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Long Island Employment Law Blog

Workplace harassment takes many forms

Some people may believe that sexual misconduct is the only type of harassment in the workplace. However, there are many ways in which New York employees can be harassed regardless of their status within the company. For instance, they could be verbally berated by their superiors in front of others within the company. Such actions are generally intended to normalize the behavior to warn others what could happen if they speak out against it.

If workers are unable to get colleague to engage in a sexual relationship, they may imply that doing so is in theirbest interest. If that fails, they may try to exert whatever power over them as they can. This may be especially true if the person engaging in the harassing behavior is the victim's supervisor or otherwise holds power within the company.

The subtle forms of workplace discrimination

According to a study released on March 21, workplace discrimination in New York and throughout the country may sometimes take subtle forms or may not be immediately recognizable until incidents begin to form a pattern. However, this degree of bias may still be enough to lead to a lawsuit. Researchers identified several different ways in which people were discriminated against at work because of factors such as disability, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and pregnancy, among others.

Some employees were criticized for qualities or behaviors that would have been desirable in other employees who were young, male or white. Employees also reported managers who seemed intent on finding fault with them. Others said that due to their age, race or other characteristics, they were not considered credible. In some workplaces, coworkers or managers made discriminatory comments about people who were not employees. Some workers tried to claim that discriminatory comments were a joke. Employees were sometimes excluded from social gatherings and meetings or from receiving necessary information.

Google accused of wage gap by DOL

New York residents may be aware of recent allegations of sexism and wage disparity in the tech sector. According to the Department of Labor, women who work at Google face systemic issues when it comes to how they are compensated compared to male employees. According to the DOL, the company has violated federal law by discriminating against female employees when it comes to pay.

According to a representative from the DOL, the pay disparities are present throughout the entire company. Another representative from the DOL said that while the investigation into the allegations against Google is not yet finished, there is compelling evidence to verify these accusations. In fact, it was noted that Google's actions were egregious even for a technology company. Since Google receives federal contracts, it is required to share data and information to ensure that it stays compliant with equal opportunity laws.

Supreme Court hears arguments on church-affiliated pensions

New York employees who work for church-affiliated organizations might be interested to know that a lawsuit has reached the Supreme Court about whether or not these organizations' pension plans qualify for a religious exemption. This would mean that the plans are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Lower courts have already unanimously ruled that they are not church plans and thus not exempt because a church does not maintain and did not establish them. Furthermore, employees say that due to the ERISA exemption, the plans are underfunded.

Around 1 million employees at three hospitals will be affected by the decision. If the ruling is not in the hospitals' favor, they may owe employee billions of dollars in penalties.

Minimum wage to increase in New York and elsewhere

Minimum wage workers in New York will see a rise in pay of up to $4,000 per year as a $15 minimum wage is phased in. It is one of a number of states throughout the country that have approved minimum wages increases, and the movement appears to be growing. Currently, more than 40 percent of employees in the country make less than $15 per hour.

Some states and communities have seen pushback against the increase. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a minimum wage increase in New Jersey, but the leading gubernatorial candidate in that state supports the increase. In Flagstaff, Arizona, voters approved the increase while business owners fought against it. However, the minimum wage there is now set to increase to $15.50 per hour. In a number of states including Illinois, Vermont and Massachusetts, there are also calls to raise the hourly wage.

Federal court recognizes sexual orientation discrimination

Although New York has state laws that prohibit discrimination against employees because of their sexual orientation, federal law has yet to adequately address the subject. A recent ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals broadened the interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to apply to people harmed by sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

Originally, the district court and a three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit ruled against a part-time professor at a community college who claimed that her employer denied her a full-time position because she was a lesbian. After requesting a hearing before the entire panel of circuit judges, her case gained a favorable ruling. On an 8-3 decision, the majority of judges held that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation fell within the scope of federal law that protected workers from sex discrimination.

Salary history questions banned for new hires

Individuals who are seeking employment in New York City may be interested to know that employers will be prohibited from asking job applicants to provide a salary history. On April 5, City Council members voted 47 to 3 to pass a measure that addresses the differences in wages earned by women and men. The measure is applicable only to new hires, and does not apply to existing employees applying for a promotion or transfer or to public employees with salaries dictated by collective bargaining agreements.

It bars employers in the private and public sectors from using an individual's salary history as a factor in determining a new salary offer. According to the council member who brought forth the measure, one underpaid position can lead to a lifetime of low pay. She and the other council member who sponsored the bill cited studies showing that women usually earn less than men, which results in them also being cheated in their retirement benefits.

Court orders employer to pay millions in wage and hour lawsuit

New York employees may be interested to learn that wage and hour claims have become increasingly more prominent. In many cases, the claims often involve improper classification of workers as independent contractors, meaning they are often ineligible to receive certain benefits. Other violations often include exempt status, improper break periods and improper wage statements.

One such nonexempt lawsuit occurred when a man who was hired to help maintain a shipyard in San Diego claimed that he was not provided with 30-minute lunch breaks as legally mandated. The employee claimed that, prior to being able to take their break, they would have to pass through a checkpoint. With 100 employees in line, this would cause a serious delay, preventing employees from being able to actually use their 30-minute breaks. Further, he claimed that the company required them to purchase clothing without reimbursement and that the wage statements given to him were inaccurate.

Employers cannot ask to see green cards

New York new hires should be aware that their employers are not legally allowed to ask for work authorization documents when verifying their employment status. This is due to the Immigration and Nationality Act which allows all workers to choose from an approved list the valid documentation that they want to provide to their employer.

A pizza franchise based in Miami found this out when the U.S. Department of Justice penalized the company for asking for specific verification documents. During an investigation, the department found that the pizzeria chains requested that permanent residents produce their permanent resident card, known as green cards, to prove that they could legally work. The case was resolved in March. Ultimately, the business agreed to pay $140,000 and will be subject to reporting and monitoring requirements.

Company investigations into sexual harassment claims

Some people in New York who face sexual harassment at work might find that if they attempt to go through the standard employer resolution process, the company might be more focused on protecting itself than on preventing the harassment. Many companies do not have clear policies in place to deal with sexual harassment. At worst, some companies' arbitration systems might even prevent employees from taking a case to court.

For example, Sterling Jewelers had a hotline for employees to report harassment. However, some employees reported that they thought calling the hotline would put their careers in jeopardy. Another company with a hotline allegedly admitted in court that its real purpose was to protect the company. In some cases, companies might use the hotlines to become aware of and prepare for potential legal action.

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