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Articles Posted in Workplace Investigations

Sexual harassment can occur anywhere. And it’s shockingly common, especially in the workplace. In fact, one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 report being sexually harassed at work. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, and a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As such, it is a federally prohibited act. Even so, workplace sexual harassment continues to occur with shocking frequency. Read on for more information about what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, and what to do if you are being harassed.

Title VII protects workers from unlawful discrimination, including discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Sexual harassment encompasses a diverse array of behaviors, including unwelcome sexual advances, verbal sexual misconduct, physical sexual misconduct, and requests for sexual favors. Title VII applies to employers with at least 15 employees, and includes government entities. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Whether or not an action is considered sexual harassment is largely dependent on the particulars of the situation. For example, the telling of sexually-suggestive jokes between co-workers who are friends outside of work and who engage in that type of banter is probably not sexual harassment. However, if a superior tells sexually-suggestive jokes to a new employee and it makes her uncomfortable, this may be considered a form of sexual harassment. This is especially true if he continues to tell the jokes even after discovering that they make the employee uncomfortable.

Quid Pro Quo vs. Hostile Work Environment

Workplace sexual harassment is usually placed in one of two categories: quid pro quo or hostile work environment.  A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

  • Quid pro quo: This type of sexual harassment occurs when the harassment is tied to an employment decision, such as a promotion or termination.
  • Hostile work environment: This type of sexual harassment occurs when the harassment of a superior or co-worker makes your work environment offensive, intimidating, or hostile.

In addition to sexually-suggestive jokes, sexual harassment may include threats or bribes soliciting sexual activity, sexual comments or innuendos, unwelcome touching, displays of sexually explicit or graphic images or content, and any type of sexual assault. If you have been sexually harassed, the severity of the incident will have a significant impact on the outcome of the case. In some cases, even a single unwelcome advance may constitute sexual harassment; for example, the request of a sexual favor in exchange for a promotion, or a uniquely severe form of harassment, such as assault. If an isolated incident is less serious, such the telling of a sexually-suggestive joke, it may be difficult to qualify as sexual harassment. When a pattern exists, however, painting a picture of a hostile work environment will be an easier task. 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

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.

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