Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How Transgender Discrimination Cases Affect Straight Employees

There's a case in front of the Supreme Court right now that will answer whether employers may discriminate against transgender workers. The orange one's administration says employers should be able to discriminate against trans people. If you think that case won't affect you because you're straight or not transgender, think again.

When I was starting out in law practice, a judge decided that women were prohibited from appearing in his court in pants. There was an outcry, of course, and the judge had to reverse course. I didn't wear anything but pants in court for years after that, and still mostly wear pants. The Department of Justice has supported the funeral home owner in the transgender discrimination case, and that owner has specifically stated that he would fire any woman who refused to wear a skirt to work. The DOJ thinks that's just fine and dandy.

Transgender discrimination is part of sex discrimination, and that's why some courts have said its illegal. The theory is that trans people don't meet gender stereotypes of what a man or woman should look like, dress like and behave like, and that if they were another gender they wouldn't have any issues.

These cases impact more than just trans employees because they affect any worker that doesn't fit in with sexual stereotypes. A woman that wants to wear pants, a man that doesn't like football, a woman that drinks beer and watches sports with the guys, a man that enjoys sewing, a woman who drives a muscle car, a man who wears pink clothes, the list can go on and on of behaviors and appearances that might not meet a boss's expectations of what a man or woman should be.

If you look back at other discrimination cases, you can see that they had a positive impact on others outside their protected class. Sex discrimination cases involving height and weight requirements for police and fire allowed smaller men to choose those professions as well as women. Disability discrimination cases involving wheelchair access also allows parents with strollers easier access to buildings. By eliminating arbitrary restrictions on employment and accessibility, we make things better for many people.

So if you aren't typical of your gender, if you don't fall into 100% of what people traditionally think your gender should be (and isn't that most of us in some way?), or if you just want to wear pants or pink to work, then you should be rooting for the trans workers who are fighting for legal protections against discrimination. Let's not go back to the bad old days of strict gender roles in society.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Can You Be Fired If Your Boss Finds Out You're Leaving, Or If You Give Notice?

So you told your boss you might be quitting. Or you gave notice that you're leaving in three months. Can your boss fire you or shorten your notice period? The answer is probably yes.

I assume you don't have a contract saying you can only be fired for cause. Assuming you don't, you're an at-will employee who can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. They can't fire you for an illegal reason, like discrimination, but can fire you for any other reason.

If your boss knows you won't be around much longer, then she can protect herself by looking for a replacement. Once your boss finds out you're leaving or even thinking about leaving, you're probably on your way out. From your boss's perspective, it isn't really fair to your boss to leave her in limbo about your plans. That means she is within her rights to hire someone to replace you and send you on your way.

I suggest you keep your plans to yourself until you are 100% sure. If you dither with the dates, yet telling her you'll be gone eventually, you have alerted her that she'd soon have a vacancy. The better plan is to wait until you've booked the moving vans and sold the house, then give a few weeks of notice.

However, even if you give notice, your boss doesn't have to honor it. You can be fired for giving notice, which is pretty stupid on the boss's part if you ask me. Who would ever give notice if they do this to employees?

To sum it up:
  • Your boss doesn't have to wait until you give notice. Once they know you're leaving, replacing you is fair game.
  • Your boss doesn't have to let you take back your notice. If you said you were leaving two months ago, then changed your mind, you are probably gone.
  • You don't have to call it "notice" or anything specific for it to be official. If you say you're leaving soon, you just quit.
  • Your boss can shorten your notice. If you say you're leaving in October, they can say goodbye to you in August. They don't have to let you work out your notice period. You're terminable at-will unless you have a contract saying otherwise. 
My one caveat is if you know of other employees of a different race, age, sex, national origin, or other protected category who were treated differently, then you might have a discrimination case. However, your damages would be limited to your notice period, so that may not be worthwhile pursuing.

