Employers are required – by federal law – to provide a safe workplace. If you are concerned that your workplace is unsafe or unhealthy, you have rights. In most cases, the first course of action is to report the hazard to your employer. If the employer is unable, or unwilling, to address the issue, you can contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency responsible for establishing and enforcing workplace safety guidelines, as well as investigating reports of violations.

OSHA protects workers from injuries, illnesses, and generally unsafe or hazardous working conditions. According to OSHA, employers must:

  • provide a safe, healthy workplace,
  • post the OSHA job safety notice somewhere in the workplace,
  • record all injuries, hazardous material exposures, and deaths, and
  • provide any necessary safety training.

Can I Refuse to Work?

Workers have the right to refuse to work if:

  • they reasonably believe that a workplace hazard presents an immediate risk of serious injury or death,
  • their employer fails to fix the condition,
  • there is not enough time to report the condition to OSHA, and
  • no reasonable alternative exists.

In all other cases, workers should first inform their employer of the concern in writing. Keep in mind that employers aren’t usually making the situation unsafe on purpose. In most cases, the negligence is unintentional. Speaking up may be the only thing you need to do to resolve the problem. If that doesn’t work, you may need to talk to an attorney. A Boston work injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured in a workplace accident.

Employer Retaliation

Both OSHA and state laws protect workers who report violations from employer retaliation. Essentially, this means that a worker cannot be demoted or fired, or have their pay reduced, due to having filed a complaint about workplace safety violations. If employer retaliation occurs, the worker may have his or her former position reinstated, and he or she may receive back pay. A MA work injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured in a work-related accident. Continue reading

According to a lawsuit filed earlier this week, female workers at Boston’s McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurant have been routinely subjected to sexual harassment from male co-workers and supervisors. The five women involved in the lawsuit allege that their complaints about ongoing groping and lewd comments were consistently ignored by the company.

The McCormick & Schmick lawsuit is just another example of the routine abuse and harassment faced by low-income workers, especially in the hospitality industry. Many of these women are undocumented immigrants and speak little to no English, which prevents them from coming forward about their abuse. Even if they have legal status and speak English, low-income workers may be hesitant to report harassment for fear of losing their job, and income. For many of these women, the loss of a pay check – however small – would have devastating consequences. As such, they suffer in silence.

Low-Income Workers have Legal Rights

Fabiana Santos, a prep cook at the restaurant, said she endured unwanted touching and lewd comments from a dishwasher.

“The disgusting things that happened to me made me feel dirty,” said Santos, through an interpreter. “And when I got home, I didn’t even want my kids to touch me.” A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been discriminated against in the workplace.

Another woman, Marta Romero, says that she felt powerless to stop the groping and harassment she suffered at the hands of a sous chef, who also happened to be her supervisor.

“I want other women to know that whatever type of work they do or who they are, they’re not powerless,” said Romero, through an interpreter. “They are powerful and have legal rights.” A Boston workplace sexual harassment attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of lewd or abusive behavior.

McCormick & Schmick’s Denied that Conduct Constituted Sexual Harassment

Despite repeatedly reporting the sexual harassment to the Houston-based restaurant chain, all five women involved in the lawsuit said they were ignored. According to the lawsuit, the company’s human resources department did impose some disciplinary actions against certain employees, but the company denied that the conduct reached the level of sexual harassment.

The five women eventually went to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which ruled in their favor. According to the lawsuit, the EEOC ruled in 2015 that there was cause to believe that McCormick & Schmick’s workers had engaged in sexual harassment. As such, the women were able to proceed with their lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday in Boston’s Suffolk County Superior Court.

Domestic Workers are Especially Vulnerable

Female workers in the agricultural, hospitality, hotel, and domestic industries have the highest risk of workplace sexual harassment. Domestic workers have the greatest challenge due to the nature of their jobs.

“There is no human resources department,” said Marisa Senteno, the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s enforcement program manager. “You don’t have co-workers, so how are you going to prove that these things are happening?” Continue reading

Sexual harassment has been a major topic of discussion in recent months. This should be no surprise, considering how widespread the problem has been for decades, centuries, probably since the beginning of time. The modern concept of sexual harassment is relatively new, however, dating from the 1970s onwards. And women’s voices are finally being heard.

