In the United States, paid sick leave is offered to only half of the full-time workforce. Unfortunately, access to paid sick leave is greatly diminished if you are a low-wage earner. A recent study shows that seven out of ten low-wage workers do not have paid sick time available. For many low-to-medium wage workers, the decision to take time off work to recover from an illness or to take care of a family member is a choice between their health and financial security.
Looking for legal information and resources? If so, take a moment to check out Halunen Law’s Employment blog for articles related to wrongful termination.
“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”
.- Hubert H. Humphrey
Through their state-granted licenses, healthcare facilities have been entrusted with the duty to care for Minnesota’s vulnerable adults. Unfortunately, history gives us horrifying accounts of abuse and neglect of the most vulnerable among us while in the care of those facilities. For decades, the maltreated were left to suffer in silence, unless a vigilant family member or health care provider spoke up.
In April 1980, Minnesota Governor Al Quie signed Minnesota’s Vulnerable Adults Act into law. The Act was intended to protect vulnerable adults from abuse or neglect and to assist those charged with the care of vulnerable adults to provide safe environments. Since then, the Vulnerable Adults Act has been revised to strengthen protections for Minnesota’s vulnerable adults’ population.
If you’ve reported your co-worker’s unwanted advances to your employer and been ignored, or worse yet, terminated from your position, there is good news for you out of New York. The federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals adopted an expansive standard for employer liability that could make it easier for employees to prove discrimination or retaliation when they’re fired because of a co-worker’s conduct. Historically, courts have been reluctant to hold companies accountable for the conduct of their lower-level workers. But in a recent decision (Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance Service, Inc.), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the company may face liability if its negligence played a role in the firing.
Inappropriate conduct, ignored complaints, and wrongful termination, create the case for change:
The Plaintiff, Andrea Vasquez, worked for Empress Ambulance Service, Inc. as an emergency medical technician. In one twenty-four hour period, Vasquez faced unwelcome sexual advances from a co-worker, complained about that conduct to her supervisor, and was terminated.
1. The law is complex: Employment Laws provide protection for both employees and employers. So you can rest assured your employer has legal representation and considers it a standard cost of doing business. Employees without access to sound legal advice find themselves at a considerable disadvantage when up against opposing counsel, and employers will take every opportunity to benefit from this inequity. They have already been preparing a defense to make sure any claims against them will fail.
A word of caution: When a person is under stress they tend to make decisions based on their emotions. With the explosion of social media and online resources, it’s tempting to panic and get caught up in being part of the “Google It” school of legal education. Unfortunately, with laws changing so rapidly, online information is often outdated and incomplete. Likewise, social media, which serves a critical role within the context of communication, is an extremely poor substitute for qualified counsel when an employee’s livelihood hangs in the balance. That is why an experienced employment law attorney makes the best advocate because they can provide objective and knowledgeable advice. They also have an ethical obligation to stay up to date and keep up with the latest in their area of practice. This enables them to offer their clients the most innovative legal strategies available.
2. Timing is everything: Each type of employment claim has a set of requirements including a Statute of Limitations, which is the deadline for filing a lawsuit on that claim. One missed deadline or incorrect filing could potentially limit or destroy your ability to seek restitution regardless of the evidence proving your employer’s wrongdoing. Your employer would be more than happy if you delay filing any external complaints because maybe you will miss the deadline. For this reason alone, your ability to protect your rights literally depends on how quickly you can retain legal representation. A lawyer who understands the applicable laws, filing time limits, and required legal procedures, including documentation and preserving key evidence, is best suited to explain the options available for your specific set of circumstances and protect your ability to seek justice. Decisions about how to proceed under these laws often need to be made quickly since a complex interaction of federal and state laws, agencies and courts may be involved with overlapping deadlines.