Be careful what personal information you share at work. If your employer finds out you're planning on leaving, you may be out the door sooner than you think.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Some Florida Physician Noncompetes Are Invalid

For the first time in many years, the Florida legislature actually did something pro-employee. Well, at least, pro-doctor. Here's the new law:
542.336 Invalid restrictive covenants.—A restrictive covenant entered into with a physician who is licensed under chapter 458 or chapter 459 and who practices a medical specialty in a county wherein one entity employs or contracts with, either directly or through related or affiliated entities, all physicians who practice such specialty in that county is not supported by a legitimate business interest. The Legislature finds that such covenants restrict patient access to physicians, increase costs, and are void and unenforceable under current law. Such restrictive covenants shall remain void and unenforceable for 3 years after the date on which a second entity that employs or contracts with, either directly or through related or affiliated entities, one or more physicians who practice such specialty begins offering such specialty services in that county.
For doctors whose employer has a monopoly on an entire specialty practice area in a county, they will see some relief from noncompetes with this new law. It probably only helps those in rural counties, but it's a baby step in the right direction.

Of course there's a lawsuit. 21st Century Oncology has filed a lawsuit to stop the law. They lost their bid for an emergency injunction, but the suit is still pending.

I'll keep you posted if anything changes, but for the moment this is the law in Florida.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Recording Meeting In Office Protected by National Labor Relations Act

For those of us in all-party consent states like Florida, it's always an issue whether employees may record conversations with supervisors surreptitiously. Now employees have another weapon in their arsenal to support the legality of office recordings: the National Labor Relations Act (the Act).

In a recent decision, a National Labor Relations Board Administrative Judge held that a recording of a meeting where unionization was being discussed was both legal and protected by the Act, even though company policy prohibited such recordings:
Section 7 of the Act reads as follows: 
Employees shall have the right, to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor 35 organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all such activities except to the extent that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a 40 condition of employment as authorized in section 8(a) (3). 
29 U.S.C. § 157. Thus, employees have a statutory right to engaging in union and protected concerted activities, or to refrain from any and all such activities. Cf. Stanton Industries, Inc., 313 NLRB 838, 848 (1994) (noting the Board has “pointed out over and employees have the 45 right to engage in union activities, as well as the right to refrain from engaging in union activities, which rights are guaranteed by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.) JD(SF)–21–19 14 
Regarding Mansour, I find that his actions were protected by Section 7 of the Act. In the January 9 captive-audience meeting Respondent was presenting its position to employees and attempting to persuade them to vote the Union out. Mansour had never previously been in a 5 union, he is dyslexic, and English is his second language. He decided to record the meeting to listen to it more carefully later and get a better understanding of what being discussed. Mansour was simply documenting the meeting in order to study Respondent’s position, so he could make an educated choice when voting to either retain or decertify the Union. Respondent argues his actions are not protected because he did not discuss his intentions to record the meeting with 10 anyone else. However, I find Respondent’s argument misguided.
The judge also found that the recordings were legal under Washington law because the subject matter, unionization, was not private and the employer could not restrict employees from discussing what happened in the meeting. Further, the judge determined there was no expectation of privacy in the meeting.

So, while this decision only applies where the meeting is about unionization or working conditions on behalf of coworkers as well as yourself, and only if you aren't in management, and only if you work for an employer covered by the Act (which is most non-government employers), it may keep you from being fired (or prosecuted) if you get caught recording a workplace meeting.

Monday, July 22, 2019

What Unions Can Do To Help Immigrant Members

The National Immigration Law Center has this helpful information for unions that want to help their members in this time of ICE raids:
If you belong to a labor union, there are ways it can help you. You should talk to your union representative about your concerns. If it would make you feel more comfortable, ask some of your co-workers to go with you to talk to your representative. Your union contract might have language that protects union members, such as an agreement with the employer that has one or more of the following provisions:
  • The employer will not allow any Immigration officers to enter the workplace without a valid warrant signed by a federal judge or magistrate
  • The employer will immediately notify the union if the Immigration authorities contact the employer for any purpose so that the union can take steps to inform its members about their legal rights or to help them obtain legal assistance.
  • The employer will allow lawyers or community advocates brought by the union to interview employees in as private a setting as possible in the workplace. The union might also have a legal plan, which provides workers with immigration attorneys.
  • The employer agrees not to reveal the names, addresses, or immigration status of any employees to Immigration, unless required by law.
  • The employer will not participate in any computer verification of employees’ immigration or work authorization status.
I hope labor unions that don't have these provisions in place will look at ways they can negotiate to help their immigrant members.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What To Do If ICE Shows Up At Your Workplace (For Employees)