Workplace sexual harassment is a violation of human rights and a shockingly common form of sex-based discrimination. Sexual harassment in the workplace often goes unreported as it starts at the top. Regardless, in light of the recent Hollywood scandals, including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., women having started coming forward in greater numbers to report workplace sexual misconduct. Further, the #MeToo campaign has encouraged women to speak out, and new allegations seem to be turning up every day. One of the most recent involves Hall of Fame quarterback, Warren Moon.

The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock recently reported that a California woman filed a lawsuit against Warren Moon, accusing the ex-football player of sexual harassment. According to Whitlock, Moon “committed sexual battery by grabbing the woman’s crotch” during a trip to Seattle earlier this year.

Moon Drugged His Victim’s Drink

The lawsuit also alleges that Moon drugged 32-year-old Wendy Haskell’s drink and pulled off her bathing suit during an October trip to Mexico. Haskell was hired in July as Moon’s executive assistant. A Boston workplace discrimination attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been sexually harassed at work.

Unfortunately, women often suffer further from the process of reporting sexual harassment.  In addition to the shame and adherence to cultural norms that frequently prevents women from speaking out, they commonly fear an onslaught of other consequences, such as work degradations, humiliation, and retaliation. Haskell was not “only” a victim of sexual harassment, she was also a victim of those consequences.

According to Haskell’s lawsuit, Sports 1 Marketing – the company she worked for, which was owned by Moon – demoted her when she made superiors aware of Moon’s actions. She alleges that Moon “required her to wear thong underwear and share his bed” when they were together on business trips. This is an egregious form of sexual abuse, and reports of such violations should never result in further punishment of the victim. A MA employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment. Continue reading

Long and short-term disability insurance policies in Massachusetts can offer income protection when a medical problem renders you unable to work, but these policies don’t protect against job loss. Receiving disability benefits does not automatically prevent you from being terminated. However, certain situations do.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA is a federal law that provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for personal medical issues, or to take care of an immediate family member who is ill. FMLA is often used as a type of maternity leave. Not all businesses are subject to FMLA, however. In order for FMLA to be applicable, the company must have at least 50 employees. Many people use FMLA in conjunction with short-term disability insurance, which covers at least a portion of their lost income. Some people with chronic disabilities utilize FMLA every year.

If you are on FMLA leave, you cannot be terminated unless you are absent from work beyond the 12-week period. Upon your return from FMLA leave, you must be given your former position, or one that is similar. But keep in mind, even exceeding the 12-week period by one day puts you at risk of termination. This has no bearing on short-term disability insurance benefits, however. A MA employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been been the victim of disability discrimination in the workplace.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Under the ADA, it is illegal to terminate an employee due to a covered disability. This applies to employees who are currently on disability leave. The ADA defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” Businesses with 15 or more employees are subject to the ADA and are required by law to make, or offer to make, reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability. The only exception occurs when doing so would cause “undue hardship” for the employer. The employee must inform the employer of the disability, however, and allow reasonable time to make the requested accommodation.

What’s a Reasonable Accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation can be the installation of a wheelchair ramp or Braille signage, desk modification, or the restructuring of the employee’s schedule or job duties. These are just a few examples. If it is shown that the necessary accommodations will cause the employer undue hardship, or that none exist to support the employee in that particular job, the employee can be legally terminated. However, the way in which the termination is handled is equally important. Before firing an employee due to disability, the employer must work with the employee to try multiple options. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been unlawfully terminated due to a disability.

To recap, employees can be fired while on disability if they exceed their 12 annual weeks of FMLA leave, or if they are unable to perform the essential functions of their job after reasonable accommodations have been made. If you feel that you are being discriminated against due to your disability, it is in your best interest to save any correspondence you have with your employer. This could be highly useful if you decide to file a lawsuit. Continue reading

When Rick Pitino was fired for “just cause” as University of Louisville’s head basketball coach in September, the former Boston Celtics coach lost a contract worth about $38.7 million. Last week, Pitino filed a lawsuit against the university’s athletic association, claiming his employer is in breach of contract for firing him when it lacked “just cause” to do so. The lawsuit also claims that his employer failed to properly notify Pitino that he had been placed on administrative leave.

What Was the “Just Cause” for Pitino’s Firing?

