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Fort Lauderdale Employment Law Blog

Handling the denial of sexual harassment

We have covered many different aspects of sexual harassment on our blog and sadly, this continues to remain a problem in workspaces across the country. In Florida, many people are subjected to sexual harassment while they are trying to perform their job and some may be too afraid to step forward, whether they worry about possible repercussions or think that nobody will take them seriously. Moreover, some people who subject others to sexual harassment deny that any wrongdoing took place, which can make these cases especially difficult. That said, victims deserve justice and should be relentless when it comes to holding offenders accountable.

Those who file a complaint or decide to take legal action against someone who sexually harassed them may be frustrated when the individual denies that the incident(s) occurred. Although this can be very upsetting, victims should not give up. There may be a handful of legal options on the table and it is pivotal for those who have been sexually harassed to bring out the truth. In doing so, they may even be able to prevent future occurrences of sexual harassment by bringing down someone who has violated the rights of others.

Justice Department appeals ruling protecting transgender workers

In 2016, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of a transgender woman who was fired from her funeral home job after announcing her transition. The appellate panel said that "discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender or transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII" of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII, one of our main civil rights laws, prohibits employment discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion or sex.

Now, the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to appeal that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Its two main arguments are that the term "sex" does not imply gender identity, and that the funeral home would have been within its rights to fire the woman for religious reasons.

DOL working on replacement rule for FLSA exempt salary threshold

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed to change part of how employees are classified as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Exempt basically means exempt from the overtime premium rate required by the FLSA, and employees are generally exempt only if they meet a specific exemption defined in the law. Executives, learned professionals, certain administrators, creative professionals and computer workers, and inside salespeople are typically exempt.

In addition to qualifying for an exemption, exempt workers must also be paid on a salary or fee basis and earn at least $23,660. The minimum pay level is called the "salary threshold." The 2016 proposal was set to more than double the salary threshold to $47,476, increasing the number of low-wage workers eligible for overtime. However, last year the rule was blocked by a court and never went into effect.

#MeToo brought a 12-percent jump in sexual harassment charges

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of sexual harassment complaints rose 12 percent during its last fiscal year, the first rise in complaint levels in 10 years. The number of sexual harassment lawsuits the agency filed was also up by 50 percent over the previous fiscal year. The timing of these increases suggests that the #MeToo movement has had an influence.

It has been a year since the first #MeToo complaints about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein became public. Since that time, powerful men in the media, politics and other fields have faced credible accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct by women, many of whom had kept silent about the allegations in the past. In many cases, men have been forced out of their jobs or faced other career repercussions. Some have faced criminal charges.

Are you being bullied at work?

As an employee, you expect your workplace not only to be safe, healthy and secure but also free from harassment and other debilitating intra-company personal interactions. Unfortunately, however, your particular workplace may not live up to your expectations, especially if you must work with or around one or more bullies.

Workplace bullying is defined as “health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators,” and includes the following characteristics:

  • Threatening, humiliating or intimidating behavior
  • Behavior that interferes with, sabotages or prevents someone’s ability to perform and/or complete his or her work
  • Verbally abusive language
  • Continuing such behavior

Federal court: Uber drivers must arbitrate classification claims

When it comes to the "gig economy," one of the more controversial issues is how Uber, Lyft, Amazon and other companies save money by classifying their workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Contract workers aren't eligible for many standard workplace benefits and protections, such as employer-paid payroll taxes, access to workers' compensation and unemployment insurance, and the right to be paid the overtime premium rate. They're not even guaranteed the minimum wage.

As we've discussed before, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) governs the classification of employees, absent more protective state laws. At least one competitor has sued Uber claiming that its alleged misclassification of its employees amounts to unfair competition, as law-abiding companies can't afford to offer prices as low as Uber's.

Lawsuits accuse IBM of widespread age discrimination

In March, the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica released an exposé on alleged age discrimination at IBM. In May, a 60-year-old IBM employee from Texas who was laid off last year filed a federal lawsuit accusing the company of targeting older workers for layoffs. Now, three former employees from New York have filed a class action complaining that they, too, were laid off because of their ages, which range from 55 to 67.

According to ProPublica, IBM has been laying off employees since 2012. Since that time, it has laid off at least 20,000 workers over the age of 40. People over 40 accounted for about 60 percent of IBM's total layoffs during the last five years.

EEOC sues Walmart for failing to accommodate pregnant women

"What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated," the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a statement. "But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law."

That is the basis for a lawsuit the EEOC has just brought against a division of Walmart. The suit was brought on behalf of a worker at a Walmart Distribution Center in another state. She became pregnant in 2015 and, in order to avoid heavy lifting during her pregnancy, she requested either light duty or a transfer to a job with fewer physical demands.

Competitor lawsuit: Uber's contractor model is unfair competition

Using contract labor to perform core business functions is still controversial, even as companies like Uber, Grubhub and Amazon take advantage of this "gig economy" business model. Traditionally, employers have been required to provide at least some benefits, such as workers' compensation, unemployment insurance and payroll tax payments. Contractors receive none of these and are not protected by some labor laws.

There has been litigation around the country to determine whether it is legal to use contract workers instead of employees to handle primary business operations. It has centered around whether the workers can legally be considered contractors under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. So far, several trial-level courts have ruled that these workers can indeed be considered independent contractors, not employees, under the FLSA.

Could you lose a promotion due to religious discrimination?

If you have been working at the same company with room for upward movement for several years, you may feel you are due for a promotion. Some people who find themselves waiting for years or longer for a promotion which they feel they deserve may start to wonder if there is a specific reason why the offer never seems to come.

Employees who have strong religious beliefs could even start wondering if religious bias is a factor behind their lack of promotion. If you suspect such a situation, how should you handle this issue?

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