A record 22 million people were laid off in one month since the coronavirus pandemic shut down large portions of the U.S. economy as of the week ending April 16, according to the Wall Street Journal. The estimated current employment rate is 13.5%. But were all those layoffs really due to the corona virus or did employers use the pandemic as cover to get rid of employees for other reasons, maybe unlawful reasons. This is the big question many unemployed Americans are now asking. Please review the following frequently asked questions and see which applies to you.
FAQ: Were you recently furloughed, laid off, demoted or terminated due to COVID, but your co-workers remain employed?
FAQ: Is your Employer still operating and profitable, yet you were laid off or had your compensation reduced due to a business decision to reduce costs or eliminate your job position?
FAQ: Were other younger employees retained, while you were furloughed, laid off, demoted or terminated?
FAQ: Were you laid off or terminated and not offered any severance or insufficient severance?
FAQ: Were your unemployment benefits interfered with?
FAQ: If you were unable to continue to work because you were sick, because a family member was sick or because you have young children at home, were you permitted to take FMLA leave or were you instantly laid off or terminated?
FAQ: Were you the only one furloughed, laid off, demoted or terminated or due to COVID, even though your Employer is calling it a “reduction in force”?
FAQ: Do you think your Employer was looking for an excuse to get rid of you?
If you answered yes to any of the above, your seemingly straightforward COVID-based termination may be unlawful. Unfortunately, the majority of Employees in the U.S. are “at-will”. This means that employees are at the absolute and arbitrary whim of their employers and they may be demoted, terminated or otherwise treated adversely for any reason or no reason at all. The exception to the anything goes rule of an at-will employment arrangement is that employees may NOT be treated unlawfully.
If you have recently suffered an adverse change in the terms and conditions of your employment amidst the COVID-19 crisis, you may still have viable claims against your employer for unlawful or wrongful treatment. COVID-19 is not and should not be a catch-all excuse or defense for employers’ bad behavior and even a crisis of this magnitude does not relieve employers of their obligation to treat employees lawfully at all times. If something does not feel right to you about the circumstances of your change in employment, it is prudent to speak to an employment attorney and review the fact pattern surrounding your work situation. It is in your best interest to discern whether your employer may be using COVID-19 as a sham or cover for otherwise unlawful behavior.
Unlawful or wrongful acts that may entitle an employee to monetary damages for claims against their employer will usually fit in one of three scenarios. Employers actions can be shown to be unlawful if they:
1) violate or fail to comply with any legislative mandate, act or
2) breach a valid contract or agreement; or
3) discriminate, harass or retaliate based on a protected class trait.
COVID-19 does not give employers a green light to violate laws, ignore contracts or discriminate against employees, and a termination under any one of those scenarios might be a wrongful one.
Scenario 1 – Statutory Violations:
Employers must abide by all existing laws and statutes, especially as they apply to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the employers’ obligation to stay abreast of and comply with all new mandates imposed and legislation enacted in response to COVID-19, including, but not limited to enhanced FMLA, the CARES Act and the expansion to the Unemployment Compensation Act. This is in addition the existing laws that have long protected employees from discrimination and retaliation such as Pregnancy, Sex Harassment, Sexual Stereotype, Disability, Age, Whistle Blowing and Family Medical Leave, to name just a few. Thus, any analysis of whether your termination was lawful and proper should begin with a review of the facts relative to the controlling law and any revisions and updates to those laws. If you identify any facts in the events leading up to your termination that just do not seem right, you may have uncovered the hidden basis for your termination. For example, you got a good review last fall and received a bonus in January, but in March you were terminated without explanation. The small window between the January bonus and March termination should be closely examined for any facts supporting bogus performance issues, favorable treatment given to other employees and not you and replacement by coworker who is substantially younger and lesser qualified. The examples are endless, but you get the gist. See further discussion below.
Scenario 2 – Breach of Contract:
Even an at-will employment arrangement must be considered in light of any existing employment contracts or agreements between the employer and employee. In addition to or in the absence of a formal written employment contract, Courts may look to such documents as offer letters, on-boarding communications, employee handbooks, published severance plans and emails in order to demonstrate the existence of any enforceable covenants between the parties that may speak to such topics as causes for termination, compensation, bonus, healthcare, long term incentive compensation and severance. Thus, where a valid contract can be established as to any of your employment terms, your employer is bound by those terms and any deviation may be an unlawful breach for which you might be able to seek and recover damages. So, if you have been terminated or otherwise caused to separate from your employer, even if you are at-will and even amidst the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative that you review all of your documents in order to discern that you are being treated lawfully according to the terms that were agreed upon and promised to you.
Scenario 3 (THIS IS THE BIGGIE) – Discrimination Claims:
Even if you are an at-will employee who was let go as a result of COVID-19, you may still have a claim for wrongful termination against your employer if their decision to let you go was at all based on discriminatory motives. Discrimination is unlawful and where an adverse act is taken against you because of such protected traits as your age, gender, pregnancy, race or national origin, disability, perceived disability, associational disability or sexual orientation, you may have legal claims against your Employer.
In the absence of direct evidence of discrimination or the smoking gun as we call it, discrimination can be shown if you are a member of the protected class and you were treated adversely (demoted, furloughed, laid off or terminated) under circumstances which give rise to an inference of discrimination, i.e. circumstances that show discrimination was the substantial motivating reason for the adverse act taken against you. The way an employer can defend itself against such a claim and rebut that inference is to show that there was a “legitimate” lawful reason for the termination, such as performance issues and other cause such as a business decision or reduction in force.