According to Louisville, Pitino engaged in misconduct on three grounds:

 

  • He knew of, or was involved in, efforts to illegally incentivize basketball recruits to attend Louisville. This includes payments to Brian Bowen’s family. Ironically, although Bowen was a top recruit at the time, he’s now a non-eligible freshman.

 

  • He failed to to notify the athletic department’s compliance officers of the presence of Richard Dawkins, an alleged briber, on campus. According to Louisville, in doing so, he violated his contract. Dawkins faces decades in prison for his alleged role in multiple college basketball-related crimes.

 

  • When allegations arose about escorts being directed to have sex with certain recruits, he failed to take actions necessary to stop the behavior.

 

But Pitino denies all of the above. According to his lawsuit, Pitino “never has had any part —active, passive, or through willful ignorance —in any effort, successful or unsuccessful, completed or abandoned, to pay any recruit, or any family member of a recruit, or anyone else on a recruit’s behalf, as an inducement to attend the University of Louisville.” To support his argument, Pitino’s complaint points out that despite a government wiretap, no recorded statements of any wrongdoing on Pitino’s part are cited.

Pitino also claims that he did not  have an obligation to report Dawkins’ activities. According to his complaint, “Coach Pitino never understood that Dawkins was an agent, and Bowen’s mother stated that Dawkins was not an agent in any regard for Bowen.”

And with regards to the escorts, Pitino insists that he had zero awareness of these activities.

In addition to his complaints above, Pitino believes that the process by which his termination occurred is another issue. According to his complaint, Louisville failed to conduct a proper investigation or provide sufficient notice prior to his termination. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been wrongfully terminated. Continue reading

According to advocates who help undocumented immigrant workers and low-wage women, the more vulnerable the woman, the worse the sexual harassment tends to be. One recent case in Massachusetts involved a Honduran woman who would be beckoned to a supervisor’s office via the PA system, signaling to her that it was time to perform oral sex on him. Sexual misconduct in the workplace is shockingly common, but it’s often only revealed as a secondary issue when women report other problems, such as theft of wages. “A lot of women are trained that economic issues are real problems and this sexual harassment thing is just extra added discomfort,” said interim co-director for Jobs With Justice, Gillian Mason.

Another issue faced by low-income workers is that they are often working through temp agencies. Refusing advances from their supervisors may prevent their ability to obtain permanent employment, so many suffer through it. During a sexual harassment study conducted by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), one temp worker said, “The female co-workers that wanted the permanent job through the company, they let him touch them.” A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

Don’t Bother Reporting it, “This Company Always Wins.”

Over a one-year period, MassCOSH interviewed a total of 58 low-wage Latina workers in the restaurant, janitorial, factory, and hotel industries. One woman reported feeling like she was in a “prison,” fearing that she wouldn’t be able to support her child if she lost her job. Another woman, who worked at a Somerville manufacturing company, claimed that after refusing her supervisor’s advances, he made her work on a more dangerous machine. She went to a lawyer after burning her hands on the machine, but the lawyer told her to give up because “this company always wins.” So she did. Shortly thereafter, she was laid off.

According to Adrian Ventura, director of the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores in New Bedford, sexual harassment often occurs in the vans used to transport workers to different job sites. In many cases, the van drivers double as supervisors for temp agencies. Some drivers will drop off attractive, young workers last so they can be alone in the vehicle together. If the woman refuses the driver’s advances, she risks losing her job. A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

For many of these women, not speaking English presents another obstacle. Even if the company has established harassment policies and procedures for reporting this type of behavior, without a Spanish translator, many workers don’t know what to do. In the case of Judith Lucas, from Guatemala, a language barrier prevented her from reporting long-standing harassment at a scallop processing facility in New Bedford. She couldn’t quit because she needed the money, and she couldn’t ask for help because her translator was the man who was assaulting her. Continue reading

Sexual harassment and assault typically involve an imbalance of power: boss and employee, teacher and student, adult and child, police officer and civilian. The person with power takes advantage of the victim’s vulnerability. Very few people are more vulnerable than an undocumented immigrant living in the United States. Most undocumented immigrants have risked everything to be here, and their employers know it. As such, the employer of an undocumented immigrant is automatically put in a position of power. The threat of deportation looms. In far too many cases, employers use this knowledge to sexually harass or assault workers.

