To understand workplace assault we must first understand what assault actually means. Many people incorrectly assume that assault requires physical violence. In fact, even a verbal threat can be assault; it’s the intent that matters. For example, if a supervisor threatens an employee’s life if the employee doesn’t complete a project by Friday, the supervisor may be guilty of assault. However, if the supervisor and employee are buddies, and the “threat” was an obvious joke, it wouldn’t be considered assault.

Generally speaking, assault occurs when a person intentionally harms or threatens to harm another person. Simple assault doesn’t require physical injury, and aggravated assault typically involves a deadly weapon or serious physical injury. Assault crimes usually conjure images of bar fights or domestic disputes, but workplace assaults are actually quite common. Work environments can become tense due to confined spaces and close groupings of people who are required to see each other regularly, sometimes every day. Personality conflicts and power struggles may escalate in this environment, erupting into workplace violence with little to no warning.

Some incidences of workplace assault are serious, even fatal. We’ve all seen mass media coverage of disgruntled workers who “shoot up” the office, killing everyone from the supervisor who disciplined them to the secretary and mail-room clerk who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Other cases of workplace assault are much less serious. A Boston personal injury lawyer can help if you’ve been a victim of assault in the workplace.

When is the Employer Liable?

In addition to the supervisor or employee who is accused of assault, the employer can also be liable for the victim’s injuries under certain circumstances, including:

  • If employer negligence contributed to the incident.
  • If the employer intentionally played a role in the assault.
  • If the employer is not covered by workers’ compensation.

The first of the above bullet points addresses how employers respond to hostile work environments. If an employer knows about, or should have known about, threatening behavior and fails to take action, it may be liable if the person responsible for the behavior harms a co-worker. This may even be true if the person in question is a non-employee, such as a vendor or contractor.

When is Only the Employee Liable?

On the other hand, an employee who assaults a co-worker will likely be exclusively liable if:

  • The employer was unaware of the employee’s conduct.
  • The conduct was not related to the accused’s job.
  • The conduct was not encouraged or tolerated by the employer.

Workplace assault can result in criminal penalties, but it can also result in a civil action, such as when the victim brings an injury claim to recover financial damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages. A MA injury lawyer can help you determine how to obtain compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other associated costs if you’ve been harmed in a workplace assault . Continue reading

Embezzlement is a form of theft that is typically characterized by the misappropriation of funds by a person in a position of trust. Anybody who handles money can embezzle funds, from cashiers and bank tellers, to accountants and individuals in charge of large family estates.

According to recent studies, employee embezzlement is a massive – and growing – problem in the United States, accounting for about $400 billion in stolen funds annually. And embezzlement doesn’t discriminate based on company size; small mom-and-pop stores are just as at risk as  giant corporations. A MA defense lawyer can help you determine how to move forward if you’ve been charged with embezzlement.

How Are Investigations Into Employee Embezzlement Conducted?

Basically, they are conducted in much the same way as all other investigations into employee misconduct. Of course, the manner of the investigation will depend largely on the amount of money stolen – a few hundred dollars missing from the corner store isn’t likely to warrant the same investigation as a Fortune 500 company with millions in potentially-embezzled funds.

As with any employment investigation, both employer and employee have rights. In fact, employees have an extensive list of federal and state rights and protections. For example, without strict compliance with federal and state laws, an employer cannot use outside investigators, credit or background checks, monitoring devices, or polygraph tests to investigate an employee or an employee’s suspected misconduct.

If an employer suspects embezzlement, an investigation will likely be conducted to determine the following:

  • Whether a theft actually occurred
  • The total amount of the theft
  • The method used to steal the funds

Once this information is available, the employer will likely terminate the person or persons responsible for the theft, and implement procedures that will prevent a similar theft from occurring again. The next step would be to try and recover the stolen money or property.

Penalties for Embezzlement

In MA, if you get convicted of embezzlement, the penalties will vary depending on the severity of the case and prior criminal history. These penalties may include:

  • Value of money or property worth $250 or less: First offense carries penalties of between six months in jail and two-and-a-half years in prison, and a fine of up to $600.
  • Value of money or property worth more than $250: Fine of up to $25,000 and up to five years in prison.

