Under federal and state laws, disabled people are a protected class. These laws make it illegal for employers to discharge, fail to promote, fail to hire, or otherwise treat the person differently because of a physical or mental disability so long as that person is able to perform the job. These laws also require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with any physical or mental disabilities.

A recent settlement involving Walmart highlights disability discrimination in the workplace. 

Walmart Inc. will pay $80,000 and implement nationwide changes to its disability reassignment policy to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment  Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to the federal agency. 

The EEOC’s lawsuit claims that Walmart violated federal law by failing to reassign a long- term employee at its Augusta, Maine location to vacant positions in its  Waterville or Thomaston, Maine locations after she became disabled. The lawsuit alleged that the disbaled woman, who had worked for Walmart since 1999, developed a disability that, according to Walmart,  prevented her from continuing to work in a sales associate position in Augusta. Walmart determined that the only positions that could accommodate her disability were fitting room associate and people greeter. While there were no such positions vacant in Augusta, there were two fitting room associate positions open in Waterville and one in Thomaston. Walmart’s policy, however, was to search for open positions only in the store where the employee had been working. Because of this, Walmart did not transfer the woman to the positions in  Waterville or Thomaston, which she would have happily accepted. As a result, the woman never worked for Walmart again.

The  Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability and imposes a requirement that employees with disabilities be provided a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship on the employer. The ADA states that one of these accommodations is reassignment to a vacant position.

The  EEOC filed its suit (Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-00170-JDL) in U.S. District  Court for the District of Maine in Bangor after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

As  part of the settlement, Walmart will change its policy so associates with a disability that are eligible  for job reassignment under the ADA as a reasonable accommodation can request that Walmart search at up to five stores beyond  an associate’s then-current store location (“home store”) or in the home store’s entire market. The revised procedures will be applied to all hourly field associates working in Walmart retail stores in the United States.

Walmart is also enjoined from failing to offer to reassign a qualified individual with a disability to a vacant position. Finally, the woman will receive payment of $80,000.

“Federal law requires employers to reassign employees with a disability to vacant positions as the reasonable accommodation of last resort,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office.  “We are very pleased that this lawsuit, which arose from a single employee’s complaint, resulted in the nationwide change we sought, and we applaud Walmart for making that change.”

EEOC New York District  Director Kevin Berry added,  “Employers cannot refuse to offer a reasonable accommodation required by law absent undue hardship. This case demonstrates that looking beyond the home store  for a vacant position is not an undue hardship.”

The EEOC’s New York District  Office oversees New York, Northern New Jersey,  Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. 

The law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. These accommodations can include:

  • Medical leave or even the extension of medical leave
  • Allowing an employee to work from home
  • Reassigning to an available position
  • Modified equipment or devices
  • Modified work schedules
  • Adjustment of policies or additional training
  • Interpreters or any other required assistance
  • Accessible workspace

Once an employee tells their employer that they have a disability that requires accommodations, there are certain state laws that kick in requiring an interactive process between the employer and the employee. In the state of Florida, this interactive process requires the employer to communicate with the employee in selecting an appropriate accommodation. The best way to initiate this process is for the employee to request a reasonable accommodation. This interactive process involves various things, such as analyzing the particular job involved to determine the essential functions, speaking with the employee to learn their job-related limitations, talking with the employee to identify potential accommodations and get their preferences as far as the job duties are concerned. 

Reasonable accommodations can include things such as making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to individuals with disabilities, restructuring jobs, modifying the position to part-time, modifications of equipment used, adjusting the training materials and policies related to the job, and/or providing qualified readers or interpreters.

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A pair of Las Vegas attorneys settled a federal legal malpractice lawsuit against a former Pure nightclub cocktail waitress, who claimed she was attacked by the son of a Caesars Entertainment Corp. executive and former Las Vegas mayor. 

The confidential settlement between the woman and the attorneys was reached Tuesday, just days before the case was set for a jury trial, according to court records.

The woman had hired the law partners to represent her in a personal injury case against a man who attacked her on Jan. 4, 2009 at Caesars Palace, where she worked as a cocktail server. The suit also named Pure and Caesars Entertainment as defendants. 

The 2014 lawsuit identifies resulted in the woman suing her attorneys on claims of legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty and deceptive trade practices. According to the suit, one of the attorneys had conflicts of interest when his firm was hired to represent the woman in the personal injury case.

The attorney was also representing a Pure executive in a tax evasion case at the time, according to the malpractice suit.

According to the malpractice suit, the defendants’ errors forced the woman to settle for $225,000, which was less than 5 percent of McKenna’s actual damages.

Another law firm helped the woman settle her personal injury case. She had hired the firm to replace her original attorney’s firm on the case after more than four years.

Pure Management Group fired the woman in 2012 “due to physical and cognitive disabilities resulting from her attack,” according to the lawsuit.

At the nightclub early one morning in January 2009, the man who attacked her asked the woman to sit on his lap, and when she “refused his advances and turned to leave, the man pulled her into his lap,” the lawsuit said. After he “lunged at her, placed his hands around her throat, and began choking and shaking her,” the lawsuit alleged, the woman “blacked out and fell.”

