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Boca Raton Employment Law Blog

McDonald's workers pursue corporate sexual harassment claims

At a franchised company like McDonald's, workers in Boca Raton share a common corporate identity with those in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and other major cities. In May, 10 female McDonald's workers filed federal complaints of sexual harassment against the company and franchise holders. The employees said that the corporation had either ignored their complaints entirely or illegally retaliated against them for making the complaints.

The complaints were filed in an initiative backed by the Fight for $15 labor campaign to raise the minimum wage. Filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the complaints are part of an effort to push for McDonald's to be recognized as a joint employer of workers at all local restaurant franchises. This would mean that the workers across the country not only share corporate branding and identity but also a responsible party for labor law violations like sexual harassment at work. In 2016, McDonald's had been dismissed from similar complaints as it was not considered a joint employer.

Legal protection for Florida whistleblowers who report wrongdoing

State and federal laws aim to protect employees who report wrongful conduct by employers. The law wants to encourage people to come forward if they find out about illegal or unsafe behavior. However, the people in the best position to find out about workplace misconduct and report it are also the ones most vulnerable to retaliation from employers. Because of this, whistleblower laws prohibit adverse actions against these employees.

Maybe you just learned about a violation in the workplace and want to report it, or you have already taken action such as filing a complaint with the EEOC. Regardless of where you are in the process, keep in mind that you have legal protections.

Sexual harassment a common issue among flight attendants

According to a survey conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants, 68 percent of respondents and throughout the country said that they had been sexually harassed at some point in their careers. Furthermore, roughly one-third said that they had experienced verbal abuse in the past year. The flight attendants who responded to the survey, including some from Florida, said that passengers had talked about sexual fantasies or requested videos or pictures of an adult nature.

Of those who responded to the survey, 18 percent said that they had experienced physical sexual assault in the past year. Among that group, 40 percent said that it had happened three or more times in that time period. Examples of physical abuse included being grabbed or followed. The actions that were described have taken place in spite of the #MeToo movement that has aimed to increase awareness of sexual harassment and assault.

Sexual harassment coming to light after #MeToo movement

The #MeToo movement has been able to generate a large amount of discussion across the nation, including in Florida. As a result of the movement, many companies are coming under fire for allowing sexual harassment to continue for years. Nike is just one company where employees have reported incidents of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that was allowed to continue without resolution.

Female employees who worked at the company reportedly took a survey about sexual harassment or gender discrimination that employees may have experienced. As a result, six of the company's top executives left. When interviewed, some of the employees talked about inappropriate emails and discussions that were had over a number of years. Some also noted that staff meetings occasionally ended up at strip clubs. Human resources reportedly failed to make any attempts to resolve the situation, and no managers were ever terminated.

Are you employed in a hostile work environment?

It's hard to spend your time in an unpleasant workplace. Whether you work with people who make negative comments about co-workers, tell inappropriate jokes or keep the workplace rumor mill going at full speed, such activities make you feel uncomfortable or cause you to feel harassed, especially if you are the target of the negativity.

Despite the protections afforded by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, workplace harassment is alive and well in Florida. Many people file lawsuits claiming that they were victims of harassment based on their race, religion, gender, age, national origin or political views, all of which are prohibited. You may be considering a harassment lawsuit yourself, or perhaps you are claiming that things are so bad at your workplace that it is a hostile work environment. But what does that mean?

Some workers are not protected against sexual harassment

Some people in Florida may assume that all employees throughout the country are protected against sexual harassment by federal law, but this is not the case. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act only applies to employers who have at least 15 employees.

While the original intent of this loophole was to protect small businesses who might not be able to defend themselves against claims as well as larger companies could, it has gone on to leave many employees unprotected. In addition to people who work for small companies, farm workers and domestic employees, such as nannies, often lack protection. Title VII also does not apply to independent contractors, and in the growing gig economy, this could affect many people. Some companies even try to classify more employees as independent contractors to reduce their obligations toward those employees.

More sexual harassment cases may be going to arbitration

The incidence of reported sexual harassment has dropped in Florida over the last 20 years as it has in every state. Throughout the country in 2017, there were just a little more than 9,600 sexual harassment complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1997, the figure was 16,000. However, experts say this does not necessarily mean that there is less sexual harassment in the workplace. Instead, companies increasingly have private ways of dealing with sexual harassment complaints.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, there is an in-house complaint process at 95 percent of companies, and more than 80 percent have an investigation protocol in place. The SHRM also found that while more than half of human resources professionals said the incidence of unreported sexual harassment was small, 75 percent of employees who were not in management and had experienced harassment in the workplace did not report it.

Employment contracts and workplace harassment

In Florida and across the United States, workplace harassment and sex discrimination scandals have become mainstay headlines. The #MeToo movement that started with revelations of unwanted sexual advances within elite Hollywood circles has expanded to government entities and corporations. Many legal analysts believe that the current situation would be even more scandalous if a certain provision of employment contracts did not exist.

Arbitration agreements are often designed to keep prospective plaintiffs from going to court and making their grievances public. While there are merits for including these clauses in employment contracts, they are often misused to cover up gross misconduct in the workplace. An arbitration agreement may be effective in handling a case involving wrongful termination due to sexual harassment, but it should not be used to silence an employee who was groped or assaulted at the office.

Ways men experience sexual discrimination in the workplace

One of the most pervasive forms of discrimination in the workplace, sexual discrimination, has been a hot topic lately in the media. However, most conversations center on its effects on females. This makes perfect sense considering that sexual discrimination affects women the most, particularly those working in male-dominated fields, says Pew Research Center. 

However, that truth does not mean men do not experience such discrimination, too. Men can also be subject to sexual discrimination in the following ways:

Anti-discrimination laws protect people with disabled loved ones

You are probably aware of how federal and state laws protect employees with disabilities. Employers must accommodate workers with special needs and cannot use a disability as an excuse to fire or not hire someone who is capable of fulfilling the job duties.

However, you may not be aware that you also receive similar protection under the law when a loved one, rather than you, has a disability. You may not be eligible for accommodations, but you do qualify for fair treatment in the following ways.

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