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Are you the victim of a hostile work environment?

Everyone in California has the right to enjoy a working environment that is free from hostility. Unfortunately, many individuals find their work settings to be less than ideal. If a person feels he or she is commonly subjected to a hostile work environment, there is something that can be done about it. However, it is first necessary to determine if what is going on meets the legal criteria required to take action.

A lot of people have co-workers and managers with whom they do not get along. This does not constitute a hostile work environment. By definition, a hostile work environment is one where the actions, behavior or communication of co-workers or bosses make it impossible to do one's job. A hostile work environment in one where discrimination, harassment or retaliation is a problem.

Race should have nothing to do with equal pay and compensation

Wanting to get paid fairly for one's work is understandable. Unfortunately, even in today's world, where more women than ever are entering the workforce, they still are making less than men. According to a recently published article, Latinas, in particular, are severely affected. What can this population in California do to help themselves receive equal pay and compensation?

It is believed that Latinas are paid half as much as white males and 31% less than white females. A national poll concluded that nearly 70% of the population was either unaware or didn't realize the size of the pay gap. It is shocking, to say the least.

Would you recognize "quid pro quo" sexual harassment?

The issue of sexual harassment has finally made its way from the back burner to the front, thanks to the exposure it receives from the #MeToo movement. More people here in California and across the nation are coming forward with their stories and are no longer suffering in silence.

Even with the additional exposure, sexual harassment can still be challenging to prove. In fact, some people may not readily recognize they are victims of this type of harassment. For instance, a superior or hiring manager may make subtle innuendos regarding the desire to trade sexual favors from the employee or applicant in exchange for some benefit to the employee or applicant.

Doctor wins big in wrongful termination case

A doctor in another state lost his job in 2015 after reporting a safety issue he noted at the hospital for which he was employed -- Massachusetts General. Initially, a spokesperson for the hospital stated he was fired due to a patient confidentially violation; however, hospital officials have since changed their tune and opted to settle the matter. What this physician has been put through is not necessarily a unique situation. Numerous California residents may find themselves victims of wrongful termination for reporting issues at their places of work. They, too, can seek compensation for any damages they experience as a result of their loss of employment.

According to a recently published report, the doctor mentioned above -- a 67-year-old male -- was offered $13 million and job reinstatement. The hospital also agreed to name a safety initiative after him. He refused the job offer, however, and has been named an honorary staff member instead.

Jury awards millions in discrimination

One's workplace should be a safe place. It should not be a place where certain aspects of one's personal life affect how one is treated. Unfortunately, discrimination in the workplace is a very real problem in California and elsewhere. A recent case in another state shows just how seriously this issue is taken.

According to reports, on Friday, Oct. 25, after a week-long trial, the jury hearing an employment discrimination and retaliation case awarded the plaintiff nearly $20 million. This case all started back in 2014 when, after over five years of trying to achieve a promotion, a police officer was told that his sexuality was an issue and the reason behind his inability to achieve lieutenant status. Two years later, this officer filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. One month after doing so, he was moved to another station further away from his home and assigned the night shift. This caused him to file a retaliation claim as well.

Disability discrimination is real and illegal

When it comes to employment, there are various protected classes in the United States. Those in these classes cannot be discriminated against, and if they are, they may have legal recourse. This week, this column will specifically address disability discrimination and what California residents who are victims of it can do about it.

If an employer treats a disabled person -- whether he or she is a job applicant or a current employee -- unfavorably because of his or her disability, the employer is said to have committed disability discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from refusing to hire, failing to promote, refusing certain job opportunities or wrongfully terminating a person -- among other things -- because of his or her disability. Employers are required to accommodate disabled employees -- within reason.

Don't be afraid to be a whistleblower

While the vast majority of businesses in California operate above board, there are a few where employees may notice questionable, possibly illegal things taking place. Those who are witness to such things have every right to speak up. A whistleblower should feel free to express concerns without fear of retaliation.

There are both state and federal laws in place that protect whistleblowers. In order to be protected under state or federal laws, a whistleblower has to have reason to believe his or her employer is violating the law. He or she also has to report the issue to the proper authorities -- either one's employer or a federal agency.

Women still dealing with lower wages for the same work

Celebrities at award shows may make the headlines by calling for equal pay for the work they do. However, in their glamor and spotlights, they may not speak for you. While Hollywood has brought to light many important issues, ultimately, you are the one whose paycheck is less than your male counterparts.

In fact, actors have been using their podiums to call for equal pay for some time. Nevertheless, the gender gap has not changed in the past several years. You may feel like it is a futile fight, but this is not necessarily true. If you believe your employer pays you less because you are a woman, you have the right to seek a just wage through the civil courts.

Victims of wrongful termination may seek relief

Every day, numerous California residents are fired from their jobs. For some, this is done with good reason. For others, wrongful termination may be suspected. When it is, victims may seek relief through legal means.

The simple truth of the matter is, not all firings are illegal. The majority of the workforce in the United States are at-will employees. This means that these individuals can be fired whenever, even if there seems no reason for it. Those who have employment contracts may also be fired, as long as their layoffs are done according to the terms offered in their contracts.

Employment contracts don’t always protect workers

Not every job requires a contract between employer and employee. However, when the job includes complex benefits, access to trade secrets or other critical issues, a contract may help clarify the rights and responsibilities of each side. California employees should be cautious when accepting a position that includes an employment contract because the fine print may not always provide for the best interests of the worker.

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