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.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Holiday Workplace Misconceptions #AllHolidaysMatter

It's the holiday season, and there are lots of misconceptions about the laws relating to holidays in the workplace. Here are a few I'd like to clear up:

Extra pay for working holidays: No federal law requires extra pay for working holidays. Some union contracts and employment contracts require extra pay, such as time and a half or double time for holidays, but most don't. I don't know of any state law requiring extra pay for holiday work. Florida certainly does not.

Holiday pay: If you take the holidays off, maybe you get paid and maybe you don't. Some government employees get paid holidays off by law. Otherwise, it depends on your company policy and any contracts, whether employment contracts or union contracts. Many employers offer certain paid holidays, but they don't have to. If they don't, you may have to use any accrued vacation time or paid time off. If you have none, but still want to take the holiday off, you may have to do it unpaid.

Religious accommodation: If you have a religious reason for needing a holiday off, I suggest putting your request for a religious accommodation in writing to HR or someone in management. If it's a hardship the employer still may not have to grant the accommodation, but most times they are required to accommodate you. On the other hand, time off for your church's holiday pageant or concert is not a religious requirement and probably doesn't have to be accommodated.

Overtime: If you take a holiday or vacation, your overtime pay is only based on hours worked, not the holiday or vacation time.

Discrimination: There are lots of holidays this time of year for lots of religions, so demanding your coworkers or customers greet you specifying a particular holiday could be deemed religious discrimination or religious harassment. Don't try to force your holiday down people's throats. Your employer cannot allow one employee to say "Happy Hanukkah" but prohibit you from saying "Merry Christmas." Your employer can probably prohibit all religious greetings and require a more generic "Happy Holidays" if they enforce it equally. On the other hand, forcing all employees to say "Merry Christmas" may violate some religious prohibitions, such as those of Jehovah's Witnesses. Similarly, if the employer allows religious displays on desks, they must allow all religious displays.

Hopefully these tips will help you get through the holidays without getting fired. Have a wonderful holiday season!

Friday, December 6, 2019

How To Survive The Office Holiday Party Without Getting Fired

It's time for me to remind you that your office holiday party is a minefield. Lots of people get fired for having too much fun or other party-related misbehavior. So I'm reposting the top 8 ways to get yourself fired, and how to avoid them:

1. DrinkingThe number one way to get fired is to drink too much. Most of the office party firings I see are alcohol-related in some way. First of all, if you are an alcoholic and can't be sure you won't drink if you attend, then don't go. If your boss insists, ask for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act to be excused from attendance. If you can and do drink, limit yourself to two drinks tops, then switch to soda. I'm serious here. 


2. Dancing: Some folks get fired or disciplined for "inappropriate" dancing. What's inappropriate? It's in the eye of the beholder, and the boss, customers, vendors and your coworkers are the beholders. When in doubt, sit it out. Any moves that imitate sexual conduct (grinding, gyrating, rubbing) are dangerous if colleagues are present. If you're dancing with a colleague, then be very careful. You don't need a sexual harassment complaint in the new year. If the colleague gets too wild, walk away. If it crosses the line into sexual harassment, report it.

3. Driving: A DUI can get you fired. Plus, you'll have a conviction and will never pass another background check, so you'll have trouble getting a new job. If you don't believe me, check out my article 9 Ways A DUI Can Destroy Your Career. If a colleague or friend tells you to hand over your keys because you've had too much, do it and don't question them. There's always Uber or a taxi. It's way cheaper than defending against a DUI/DWI charge and losing your job.

4. Mistletoe: Kiss your spouse or date under the mistletoe, but not a coworker, customer, vendor or, god forbid, your boss. Seriously. And any company that still has mistletoe up at holiday parties is too stupid to work for. Think about polishing your resume if you see some hanging.

