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Understanding what constitutes sexual harassment

The workplace should be a place that is safe and comfortable for everyone working there. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many people who suffer sexual harassment at the workplace. Sexual harassment is frequently misunderstood and many people may contribute to creating a hostile work environment for others simply because they do not understand what kinds of actions are included in the general term "sexual harassment."

The definition that is most commonly used to define sexual harassment is provided by the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The basic definition is "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" that occurs in at least one of three different situations. First, when the conduct unreasonably interferes with a person's performance of their job duties or causes a hostile work environment. Second, when an employee is required to submit or acquiesce to such conduct in order to maintain his or her employment. Lastly, when employment decisions are made based on how an employee reacts to such conduct.

House Committee Votes to Upend Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act

In January of 2015, newly elected DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser signed into law The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act. The Act broadened the definition of discrimination and made it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee who seeks contraception or family planning services. Under the Act, it would also be unlawful for an employer to discriminate based on the employee's decision to use medical treatments to either induce or terminate pregnancy. The Act, however, stalled under review by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who voted 20-16 to block the law. 

Health-care workers sue employers in D.C. wage and hour claim

When employees are denied the wages to which they are entitled, or the overtime pay which they have earned, their rights are being violated. Because of the power differential between employers and employees, however, many employees do not know how to effectively advocate for themselves and ensure that they receive fair pay for their work. Fortunately, there are many different laws that can help employees who have wage and hour claims. In some situations, when there are widespread violations, employees may band together to file a lawsuit against employers.

In Washington, D.C. a group of home health-care workers are suing their employers for wage theft and failure to pay overtime and sick pay. The agencies named in the lawsuit are Human Touch, T&N Nursing, Capitol View Home Health Agency, and VMT Home Health. According to the lawsuit, the wage theft and denial of overtime and sick pay occurred during a three-period when the agencies were paying the health-care workers less than the D.C-mandated living wage. The wage theft and denial of other pay allegedly occurred after an investigation revealed that some of the agencies were involved in a Medicaid scheme, resulting in the loss of Medicaid funding.

Protecting employee rights with education and effective advocacy

As an employee, you may hesitate to protect your rights at your workplace because of the risk of losing your job. For most people, their jobs are critically important, and they would face severe hardship from a sudden termination. However, no employee should hesitate to protect his or her rights in the workplace. The first step to adequately protecting yourself is understanding exactly what rights you have and how the federal and state laws can protect you and provide recourse.

Employee rights can be guaranteed by several different sources. Although federal and state laws provide specific mandates and restrict certain actions by employees, an employee may also have other rights that stem from a contract or employer agreement or even an employee handbook. If you feel that your rights have been violated, it is often important to go through the processes that have been established to deal with such situations. It is generally wise to consult employee handbooks and other workplace-specific documents to determine how the employer wants such situations to be addressed. These documents can provide valuable information that will enable employees to determine whether the employer itself is following the correct procedures and respecting employee rights.

What acts can constitute sexual harassment?

While most of us know that sexual harassment is not a good thing, many people in Washington, D.C., are not aware of what behavior constitutes unlawful sexual harassment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment as a form of unlawful sex discrimination. The law is applicable to places of employment that have 15 or more workers and this includes labor organizations, federal government jobs and employment agencies.

There are numerous ways in which sexual harassment can occur and it's not always the most obvious situations. Unlawful sexual harassment can include unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, physical and verbal activities that are considered sexual and other behaviors. If these interfere with the victim's work, the behavior may be deemed sexual harassment. The harasser isn't confined to a particular sex or sexual orientation. It can be male-female, female-male, male-male or female-female. The person committing the harassment can be a direct supervisor of the victim, an agent working for the employer, a supervisor in a separate area, a colleague or, in some cases, someone who doesn't even work at the business.

What is retaliation and can it constitute wrongful termination?

