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Miami Employment Law Blog

Keep your eye out for 'subtle' sexual harassment

Sexual harassment often begins in subtle ways. A comment here, a touch there, and before long, it escalates into full-blown extortion, the loss of one's job, toxic stress and a terrifying feeling of being bullied, taken advantage of or even sexually assaulted. Due to the reality that sexual harassment continues to pervade Florida workplaces, it's important that all workers -- not just female workers -- be on alert for the subtle cues that a mildly uncomfortable situation could turn into a career- and confidence-destroying calamity.

Watch for subtle comments and innuendo

Is Florida seeing a spike in sexual harassment complaints?

With the strong political and popular support behind the #MeToo movement, one might suspect that the various agencies that handle sexual harassment complaints are seeing a rise in work. In some parts of the nation, this is certainly true, but not in all areas of the country -- particularly Florida.

In the early summer months, the acting chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that the #MeToo movement had not resulted in a spike in its statistics for sexual harassment complaints. However, this was probably because the movement did not hit its stride until October 2017. As such, the rise in EEOC sexual harassment and other complaints will probably no be seen in statistics until the end of the fiscal year, which arrives on Oct. 1, 2018.

Is your age a factor when the time comes for a promotion?

A promotion at work would mean more responsibility and more decision-making power, and it would also mean a raise in salary. Unfortunately, you were passed over for promotion six months ago, and it looks like a repeat is in the works. Are younger people receiving promotions instead of you?

A little history

What should I do if the men on my team get more credit at work?

Gender inequality pervades American workplaces, and usually it's the men who receive the advantages and the women who are left behind. If you're currently working on an all-male team, and you're the only female, you might find that your male colleagues receive more praise and promotions.

Keep reading for some advice if you're facing unequal treatment like this as a result of your gender.

How to fight back against a sexual harasser

No one expects to become the victim of sexual harassment, and they might not catch the behavior until after it becomes severe. Here's how to recognize sexual harassment as quickly as possible so that you can address it and put a stop to it:

Notice when a coworker makes you feel uncomfortable: It doesn't matter the context or what is actually happening. Does your coworker or manager make you feel uncomfortable? Would you prefer not to be around him or her? If you can answer yes to either of these questions, that's enough. Be on alert for harassing and sexualized comments coming from this person.

What should I do if my employer wrongfully terminated me?

There are many ways that a wrongful termination can happen. Sometimes, it's out of retaliation for the employee's complaint about sexual harassment or discrimination. Sometimes, it happens because the employee was a whistleblower or refused to engage in illegal behavior. In still other cases, the wrongful termination might happen in violation of an employment contract. However it happens in your case, it's important that you take immediate action.

Here's what you can do in response to a wrongful termination:

  • Talk to the human resources department at your job to determine what benefits you can receive, the exact reason for your termination and if you can appeal the decision to fire you.
  • Get in touch with an employment law attorney and/or the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the laws that regulate employment and termination of employment.
  • Determine if you have been discriminated against on the basis of a protected status or if your termination was in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment, whistleblowing, discrimination or for participating in an investigation against your company.
  • File a claim for wrongful termination through the appropriate state agency or through the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC).
  • Determine if you are eligible for unemployment compensation and don't hesitate to apply for this vital financial assistance.

How do I build a watertight sexual harassment lawsuit?

People who sexually harass others sometimes do it unconsciously -- it's just a part of their personalities to bully and dominate their coworkers. Other sexual harassers do it strategically, so there aren't any witnesses -- in an attempt to cover their tracks. If you're being sexually harassed by one of these strategic harassers, you'll need to take extra care to gather the evidence required to build a watertight case.

When gathering evidence, it's vital for you to understand the factors that courts look for, so you can start to build your paper trail and identify any witnesses to support your claims:

These sexual harassment statistics are distressing

Workplaces in Florida and the rest of the nation are not doing their part in bringing sexual harassment to a stop. The #MeToo movement is further proof of this fact, which -- if you've been victimized by sexual harassment -- you're already well aware of. But just how bad is sexual harassment in U.S. workplaces? The following sexual harassment statistics reveal the distressing truth:

  • Forty-five percent of 28,000 harassment claims made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015 were sex-based.
  • Twenty-five to 85 percent of women have suffered from sexual harassment at their jobs.
  • Seventy-five percent of sexual harassment victims suffer from retaliation following their reports and complaints about sexual harassment.
  • Eighty-seven to 94 percent of sexual harassment victims never file a complaint -- usually because they're afraid of a negative employment consequence.
  • The financial costs related to sexual harassment in the United States included $164.5 million of recovered money by employees who filed sexual harassment claims in 2015.

If the above statistics aren't enough to open the eyes of American employers and inspire them to take proactive action to rid their workplaces of this abusive behavior, perhaps the only thing that will inspire change is for victims to keep speaking up and filing lawsuits when they're abused.

What are subtle ways in which employers discriminate?

In some ways, subtle discrimination is worse than blatant discrimination. Subtle discrimination can be more harmful in the long term and become part of a company's culture. Also, if you are not on the lookout for it, you may not realize it is happening to you or that you are making potentially discriminatory comments.

Subtle discrimination tends to be practiced against women, older workers, younger workers, gays and lesbians and all types of races--and many other groups of workers, really. Here are some examples.

Is age discrimination becoming more prevalent in Florida?

Age discrimination is a serious problem in American workplaces and it's only getting worse due to the fact that more baby boomers are reaching retirement age. When these baby boomers need to keep working for financial reasons, they are finding it more difficult to retain their jobs as they grow older. What baby boomers need to know, however, is that federal law protects them from age-related discrimination.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects all workers in Florida and the rest of the United States who are 40 years of age and older. The law prohibits employers from making demeaning comments and harassing workers because of their ages. It also prevents employers from engaging in other age-related discrimination like:

  • Employers cannot discriminate against employees because of their age during the application, interviewing, hiring, firing, laying off or termination states of employment.
  • Employers cannot create help wanted ads that specifically target younger workers or discourage older workers from applying.
  • Employers cannot discriminate on the basis of age when offering promotions and demotions, work evaluations, disciplining or giving assignments.
  • Employers cannot specifically target older workers when laying people off for downsizing.
  • Employers cannot force employees to take their retirement early.
  • Employers cannot retaliate against employees who complain about age discrimination or support another employee's claim of age discrimination.
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