5. Romance: After a few drinks, colleagues start to look pretty attractive. Office romances are dangerous. If you have a one-night-stand or party makeout session with a coworker, vendor, customer (or worse, the boss), expect repercussions at work. Sure, many couples meet at work. My parents did. But tread carefully. No means no. If you break up, stay away and don't retaliate. Persistence does not pay in an office relationship. You can get fired for sexual harassment if you pester a coworker for a date. Don't accept the invitation to the colleague's room. If there's a real romance, take it slow and be sure before you take it between the sheets. If you do pursue an office romance, check the company's policies. You might have to fill out a disclosure form, and you'll likely be separated so you no longer work together.

6. Pressure: Don't pressure anyone to attend an office party. They may have religious objections to attending. Maybe their disability prevents them from coming, or they have a spouse with a disability. You don't want to get charged with religious or disability harassment. And don't start the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays debate. December is for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Winter Solstice, Hogmanay, and National Ding-A-Ling Day, to name a few. All holidays matter, especially in a workplace subject to religious discrimination laws. Don't end up accused of religious harassment for the holidays.

7. Games: Some offices have party games. You may be tempted to be lewd or bawdy. Sure, many folks will laugh and call you the life of the party. But you may ruin the party for someone you offend, like the boss. Avoid making sexual innuendos, telling off-color jokes, or making other comments that may be deemed inappropriate or offensive.

8. Singing: If the office loves karaoke, have fun. Go ahead and let your inner rock star shine. Just avoid songs with curse words, inappropriate lyrics, or offensive undertones. If you're singing with a colleague, avoid anything overtly sexual. Also avoid any sexual gestures while singing.

Sure, I'm a bit of a party pooper. But if you follow my advice you'll have happier holidays because you'll survive them employed.

Friday, November 22, 2019

OK Millennials, Just Say No To OK Boomer At Work

Sure, the OK Boomer thing is cute and funny. After all, my generation can be a bit out of touch with the modern times. So say it to your parents, your aunt, uncle, grandparents (if they're actually boomers - they're more likely Silent Generation).

But whatever you do, don't say it at work. Seriously.

Boomers are, by definition, over age 40. That means they're protected from age discrimination by the Age Discrimination In Employment Act and state laws like the Florida Civil Rights Act. Saying OK Boomer at work can get you into hot water with HR and EEOC.

If you're saying OK Boomer to a coworker, that could be deemed age-based harassment. If the boomer isn't amused, they'll report you to HR and you'll probably get written up or disciplined. Don't assume that the boomer in question is amused just because they're laughing with you. They may be laughing because they're embarrassed not to show they're being a good sport. It could still be offensive to them and therefore illegal harassment even if they're playing along.

If you're saying OK Boomer to a supervisor, all I can say is OK Millennial. That's going to get you fired. Don't make fun of your boss, and especially don't make fun of them for being old and out of touch.

If you're saying it to a subordinate, you have just given them direct evidence of age discrimination. If you fire, demote, deny a promotion, or even write them up, they can possibly prove that you did it because of age using that comment as evidence. I'd add it to the list of ageist things not to say like asking when they're going to retire (unless you have an actual need to know for reasons other than replacing them), calling them old man or old lady, saying the company needs a younger image, saying they're senile or ancient, and other age-related comments.

Interestingly, it probably doesn't go the other way. If a boomer says OK Millennial, that might not be age discrimination. Millennials haven't turned 40 (yet - they will start turning soon) so most age discrimination laws don't cover discrimination based on being too young. You might get crosswise with a company anti-bullying policy though, so it's probably best to avoid saying it at work.

Bottom line: don't insult colleagues based on their age.

OK Millennials and Boomers. Back to work.

Friday, November 15, 2019

California Bans Forced Arbitration For Discrimination Claims - Will Other States Follow?

Starting in 2020, employers in California are banned from requiring employees to agree to arbitration of state discrimination and labor law issues. That's good news for employees, maybe. And it may have an impact beyond California.

Arbitrations are bad for a number of reasons when done as mandatory processes rather than truly voluntary. Employees have been pushing back on mandatory arbitration, sometimes successfully. So this law will hopefully prevent abusive forced arbitrations in California.

This could affect employees beyond California if they work for a company with offices in California. Many will simply drop forced arbitration across the board.