Certainly, you can all see where this is heading. COVID-19 and the related financial fallout provides your employer with the legitimate business reason it needs to “lawfully” terminate you. However, this cannot be accepted at face value. In fact, if you are able to show that the supposed legitimate reason relied on by employer was a sham or cover for discriminatory motives, you may prevail on your claims against them in a severance negotiation. There are surely many situations where an employer, especially during these challenging economic times, needs to make a tough business decision to lay off employees or institute a reduction of force, and where their decision to do so is legitimate and truthful.
Employer May Have Used Covid-19 As An Excuse to Fire You
However, there are also many instances where certain employees are selected within the context of a business decisions, based on discriminatory motives. For example, the company makes the “business decision” to lay off only the older employees, or only the female employees or only the pregnant employees. In addition, there might not even be any explicit or formal business decision to reduce costs or a effectuate a reduction in force, but your employer may still feel safe engaging in discriminatory behavior knowing or hoping that any terminations taking place now will be viewed as a necessary and legitimate, due to the Covid-19 business climate. Again, we cannot allow employers to use this catch-all defense to what maybe culpable and unacceptable discriminatory behavior. If you see something, say something to an employment attorney.
There is no doubt that both employers and employees are presently finding themselves in the most difficult and tenuous circumstances. However, employers, in response to COVID-19, seemingly have absolute power and new founded legitimacy to make discriminatorily targeted employment decisions against their at-will employees, under the guise of a business decision. And this is very concerning and unlawful. If you are in a protected class because you are over the age of 40 or fall into any of the other class of protected traits discussed herein, and have seen a change to your employment that you do not believe was made as the result of a good faith business decision, cost reduction, reduction in force in response to COVID-19, or other legitimate basis, we encourage you to speak to an employment attorney immediately. You may be entitled to reinstatement, severance or increased severance or settlement dollars relative to your discrimination claims for wrongful termination or other possible improper acts by your employer.
Carey & Associates, P.C. is currently providing complimentary consultations for potential new clients who are experiencing any employment related issues or believe they might have possible employment claims, as a result of the COVID -19 pandemic. Feel free to contact our office if you need help with that or any of your employment matters.
By Liz Swedock
COVID-19 is interrupting everyone’s lives these days, worldwide, and for many of us it is negatively impacting our jobs. Even while we are trying to achieve the work-from-home revolution, an unprecedented number of workers are experiencing frightening job stressors, including drastically reduced workload, changes in job responsibilities, dropped job responsibilities, and job loss. While not every negative impact can be fixed, there are a few legal protections that all workers should be aware of.
Is your job being impacted in a way that is unethical, or possibly illegal?
The sad reality is that the global recession is going to quickly motivate employers to start firing people. Businesses are panicked right now about their financial bottom line, and those salaries for all the people who aren’t in the office are looking daunting. While it may be legal for employers to lay people off due to purely financial concerns, all employees should be their own watchdog for any layoffs, terminations, demotions, or changes in responsibilities that appear to be unfairly – or unequally – happening.
What is unfair or unequal? Often the answer is discrimination. These days most people are aware of the protected classes of employees. They include older individuals (over 40), disabled individuals (physical or mental), gender, race, national origin, religion, and others. It is illegal for employers to single out any of these classes of individuals for negative treatment.
It’s often not obvious if an employee is being illegally discriminated against, which is why workers should arm themselves with what to look for. Sometimes illegal mistreatment is blatant, such as bullying and inappropriate remarks. But it can also be done through much more subtle means, like removal of responsibilities, being taken off projects or sidelined, exclusion from important meetings, or old-fashioned favoritism.
We all know what’s coming. As the economy is disrupted, companies are going to be forced to start eliminating employees. So, keep your eyes and ears open and watch out for anything that seems wrong. Did an entire project get cancelled or an entire team laid off? That kind of activity might be perfectly legal. However, does it seem like only the older employees or those with medical conditions are suffering the consequences? Has your multi-gendered and multi-national team suddenly become, well, a lot less diverse? These types of selective actions could be crossing a line into illegal territory.
Are you being denied rights that you are entitled to, particularly medical leave or accommodations?
The headlines are warning us that a huge percentage of the population should expect to catch COVID-19, a/k/a Coronavirus. This means that an even larger number of people can expect to be impacted by the virus, including if family members get sick.
If you or an immediate family member gets sick, you may be entitled to take medical leave while your job is protected – meaning, you cannot be demoted or fired. Federally, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees employees up to 12 weeks of leave per year if you’ve been an employee for at least one year and worked a minimum of 1,250 hours over the prior year. FMLA leave is unpaid, which means your employer is not required to pay you while you are on leave, but is required to hold your job for you until you return. Any negative impact on your job, such as by giving your work away or demoting you because you took leave, is illegal.
In Connecticut, this protection is expanded to 16 weeks of leave for any employee who works 1,000 hours during the prior year. In New York, since 2018, employees may be entitled to up to 10 weeks of paid family leave, up to 60% of their average weekly pay. This is one of the strongest protections in the country.
Can you take FMLA leave any time you or a family member gets sick? For a simple illness, such as a cold or the flu, the answer is usually no. However, you are entitled to leave for any “serious health condition,” which is defined as “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition” which involves “inpatient care” or “continuing treatment by a health care provider.” Sound confusing? It is. Put quite simply, it’s not a black-and-white rule about when legal protections kick in for any individual medical situation. The bottom line is that if you, or a family member, has a medical problem that requires repeated, or ongoing, medical treatment, you probably qualify for protected leave.
It’s also important to know that individuals can take this medical leave in pieces, or “chunks.” This is called “intermittent leave.” What this means is that if you qualify for leave, but you can work sometimes, you can still be eligible for the protections provided under these laws, most importantly that you cannot be fired or demoted while utilizing your leave. This is extremely important for people who have ongoing medical conditions that require short periods of treatment.
Lastly, every employee with a medical issue should understand how the law defines “disability” and what an “accommodation” is. Legally speaking, disabilities can be temporary! You can be legally disabled if you have a medical condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” and “major life activities” includes working. Of course, this means that many people who qualify for FMLA medical leave will also qualify under the law as disabled.