Were Your Rights Violated?

It’s important to remember that embezzlement is almost never caught by direct observation of the act. Suspicions are usually initiated by the report of another employee, through an audit, or are based on circumstantial evidence. Employers are usually quick to begin an investigation when embezzlement is suspected, lest they lose more money. For this reason, they often make mistakes, violate employee rights, or make incorrect assumptions based on rumors and personal opinions. A MA defense attorney can help you determine your rights and options if you are being investigated for embezzlement in the workplace. Continue reading

Every employer should have a policy against sexual harassment. Federal and state laws prohibit this type of harassment in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean it never occurs. In some cases, the accuser has a legitimate claim against the accused. However, false accusations do occur with relative frequency. They may be a form of retaliation, or fabricated to justify the firing of an employee. If you are being investigated for sexual harassment in the workplace, a Boston employment law attorney can help you determine your rights and options.

What is Sexual Harassment?

From mild innuendos to blatant abuse, sexual harassment can take many forms. Some examples of prohibited conduct include:

  • Sexual assaults: This includes everything from unwanted, intentional touching, such as grabbing, patting, and even brushing against another’s body, to outright rape.
  • Unwelcome advances of a sexual nature: Sexually-oriented comments or gestures, propositions, and jokes or remarks about another employee’s sexuality.
  • Special treatment in exchange for sexual conduct: Soliciting another employee to engage in sexual conduct in exchange for a raise, promotion, or preferential treatment.
  • Threatening unwanted sexual attention.
  • The presence of any type of sexual or discriminatory materials or publications in the workplace.
  • Retaliation for refusal of sexual advances or for complaints of sexual harassment.

What if the Accusation is False?

The short answer is, it’s complicated. If the employer disciplines the alleged victim for a false complaint and it turns out the complaint was valid, the victim can take the employer to court. For this reason, many employers submit to the knee-jerk reaction of immediately firing the accused. The accused does have a right to challenge this termination, but this right is limited. An employer also has the right to discharge an employee based on suspicion of sexual harassment, even if the suspicion turns out to be inaccurate. So most employers decide to take the easy road to protect themselves, even if they don’t fully believe the accusations. But if the employer uses a fabricated accusation to cover up an unlawful reason for discharge, the employer may be liable. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been falsely accused of sexual harassment in the workplace. Continue reading

Social Security Disability (SSDI) is a federal program that provides monthly benefits to individuals who cannot work due to a qualifying disability. Although certain mental illnesses are listed as qualifying disabilities, proving that you have a mental illness – and that your condition prevents you from working – is generally harder for mental illnesses than for physical. For starters, symptoms are not as easy to evaluate. And physical disabilities, such as immobility, are visible, whereas most mental illnesses are not.

But the biggest problem you encounter may be related to the biases of the Social Security examiners assigned to your case. Some examiners may think that a particular disorder – anxiety, for example – is just an excuse for someone who doesn’t want to work. This may be due to a past experience with someone who abused the system. Whatever the reason, examiner biases can present a real problem when it comes to SSDI applications. An experienced MA SSDI attorney can help you overcome this potential problem and get the benefits you deserve.

The Social Security “Blue Book”

Racism is still a problem in this country. In some situations, it’s blatantly obvious; more often, however, racism is subtle and harder to identify. This is especially true of racial discrimination in the workplace. For example, an employer may fail to hire an individual based on his race, but claim the decision was based on another factor, such as attitude or lack of experience. A MA employment attorney can help if you believe you’ve been a victim of racial discrimination.

What is Discriminatory Intent?

Whether racial discrimination in the workplace is obvious or subtle, there are multiple federal and state laws prohibiting this type of discrimination in any form. In many cases, identifying – and proving – racial discrimination can be difficult. But sometimes, an employer inadvertently displays discriminatory intent.

Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits are paid to individuals who are unable to work due to an eligible disability. For some families, this monthly benefit helps them avoid extreme poverty. But what if the person receiving these benefits dies, leaving behind a spouse who relied on that source of income to survive? Fortunately, Social Security Disability has a survivor benefit, known as a Widow/Widower Benefit, to address this problem. The information below details who is eligible for survivor benefits and how they are paid out.

Do I Qualify?

If a person passes away while receiving SSDI or regular Social Security benefits, the surviving spouse may be eligible to receive a percentage of the balance of benefits. However, he or she must be age 60 or older, or at least 50 if disabled. In addition, the surviving spouse must be unable to work due to a long-term physical or mental impairment. The surviving spouse is also entitled to a one-time benefit payment of $255 following the spouse’s death. Below are the categories that may qualify you for SSDI survivor benefits, along with information on how to calculate the payments you are eligible to receive.

  • A child in your care, who is under the age of 16 years, receives SSDI survivor benefits from your deceased spouse. In this scenario, you will receive 75 percent of the SSDI benefit your spouse was receiving.
  • If you have a disability and are at least 50 years old, you will receive 71.5 percent of the SSDI benefit.
  • If you are not full retirement age but are at least 60 years of age, you will receive between 71.5 percent and 99 percent of the SSDI benefit.
  • If you are full retirement age, you will receive 100 percent of the SSDI benefit.

The application process for Widow/Widower benefits can be complex and confusing. A MA Social Security Disability attorney can help you determine if you are eligible for a transfer of payments following the death of your spouse. If you are eligible, your attorney can help you navigate the process to ensure that you receive full benefits in a timely manner.

Special Scenarios

As with most things in life, there are exceptions to the rules above. For example, if you remarry before age 60, you are not entitled to survivor benefits. However, if you remarry after the age of 60 (or 50 if disabled), your benefits will not be affected. And remember above when we discussed survivor benefits if you have a child under the age of 16? Well, those benefits usually end on the child’s 16th birthday…unless he or she is also disabled. Further, sometimes SSDI survivor benefits can actually work against you. In certain situations, your own retirement benefits may be greater than survivor benefits based on your deceased spouse’s benefits. A Boston SSDI lawyer can help if you are unsure of the benefits available to you following the death of a spouse.

What Documentation Do I Need?

The documentation below is required to obtain survivor’s benefits:

  • Death certificate
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your deceased spouse’s Social Security number.
  • Your deceased spouse’s birth certificate
  • Your marriage certificate
  • Recent tax forms

When the surviving spouse reaches age 62, SSDI payments may begin to change. This is no different from the change that would have occurred between the ages of 62 and 70 for the original SSDI beneficiary. Continue reading

According to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, discriminating against workers because of their age is illegal. Federal law only protects victims of workplace age discrimination if they are over the age of 40, and if the employer is a government entity or has 20 or more employees. However, there are exceptions. A MA injury attorney can help you recover damages if you were harmed due to any type of workplace discrimination. Determining whether age discrimination actually exists can be tricky. That’s why having a knowledgeable injury attorney is crucial to the outcome of your case.

Needless to say, older Americans are still quite capable of putting in years of dedicated, hard work. In fact, statistics show that older workers are generally more reliable than their younger counterparts. But this isn’t always reflected in employer decisions. Some companies may incorrectly assume that your advanced age means you are close to retirement and won’t be “in it for the long haul.” Simply claiming that you didn’t get a job due to your age, however, may be difficult to prove without supporting evidence.

Proving Age Discrimination

The signs below are good indicators that you may be a victim of workplace age discrimination. If any of these apply to you, a Boston injury attorney can help you determine if you have a legal claim against your employer or potential employer.

