Fair Work P.C.

Boston Employee Rights Legal Blog

Overtime salary threshold change can benefit workers

Some Massachusetts workers may be pleased to hear about a new federal regulation requiring that more workers receive overtime pay if they work over 40 hours a week. The National Labor Relations Act defines exempt workers, those not covered by the law's wage and hour provisions, as those who make at least a certain salary and also have a high level of independent judgment or management responsibilities in their roles. Originally intended to classify professional workers and management staff, the exempt classification has been used by many companies to avoid overtime pay for relatively low-wage workers who are often highly directed by others.

On Sept. 24, the federal Department of Labor announced that it intended to raise the salary threshold to $35,568 from its earlier amount of $23,660, an amount that sits below the poverty line for a family of four. Earlier, under the Obama administration, the Labor Department sought to raise that minimum salary to around $47,000, which would have expanded the provisions to 3 million more workers than this proposal. However, those efforts were blocked by a federal court decision prior to the change in administrations. This new proposal will benefit around 1.3 million workers across the country.

What the EEOC may do to help workers

Individuals in Massachusetts who have been harassed or discriminated against at work may be able to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If a claim is successful, a person may be able to obtain financial compensation as well as reinstatement to a position. Individuals who were bypassed for a job could be entitled to that position or a similar one. Similar positions are those that have mostly the same duties or responsibilities as those an individual lost out on.

It is permissible for a business to oust the individual who currently holds a position in favor of the employee who was the victim of discrimination. Companies could be required to take other action to ensure that harassment or discrimination will not occur again in the future. Those actions could include providing training for all current employees or managers or providing assurances that the illegal behavior will not continue.

Massachusetts allows commission-only pay, within limits

Under Massachusetts law, employers can pay a sales employee entirely through commissions on the sales made by the salesperson. The more you sell, the more you make. End of story (almost).

The commonwealth has long protected commission-only employees with an important footnote and, this year, it added another. Massachusetts employers and salespeople are still double-checking the terms of their contracts to confirm they follow the laws, old and new.

Woman sues employer for firing her after attending pride parade

Despite advances in legal rights for the LGBT community in Massachusetts, people continue to endure discrimination at work, like the transgender woman currently suing Circle K. Her lawsuit against the convenience store location that employed her seeks compensation for lost pay, benefits, emotional distress and legal costs. The 26-year-old woman reportedly lost her job after taking a day off to attend a pride parade in her neighborhood.

Her lawsuit describes ongoing incidents of discriminatory treatment at work prior to her dismissal. Court filings indicate that co-workers asked her offensive questions about her sex life. The African-American plaintiff also alleged in her complaint that the store manager repeatedly called African-American customers by the N-word.

Age discrimination more likely for men, says study

Men are more likely than women to experience discrimination in Massachusetts workplaces based on their age, according to a study. Insurance company Hiscox released its 2019 Ageism in the Workplace Study, which found that less than 33% of women believed age had been an obstacle in looking for a new job after they were 40 years old. At the same time, 43% of men in the study said they thought being 40 or over had negatively impacted their job search.

Approximately 25% of women said they believed age hindered their career advancement after they reached 40, compared to almost 40% of men. One out of five workers at or over the age of 40, overall, said they had been discriminated against at work because of their age. Most respondents also said there was no ageism bias training over the prior 12 months. According to the study, people believe workplace age discrimination is most likely beginning at age 51, but 67% of respondents said they planned to work until after they were 66 years old.

Google accused of pregnancy discrimination

Employees in Massachusetts and throughout the country are generally protected from being harassed or discriminated against while pregnant. Furthermore, employers generally cannot discriminate or retaliate against an employee for being a parent. One Google employee claimed that the company didn't take action against a manager who was reported to HR for acting inappropriately toward an employee who was a mother. That employee eventually became pregnant and alleges that she too was harassed and treated inappropriately before leaving for maternity leave.

After being treated harshly by the manager who she initially reported, the employee switched to a different team. She further claimed that she was discouraged from taking maternity leave early by her new manager despite experiencing health issues. Finally, the woman said that she was denied managerial opportunities and had reduced responsibilities on this new team. The employee wrote about her experiences in a memo that was posted to an internal message board where it was viewed roughly 10,000 times.

Are you treated like an employee but paid like a contractor?

Massachusetts wants you classified correctly according to the law as an employee or a contactor. With the wrong classification, you’re probably not getting pay and protections that improve your quality of life, but the Commonwealth is also being cheated. And Massachusetts does not like that.

Workplace sexual harassment is down, but sexism is up

Women in Massachusetts can take comfort in knowing that workplace sexual harassment is on the decline. This is according to a study based on a survey of more than 500 women conducted from 2016 to 2018. The women questioned said fondling, leering and ogling, and other types of unwanted sexual attention occurred less frequently during the two-year period studied. However, the same study found that sexism is on the rise.

A quarter of the women surveyed reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention in the workplace in 2018, a drop from 66% in 2016. Instances of sexual coercion dropped to 16% from 25% during the same two years. Sexist remarks and other forms of sexism, however, rose during the two-year study period. Instances of what's also referred to as gender harassment increased from 76 to 93%.

Court brief sides with transgender worker

Transgender workers in Massachusetts and throughout the United States should be protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is according to a brief submitted to the Supreme Court by the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. The brief claims that discriminating against a transgender person is tantamount to sex discrimination, which Title VII prohibits. It backs up its claim by pointing to favorable rulings in 35 federal district courts over the past 20 years.

It also cites the American Psychological Association, which claims that those who change genders are not simply living out a fantasy. Instead, they are simply living as the gender that they believe themselves to truly be. According to the APA, decades of research has shown that only individuals themselves can know their true gender identity.

If it’s happened in the workplace, chances are, one of us has dealt with it.
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