So, what protections do you have if you are legally disabled? A complete answer here would require far more space and time than I’m tackling in this article. However, the short answer is that your employer is required to cooperate with you so that you can do your job. In legal terms, this is called an “accommodation.” If you can do your job with a reasonable accommodation, then it is illegal for your employer to fire you, demote you, or do anything else to hurt your employment.
Just like with medical leave, it’s different for each person. However, an example how these legal systems work might be something like this – Person A contracts Coronavirus. Unfortunately, person A has the aggressive symptoms of the virus and needs to be hospitalized for a week, and then required to quarantine at home for a few more weeks. While they are hospitalized, Person A would be entitled to FMLA (and state) leave while they are in the hospital, and, most likely, while they have to self-quarantine at home. At the same time, Person A would most likely also qualified as disabled. This means Person A would have the following protections: the employer has to hold Person A’s job while person A is out, and, while Person A is recovering, the employer is required to offer Person A accommodations so that Person A can do Person A’s job. In other words, Person A cannot be fired, and must be given options to enable Person A to perform the job.
The takeaway here is to know your rights and stand up for yourself! Don’t expect your HR department to know the law or give you good advice. Even the most well intentioned employers or human resources people often don’t know how this process works, or what they are legally required to provide to you. You need to speak to an employment attorney to get the right advice, especially now during this Coronavirus pandemic.
If you have questions or concerns about this article, please contact one of our employment attorneys at Carey & Associates, P.C. at 203-255-4150 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Carey
Sexual Orientation discrimination is being argued today before the United States Supreme Court in the combined cases of Bostock v. Clayton County George and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda. The Court is also holding argument in a similar transgender discrimination case of Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC. The trio of cases are as important as the same sex marriage equality issue ratified by the Court in Obergefell v. Hodges. These cases are history in the making and I predict the Court will hold that sexual orientation discrimination and discrimination based on transgender status constitute sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because adverse employment decisions discriminating against the LGBTQ community are being made “because of sex” of the employee.
The controversy around the cases has more to do with “perceived politics” infecting the bench than whether sexual orientation discrimination falls within current federal law “because of sex”, which it does. Although the Court’s majority now leans to the conservative side, the Court cannot ignore prior precedent written by Justice Scalia in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services. In Oncale, the Court held,
“Courts and juries have found the inference of discrimination easy to draw in most male-female sexual harassment situations, because the challenged conduct typically involves explicit or implicit proposals of sexual activity; it is reasonable to assume those proposals would not have been made to someone of the same sex. The same chain of inference would be available to a plaintiff alleging same-sex harassment, if there were credible evidence that the harasser was homosexual. But harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire to support an inference of discrimination on the basis of sex. A trier of fact might reasonably find such discrimination, for example, if a female victim is harassed in such sex-specific and derogatory terms by another woman as to make it clear that the harasser is motivated by general hostility to the presence of women in the workplace. A same-sex harassment plaintiff may also, of course, offer direct com-parative evidence about how the alleged harasser treated members of both sexes in a mixed-sex workplace. Whatever evidentiary route the plaintiff chooses to follow, he or she must always prove that the conduct at issue was not merely tinged with offensive sexual connotations, but actually constituted ‘discrimina[tion] … because of … sex.’”
The Court does record oral arguments and posts them to the Court’s website at the end of each argument week. I encourage you to listen to the case, especially because the Trump Administration is arguing that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation discrimination, even though the U.S. EEOC has ruled that it does fall within the statute.
If you would like more information about sexual orientation discrimination and transgender discrimination, please contact employment attorney Mark Carey at 203-255-4150 or email@example.com.
By Jill Halper
Interestingly, although I have subtitled this article “Are YOU a #MeToo?”, a much more fitting and powerful subtitle would have been “Is it #Time’s Up For Your Employer?” I did not chose that subtitle, because I, like many, have always used the hashtag terms interchangeably and was not focused on any distinguishable meanings between the two phrases. Admittedly, even as an established employment attorney, I was not as up as I should have been on the subtle yet ever so important difference these two viral hashtags and relied solely on #MeToo in reference to my clients’ sexual harassment claims and experiences.
#Times Up Relates to Employment Only
However, as the number of incoming phone calls involving sexual harassment cases began to soar at my firm, it was time for me to dig deeper and contemplate the nuances in the social media phenomena. While I was well versed on the law, I needed to now be equally schooled in the sexual harassment social media vernacular and how I could use it to my clients’ best advantage. And that is when I learned that #MeToo is relevant to all victims and survivors of sexual harassment of any type, in any environment, while #Times Up is specifically meant to address sexual harassment IN THE WORKPLACE!
To further explain the difference between these two hashtags, #MeToo is a movement that deals generally with sexual violence and provides a platform and voice for ending sexual violence and for survivors of sexual violence. The #MeToo movement had been around for years before it started gaining national attention after allegations of sexual harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein captured the headlines. The movement was created in order to encourage “millions to speak out about sexual violence and harassment”, according to the #MeToo website, and to promote healing and empowerment. To say it has been successful in this initiative, is an understatement. In contrast, #Time’s Up was founded on the premise that everyone, every human being, deserves a right to earn a living and to provide for themselves and their families, free of the impediments of harassment and sexual assault and discrimination at work. #Time’s Up is specifically focused on workplace issues involving fairness, safety and equity in the workplace. As such, #Time’s up was meant to indicate to an employer guilty of such behavior that their time is up and action will be taken. BINGO!
As a result of this simple, yet vital distinction between the underlying purposes of these two hashtags, imagine how powerful and compelling it would be to have an employer receive a formal letterhead communication from our firm with the phrase #TIMES UP _______(INSERT NAME OF EMPLOYER HERE) printed in bold large font at the top of a sexual harassment claims letter, on behalf of one of our clients. That is exactly what we do and needless to say, it is most effective.
