thrown a spotlight on workplace sexual harassment, an all-too-common experience for many women on the job in Florida. The news stories about high-profile celebrities, politicians and others involved in harassing their co-workers, assistants and fellow stars have drawn attention to the ongoing struggles faced by women in jobs of all kinds. The national discussion has also led many organizations and companies to look for solutions to the problem, as sexual harassment training programs have been shown to be somewhat ineffective.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine have researched sexual harassment on the job, with a special focus on academia. Following their two-year study, NASEM released a report with recommendations to organizations about how they can decrease the likelihood of sexual harassment on the job. One of their most effective suggestions was also one of the simplest, recommending that employers carry out a climate study among employees. The report argues that creating a climate that stamps out sexual harassment requires an understanding of the current climate in which employees operate.

Three reasons your colleague may be paid more than you

It is corporate policy at many organizations that employees may not discuss their pay among each other. This hush-hush approach is intended to prevent rivalry and discord, but it can also enable unfairness and discrimination. Despite your employer's best efforts to conceal disparate pay rates, you might be surprised to learn that you are receiving less pay than your colleagues for work that appears to be equal.

There are a range of different factors that a company considers when it determines an employee's pay rate, but you might question why your salary appears to be lower than it should be. Here are three reasons that might explain why this is happening and help you decide what form of recourse to take if you are being treated unfairly by your employer.

How to handle workplace bullying

Ideally, those who are harassed at work will be able to tell their employer about it. However, there are considerations that Florida workers and others will want to mull over when deciding how to handle their situation. First, it will be important to consider whether the harassment is severe enough that it warrants reporting to a supervisor. If so, it is critical to note that bullying is not necessary against the law.

Those who choose to make a complaint to their employer should first document the behavior. This could include sending an email or similar type of message to the perpetrator of the harassment. It is not important that the abuser responds to the message, but it is important to keep a record of the message and any reply that might be sent. If the behavior continues, a bullied worker should submit evidence of the abuse to his or her manager.

OCS improves response to federal workers' retaliation complaints

In the past, federal employees in Florida could expect the Office of Special Counsel to side with federal agency supervisors when workers filed complaints about mistreatment or blew the whistle about misconduct. Starting in 2017, however, the agency reformed its attitude toward employee complaints. It issued a record-setting 323 rulings in favor of employees. This represented a 16 percent increase in employees winning cases over the previous year.

Roughly 75 percent of these cases involved whistleblower retaliation cases. An employee advocate attributed the improved outcomes to the passage of the Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act in 2017. This new law made it easier for disciplinary actions to be taken against supervisors in whistleblower retaliation cases. According to OSC records, the Department of Veterans Affairs produced the most complaints about violations of personnel rules or retaliation.

Employees on FMLA leave must be considered for promotion

Pennsylvania employees may be aware that they are likely entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act after they have been with their employer for a certain amount of time. Employers are not allowed to discourage workers from taking leave or retaliate against them for doing so.

A nurse at the Department of Health and Human Services and Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital was granted intermittent FMLA on two separate occasions in order to care for ill family members. However, he claimed that his employer still required him to perform full-time duties while he was on leave. On top of that, the employer overlooked the man for a promotion for which he was qualified while he was on leave.

3 big reasons to stand up to workplace discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace takes many different forms. You may witness your employer discriminating against employees based on disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, age or other factors. Regardless of the reason for the discrimination, a hostile work environment as defined by the law is illegal.

Although many employees experience workplace discrimination, not all feel comfortable or empowered to speak up or speak out against the behavior. They may fear retaliation, such as loss of promotions and pay raises, or even termination. However, speaking up is essential. Consider these three reasons you should stand up for what is right.

Must you take unpaid leave from work if you are pregnant?

As a female worker in Florida, you might have said "NO” in answer to that question, thinking that women are treated as equals of men in 2018. Sadly, however, the answer is sometimes yes, and Walmart seems to be one of the biggest offenders when it comes to pregnancy discrimination. This mega-company is the largest private employer in almost half the states in the country, and you may face discrimination from your own employer if you become pregnant or you already are.

Last summer a woman employed at the Walmart Distribution Center in Atlanta, Georgia, became ill at work one morning. In her early stage of pregnancy, she knew her symptoms were due to the morning sickness that many expectant moms suffer. She therefore asked her male supervisor if she could take an early break. He denied her request, saying that she was asking for a “special privilege” that he could not grant without a note from her doctor, which she did not have at that point.

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