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.