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Sherman Oaks Employment Law Blog

Recognizing the signs of a hostile work environment

Both California and federal laws entitle employees to a workplace free from discrimination or harassment. However, some forms of harassment can be more challenging to identify and recognize as illegal behavior.

There are two types of workplace sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. While quid pro quo harassment usually entails sexual favors or harassment in exchange for something, like keeping a job or getting a promotion, a hostile work environment entails a pattern of harassment.

The Family and Medical Leave Act: How to make a request

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is in place to protect an employee's legal right to take a leave from work for a variety of reasons, such as to deal with an illness, care for a newborn child or assist an injured or sick family member.

If you're interested in requesting FMLA leave, it's important to understand the steps you must take. Your leave will fall into one of two categories:

  • Foreseeable absence: If you know you need FMLA leave in the future, such as after the birth of a child, you're required by law to provide your employer with a minimum of 30 days' notice. However, there are situations when this is not possible, such as if your child is born prematurely.
  • Unforeseeable absence: In this case, such as if a family member is seriously injured in a car accident, federal law only requires that you provide your employer with reasonable notice. The second you realize you need FMLA leave is the second you should tell your employer.

Steps to take after an instance of sexual harassment

Even if you have reason to believe it's a one-time incident, any instance of sexual harassment is one to take seriously. If you let this continue, you're more likely to run into additional problems with the same person in the future.

Here are the steps to take after an instance of sexual harassment:

  • Speak your mind: Doing so shows the harasser that their behavior is out of line. You don't have to become violent, aggressive or raise your voice. Instead, explain that they're wrong, and you want them to stop immediately. This may be enough to stop the harassment before it turns into an ongoing issue.
  • File a formal complaint: Review your employee handbook for information on how to file a formal complaint of sexual harassment. If you don't find what you're looking for, contact your HR department for guidance.
  • File an administrative charge: If your employer doesn't make things right, you can file a charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the appropriate state agency.
  • File a lawsuit: If you're in position to do so, litigation can provide remedies such as back pay, reinstatement and damages for emotional distress.

5 things to know about wrongful termination

It's never easy to lose a job, even if you don't particularly enjoy it. This is even more so the case if you feel that you were treated poorly, such as being wrongfully terminated.

There are many things to understand about wrongful termination, including the following five points:

  • Anti-discrimination laws: It's illegal for an employer to take action against you on the basis of a legally protected characteristic, such as gender, race, religion, national origin, age, disability or pregnancy.
  • You may have a contract: If you signed a contract upon starting your job, your employer must live up to the terms and conditions. After termination, review your contract carefully to ensure that you've received everything owed to you.
  • Retaliation is real: There are federal and state laws in place to protect you against retaliation. This often comes into play if you blow the whistle on your employer for any reason.
  • Protected time off: If you qualify for protected time off, such as through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), your employer is not permitted to terminate your employment as a result.
  • You can seek damages: If you're unable to work things out with your ex-employer, you can seek damages related to your wrongful termination including back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and reinstatement among others.

What are the different forms of pregnancy discrimination?

When you first learn that you are pregnant, it should be a joyful time. You are likely looking forward to sharing the news with everyone you know. However, you may be hesitant to inform your employer or coworkers about your pregnancy for fear of it affecting your career opportunities.

No one should have to choose between having a family and succeeding in their career. There are laws in place to protect women from different forms of pregnancy discrimination. If you are expecting a child, it is important that you are aware of the types of behaviors that you should never tolerate.

Does your industry have a high sexual harassment rate?

You probably did not pick your career based on the sexual harassment rate in that industry, but that doesn't mean you're not thinking about it now. How often does it happen? Is your industry relatively "safe," or do you really need to be wary because harassment happens often?

While it can happen in any industry and to anyone, here are some of the main industries where it has been identified as relatively common:

  • 14.23 percent of claims happened in the accommodation and food services industry, the higher percentage in the study.
  • 13.44 percent of claims occurred in the retail trade industry.
  • 11.72 percent of claims happened in the manufacturing industry.
  • 11.48 percent occurred in the healthcare and social assistance industries.
  • 6.48 percent of claims happened in the public administration field.
  • 4.94 percent of claims occurred in the transportation and warehousing industry.

Are you due to receive severance pay?

If you lose your job, it's important to carefully review both your employment contract and employee handbook. This will help you answer a variety of questions, such as whether you are entitled to receive severance pay.

There are situations in which an employer is legally required to provide severance pay, such as the following:

  • Written contract: If you have an employment contract stating that you will receive a severance package, hold your employer to this. It's a big part of your compensation package, and you have the right to receive the money that's owed to you.
  • Employee handbook: Even if you don't have an employment contract stating that you'll receive severance pay, there may be language regarding this in the employee handbook.
  • History: If your employer has a history of giving employees in the same situation severance pay, you can argue that you should receive the same.
  • Oral agreement: It's best to get everything in writing, such as in your employment contract, but you may have an oral agreement in place with the company owner, chief executive officer (CEO), supervisor or human resources (HR) department.

Power often drives sexual harassment

Understanding sexual harassment in the workplace takes far more than simply looking at the impact of sexual or romantic attraction. Certainly, those things matter in some cases, but experts note that power is actually a huge contributing factor, showing that status and influence may have more to do with it than anything.

Would someone use sexual harassment as a way to control other workers? Would they use it to show their own power or try to get their way? The root cause may not lie in attraction at all.

Watch out for these 2 warning signs of sexual harassment

Most cases of sexual harassment at work begin innocently. You might start having a conversation with a coworker or your boss, and you might even enjoy talking to the person. However, the statements or behavior of the other person could eventually turn in an inappropriate direction. If that happens, it's important to call attention to the behavior politely – and immediately ask for it to stop.

Here's the kind of behavior you'll want to address:

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