What Is Sexual Harassment In the Workplace?
But let’s take a step back and first understand if you might have a sexual harassment case in the first place. In order to get a better grasp on that, here is your sexual harassment made simple tutorial. Harassment in the workplace is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the laws in many states, including, Connecticut and New York. According to The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. The law defines sexual harassment as unwelcome verbal, visual, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex, that it is severe or pervasive, creating a hostile working environment or affecting working conditions. This definition covers a wide range of unwanted comments and behaviors directed towards the victim, but the acts will usually be of a sexually charged tenor, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal comments or physical harassment of a sexual nature. In a workplace context, the victim may not only be an employee, but also an applicant. In addition, both victim and the harasser may be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser may even be the same sex. Lastly, the harasser may be a manager, supervisor or person in power, a colleague or co-worker, or even a vendor. In any of those scenarios, the employer may be found liable if they caused the behavior, knew about the behavior and did not take steps to correct and stop it, or if they should have known through the exercise of reasonable care. Lastly, employers should have strong written policies in place against sexual harassment and clear procedures set forth for reporting and addressing sexual harassment. In fact, in some states, including Connecticut, employers of a certain size, are required to provide sexual harassment training for supervisors.
Despite these general guidelines and laws, sexual harassment can take many forms and courts have interpreted what constitutes sexual harassment on a case by case basis. As such, if you feel or believe that you have been a victim of any behavior in the workplace, by anyone in the workplace, that may be sexual harassment, we encourage you to seek counsel immediately as there are statutory deadlines within which claims must be filed. We will listen to and analyze your fact pattern, in order to determine whether you might have sound legal grounds for a sexual harassment claim. It is too often the case where if something feels wrong, it is wrong, and we urge you to speak up and make this right for yourself and others.
Start Your Own Investigation: Documents and a Written Narrative
Along with seeking immediate counsel, we also instruct you to maintain a narrative of everything that takes place, including dates, times and witnesses, and to also maintain copies of all written and verbal communications between you and the harasser/employer. In addition, it is crucial to report the harassment to your employer’s Human Resources department as well as to your direct boss or supervisor.
Increased Number of Sexual Harassment Claims Filed
It is no surprise that with the #MeToo and #Time’s Up movement, the amount of sexual harassment cases has greatly increased in the past year. The data in Connecticut mirrors national trends. The EEOC’s 2018 sexual harassment data shows more than a 50% increase in suits challenging sexual harassment over 2017. Charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12% over the same time period. Anecdotal information regarding the number of sexual harassment complaints filed with the Connecticut Human Right’s Office (CHRO) in the current year suggests an even more dramatic rise in the number of these claims in the first half of 2019. No doubt, the increase in sexual harassment claims and complaints based on sex discrimination coincides with the explosion of media headlines and high profile sexual harassment cases which sparked the #MeToo movement.
The simple fact is that sexual harassment is against the law and should not to be tolerated anywhere, but particularly in the workplace where employees should have the right to do their jobs and earn their livings free from abuse, discrimination, and mistreatment. Just because Connecticut does not generate the type of celebrity fueled headlines seen in other large cities, does not mean we do not have our share of victims, and in fact the data above shows that we do.
If you believe you are the victim of sexual harassment, it might be time to have us put your employer on notice that their TIME IS UP and seek to help you recover monetary damages relative to your legal claims for sexual harassment and discrimination. Feel free to contact us at the number below, if you believe you have been subject to sexual harassment situation at work, or for any of your workplace needs.
No one discusses the psychology of work and the enormous role it plays in your everyday life. I have researched and watched this issue for more than twenty years, from discrimination bias to contract negotiation. I comb through client fact patterns looking for every psychological angle emanating from all the cast of characters in order to position the client to achieve success or to resolve a dispute.
Why aren’t you doing this?
The Psychology of Your Manager
I know you think you know your manager, but I doubt you really know how your manager thinks and what motivates them. Psychology plays a direct and important role in such things as how your manager makes decisions regarding what jobs or tasks to assign employees and your career advancement. Managers evaluate employee strengths and weaknesses, i.e. perceived psychology, and selectively assign tasks. Employees are also chosen to advance based on their perceived psychology about whether they will be effective in handling the responsibilities of the new position.
If you are blind to the role of psychological analysis, get your head out of the sand and in the game!
Think of your job like a chess or strategy game, you need to consider every conceivable variable that will impact your chosen goals, both positively and negatively. If you are not evaluating your opponent, i.e. your boss or coworker, you will not advance in your current position or your career. I am not asking you to confront your boss with your new found psychological intelligence, keep it to yourself and use it to guide you when making critical decisions to your benefit. Successful employees and executives do this every day.
Here is what to look for when evaluating your boss’s psychology in order to gain an advantage:
(1) Evaluate facial and body cues that may show a degree of nervousness or over aggressive micromanaging (polar opposites), facial and body cues are one of the most important signals to read when assessing your opponent.
(2) Examine the person’s prior work conduct toward yourself and other employees and the reaction those individuals had in relation to the decision being made. Was there a consistent logic flow or arbitrary selection decision making process without basis?
(3) Go beyond the email language and check if the person really intended what was stated, email can be misleading.
(4) Examine the individuals the person promotes and if they are a logical fit or the result of office favoritism and worse, discrimination.
(5) Examine the potential for personal issues being brought to the office and determine if they are playing a role in the person’s work life.
This list is by no means exhaustive of the possible variables impacting your opponent’s decision making.