3. HR is not your friend: Contrary to popular belief, Human Resources is there to protect the employer’s interests, not the employees. Their primary purpose is to minimize the employer’s potential legal liability by managing the administrative tasks employers are required to comply with by law. They are counting on the fact that employees are less knowledgeable about the law and, without representation, are less likely to know what their rights actually are. An unrepresented employee is clearly at risk of the employer having ongoing access to legal counsel and an entire HR department looking out for the employer’s best interests.
4. Lawyers read the fine print: This is true in the context of signing any employment agreement and the Employee Handbook. It is crafted by the employer’s attorneys to make sure that the workers are aware of the “rules” they must follow to maintain their employment. It gives the Employer a legal basis for discipline or termination of an employee while holding the employer harmless. The Employee Handbook, union contracts, and any other business agreements between the worker and the employer can be a wealth of information and provide a foundation for additional legal actions that you don’t even know exist.5.
The resources of a firm with experienced employment law attorneys can prove invaluable. Employees often don’t know the true intention of the statements made in the Employee Handbook in relation to the law, and your employer may take the opportunity to escape responsibility due to built-in technicalities or loopholes. Your attorney can recognize any potential pitfalls and help you avoid them in advance. Your attorney is also capable of holding employers accountable for their policies along with legal requirements. Depending on when an attorney is contacted, you might be able to avoid any additional harm altogether.
6. They call it like they see it: Competent attorneys are not afraid to be up front and honest regarding the merits of your case, saving you time and money in the long run. When you consider that most credible legal firms offer an initial consultation free of charge, it is difficult to find any reason not to take advantage of this opportunity that could significantly affect your career, financial future and impact the lives of you and your family. Having a clear picture of what, if any, legal or administrative remedies are available to you will enable you to move forward and make educated decisions about your future.
It would be wonderful if there were a foolproof method to predict how your story will end, but in reality, there are too many variables that can affect the outcome. An attorney armed with ample experience and insight will be able to give you a reasonable evaluation of your options and the range of success, if any, that may be possible. An experienced plaintiff’s employment attorney also will know firsthand how to approach a settlement negotiation with the goal of achieving the best result possible.
If you have been the victim of illegal workplace actions or witnessed the illegal actions of your employer, make no mistake, you are at risk and should contact an experienced plaintiff’s attorney for a free initial consultation as soon as possible after the discriminatory conduct.
Anne Weber, spouse of a Halunen Law client, is a freelance writer/blogger who took to the internet as a way of overcoming the barriers of losing her mobility.
Every one of us would love to find that dream job with the perfect boss and supportive co-workers, a sort of “Occupational Utopia”, but not all employment relationships have a happily ever after. Unfortunately, there are times when honest, hardworking employees get caught up in workplace issues that are confusing and by their very nature, highly sensitive.
Without realizing it, you can find yourself at the critical point where you have suffered from or witnessed illegal workplace issues, and now you are forced to decide between revealing the truth and protecting your job. The good news is that you can do both, but… it requires you to take action and initiate the process.
The most important step towards protecting your rights is to contact an attorney who specializes in representing employees, not employers. If you have already made a complaint and experienced retaliation, your time to seek a legal remedy may be running out more quickly than you think.
The danger of not being fully informed of your rights in the workplace or the deadlines that apply to making complaints can result in your employer never being held accountable for severely mistreating yourself and possibly other employees. Since law firms that specialize in representing employees have a single focus, they can direct all their energy and resources into protecting your rights. Among the multiple ways they can assist you is their in-depth knowledge of Federal and State laws and how they interact, so you can fully benefit from the protections they provide. Access to these types of legal information will increase your chances of prevailing when taking legal action. As an employee, it really helps to have a zealous advocate on your side when attempting to defend yourself in a work-related legal matter.
You may feel isolated and vulnerable but rest assured help is available. Don’t struggle with the overwhelming stress of trying to navigate this on your own. Find an attorney who fully understands the law and can provide professional representation and personal guidance through this challenging time.
