November 2012 Archives

November 29, 2012

New Whistleblower Legislation Instituted by Federal Government Good for Kentucky Employees

A whistleblower, in very simple terms, is someone who realizes something may be not quite right and decides to tell someone else about it. While kids who perform this same type of service are often called tattle-tales, adults should not be chastised or punished for doing the same. If an employer appears to be operating in a way that breaks a federal law, an employee should feel comfortable telling the appropriate people about it so the situation can be investigated, and remedied if necessary.

Most workers employed by the government and in the private sector are protected by whistleblower laws. Employees are covered by a provision of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989(WPA). Under these acts, an employee who believes something they witnessed was in violation of a federal law, was fraudulent, was wasteful of money or resources, or might cause harm to the general public has the right to report it to the person or group of their choice without fear of retaliation. If an employee has reported some type of federal misconduct and has been retaliated against, he can take legal action under WPA and seek restitution such as repayment of lost wages if he was wrongfully terminated and other compensatory damages. This law also states that federal officials who have retaliated against a whistleblower may be subject to suspension or dismissal.

Most privately employed workers are also protected if they report a situation that they think breaks a federal law. The United States Department of Labor (DOL) handles whistleblower claims brought by workers in the private sector. If the whistleblowers do not think the DOL has administered their case in a timely manner, the law allows them to then file a lawsuit and have a trial by jury.

On November 27, 2012, President Obama signed new legislation providing additional protection for federal employees. Called the Whistleblower Enhancement Act, it is meant to further encourage those already covered by WPA to continue reporting governmental abuse of power and funds and it also offers protection to some groups who were exempt under the previous acts. This new act changes the burden of proof, making it easier for a whistleblower to prove their case. The Office of Special Counsel, which handles whistleblower cases, will no longer be responsible for paying defendants' attorneys' fees if they lose the case. All airport baggage screeners are now covered by whistleblower laws as are those who work in intelligence for the government. Scientists working for the government who report alleged censorship of their work are also now protected.

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November 19, 2012

Indiana Teacher Claims Age Discrimination at Age 80

How old is too old to work? According to one teacher from South Bend, Indiana, there is no set age. When she feels like she is doing a disservice to the children that she teaches, or herself, she will call it quits. But she refuses to let a school board president decide that for her. And at 80, she does not think her time has come.

The teacher in question filed an age discrimination complaint in the summer of 2012 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). As evidence of the discrimination, she has two emails that the president of the school board sent requesting that she and another teacher be "gently escorted out of the classroom" so that two younger teachers could keep their positions rather than being let go. He specifically mentions "two teachers in our system who are 80 (or over) who by all accounts are no longer able to teach adequately."

The teacher says she is perfectly able to continue teaching and has her most recent teacher evaluation from 2010 as proof. Her March 2010 evaluation states that she is able to maintain control in the classroom and teaches effectively, and the evaluator recommends that she be re-employed for the next year.

Sometimes it does seem that younger employees are discriminated against when it comes to downsizing. But it is much more likely that a younger employee will find another position. In his email, the school board president says one of the younger teachers has already been offered a position with another school district and the other one is going to be offered a job elsewhere as well. It goes without saying that the 80-year-old teacher would have had a much more difficult time finding someone to hire her if she had been the one let go.

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November 12, 2012

Electronic Workplace Harassment Does Not Always Happen at the Workplace

Online social media and mobile communication are very prevalent in today's society and are being used in all sorts of ways. They can be used to invite friends to a party, notify faraway relatives that a new baby has arrived, find long-lost friends from high school, and share decorating ideas and silly videos with people around the globe. Even charity efforts have gone mobile as phone apps have been created as a convenient way for people to help donate to those who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, it can also be used in negative ways as well, such as harassment.

Supervisors and co-workers often find each other on social networks or share cell phone numbers to allow for easier communication. Sometimes it is easier to send a text regarding a work matter than it is to have an actual phone conversation. But these technologies can also be used in an abusive manner and result in workplace harassment or sexual harassment even when an employee is not at work.

There are many different ways a worker can be harassed electronically. If a supervisor repeatedly sends texts messages to an employee asking for a date or an intimate relationship, the employee may feel uncomfortable or threatened. This constitutes sexual harassment and can create a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment can also occur when a supervisor or co-worker emails or posts pictures or jokes of a sexual nature that other employees find offensive. In a recent case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against a company because a manager was sending sexual texts to an employee, who told her supervisor. When the supervisor reported the harassment, the company allegedly retaliated against him by firing him. A settlement for $2.3 million was made by the company for both the sexual harassment and retaliation claims.

Other types of harassment or workplace discrimination can also occur. If supervisors or co-workers are posting disparaging remarks regarding an employee's disability, race, ethnicity, gender, or religion, this may also be discrimination. An employee was recently awarded $1.6 million by a court because co-workers had posted negative comments about his disability and his employer did not take any action when he reported the discrimination.

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