Being the victim of workplace harassment, discrimination or unfair hiring or firing practices can leave you feeling helpless. The fear of losing your job by speaking out about your employer or co-workers can have a chilling effect, and allow wrongdoing in the workplace to go unchecked.
Living with the fear of being fired can cause emotional distress and other consequences. If you have already lost your job, you may feel despondent and embarrassed.
Please seek the help of a qualified Long Island employment law attorney to determine whether you may have a right to financial compensation or other damages. Your case may help to put a stop to a pervasive, continuing practice of abuse in your workplace.
The Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP has assisted individuals with employment law matters, and can help with discrimination, wrongful termination and other workplace matters. Below are some general answers to common questions about employment law.
What is workplace discrimination?
Discrimination in the workplace is defined by federal, state, and sometimes local laws. Generally speaking, it is unlawful for employers to make decisions about hiring, firing, job assignments, or job promotions based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, pregnancy or sexual orientation.
Which laws apply to your particular situation could depend on various factors such as who your employer is, where you work, and what type of work you do.
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What constitutes a wrongful termination?
If you are terminated from your job, and the employer’s decision to terminate you was based on race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, genetics, military status or domestic violence victim status, the termination may be unlawful.
It is also unlawful to fire a worker:
- In violation of a valid contract.
- Because a worker filed a workers’ compensation claim.
- If the worker participated in a complaint under a civil rights law.
- To avoid paying bonuses, benefits or other compensation that the worker has already earned.
- To intimidate other employees.
What are some examples of sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment in the workplace may involve a wide range of unwanted behavior, from comments or advances to actual sexual assault or abuse. In addition to the target of the comments, advances or abuse, the harassment may also affect others who were not the intended targets of such behaviors.
Some common examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include:
- Displaying inappropriate sexual images.
- Telling lewd jokes.
- Sending sexually suggestive notes, emails or letters.
- Sharing pornographic videos with co-workers.
- Making sexual comments about someone’s appearance or clothing.
- Asking sexual questions.
- Making comments about someone’s sexual orientation.
- Staring in sexually suggestive manner or whistling at someone.
The actor’s intent is not the issue as to whether the behavior is deemed to be sexual harassment. The law imposes a “reasonable person” standard, which means if an ordinary reasonable, prudent person in a like or similar circumstance would find the behavior offensive, then it is sexual harassment.
I’m afraid of filing a complaint for fear of losing my job, or being retaliated against at work. If I quit, can I collect unemployment?
You may very well be able to collect unemployment compensation if you voluntarily quit your job due to being a victim of sexual harassment. The law provides for those who must quit their jobs for “good cause” to collect unemployment benefits.
The best course of action to take would be to consult with a New York employment law attorney first, so that you can have some peace of mind knowing that you can leave your job and collect unemployment benefits while the sexual harassment case is pursued on your behalf.
What should I do if my employer has violated the FLSA?
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protects workers from various types of unfair treatment by employers related to minimum wages, overtime pay, recordkeeping, child labor, family leave and medical leave, protections for migrant workers, guest workers, construction contracts and other similar work-related issues. If your employer has failed to pay you as promised, fails to pay you extra wages for overtime, or designates you as an independent contractor when you are actually an employee, you may have the right to file a claim. Your first step is to connect with an attorney who can review your situation and advise you about how to pursue the money you are owed. In many cases, your attorney fees are paid upon winning the case, and it is well worth your while to get professional counsel to assist you.
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I reported my employer for illegal activities and am afraid that I will face repercussions. What are whistleblower protections?
Employers are prohibited from intimidating, threatening, blacklisting, firing or discriminating against any person who has acted as a whistleblower. You could have your job or pay reinstated, back wages paid and other legal remedies if you are facing retaliation for having reported your employer’s illegal activities.
As someone with a disability, am I legally protected in the workplace?
The FLSA authorizes employers who have gained the correct legal certification to pay special minimum wages to disabled workers. Workers with disabilities are also protected from discrimination by the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Based on the situation, there are various legal remedies that may be employed if you are a victim of discrimination, or have concerns about wages being paid at the correct level as determined by law.
How can a lawyer help me with my employment law claim?
The right attorney can make the difference between the success and failure of your claim. Every case is unique, and there are a number of laws and agencies that may be involved in sorting out your situation and getting justice. Some employment law matters will be resolved in civil court, specifically discrimination claims. These are cases in which an employee has suffered some form of discrimination that is prohibited, including discrimination based on religion, country of origin, sexual orientation, gender, age, or for being pregnant. Other cases may involve wage and hour claims. These matters are resolved through the U.S. Wage and Hour Division, a section of the U.S. Department of Labor. It is important that your rights are fully protected. A Long Island employment lawyer who is familiar with state and federal laws and agencies can take the right legal actions to help you pursue the maximum in compensation or other types of relief based upon the facts in your case.
What should I do if my employer retaliates against me?
Employers are specifically prohibited from retaliating against employees who have reported wrongdoing or illegal actions (whistleblowers), or have reported some type of discrimination to a manager, supervisor or owner. Unfortunately, some employers choose to retaliate by making up a reason to fire the employee who has made a complaint, reduce working hours or fail to give an expected raise or bonus as a “punishment.” These acts are all illegal, and employees who suffer this type of activity may have the right to seek justice and compensation. Your employee status may be restored, including your seniority, any lost wages, damages and your attorney fees could all be part of what is awarded to you.