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Houston Legal Blog

LGBTQ rights may be established by city ordinance

Several major Texas cities are awaiting the outcome of a court case where each side is proclaiming that the U.S. Constitution favors their position. At issue is the right of those in the LGBTQ community to live and work free from discrimination. The state has no laws protecting the group from employment discrimination, but several cities have passed non-discrimination ordinances.

In one city, a lawsuit was brought by a conservative Christian group challenging the ordinance on the grounds it would not allow religious organizations the right to refuse to hire applicants who were openly gay or transgender. A second party joined the lawsuit and expanded the claim to object to the ordinance on grounds of housing as well as employment. The essence of the lawsuit is that implementation of the ordinance will substantially burden the complainants' free exercise of religion.

EEOC reports increase in sexual harassment claims

Sexual harassment has affected the lives of many workers in Texas. It has been the subject of nationwide controversy during the last several months. One year after the New York Times released its first investigation on Harvey Weinstein, the EEOC reports that sexual harassment complaints have increased by 12 percent.

The EEOC announced in a press release that it filed 66 sexual harassment claims in 2018, which represents a 50 percent increase over the number of claims filed in 2017.

How can you know if you are entitled to overtime pay?

When a person works over his or her allotted number of hours in the day, that person could be eligible for overtime pay. The concept of overtime pay is to ensure that workers receive fair compensation for working long stretches of time past when they normally have to work. There are laws in place regarding fair pay, including overtime, and you may find it beneficial to learn how these laws apply to you.

A federal regulation, the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as applicable state laws, determine who qualifies for overtime pay and who does not. You may need to find out if your employer falls under the FLSA and how you can shield your right to fair pay. If you are not receiving fair wages, you have the right to seek appropriate pay and fight for what your Texas employer still owes you.

Break policies must conform to the FLSA

Texas employees may be interested in a Third Circuit ruling that said employees must be paid for breaks of up to 20 minutes. The ruling came in a case involving employees from Progressive Business Publications. In the lawsuit, the employees claimed that PBP did not pay workers if they were logged off of their computers for more than 90 seconds. The company said it was part of a flexible break policy that allowed workers to leave their work areas whenever they wanted to.

However, the court found that the policy forced workers to choose between getting paid or using the restroom. Ultimately, the ruling was seen to be in opposition to the Fair Labor Standards Act. In response, the company argued that there was no way to prevent workers from taking unlimited breaks lasting 19 minutes. While the court acknowledged that scenario, it said that the company could create a new break policy.

Signs of workplace age discrimination

A lawsuit was filed against corporate giant IBM by three former employees who accuse the company of age discrimination. Because of the nature of discrimination and the ever-changing American workplace, many people are not certain about what actions might constitute unlawful discrimination. The American Association of Retired Persons has published a guide designed to help people recognize the signs of workplace age discrimination. Employees in Texas might gain from the tips in the guide.

According to the AARP, some common signs of age discrimination are ageist comments, a lack of raises, poor performance reviews, unpleasant reassignments and older workers being fired. Ageist comments might seem like harmless jokes at first, but they can be detrimental to the employees, and they can lead to further discrimination down the line. A lack of raises for older workers might indicate age discrimination, especially if younger workers are being paid bonuses or given raises at the same time. If an employee is performing well but his or her compensation package is not keeping up with those of younger employees, it might be age discrimination.

Are you facing age discrimination at work?

Though you are getting older, you may not have plans to retire any time soon. You enjoy your work and believe that you can still hold your own when it comes to completing your tasks efficiently and effectively. However, you may have some concerns about the conduct of others in the workplace.

You may notice that younger people are starting to take on important roles, and while you appreciate the fresh perspective they bring, you may begin to worry about your status and the statuses of your older colleagues in your workplace. If you suddenly feel that your age is playing a role in how others perceive your work performance, you may be facing age discrimination.

Improving workplace sexual harassment policies

More and more businesses throughout Texas are understanding the need for sexual harassment awareness in the workplace. Whether triggered by the sordid stories of countless women who have recently begun to share their experiences or perhaps by fear of legal action, employers are now understanding the benefits of having a comprehensive workplace discrimination policy. However, there remains a formidable gap between that realization and implementing a plan that's effective.

An essential first step is to have a clearly defined individual or department assigned to the role of establishing and implementing policy. All too often in the past, HR departments had insufficient training in how to recognize some of the more subtler forms of sexual harassment and little incentive or power to enforce. If an existing human resources department lacks the trust of employees, it may be necessary to create an entirely separate entity for sexual harassment claims.

Are you the victim of whistleblower retaliation?

Like many Texas employees, you go to work every day expecting your employer and supervisors to behave in an ethical manner. At times, it may seem as if you are the only one at work who has standards you are not willing to compromise, even if it means saving or making money for the company. When you see things happening at work that make you uncomfortable or fearful of your legal culpability, you may find you have no option but to speak up or betray your personal values.

Unfortunately, standing up for what is right is not always easy. While you may not have expected your boss to thank you for pointing out the errors, you certainly did not anticipate retaliation. If you are experiencing any form of negative treatment resulting from your whistleblowing, you have the right to protection under the law.

How workers feel about sexual harassment

Roughly 35 percent of workers throughout Texas and the rest of the U.S. say they have experienced harassment on the job. This is according to the 2018 Hiscox Workplace Harassment Study that included 500 full-time workers. Of those who said they experienced harassment, half said that it was based on their gender or sex. Companies that fail to recognize and work to put an end to harassment could face negative consequences.

These consequences could include a tarnished brand image as well as financial penalties. However, this could be difficult as 40 percent of survey participants who reported harassment said that they never reported it. Over half cited fears about a hostile work environment after making such a report. Of those who did report harassment, 37 percent felt that their reports were not handled properly. While anyone can commit harassment on the job, 78 percent said that the perpetrator was a man. Furthermore, 73 percent said that this person was in a position of power.

EEOC getting tougher on age discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled an employment case with the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain for $12 million. The restaurant will also be required to make changes to its recruitment and hiring practices with regard to older applicants. The EEOC has been newly aggressive in asserting claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

According to the acting chair of the EEOC, age discrimination is pervasive in American workplaces and a priority for the EEOC to deal with. The results of a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons indicate that 60 percent of workers at least 45 years of age claim to have witnessed or been victims of age discrimination in the workplace.

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