Anne Weber, spouse of a Halunen Law client, is a freelance writer/blogger who took to the internet as a way of overcoming the barriers of losing her mobility.
In Part 2 – Top 5 Reasons Sooner is Better Than Later, you will find out why contacting legal counsel as soon as possible after you think your rights have been violated is definitely in your best interest.
Whether you are new to the job market or are a seasoned employee, there are laws in place to protect your rights. This useful “Top 10” list of employment laws gives a good outline of out-of-bounds illegal employment practices. A few highlights you may / may not know: Managers cannot discriminate in hiring based on a person’s race, religion, sex or national origin. When an hourly employee works overtime, a manager usually must pay that employee time-and-a-half. A person’s age shouldn’t be taken into account when making a decision on hiring, firing, pay, benefits or promotions. A manger can’t immediately reject applicants by believing their disability would prevent them from doing a job.
From military leave to gender equity, pregnancy policies to immigration requirements, be informed. Read the full article of The 10 Employment Laws Every Manager Should Know.
As many lawyers practicing on behalf of wrongfully terminated employees know, the United States Constitution prohibits a government employer from discharging or demoting an employee when he or she speaks out on a matter of public concern. Waters v. Churchill, 511 U.S. 661 (1994) (citations omitted). In April of this year, the United States Supreme Court expanded that cause of action just a tad more in a novel case captioned Heffernan v. City of Paterson, 136 S. Ct. 1412 (2016).
In that case, Heffernan was a police officer working in the chief of police’s office in Paterson, New Jersey. Both the chief of police and Heffernan’s direct supervisor had been appointed by Paterson’s incumbent mayor, who was running in an election against Lawrence Spagnola, who, low and behold, happened to be a friend of Heffernan’s family. Despite his connection to Spagnola, Heffernan did not support and was not involved in the Spagnola campaign.
Whether or not you were aware of it, Minnesota recently took another giant leap forward in protecting its employees from unfair discrimination in the workplace. On Mother’s Day 2014, Governor Dayton signed into law the Women’s Economic Security Act. While the title suggests that the act’s focus is equal pay for women, it actually provides a broad range of new protections for all Minnesotans.
Familial Status as a Protected Class
One effect of the act is that the Minnesota Human Rights Act is amended to include familial status as a protected class. This means that an employer cannot take adverse employment action against an individual on the basis of them being a parent, guardian, or designee, of a child who lives with them. It also means that a person cannot be punished for being pregnant or securing custody of anybody under 18.
We all know that it is best not to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Employees should avoid ever being in a position to have a positive drug or alcohol test result in the workplace. With that in mind, we must also acknowledge that there are many prescription medications that are necessary for some people to function in their daily lives, and some of these will render a positive result on a drug test. There are also disabilities and impairments that might outwardly manifest in such a way that somebody might mistake that person as being under the influence of drugs or alcohol and then might ask that person to take a drug test. Let us also not forget that chemical dependency is a serious condition with serious consequences and many people suffering from it are discriminated against in the workplace. Then there are those that just make a simple one-time mistake and don’t deserve to have their lives ruined (i.e., their jobs terminated) because of this isolated mistake.
The landscape for workplaces is changing. As technology evolves, so too does the way we do our jobs. Many people can (and do) work just as effectively at home as they do at work. And a recent court case said just that. It held that a telecommuting arrangement could be a reasonable accommodation for a person suffering from a disability. Click to read the case: E.E.O.C. v. Ford Motor Co., 12-2484, 2014 WL 1584674 (6th Cir. Apr. 22, 2014).
If you have a disability, you have a right to reasonable accommodation from your employer. In the case above, the plaintiff had a very bad case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and asked to work from home. She argued that this would alleviate her IBS symptoms, and that most of her work could be done via computer or telephone. Ford denied the request, stating that presence in the office was essential to her job. Ford instead offered other accommodations, such as putting her office closer to the bathroom, because it argued that she needed to interact with other team members and could only access information during “core” business hours.
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