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Safeguarding Your Rights In The Workplace

Terrence Bouvier Robinson

Houston Legal Blog

Signs that might point to age discrimination

As the majority of the population is getting older, age discrimination is becoming much more prevalent in the workplace. You may have recently seen management force one of your colleagues into retirement, or maybe you heard a story about another friend in the Houston area that did not get a job because he was not a good fit with the culture of the company. Unfortunately, there are several ways that employers can hide age discrimination in the workplace.

If you have concerns that you might be a victim of age discrimination, there are certain signs that you can look for. Read below to find out more about age discrimination indicators.

Know what constitutes employment discrimination

Employees shouldn't have to deal with any form of discrimination. You should be able to work, and to find a job, without having to worry that you will be a target simply because of a protected status.

There are several statuses that are protected by the law. It is important that all employees know what these are so that they can be sure they aren't the victim of forbidden discrimination.

I Hate My Job, Should I Just Resign?

Often, due to discrimination, harassment or other unfair treatment, employees feel like they simply want to walk away from their job and the difficult situation in which they find themselves. While it's true there may be times when a work environment is so toxic that quitting may be the only option, it is important to understand the legal ramifications of a decision to simply resign.

Resigning your employment can affect (1) your right to unemployment benefits, (2) your right to seek damages in the form of lost wages due to discrimination, unlawful harassment or other legally prohibited treatment, and (3) frankly, your ability to find new employment. Before you quit - consult your local employment law specialist!

What you should know about wrongful termination

Imagine that you filed a safety complaint about an incident at work. A few days later you started to experience hostility from your supervisor. A few days after that, your boss called you into the office and handed you a pink slip. Your employer had just fired you from the job you had worked for the last 10 years. Since Texas is a work-at-will state, your boss could have let you go for any number of reasons. However, if you lost your job due to filing the safety complaint, you might be able to take legal action.

If you feel like you were wrongfully terminated from your job, you may be able to fight back. A Houston area attorney with employment law experience can help you get the compensation you deserve after a wrongful termination. Read further for more information on workplace retaliation and your rights.

3 things pregnant women should know about discrimination

A pregnancy is a joyful time for most women, but some women feel a sense of dread when they realize they will have to tell their employer about the pregnancy. Discrimination is the cause of the dread. Fortunately, pregnant women have specific protections against discrimination in the workplace. These protections extend through the breastfeeding period. Any pregnant woman should learn about the protections in place for her.

What are your rights to FMLA leave?

Sometimes unexpected issues come up that change our schedules and our lives. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows people to take long absences from work for family or medical reasons. FMLA leave can be taken for up to 12 weeks and ensures that an equivalent position is still open to the employee when they return.

But are you allowed to take FMLA leave anytime? What rights must your employer uphold while you are absent? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you recognize whether or not you are being given fair leave if you need it.

Does a Salary Really Equal No Right to Overtime Pay?

The payment of overtime wages is controlled by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA states that as a general rule, employees who work more than 40 hours per week must be paid one and a half times their regular rate of pay for all excess hours worked in that week. Many employers and employees believe that as long as they pay or are paid a salary, rather than by the hour, they don't have to pay or are not entitled to be paid overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. This is incorrect.

The source of this confusion is the fact that the first requirement for most employees to be exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA is that they be paid by salary. However, once an employer meets this initial salary requirement, they must also meet a threshold amount of pay. This threshold amount of salary has historically been $23,660 annually. Effective December 1, 2016, however, this threshold amount will increase to $47,476 annually for a full-year worker.

Additionally, once an employer meets the threshold amount of salary, the job duties of the particular employee must also meet one of the duties tests pursuant to statute. The three main tests of duties for an employee to meet in order to be exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA are the Administrative test, the Executive test and Professional test. Thus, unless an employee's job duties fall within the required duties of one of these tests, an employee must be paid overtime regardless of whether they are paid by salary.

Besides these three primary categories for exemption from overtime, there are others. These others include a creative professional employee exemption, a computer employee exemption, an outside sales employee exemption, and a highly compensated employee exemption. For specifics on these and other categories for exemption from the FLSA, consult your employment law specialist. But also remember, these duties tests refer to an employee's actual duties not an inaccurate listing of duties portrayed in an outdated or form job description. Thus, if an employee's actual duties don't meet the requirements of one of the duties tests, the employee is entitled to overtime pay.

Choosing an Employment Discrimination Lawyer

Over my 25 years of legal practice, I have seen many people who have made the sad mistake of choosing the wrong lawyer to represent them.

They usually come in very angry and quite skeptical about lawyers in general. They come in with a stack of papers they obtained from their first lawyer that they can hardly understand and to their dismay, an empty wallet.

They feel like they've been through a long con by an unscrupulous car salesman, left with a hulk of junk that won't run and a stack of repair bills. Deep down they know they've been sold a bill of goods. In truth they know they should never have hired that lawyer on in the first place. There are signs that warn of a bad lawyer or of one who is just not the right fit for you.

If you just listen to what these lawyers are saying, you can usually avoid them before you find yourself in a bad situation. 

Should you complain if you think you're being discriminated against on the job

Many times I have met with clients who felt like they were being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace long before coming to see me. However, they failed to complain to their employers for fear that they would suffer retaliation or even termination if they complained. They felt that it was either better to try to handle it themselves or just ignore it and hope it passed. Ultimately, the harassment and discrimination just increased or the harasser found a way to have them terminated anyway.

Chipotle hit with $550,000 jury verdict for pregnancy discrimination

On August 5, 2016, a federal jury in Washington D.C., awarded Doris Garcia Hernandez, a former Chipotle employee, $550,000 for suffering discrimination by her employer. The facts of the case are as follows: after Ms. Hernandez informed her manager of her pregnancy, her manager failed to provide reasonable accommodations and in fact made her life at work very difficult. For instance, Ms. Hernandez's manager did not allow her to take restroom and water breaks as necessary. When Ms. Hernandez had to leave work early to attend a prenatal doctor appointment, her manager terminated her.

In trial, Chipotle claimed that it treated Ms. Hernandez no differently than any other employee. The jury disagreed. Of the $550,000 award, $50,000 was meant to compensate Ms. Hernandez for her losses. The remaining $500,000 were punitive damages, intended to punish Chipotle for its illegal conduct.

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