The Psychology of Your Coworkers and Yourself
When you arrive at work, you walk into an office workspace filled with a multitude of personal psychologies. There is no control other than the corporate mind speak dished out by the company or what you believe the proper protocol to acting professional is. There is no discussion about how to manage yourself or others while at work. Sure, there are rules regarding behavior, but in reality, employees are thrown into the workplace and are just expected to know how to act and react moment by moment.
Short of being fired for poor misconduct, how do you navigate the psychological warfare of the office?
The solution is to become aware or mindful of your interactions with co-workers, including supervisors, especially when you are having a bad day. Take a week and just observe the behaviors of others but don’t be reactive, just observe. While you’re observing various office behavior, listen to your inner voice, you know the voice that is talking inside your head right now as you read this. The more you become aware of this inner voice, the more self-control you will have during moments you need it most. That inner voice is the reactive brain and not your conscious brain, it just keeps on talking at you over and over all day long. Listen to your conscious brain, the one you make decisions with and the one you use to learn new information. Notice that the conscious brain does not ramble on at you, it is more concise and logical, not dramatic and overblown.
Another method of handling the office psychology is to observe the expectations you set for yourself and others. Stop working from those expectations and focus on the current issue you are experiencing. Your own expectations may be causing the problem you may be experiencing but you just don’t know it. We pre-imagine how events in our work life should result, but we never really think about how we created those expectations in the first place. When the crap hits the fan and our expectations are dashed, we tend to blame ourselves or others in a knee-jerk reaction. We never stop to think about our own thought processes, we just accepted what our mind (inner voice vs. conscious mind) said to us.
As employment attorneys, we confront the end product of psychology in the workplace and are requested to find solutions.
Many women are passed over for promotions and raises when they become pregnant. Part 2 of this series examines the subtle sidelining of pregnant women and mothers in corporate America. Guests: Natalie Kitroeff, who covers the economy for The New York Times, and Erin Murphy, who alleges that she was denied opportunities by her employer, Glencore, once she became a mother. For more information on today’s episode.
The issue of pregnancy discrimination at work will not go away…unless you raise your voice and stop remaining silent. Erin Murphy chose to speak out. We should all speak out and end this devastating form of discrimination. We all came from someone. Would you treat your mother like Erin Murphy was treated by Glencore.
To read Erin Murphy’s June 18, 2018 federal complaint against her current employer Glencore click here Murphy Complaint As Filed 6.18.18
If you need help with your employer because you are experiencing pregnancy discrimination, contact us.
We all build relationships based on trust. Some relationships require more trust than others. For example, marriage, medical professionals and hiring lawyers. We all take the time to explore whether these relationships are the right fit for us. We even memorialize these important, sometimes life-changing, relationships with contractual agreements. But when it comes to the relationship with your employer, you might as well start hand feeding piranhas.
Meet Your Antagonist: Your Employer
An antagonist is someone who actively opposes or is hostile to another; an adversary. Does this describe your current or former employer? In my role as the employment attorney, I do not hear very many people say they trust their employers. In fact, the opposite is true. According to a Harvard Business Review article, “In both your personal life and your work life, you’re bound to encounter people who take advantage of you, and these painful experiences can make you cynical.”
You have several reasons to be cynical about your employment relationship. Your employer is not interested in whether you are happy at work, fulfilled in your career aspirations, concerned about your personal responsibilities at work or anything remotely realistic to a nurturing relationship. In fact many employees have a low level of trust in their employers. The 2016 Trust Barometer report from Edelman revealed that a third of employees do not trust their employers. Employees reported a lack of engagement, short term profit seeking, lack of belief in the company mission, poor product quality, unethical behavior, bad corporate reputation, invisible CEOs and lack of corporate communication to employees.
At-will Employment is Bad for You
When you are employed at-will, as most of you are, you might as well be on a first date for the next several years. You would think that after knowing your employer for three or more years, you’d just settle down and get engaged to be married. However this is not so. Unless you have a coveted and rare employment contract with a “for cause” termination provision, your employer can bounce you with little or no notice. Many of you have felt this scorned feeling from prior jobs. So where is the trust in the at-will workplace if you can never predict your future with a reasonable certainty on a day-to-day basis? There is none. Ouch!
Somehow, we have just grown accustomed to this dysfunctional at-will relationship and let employers manipulate us with unenforced corporate codes of conduct, lofty corporate double speak and fear.
Management by Fear Does Not Create Trust
The most common corporate management practice today is to maintain a consistent level of passive-aggressive practices which propagate employee fear and insecurity. From my vantage point, I see a persistent pattern by employers accusing employees of subjective performance issues while their objective performance criteria are “meets” or “exceeds expectation”. Employers use performance management techniques such as performance improvement plans and coaching to force out undesirable employees. No one ever remains long after being managed this way. I also see cases of overt ruthless conduct, where a supervisor discriminates against pregnant employees as having “baby brain.” Saying things like, “I don’t want another woman working on the desk” or “If you’re being honest with yourself, do you really think you could do this job?” And the comments get even worse. “I don’t want to hear any complaining from you, you and [spouse] did this to yourselves.” Only a supervisor with intentions to rid themselves of pregnant employees will make discriminatory statements like this to push the employee to quit out of fear of reprisal.
Discrimination Does Not Create Trust
The absence of trust becomes more noticeable when employees experience discrimination in the workplace or need to take time off due to health issues affecting themselves or a family member. For these employees, their career with their particular employer has taken an abrupt turn for the worse.
For example, you become pregnant while employed and take a maternity/paternity leave under company policy and FMLA. When you return, your job duties have changed and so has the person you reported to. Pregnancy discrimination is one of the most perverse examples of a lack of trust an employee can encounter. The employer has a maternity leave policy and you take a leave under said policy with no resistance. However, upon returning to work you face pregnancy discrimination when your employment is terminated. The employer will jump at an opportunity to replace you rather than reinstate you. We would all agree, this is not an ideal trust building experience at any company, yet pregnancy discrimination continues to persist.