Since it looks like the ICE raids have started, I thought I'd publish this helpful information put out by Penn State Law's Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic:

All people living in the United States, including undocumented immigrants, have certain U.S. Constitutional rights.  
If immigration officers (ICE) come to your work place, they must have a valid search warrant or the consent of your employer to enter non-public areas. If you are undocumented and immigration officers come to your work place, be aware of the following: 
  • Do not panic and do not run away. If you are frightened and feel like you need to leave, you can calmly walk toward the exit. 
  • If you are stopped, you may ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says no, do not try to exit the building. 
  • If you are questioned, you may tell them you want to remain silent. 
  • You have the right to remain silent. You do not need to speak to the immigration authorities or answer any questions. 
  • If you are asked where you were born, or how you entered the United States, you may refuse to answer or remain silent. 
  • If you choose to remain silent, say so out loud. 
  • If they ask you to stand in a group according to immigration status, you do not have to move, or you can move to an area that is not designated for a particular group. 
  • You may show a know-your-rights card to an officer that explains that you will remain silent and wish to speak to a lawyer. 
  • You may refuse to show identity documents that say what country you are from. 
  • Do not show any false documents and do not lie. 
  • You have the right to speak to a lawyer. If you are detained or taken into custody, you have the right to immediately contact a lawyer. 
  • Even if you do not have a lawyer, you may tell the immigration officers that you want to speak to one. 
  • If you have a lawyer, you have the right to talk to them. If you have a signed Form G-28, which shows you have a lawyer, give it to an officer. 
  • If you do not have a lawyer, ask an immigration officer for a list of pro bono lawyers. 
  • You also have the right to contact your consulate. The consulate may be able to assist you in locating a lawyer. 
  • You can refuse to sign any/all paperwork until you have had the opportunity to speak to a lawyer. 
  • If you choose to sign something without speaking to a lawyer, be sure you understand exactly what the document says and means before you sign it.

Even if you aren't an immigrant, you can help coworkers by having this information handy in case of an ICE raid.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Enjoy Your Summer Internship - You May Never Work In Your Field Again

In a new low for management side, the Wall Street Journal exposed the ugly practice of intern noncompetes. That's right. Intern. Noncompetes.

Let me get this straight. A college or high school student goes to work for little or no pay, and they are handed a bunch of papers to sign. They're so thrilled at the opportunity to work for this company, they don't read. They just sign. They never get a copy of what they signed.

Surprise! After they graduate, they get their dream job in the industry, and along comes the nastygram. "Dear John, You aren't allowed to work at your dream job because you signed a noncompete. You can't work in your field for two more years. By then, all the entry level jobs will be taken. Enjoy your work at McDonald's flipping burgers." And the letter to John's employer: "Dear New Employer: You hired John. He signed this noncompete. If you don't fire John, we'll sue you, your mother, your dog, and everyone you ever met."

So John is fired, and he's fighting a big corporation from the position of being unemployed. The new employer now has a bad taste in its mouth for John, so he's lost that opportunity. He's out of his field and unable to fight. Lesson: read everything before you sign, and keep copies. If you can't live with it, don't sign.

Yes, there are defenses to noncompetes. But to fight them, you have to be able to afford an attorney and court costs. Most people, especially recent college grads, can't afford that.

My state's Senator, Marco Rubio (with whom I almost never agree, except now) has proposed a bill that would prohibit noncompetes for hourly employees. That would be a great start.  Democrats have repeatedly tried and failed to limit noncompetes over the years, so maybe a Republican can get his colleagues to listen.

Some states, like Massachusetts, have also banned noncompetes for hourly and low wage employees. Illinois banned noncompetes for low wage workers. California, Oklahoma and North Dakota ban most noncompetes. There are lots of bills pending that would address problems with noncompetes in various states.

I think luring interns in with the promise of job opportunity and college credit, then making them sign away their right to work in their field, is unconscionable. If you agree, support any elected official's efforts to limit or ban noncompetes.  And vote with your money: don't do business with companies that have obnoxious noncompetes for interns and low wage employees.