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New Jersey Employment Law Blog

Sexual Harassment In The Medical Field

No profession is free from harassment and discrimination. No amount of education or level of skill can protect workers from the threat of a hostile workplace. The problem is often at its worst in fields that are or once were considered the domain of men. Progress is slow and attitudes that should have died out decades ago persist. The field of medicine is one where sexual harassment is all too common, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

The study analyzed survey results from doctors who received career development awards from the National Institutes of Health. The surveys demonstrated that 4 percent of men who had received these awards were the victims of sexual harassment. More than 30 percent of the women in that group had been sexually harassed. Of those women, roughly half reported that the harassment harmed their career advancement. 

Employment Abuses In The Trucking Industry

Long hours, low pay and extreme risk make for a poor working environment. In the case of commercial truck driving, they also increase the chances of a deadly crash. Long-haul trucking has been targeted by a disturbing trend. Many trucking companies use a change in employment status to make outrageous profits at the expense of workers. Drivers are often misled into believing that working as an independent contractor will be the ticket to increased salary and freedom from the sometimes onerous control over the work. In reality, drivers may find themselves with less control than ever over their working lives while simultaneously facing sharply reduced wages and no benefits.

Trucking companies may prefer to label a worker as an independent contractor because it saves them money and frees them from obligations like providing for worker's compensation and unemployment benefits. Misclassification is a common problem in many fields. Whether you are an employee or an independent contractor is not dictated by your contract. An employer cannot turn employees into independent contractors by getting them to sign on the dotted line. Classification depends on a number of factors laid out by the Department of Labor. 

Changes To Overtime Access On The Horizon

The right to receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in a week applies to many workers. There are some, however, who are exempt from the requirement. Most exempt workers are excluded because their work is considered executive, professional labor. These workers are believed to have enough authority or autonomy to avoid the requirement of paying them overtime. Many employers abuse the system by classifying workers as exempt without giving them the autonomy required to be considered executive workers. One of the ways to prevent this problem was to set a salary floor, under which an employee cannot be considered exempt.

The salary floor for exempt employees is currently $23,660. A recent proposal from the Department of Labor would increase the salary floor for exempt status to $50,440. If the proposal becomes law, a substantial number of workers could find themselves reclassified to nonexempt employees. This would require their employers to pay them time and a half for hours worked beyond 40 per week.

A Controversial Measure To Stop School Bullying

A City in Wisconsin recently passed an ordinance designed to combat the problem of school bullying. The ordinance allows officials to assess fines to the parents of children who engage in bullying behavior. This is just the latest attempt to force parents to take an active role in policing their children when it comes to bullying. Whether the measure is proper is a matter of heated debate. Whether the fines will be effective is something that should be analyzed going forward.

Many parents claim to be surprised when they are confronted with allegations that their children are bullying others. Some believe the behavior is an acceptable part of growing up. Others believe that their children are blameless or were provoked. Still others ignore the issue, unconcerned about the conduct of their children. Fines could certainly make a difference with the final group as financial penalties provide an incentive to take action. The fines would also encourage parents to let go of old beliefs about bullying being a natural and accepted part of growing up. 

Discrimination And Abuse In Firefighting

A firefighter in Virginia was found dead after an apparent suicide this week. A note found near the body of the 32-year-old female suggested that the death was self-inflicted. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death found that she had been the target of cyberbullying by her fellow firefighters. The attacks were sexual in nature and fit a long-standing pattern of so-called "slut shaming" of women who chose to work as firefighters.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are around twice as many volunteer firefighters as paid career firefighters. The jobs are predominantly for local governments. The Cornell Institute for Women and Work reports that more than 96 percent of firefighters are male. That kind of disparity can easily give rise to the type of abuse and hostility found in this tragic situation. 

Distracted Driving Awareness And Enforcement

As part of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, many police departments are stepping up efforts aimed at prevention. Information campaigns play a role in putting a stop to distracted driving, but enforcement also has a place. If drivers have no fear of being caught texting, tweeting or otherwise not paying attention, the behavior will likely continue despite growing awareness of the dangers it poses. While cell phone use is not the only form of distraction taking drivers' eyes off the road, it is one that has drawn substantial attention from lawmakers.