If you complain to your employer about issues of discrimination or whistle blowing, you will immediately cause your employer not to trust you. You have a legal and moral right to complain about these issues, but do not expect reciprocation from your employer. You just threw yourself off or under the company bus. This equals your spouse cheating on you and then pointing the finger at you as the cause for why they had the affair. Your employer’s Human Resources Department will not help you when you are down and have complaints about coworkers or your supervisor. I am sure the folks in HR are nice people, but their “job” is to protect the employer, not you! Don’t make the mistake in confiding with human resource personnel, unless absolutely necessary to build a case for retaliation.
Arbitration and Noncompete Agreements Don’t Create Trust
Arbitration and non-competition agreements and employer trust are like oil and water with a sprinkling of gasoline for added flare. The U.S. Supreme Court’s further endorsement of employer arbitration agreements cemented in stone the future of employee litigation and the permanent role of arbitration in your career. Listen, don’t be fooled, arbitration agreements are bad for you, your rights, your claims, the economy and are only good for employers. Noncompetition agreements are even a better example of a lack of employer trust. When your employer is finished with you and terminates your employment, they sink a big fishing hook in you and reel you back in at their whim each time you land a new position. The employer cries foul, complaining you are single handedly destroying the company via working for the competitor. These two forms of employment agreements represent the worst in every company that mandates them. An arbitration agreement is a tool to conceal bad corporate acts from employment attorneys like myself and non-competition agreements are used to threaten competitive employers in the market place.
Rise Up and Demand More Trust
It is time to call an end to bad corporate practices- the deceit, the greed, the lies and the double speak. Employees should demand more from their employers. Rise up and unite together and tell your employer you would trust them only if they demonstrated trust to you first. Trust begets trust.
Have questions or think you’ve been discriminated against at work? Let our employment law attorney’s help you get justice. Get in touch today!
Central to any present-day discussion of pregnancy discrimination is the issue of lactation and nursing moms in the workplace. The practice of breastfeeding has expanded in recent years and various legal issues have accompanied this development.
The law is designed to protect moms who breastfeed in almost all 50 states, Connecticut included.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148, known as the “Affordable Care Act”) amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to require employers to provide, “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”
Employers must provide as many breaks as are needed by the employee. Employers are also required to provide, “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
Therefore, the Federal statute ensures that employers provide nursing employees with a time and a space to “express milk” if there is an employee with this need and the employer is made aware of the need. Moreover, all employers covered by the FLSA must comply with the break time and private place provision for nursing mothers. Small businesses with less than 50 employees, who are not covered by the FLSA may be exempt from the FLSA provisions if they can demonstrate that compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship.
How does all of this apply to employers and nursing employees in Connecticut?
The FLSA requirements for nursing mothers to express breast milk does not preempt state laws. And in fact, state law in Connecticut actually provides greater protections to nursing employees. The Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition joined with the Departments of Public Health and Labor, and the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities to create the, “Guide to Connecticut Breastfeeding Nondiscrimination and Workplace Accommodation Laws.” A closer look at the guide and the law in CT will show CT to be a state that gives great deference to, and places high public importance on, the protection of breastfeeding moms in the workplace.
Michele Griswold, chairperson of the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition said, “Most people want mothers and infants to be healthy, but not all understand the connection between breastfeeding and improved health outcomes. Taking steps to remove barriers for breastfeeding mothers and their children is a win-win situation for everyone. Increased breastfeeding rates ultimately mean healthier communities.”
Specifically, in the state of Connecticut, ALL businesses, regardless of the size, must provide breastfeeding protection in the workplace. Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 31-40 (along with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, amending Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act) requires employers to provide a reasonable amount of time each day to an employee who needs to breastfeed or express breast milk for her infant child and to provide accommodations where an employee can do so in private. And these CT laws apply to all businesses in CT regardless of their size or number of employees.
Sec. 31-40 entitled CT Breastfeeding in the Workplace reads as follows:
(a) Any employee may, at her discretion, express breast milk or breastfeed on site at her workplace during her meal or break period. CT case law has expanded this provision to mean, when possible this milk expressing activity should occur on your meal or other work break, but if it occurs at another time the employer is not obligated to pay you during the pumping break.
(b) An employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall, where the employee can express her milk in private.
(c) An employer shall not discriminate against, discipline or take any adverse employment action against any employee because such employee has elected to exercise her rights under subsection (a) of this section.
(d) As used in this section, “employer” means a person engaged in business who has one or more employees, including the state and any political subdivision of the state; “employee” means any person engaged in service to an employer in the business of the employer; “reasonable efforts” means any effort that would not impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business; and “undue hardship” means any action that requires significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to factors such as the size of the business, its financial resources and the nature and structure of its operation.
This requirement in CT is a much harder standard to meet than the Federal statute as it defines undue hardship as posing a, “significant difficulty” for the employer.
It is also important to note that whereas the Federal statute defines the protected activity as “expressing milk” in the workplace, the State of CT law is unique in that it protects and allows mothers to actually breastfeed their babies in the workplace, and/or express milk/pump.
If you are a mother returning to work after pregnancy and believe that your employer is failing to provide you with the breastfeeding protection you are owed under Federal and State law, please feel free to reach out to the employment lawyers at Carey & Associates, P.C. for help in this area, or for help with any other matters involving pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
Remember: A CT business is not permitted to discriminate against, discipline or take any adverse employment action because you’ve elected to exercise your right to breastfeed or express milk at work.
Reports have shown that pregnant women and new mothers are suffering increasing levels of unfair treatment at work, including cuts to their work hours, zero-hour contracts or even undergoing forced removal from their jobs.