I say maybe it's good for employees because there's still the Federal Arbitration Act to deal with. Employers will argue that this California law is preempted by the FAA, which allows abusive forced arbitration. I'm guessing we'll see litigation about this soon.

We need action in other states, and we need action on the federal level to ban abusive forced arbitrations. Arbitration can be a wonderful thing if truly voluntary and truly fair. We need to make sure that all employees get to make a real choice rather than being forced into an unfair process.

C'mon Florida. Let's do something to help employees for a change.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Florida Workers Get A Whopping Ten Cents, But There's Hope

Yipee! Florida's minimum wage is going up a whopping 10 cents, from $8.46/hour to $8.56/hour. Tipped workers will get $5.54/hour.

If that news generates a big yawn, or a "how the heck can anyone live on that?" there's hope. 

A new petition to very gradually raise Florida's minimum wage to $15/hour just got enough signatures to make the ballot in November. It would raise the minimum wage to $10 in September 2021, and then go up $1 annually after that. So it wouldn't be until 2026 that it finally gets to $15. 



Hey, at least it's something. Other states have already raised minimum wage to $15: California will have it by 2022, New York by 2020.  Washington's will be $13.50 in 2020. Arizona and Colorado have raised theirs to $12 effective in 2020. Oregon's is currently $11.25 and will be $13.50 by 2022.

Surely Florida can do at least as well as these states for its workers. To me, the ballot measure is a no-brainer. The current minimum wage means people working those jobs live below the poverty line. If you're thinking folks should just get a better job, that doesn't solve the problem, does it? It just means that some other worker will live in poverty instead. Do you really believe that some full time jobs need to be done but the people who do them should live in poverty? I didn't think so.

Make sure you vote in November to raise the minimum wage in Florida.

If you think minimum wage is too low and want to help, then check out the Fight for 15. They are teaching workers to organize to fight for better wages. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Finally, One City Goes After Thieving Employers

I've done a few posts about the criminalization of employment law, and in those posts I've asked why it's all one-sided. Employees are going to jail for alleged trade secret theft, accessing employer computers once they're fired, and a host of other offenses. Yet employers who steal from employees and who commit other crimes against employees largely escape.



Well, one city has had enough. Philadelphia now has a unit in the DA's office just for prosecuting crimes against employees. The big focus is wage theft, but I'm betting they will get all kinds of crimes they can prosecute, like assault and battery, theft of personal items, antitrust violations if they have a state antitrust law, and other criminal violations.

It's about time. When will other cities and states prosecute employers for breaking the laws with respect to employees? Stay tuned.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Is EEOC Turning Down New Charges of Discrimination?

I've heard from multiple different clients and potential clients that they've contacted Miami EEOC and were either turned away or were unable to get an appointment. Some were told on the phone that EEOC is not taking new cases. Others filled out the form online and the next step is to set an appointment. But when they click on the next step they are unable to get an appointment.

WTH?

Filing a charge of discrimination is required before filing a charge of discrimination. In Florida, it must be filed within 300 days from the date of discrimination. In other states it's either 180 or 300 days. If EEOC is refusing to allow folks to file charges, that means workers who were subjected to discrimination may not be allowed to file a discrimination lawsuit.

Sure, the Supreme Court recently ruled that filing a charge with EEOC is not jurisdictional, meaning that the lack of a charge doesn't automatically mean the courts can't hear the case. But the Supremes also said, "EEOC charge-filing is still a mandatory prerequisite to filing suit and remains a procedural step that a court must enforce if the issue is timely raised . . . ."

I'm sure hoping that the folks telling me that EEOC is refusing to allow them to file charges of discrimination have somehow misunderstood, but I've heard it enough in the past couple weeks to think a pattern is developing.

If filing a charge of discrimination is still a "mandatory prerequisite to filing suit," then EEOC needs to take all charges that workers want to file. Otherwise, it is preventing people from pursuing their legal remedies for race, age, sex, national origin, pregnancy, disability, color, religious, and other discrimination cases.

I hope this is not a new anti-employee policy implemented by this administration to prevent workers from exercising their rights. Say it ain't so EEOC!