The fines for distracted driving might come as a surprise to many. A first offense of talking or texting on a hand-held wireless device can lead to a fine of as much as $400. A third offense can trigger an $800 fine, 3 points taken from your license and a 90-day suspension of that license. The use of a cell phone is not required to get a ticket for distracted driving, however. Police can cite drivers for careless driving if they see signs of distraction. 

The Profitability Of Discrimination

A number of Southern states have recently made a point to codify the right of individuals and businesses to discriminate against those who offend their religious sensibilities. These laws mirror earlier attempts to ban same-sex marriage and, before that, to ban things like desegregation and interracial marriage. In the past, corporate America would either have supported these laws or at the very least maintained silence. Lately, more and more companies have spoken out against these blatant attempts to discriminate.

While it would be wonderful to imagine a world where this represented the growth of decency, kindness and morality among business leaders, it is just as likely a response to the changing profitability of discrimination. In seeking the repeal of a North Carolina law forbidding municipalities from extending protection against discrimination beyond state guidelines, Bank of America declared the law "bad for our employees and bad for business." When a company can expect to lose quality employees and customers by discriminating or tolerating discrimination, it is more likely to act. 

Distracted Walking Could Become A Crime

Cell phones and cars are not a safe combination. Of course, that's true even when the cell phone is being used by someone crossing the street on foot, rather than driving a car. The ongoing fight to reduce the number of fatal pedestrian accidents has led one New Jersey assemblywoman to propose a bill banning the use of cell phones without hands-free devices while walking on public sidewalks. Under the bill, offenders would be subject to a fine of up to $50. Repeat offenders would face as much as 15 days in jail.

Other jurisdictions across the country have attempted to prevent pedestrians from walking while distracted, but as of yet none of the legislative efforts have been successful. The measure is unlikely to succeed here, either, but it may help bring attention to a growing problem. A survey of children between the ages of 13 and 18 found that 40 percent had been hit or nearly hit by a vehicle while walking. Of that 40 percent, nearly half were either listening to music, texting or talking on the phone. 

Pay Discrimination Follows Women Wherever They Go

One of the excuses used by many to ignore the problem of the wage gap between male and female workers was that the fields "preferred" by women simply paid less. If men chose to be doctors and women chose to be nurses, it was natural that men would be paid more. This was and is utter nonsense, of course. That viewpoint ignores the sexist double standards and barriers to entry that kept women out of these traditionally male occupations. It also obscures the simple reality that when men and women do the same work, in the same field, women still get paid less. New research is helping to accurately portray the ways in which women are discriminated against in employment.

The study, conducted at Cornell University, demonstrates that when women take on jobs that traditionally went to men, the pay for those jobs decreases. The work that was valued when men did it is suddenly devalued simply because women have entered the field. The research took into account the experience, education, skills, race and geography of the workers. All these things being equal, pay went down when women entered the field. 

Employee Rights Violated By Social Media Policy

Many employers believe they have unfettered rights to control their employees when it comes to social media. A Twitter or Facebook post that criticizes an employer can draw swift retribution. While employees are not able to say anything they like without consequences, there are protected topics. A social media policy that does not account for activities protected by federal law is not enforceable. An administrative judge recently ruled that the social media policy used by Chipotle was not allowed under federal law. The ruling followed several memoranda released by the National Labor Relations Board instructing employers how to avoid running afoul of the law in promoting a social media policy.

Employees have the right to discuss working conditions. That discussion can include criticism of wages, working conditions and other employment practices. The Tweet that inspired the Chipotle case specifically listed the wages earned by Chipotle employees. The Chipotle social media policy banned any social media statements that were disparaging or false. After the worker was fired, he launched a complaint with the help of the Pennsylvania Workers Organizing Committee. His complaint was upheld and the judge ordered Chipotle to pay him for lost wages.