Laws Protecting Pregnant Employees
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 ensures that pregnant employees or “women affected by childbirth,” are treated the same as childless workers. In addition to federal laws protecting pregnant employees from discrimination and ensuring that they receive family leave benefits, many states and localities also have passed laws giving additional protections and rights to pregnant employees.
Most states have passed laws requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act was recently amended, making it unlawful for an employer to refuse reasonable accommodations for an employee due to her pregnancy or to limit, segregate, or classify her in a way that would deprive her of employment opportunities due to pregnancy. The law also expands the definition of “pregnancy” to include related post-pregnancy conditions, such as lactation (PA 17-118).
What is Pregnancy Discrimination
The term, “pregnancy discrimination” is deceptive. Courts are only just beginning to define the parameters of what can be considered “on the basis of pregnancy.” Although a pregnancy itself is limited in time to a discrete period, the discrimination faced by a pregnant woman often continues long after the birth of her baby.
Federal law and the antidiscrimination laws of most states consider pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions, such as lactation, to be protected. But the definition becomes more blurred, for example, in the context of a mother returning to work from maternity leave, only to find out that she has been demoted or placed in a new position.
Sometimes an employer’s discriminatory action won’t take place for months, or even years, following an employee’s pregnancy. Years after her pregnancy, a female employee will notice that she is repeatedly passed over for promotions. Despite her hard work and positive performance, her male and childless coworkers are given opportunities that she is not.
This phenomenon has been dubbed, the “motherhood penalty,” and is extremely common in today’s workplace. According to recent studies, about three quarters of working mothers say they have experienced discrimination in the workplace.
Research shows that mothers are significantly less likely than either childless women, or fathers with identical qualifications, to get interviews. In addition, regardless of whether women work less after having children, employers pay them significantly less over time, assuming they will be less committed. When mothers do cut back their work hours, their pay is disproportionately reduced.
Consider two specific examples of discrimination on the basis of motherhood responsibilities;
New Supervisor Syndrome – A working mother performs well and has no significant problems at work until her supervisor changes. The new supervisor cancels her flexible work arrangement, changes her shifts, or imposes new productivity requirements. On occasion, the new supervisors will even make comments indicating that these actions have been taken specifically to push mothers out. In other instances, a working mother may be targeted for termination under the biased belief that she is not as committed to her job or as productive as other employees who are not female and do not have childcare responsibilities.
Second Child Bias – Some mothers have reported experiencing little discrimination until they become pregnant with their second child. After informing her employer of her second pregnancy, a working mother is suddenly faced with questions about whether she intends to return to work after maternity leave and how she can continue working with two children. Some supervisors openly counsel women who are pregnant with their second child to stay at home, deny promotions or other opportunities, treat them rudely or ignore them, or make the work vs. home decision for them by terminating them. The assumption behind these actions appears to be that a mother can handle one child and work, but two is too much. www.worklifelaw.org/pubs/FRDupdate2016.pdf
Defining Motherhood Discrimination
Not neatly categorized as pregnancy or gender discrimination, motherhood discrimination occurs when an employee suffers an adverse employment action based on unexamined biases about how female workers with childcare responsibilities will or should act, without regard to her actual performance or preferences.
Discrimination based motherhood often occurs in the context of failure to hire or to promote, demotion, transfer to dead-end jobs, removal of sales territory or responsibility, increase or strict enforcement of goals for mothers but not others, discipline for actions that do not result in discipline for non-mothers, humiliation or harassment, selection for layoff despite seniority and strong performance and termination for reasons that are not accurate or legitimate.
No federal or Connecticut statute expressly prohibits employment discrimination or retaliation based on motherhood responsibilities. In many situations, a court will rely on laws regarding pregnancy discrimination in analyzing a claim more aptly categorized as, “motherhood responsibilities discrimination.” A working mother may prevail by showing, for example, that because of her pregnancy, she was treated differently from employees who had not been pregnant. Sometimes, the difference in treatment occurs after she returns from maternity leave, based on her employer’s assumption that because her childcare responsibilities will impact her work.
Gender discrimination laws have also been used in analyzing claims of motherhood discrimination. Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities alone, but rather “gender plus” an additional status, in this case, childcare giver.
“Sex plus” or “gender plus” discrimination, involves a policy or practice by which an employer classifies employees on the basis of sex plus another characteristic. It is actionable under Title VII, state law, and the Equal Protection Clause, which forbids sex discrimination regardless of how it is labeled, as long as there is evidence of purposefully sex-discriminatory acts. Back v. Hastings On Hudson Union Free Sch. Dist., 365 F.3d 107 (2d Cir. 2004).
The “sex plus” framework was used to analyze a female employee’s claim that her employer failed to promote her because of a sex-based stereotype that women who are mothers neglect their jobs in favor of their presumed child care responsibilities. Chadwick v. WellPoint, Inc., 561 F.3d 38 (1st Cir. 2009)
Such cases rest on the presumption that, “unlawful sex discrimination occurs when an employer takes an adverse job action on the assumption that a woman, because she is a woman, will neglect her job responsibilities in favor of her presumed childcare responsibilities.” Id at 44–45.
In accordance with Title VII, women have, “the right to prove their mettle in the work arena without the burden of stereotypes regarding whether they can fulfill their responsibilities.” Gingras v. Milwaukee County, 127 F. Supp. 3d 964, 975 (E.D. Wis. 2015).
If you feel that as a working mother, you have been the victim of discrimination by your employer, an employment attorney can help you determine what recourse may be available.
Get in touch today!
Carey & Associates, P.C., employment attorneys, can be reached at (203) 255-4150.
If you work in Connecticut, there are facts you need to know about when it comes to your employment rights. In this post we’ll cover the top 10 things you need to know as an employee in CT.