Reports of sexual harassment have been flooding the headlines lately, with women coming forward about enduring years of harassment at the hands of their employers. Their stories include everything from bad behavior to outright rape. Many of these women are well-known, high-paid Hollywood actresses and socialites. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Finally, women are being heard. Something is being done. Progress is being made.

Fear of Retaliation, Job Loss, or Deportation

But low-wage workers, many of them undocumented, and many of them unable to speak English, are not getting the same response to allegations of sexual harassment as their rich, white, Hollywood counterparts. For many of these women, reporting sexual harassment doesn’t seem to be viable option. They simply cannot afford to lose their jobs. And even if they want to report it, many don’t know how, or they fear that calling attention to themselves will result in deportation. A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

One woman in Boston – an undocumented immigrant – was continuously raped by her boss, who threatened to report her to immigration authorities if she ever told anyone. Another woman, who was working at a bread company in Charlestown, refused her supervisor’s offer to go home with him. In response, he cut her hours.

In 2015, Jena Benson started working at a Boston-area Dunkin’ Donuts. She says that her shift supervisor would always greet her with a hug, which didn’t bother her too much. But on one particular occasion, the hug lasted too long and ended with the supervisor squeezing her buttocks. Continue reading

With the Equal Employment Commission’s (EEOC) new web portal, filing a workplace discrimination charge just got easier than ever. According to the EEOC, the portal was created in response to an increasing demand for the agency’s services. In 2017, the EEOC responded to more than 140,000 inquiries and 550,000 calls. The EEOC hopes that the portal will provide a more efficient way for people to contact the agency, as well as to sign and file an employment discrimination charge.

The portal, which has been piloted in multiple EEOC offices across the country, allows the public to file a charge online. From there, the individual can provide additional information, upload supporting documents, check on status, and even agree to mediation.

“This secure online system makes the EEOC and an individual’s charge information available wherever and whenever it is most convenient for that individual,” said Victoria A. Lipnic, EEOC acting chair. “It’s a giant leap forward for the EEOC in providing online services.”

What is Employment Discrimination?

Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, employment discrimination was legal, and occurred with shocking frequency. Although workplace discrimination and harassment are now illegal, they still rear their ugly heads from time to time. In fact, employment discrimination still affects hundreds-of-thousands of workers every year. Fortunately, today’s legal protections help bring justice to victims of workplace discrimination. A Boston employment discrimination attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been discriminated against at work.

Common Types of Employment Discrimination

Employment discrimination takes many forms. If you are discriminated against based on your membership in a protected class, you may have a successful discrimination lawsuit on your hands. The most common types of unlawful employment discrimination are based on:

  • Age: Individuals age 40 and above are protected against age-based discrimination by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
  • Disability: Employees with qualifying disabilities are protected by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • National origin: It is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to discriminate against an employee or prospective employee based on their country of origin, accent, or ethnic background.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, and is prohibited under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
  • Race: Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employees are protected from race-based discrimination, including harassment or discrimination related to the employee’s skin color, perceived race, and interracial relationships.
  • Religion: According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers may not treat employees differently based on their religion, religious beliefs, or participation in religious activities.
  • Sex: In addition to sexual harassment, sex-based discrimination includes any type of different treatment related to the employee’s sex, such as paying a woman less than her male counterpart. Sex-based discrimination is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Fortunately, it is also unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a discrimination claim, testifying, or participating in an investigation into employment discrimination. A MA workplace discrimination lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been the victim of discrimination at work. Continue reading

Barry Coleman was hired as HR director at Netflix in early 2016. The streaming giant offered Coleman the job after seeing his presentation on doing business in China, in 2015. Shortly after receiving the offer, Coleman learned that his son had been murdered. Distraught over the tragic loss of his son, Coleman suffered from severe depression. But Netflix maintained their offer of a $500,000 annual salary to be the director of employee services.

Coleman alleges that his recruiter, Barbie Graver, former VP of talent at Netflix, said that Netflix would accommodate his situation: “If you work at half your normal speed for the first six months, I’m okay with that.” However, Coleman says that this special treatment was quickly replaced with harassment. He claims to have been ostracized for not working the “Netflix Way,” and for being disengaged. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Coleman claims that a male superior began making inappropriate advances in April 2016. He initially asked Coleman to join him for a rendezvous with another male business exec. Coleman politely declined the offer, but the invitations didn’t stop. As stated in the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court: “Being heterosexual, [Coleman] was uncomfortable with [the superior’s] advances and attempted to keep some distance so as not to offend his superior. However, the invitations to go out continued.”