  • Inappropriate or biased remarks: These are the most obvious indicators, but also the rarest. If your boss calls you “grandpa” or asks you to project a younger image, these remarks provide direct evidence of discrimination. Document the comment and jot down the names of any witnesses, and the date, time, and place that the comment was made.
  • Different treatment: Are young employees treated differently than older employees under the same circumstances? If a company-wide lay off seemed to target mostly older employees, this could be evidence of age discrimination. Right down the names and ages of workers who were laid off as well as the names and ages of less-qualified workers who were not.
  • Biased discipline: If younger workers get away with coming in late, but you keep getting written up, document this disparity. Your employer may be building a case against you in order to fire you for cause (while protecting the company from a lawsuit).
  • Failure to receive a promotion for which you were the most qualified candidate: If a younger, less-qualified employee received a promotion that you applied for, your age may have played a role.
  • Playing favorites: If younger workers receive better assignments and equipment and you seem to always get the leftovers, favoritism may be a factor. Similarly, it may be a sign of age discrimination if supervisors only socialize with younger workers, or exclude older workers from important meetings and events.
  • New hires are all young: If you notice that your company only seems to hire younger employees these days, age discrimination is a very real possibility.
  • Harassment: If you feel that your boss is making you miserable just so that you will quit, document these actions, and write down witness information. Even if your boss is older than you, he or she may still prefer younger employees…and that’s still age discrimination.

Continue reading

Sexual harassment in the workplace is any unwanted activity of a sexual nature that creates an unfriendly or hostile work environment. Sexual harassment can be physical, verbal, or more nuanced such as through email interactions. Sexual harassment can happen to women, men and transgendered workers.

Although most people think of sexual harassment in various forms of cliché – such as a cigar-smoking boss physically grabbing female employees in inappropriate ways – this is by no means the only way that sexual harassment can occur within the workplace. Sexual harassment includes any type of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors in exchange for rewards or threats of disciplinary action if sexual favors are not given.

Another stereotypical view of sexual harassment is that it only occurs in certain types of office environments, and that it was a much bigger problem back in the 70s, 80s and 90s when the increased presence of women in the workforce was still a new topic to those unwilling to adapt to changing times.

Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that sexual harassment has not vanished with the modernization of society, as a 2015 study showed that 33 percent of 2,235 part and fulltime women workers experienced harassment at work at some point in their lives.

Other recent studies show that sexual harassment is actually an even bigger problem in modern, booming industries, such as the technological hub of Silicon Valley.

A study of more than 200 women working in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco in 2016 showed that 90 percent had witnessed sexist behavior at offsite company events and industry conferences. Another 60 percent had reported being the target of unwanted sexual advances from a superior. An uneasy 33 percent said they felt afraid for their personal safety because of these incidents at work.

These cases of sexual harassment include physical groping and the requesting of a female sales associate to “sit on his lap” in order to complete a sale. One who filed a complaint after she was physically groped by her boss said that she was retaliated against and had to leave the company.

Even more alarming are the staggering statistics regarding gender discrimination by superiors and clients at these companies. About half of the survey respondents said they had been asked to perform “office housework” tasks, such as taking notes, ordering food, etc.) that male counterparts were not asked to do. Another 87 percent reported being on the receiving end of demeaning comments from male colleagues.

A shocking 75 percent of respondents say they were asked questions about marriage and family in their job interviews, which is a violation of anti-discrimination policy. Sometimes the discriminatory action is less overt, such as superiors taking the staff out to lunch at Hooters, or engaging in “team building activities” that include shaving the hair from their heads. Continue reading

Laws protecting employees from workplace discrimination are incredibly important to providing safe, friendly work environments for all Americans in the workforce. However, providing additional laws that prevent any employer from unfairly punishing them because they filed a complaint, assisted an investigation, or didn’t fall in line with a supervisor’s lie in order to protect them may be just as important.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, workplace retaliation “is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in the federal sector and is the most common discrimination finding in federal sector cases.” However workplace retaliation can happen anywhere, from a Burger King in Cambridge to a white collar investment firm in New York City.

If protection didn’t exist for those who call out obvious acts of discrimination, misconduct and other, more illicit activities, then those kinds of behavior would go on, unreported and indefinitely, because the individual or individuals committing the misconduct may be in a position of power over the individual or individuals who they are tormenting.