1. Employers Can Give Bad References, Just Not False Ones
Employers no longer give references for former employees, so stop worrying. Employers fear being sued for defamation or claims for negligent hire. The majority if not all employers will provide prospective employers and their recruiters with your dates of employment, position, and possibly salary. The employer will not provide the reason(s) for termination. However, if you hear your former employer said they would not recommend for rehire, that is code language that you are a poor employee. The only exception I can think of is if you and your employer are FINRA registered members, i.e. brokerages and licensed employees in the financial industry. FINRA regulated employers are required to provide the reason for termination in the employee’s U-5 record.
2. Connecticut Employees Allowed 16 Weeks Unpaid FMLA Leave
Under the Connecticut Family Leave Act, employees are entitled to take up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave. Connecticut law provides for an additional 4 weeks on top of the federal FMLA (12). Employees should ask there employers if they have short term disability benefits to coincide with the 16 weeks of leave. A typical STD plan provides for six months of paid leave at 60% of the employees base pay. Nothing is guaranteed, and the employer will not volunteer the information. Employees in need of a leave of absence must self-advocate for their rights and document all their requests in writing. Remember, your job is protected during the FMLA, but if you fail to return before your leave ends, you will lose your job.
3. Connecticut Employees Have a Right to Personnel Files
Connecticut employees are entitled to a complete and accurate copy of their personnel files, including a copy of their supervisor’s version of their file. All the employee has to do is make a written request via email to the HR department and the employer must provide a copy of the file within 30 days. If the employer refuses, please contact the CT Department of Labor and register a complaint.
4. An Unfair Employment Termination is Not Necessarily Illegal
Listen, employers can be really mean and behave in very unfriendly ways. However, just because the employer is a pain in the butt and trying to make your life miserable, this does not mean the employer’s actions are illegal. Employers do not care about employees, so get over it. Your job cannot be your identity. You are an “at will” employee and you should never assume your job is secure, even if you worked for the company for 10 years. In order to determine if your employer’s action to terminate you were illegal, you would need to speak to our employment attorneys. A quick 15 minute call to our office will flesh out the legal issues and permit us to determine if you were fired unlawfully.
5. Independent Contractors Have Rights Too
You may not know it, but if you are an independent contractor you are still protected against unlawful employment actions such as discrimination. You should also investigate if your employer is correctly classifying you as an independent contractor (IRS Form 1099) or regular employee (IRS Form W-2). We see a lot of employees misclassified as independent contractors when they should be regular workers. Employees fear challenging the employer on this classification because they believe they will lose their contract. If you are in doubt, call the CT Department of Labor or call our office to speak with an employment attorney. Also search the internet in Connecticut for the “ABC Test for Independent Contractors.” You can also search the IRS.gov website for the same information.
6. The Legal Effect of Quitting Your Job
Don’t ever quit your job! You cannot collect unemployment benefits. Also, it is too difficult to prove your voluntary job termination was a “constructive discharge”. The facts must show a series of recent events that violate state and federal law and that any reasonable person would also quit. If you are in a tight bind where your employer is giving you the writing on the wall treatment to get out, speak to an employment attorney in our office first. We will deter you from quitting and will advise you to leave your job through the signing of a separation agreement which includes a severance payment for your service with the company as a result of unlawful treatment.
7. Employees with Criminal Records Are Protected
Under Connecticut law, employers cannot refuse to hire or terminate an employee because of a criminal record. Obviously, each case is different, so you will need to contact an employment attorney in our office to figure out if you are protected.
8. You May Have a Legal Right to Severance Pay
Employees employed in Connecticut may have a legal right to severance pay. If the employer maintains a severance plan governed by ERISA (federal regulation), employees working in Connecticut are considered participants and entitled to severance pay pursuant to the plan document. The one condition to receive severance pay set forth in every ERISA severance plan is that the employee must signed a general release of claims. How do you know you company has a severance plan? You can check your internal human resource portal or employee handbook. All ERISA severance plans have to be filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. Years ago I found this free website where you can research your employer. Insert the employer’s name in the site and go through the various plans listed. You are looking for a plan labeled with the word “severance” in it. The plan severance plan code is “4i”. If you find it listed, then you know a severance plan exists. Once you have identified your employer’s severance plan, make a written request to the Human Resources Department for a copy of the severance plan. The HR Department has a legal obligation to provide a copy of the severance plan within 30 days of your written request. You will find in the plan the amount of severance pay based on your years of service with the employer. Don’t leave money on the table, but chances are the employer will remind you about your benefits, as they have a fiduciary obligation to you as a plan participant. If you need a severance attorney, call our office and speak with one of our employment attorneys.
9. How to Predict When You Are Getting Fired
Hmmm, try your gut instinct. Are you getting the awful feeling that your boss and coworkers have turned on you? You may have been a satisfactory performer last year, but this year your rating sunk or needs improvement. Or, you made a complaint to your supervisor or HR about your wages or unlawful discriminatory treatment, and suddenly your once friendly work place is not so friendly. Maybe you just announced you are four months pregnant and you are getting the cold shoulder. Worse, your supervisor makes pregnancy related comments and jokes. Finally, if your coworkers and/or supervisors are openly hostile with you and use derogatory language directed at your gender, sexual orientation, race or age, then you know the crap just hit the fan and you need to speak to one of our employment attorneys.
10. Don’t Sign Anything When You Get Fired
Isn’t this obvious? You should never sign anything when you leave your job. You should also not participate in any exit interview with the HR Department. No state or federal law mandates your participation in the exit interview. What you need to do is speak with an employment attorney in our office who will figure out if the termination was lawful and whether the employer acted unlawfully prior to the termination date, i.e. demotions, discrimination, etc.
If anything mentioned above sounds like your current situation, or if you find yourself there in the future, Carey & Associates, P.C. can help! Our firm specializes in employment, wrongful termination, discrimination, whistleblowing, and more.