Articles Posted in Workplace Retaliation

In a particularly challenging year for Uber, the company behind the driver-for-hire app has terminated over 20 employees in an effort to deal with accusations of sexual harassment and other issues. On Tuesday, Uber made an internal announcement to its 12,000 employees about the decision, following a long list of complaints from former employees.

215 Workplace Incidents

According to reports, a total of 215 claims of workplace incidents have been filed against Uber. The breakdown of these complaints, in order of frequency, is as follows:

  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Unprofessional behavior
  • Bullying
  • Other types of harassment
  • Retaliation
  • Physical security
  • Wrongful termination

An internal investigation into these claims is currently underway. Since the investigation began, Uber has fired 20 employees, and another seven have received a final warning. According to the ride-hailing tech giant, 57 claims are still under review and no action is being taken in 100 of the claims. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to move forward if you’ve been a victim of workplace sexual harassment.

Blogging about Harassment

Most of the complaints originated in the company’s San Francisco headquarters, but complaints have come from Uber locations across the globe. Following former employee Susan Fowler’s claims on her blog that she experienced gender bias and sexual harassment while working for Uber, the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, launched the internal investigation.

The news of the firings is just the most recent in a string of scandals that have been plaguing Uber for months. Earlier this year, the company’s senior vice president of engineering was asked to resign when Uber discovered that he hadn’t disclosed past allegations of sexual harassment. Ed Baker, another Uber exec, left the company abruptly under unknown circumstances in March.

Technology Theft and Bad Business Practices

And that’s not all. Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo, has brought a lawsuit against Uber, accusing the company of stealing its technology. As a result, Anthony Levandowski, an Uber engineer who had previously worked for Google, was fired last month. Beyond the lawsuits and allegations of workplace misconduct, Uber is also battling an image of bad business practices, such as the use of a tool designed for the purpose of evading regulators.

Is Uber in Denial?

“(Fowler’s) blog shocked me,” said Liane Hornsey, the head of Uber’s HR. “But, what did surprise me, was when I did the listening sessions, this didn’t come up as an issue. It wasn’t one of our big themes. Other things came up that are in that area, that our values are masculine and a little aggressive, but the harassment issue, I just didn’t find that at all.” A MA employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been harassed in the workplace.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Uber is far from the only company with sexual harassment issues. This type of inappropriate workplace behavior is actually quite common. A study of 500 respondents and 92 U.S. companies produced the following results:

  • Approximately 54 percent (272) of respondents had been the victim of some type of workplace sexual harassment.
  • Of those, 27 percent had experienced harassment by a colleague, and 17 percent were harassed by a
  • Women made up the majority of harassment victims at 79 percent.
  • Of those harassed, 12 percent claim to have received threats of termination if they refused the advances and requests of their harassers.

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In 2011, a railroad worker filed a complaint against Pan Am Railways, Inc., claiming he was subjected to retaliation after filing a Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) whistleblower complaint. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the complaint against the North Billerica-based railroad and decided in favor of the employee. A federal appeals court has agreed, ordering the railway company to pay $260,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

The employee, who worked in a Waterville, Maine rail yard, was accused by his employer of dishonesty in connection to an injury-related whistleblower complaint. For their retaliatory actions, Pan Am Railways, Inc. was ordered to compensate the employee to the tune of $10,000, pay $40,000 in punitive damages, and take corrective actions so that a similar incident doesn’t occur in the future. The railway company appealed.

Appeals Denied, Punitive Damages Skyrocket

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

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

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