People will endure a lot of suffering if they have few options for employment and need to be paid each week in order to keep up with bills and other expenses. Unfortunately, many times people who have the most to lose if they are fired from their jobs are the ones who are more likely to be discriminated against in the workplace – such as disabled individuals and immigrants of minority races or religions.

The protections offered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ensure that, even if you are filing a complaint against a direct supervisor or somebody much higher up the workplace hierarchy, that you may not be punished, demoted, lose benefits, have hours cut, or be otherwise negatively impacted as a direct retaliation to your complaint.

These protections don’t just apply to complaints either. Protections against retaliation exist in the cases of:

  • Calling for an investigation, being a witness in a case or filing your own lawsuit
  • Communicating with a manager or supervisor about discrimination happening in your place of employment, including harassment
  • Answering questions during an investigation into alleged harassment
  • Refusal to follow orders that could be deemed as a discriminatory action
  • Resisting sexual harassment or advances, or preventing somebody else from being sexually harassed
  • Requesting a special accommodation to alleviate a disability or for a religious practice
  • Asking your managers or co-workers about salary information to assess if there is wage discrimination occurring.

It is important to note that employees are only fully protected from retaliation due to their participation in a complaint process – whether it is the actual filing of a complaint, participating in an investigation or being a witness in a hearing. Employers may still discipline or discharge an employee if they can provide a non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory reason for doing so.

If an employer does not find a legitimate reason to fire an employee, they are still not allowed to engage in any actions that would discourage that employee or any other employee from filing a complaint in the future.

Such behavior could include reprimanding or humiliating the employee in front of other coworkers, transferring the employee to a “less desirable” position, physically, verbally or mentally abuse the employee, threaten to report them to outside authorities (like immigration or the police), spread false rumors about them or make their work life more difficult (such as scheduling them during known family conflicts). Continue reading

A supervisory special agent working within the inspector general’s office of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, referred to colloquially as Amtrak, has been reinstated and awarded a hefty sum of over $892,000 by the railroad company after he was terminated for raising safety concerns about a contractor hired by Amtrak.

The contractor in question had been convicted in a New York court in 2010 for committing fraud in its examination and testing of concrete used in building projects in the area of New York City, and had been contracted to conduct similar tests on some Amtrak tunnel projects as well. The investigator, concerned about safety and security of the tunnel projects given this fact, raised safety concerns about the contractor.

Subsequently, in October of 2010, the investigator supported a fellow employee who had been reprimanded for raising his own series of concerns about the contractor. A month later, the investigator received a negative performance review – the first he had received in his career with Amtrak.

In March of 2011, the investigator learned that his position was being eliminated as part of an “overall reorganization” of the company. Despite applying for other positions within the company, he was given no new position and was notified in June of 2011 that his employment was officially terminated with Amtrak.

The investigator then filed a whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), who opened an investigation into the issue. OSHA found that Amtrak had violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which protects employees who report potential safety concerns from being wrongfully discharged, demoted, suspended or otherwise reprimanded as a result of sharing their concerns.

“In this case, an employee was terminated for pursuing and reporting safety concerns. The employer’s retaliation is unacceptable and illegal,” said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA’s acting New England regional administrator. “Federal law gives rail carrier employees the right to raise safety, health and security concerns with their supervisors without fear of retaliation. When retaliation occurs, it can have a chilling effect on employees and create a climate of silence where employees’ fear to speak up masks conditions that could impact their health and well-being, and that of their customers.”

OSHA has ordered Amtrak to do the following:

  • Reinstate the employee to a similar position as was held before the termination with the same rights, seniority and benefits as before.
  • Pay a total in $892,551 to the employee, comprised of $723,332 in back wages (plus $34,218 in interest), $100,000 in punitive damages, $35,000 in compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
  • Remove all references to the employee’s dismissal from Amtrak’s records and make no adverse statements concerning his employment at Amtrak.
  • Post a notice to all railroad employees about their Federal Railroad Safety Act rights.

Continue reading

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