Not “Netflix Enough”

Then came the gossiping. According to Coleman, the superior began talking about him with other employees, saying that Coleman wasn’t “Netflix enough,” and calling him arrogant. When he brought the issue to Graver’s attention, not only did she not initiate an investigation, she claimed to be “cool” with this type of behavior. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

The complaint went on to say that: “During [Coleman’s] employment, Ms. Graver discussed her handling of a prior sexual harassment claim at Netflix. She told [Coleman] that the accused employee had a history of making inappropriate comments and had been warned on numerous occasions. Ms. Graver also told [Coleman] that many Netflix executives would make inappropriate sexual comments and that [she] was ‘cool’ with it, but understood that others may not be. Ms. Graver, in communicating these and other examples of Netflix unwritten policy of tolerating harassment and discrimination, made it clear to [Coleman] that he should not be ‘over-sensitive’ even when he was being harassed by his superior.”

Apparently the situation only continued to get worse until Graver took a new job. According to Coleman, Graver’s replacement did not wish to accommodate his continued psychological needs from the death of his son. As such, his employment was terminated in May 2016. Netflix holds that Coleman’s termination was based on poor performance. The company claims that he was rarely in the office, and that he was often condescending to his subordinates. Continue reading

When admission to a skilled nursing facility is medically necessary, Medicare covers at least a portion of the services, as long as certain requirements are met. For starters, admission to the facility must come on the heels of a covered inpatient hospital stay of at least three days. When a skilled nursing facility bills Medicare for medically unnecessary services, the facility may be guilty of Medicare fraud.

RUG Upcoding

Fraud in skilled nursing facilities most commonly involves something called a Resource Utilization Group (RUG) code. Every patient is assigned a code, which is used to evaluate the patient’s needs. These codes are weighted, and directly impact the per diem paid to the facility by Medicare. When the wrong code is purposely used to obtain higher payment, this is known as RUG upcoding, and it occurs with shocking frequency. Patients are categorized into seven main categories. These are:

  • Behavior problems
  • Clinically complex
  • Extensive services
  • Impaired cognition
  • Reduced physical function
  • Rehabilitation
  • Special care

Each of the above categories is further divided into specific RUG codes. A MA whistleblower attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you have information about RUG upcoding at a skilled nursing facility.

Skilled Care vs. Custodial Care

Care that occurs in a skilled nursing facility “requires the involvement of skilled nursing or rehabilitative staff in order to be given safely and effectively.” Custodial care, on the other hand, is non-medical care, such as assistance with bathing and eating. Skilled care involves physical therapy, intravenous injections, and the like. If the facility bills for skilled care when the patient only needs custodial care, this is Medicare fraud. It can also be fraud if a patient who previously needed skilled care gets better, but the facility continues to provide unnecessary skilled services. If a whistleblower provides information about this type of fraud to the government, the skilled nursing facility may be required to pay back every cent obtained in this manner.

What is a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower is someone who reports illegal or fraudulent activities committed against the U.S. government. To incentivize people to report such activity, whistleblower rewards are often substantial. Take the following scenario, for example. Gretchen works for a skilled nursing facility. She notices that patients are being given RUG codes that are inconsistent with their actual needs. Gretchen reports this activity, and the resulting investigation uncovers millions in Medicare payments received based on fraudulent charges. When those funds are repaid by the facility, Gretchen may receive a reward of up to 25 percent of the total recovered.

The reality is, blowing the whistle can be extremely lucrative. Rewards may be in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. In addition to helping the government agency in question, whistleblowers often protect innocent people. In many cases, fraudulent or illegal activity uses tax payer dollars, and can even harm the safety, health, or well-being of the general public. Whistleblowers are often reticent to report fraud and illegal activity for fear of retaliation. Fortunately, multiple legal protections exist to prevent this type of backlash.

In order to report skilled nursing facility fraud, you must hire an attorney. That attorney will file something known as a False Claims Act qui tam action against the facility. You will then be asked to identify specific examples of Medicare fraud that you witnessed. A Boston whistleblower attorney can help you determine if the information you have warrants a qui tam lawsuit. Continue reading

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