Employees in Washington, D.C. are generally considered to have employment at will. This means that an employee may leave employment or an employer can terminate an employee for no cause at any all. Despite this general employment-at-will, however, there are situations in which the firing of an employee is considered to be unlawful. For example, situations involving retaliation often constitute wrongful termination. An employee fired in retaliation may have a legal case against his or her employer for compensation or restitution.

The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees. Retaliation, according to its legal definition, occurs when a covered individual suffers an adverse action undertaken by his or her employer or labor organization as a result of the employee's participation in a protected activity. If the individual is not characterized as a "covered individual" under the law, if the action taken by the employer is not considered "adverse" or if the action taken by the employee that results in the termination is not a "protected activity," then no retaliation exists under the law.

Understanding the exempt vs. non-exempt distinction

Many wage laws have to do with the payment of overtime. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the perfect example. Although the FLSA contains specific provisions relating to overtime pay, however, some employees are exempt from those provisions. This means that such employees are not required to be paid overtime in the same way that non-exempt are. In order to understand whether one's employer is violating the overtime provisions of the FLSA, an employee must understand whether he or she is classified as exempt.

There are many different reasons that an employee can be classified as exempt. The reasons often depend on the type of labor performed by the employee and sometimes the employee's rate of pay. If an employee performs duties that are classified as exempt along with duties that are classified as non-exempt in the same work week, however, that employee would not be classified as an exempt employee for that work week. As a result, he or she would be entitled to overtime pay for any overtime hours worked that week.

Alleged religious discrimination examined by Supreme Court

The workplace-related civil rights protections that now exist in this country ensure that a person's ability to find or maintain a job is not adversely affected by his or her age, sex, national origin, religion or certain other protected characteristics. The existence of such anti-discrimination laws does not mean that workplace discrimination never occurs, however. In DC and across the country, these types of incidents still take place. Recently, the Supreme Court heard what could be a landmark case related to alleged religious discrimination.

The case currently at the Supreme Court involves a woman who applied for a job in 2008 at Abercrombie and Fitch, the prospective employer. The woman, who is a practicing Muslim, wore her hijab during the interview and ultimately did not get the job because she was wearing the headscarf. The reason for denying employment was the company's "look policy" that does not allow employees to wear black clothing or "caps." The company argues that the prospective employee never requested a religious accommodation and that accommodating her religious wear would have created an undue hardship. One of the key issues being debated in the case is whether a prospective employee must affirmatively ask for an accommodation or whether it is the responsibility of the employer to inquire if there is a need for an accommodation.

Facing DC sexual harassment at work? We can help.

Your workplace should be a place where you feel safe to focus on your job duties and professional responsibilities. Unfortunately, if you have been a victim of harassment, your workplace may have an entirely different -- even hostile -- atmosphere. Whether the sexual harassment takes the form of lewd comments, requests for sexual favors, inappropriate touching or other inappropriate words or actions, the effect of the harassment can be damaging. In some cases, it can create serious mental and physical health problems for the person suffering the harassment, whereas in other situations the harassment may result in job loss or demotion.

If you are suffering sexual harassment or if you have questions about whether the treatment you are enduring constitutes sexual harassment, we can help. We understand the toll that sexual harassment can take on you. We also understand the importance of protecting both your job and your mental and physical health. If you choose to file a sexual harassment claim, we will be with you every step of the way, explaining the process carefully and consulting you about what you want and how you want to proceed.

What DC maternity leave rights do employees have under the FMLA?

Many working DC women who also plan on having children want to know what kinds of employee rights they have relating to maternity leave. As society continues to see social progress with equality and blurring of the lines between gender roles, many propsective fathers have questions about paternity leave, as well. The good news is that regardless of any employer-specific policies, federal law protects the rights of new mothers and fathers to take maternity or paternity leave.

The federal law relating to paternity and maternity leave is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In addition to covering maternity and paternity leave, it also applies to taking leave from work to care for a family member suffering from a serious health condition or taking leave from work to care for the employee's own health condition. The benefits guaranteed by the FMLA are up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave that can be used in certain situations. The employee's job is protected during the leave and the employee is able to return to his or her job at the end of the leave period.

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