Your workplace should be a safe place where you can perform your job duties worry free. A workplace should never be a hostile environment where acts of violence are carried out by other co-workers, managers and owners, or persons from the outside.  However, the sad truth is that workplace environments can be dangerous and acts of violence including assault and battery, sexual assaults, and gun shootings do happen. When these acts occur, workplace injuries and fatalities can easily happen. 

Workplace violence may include:

  • Sexual Harassment
  • Intimidation and Bullying
  • Intentional Emotional Pain or Psychological Trauma
  • Sexual Assault 
  • Sexual Battery
  • Assault and Battery, including unwanted grabbing, pulling of hair, hitting, and punching

Many times, the above types of acts go unreported because employees are worried about losing their jobs. You should not have to endure working in an unsafe environment, and our Florida Employment Lawyers at Whittel & Melton can help you if you have found yourself in these types of situations.

There are certain industries that are more susceptible to suffering from workplace violence. Some industries where workers may be victims of workplace violence may include:

  • Bar and Nightclub Workers
  • Liquor store and convenient store employees working late night shifts
  • Health care workers in hospitals
  • Social workers
  • Prison Guards and Security Guards Workers
  • Maids and nannies
  • State and Federal Government employees
  • Firemen and Police officers
  • School Teachers, coaches, and administrative staff

Our Employment Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to help protect victims of workplace violence. If you have been a victim of a violent act in the workplace you may be entitled to recovery for medical bills, rehabilitation costs, future medical bills and prescriptions, loss of income, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish. 

As with any type of workplace issue, such as sexual harassment or discrimination, if an employer became aware of a situation of a hostile work environment, but failed to further investigate, intervene, or otherwise address the issue, they may also be held responsible for the actions of an employee. Employers have certain duties to keep their employees safe, and when you are subjected to violence at work, you have the right to pursue legal action for justice. 

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The single most frequent wage and hour violation our Florida Unpaid Wage and Overtime Attorneys at Whittel & Melton see involves the failure to pay overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of 40 in a week. Despite the Fair Labor Standards Act and nearly identical Florida state laws, every year employers attempt to cheat workers out of hundreds of millions of dollars in overtime compensation. 

This is exactly what happened in a recent case conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). Memos Painting & Drywall Inc. – based in Orlando, Florida – will pay $107,890 in back wages to 101 employees for violating the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

WHD investigators found the residential and commercial painting contractor violated the FLSA overtime requirements when the employer paid employees straight-time rates for all hours that they worked. This created overtime violations when employees worked more than 40 hours in a workweek but the employer did not pay overtime. Memos Painting & Drywall Inc. also failed to maintain accurate payroll records, a violation of the FLSA recordkeeping provision.

“Failing to pay required overtime shorts workers and puts an employer’s law-abiding competitors at an economic disadvantage,” said Wage and Hour District Director Daniel White, in Jacksonville, Florida. “The Jacksonville Wage and Hour Division office is available to help employers understand their obligations and avoid violations like those found in this case. We invite anyone with questions to call or visit us for assistance.”

The Department offers numerous resources to ensure employers have the tools they need to understand their responsibilities and to comply with federal law, such as online videos, confidential calls, or in-person visits to local WHD offices.

For more information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the WHD, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Employers who discover overtime or minimum wage violations may self-report and resolve those violations without litigation through the PAID program. Information is also available at https://www.dol.gov/whd.

The mission of WHD is to promote and achieve compliance with labor standards to protect and enhance the welfare of the nation’s workforce. WHD enforces federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. WHD also enforces the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, wage garnishment provisions of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, and a number of employment standards and worker protections as provided in several immigration related statutes. Additionally, WHD administers and enforces the prevailing wage requirements of the Davis Bacon Act and the Service Contract Act and other statutes applicable to federal contracts for construction and for the provision of goods and services.

The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

Employers often use unfair tactics to avoid paying overtime that are not always so obvious on the surface. Overtime pay problems can be less obvious than simply failing to pay time and a half for more than 40 hours of work. Employers may bend the rules to work in their favor and deny workers their right to the money they have earned. Common tactics include:

  • Exempt overtime violations
  • Overtime comp time programs
  • Mandatory overtime violations
  • Pre and post-shift off the clock work violations
  • Trading vacation pay for comp time
  • Overtime bank violations
  • Landscaping workers entitled to overtime pay
  • Restaurant worker overtime violations
  • Independent contractor status violations

Overtime pay, also called “time and a half pay,”  is one and a half times an employee’s normal hourly wage. Florida’s overtime minimum wage is $12.69 per hour, one and a half times the regular Florida minimum wage of $8.46 per hour. 

Overtime is based on the total number of hours worked in a given 7-day period. It is not extended to weekends or holidays. Overtime is not based on the number of hours worked in a particular day. So even if you work 10 hours on a Tuesday, you are not entitled to overtime just because you worked more than the normal, 8-hour workday. Overtime only applies if you work more than 40 hours during the entire workweek.

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Following a DUI arrest, many people start to wonder what the consequences will be. Will they go to jail? Will they be able to drive? Will they be fired from their job? While all of these scenarios are possible, whether or not you will be fired from your job depends on a variety of factors such as what kind of job you have, and what the company employment policies are for criminal offense records that include DUI-related arrests. Another important thing to note is that an employer may decide to terminate a person’s employment for any reason, however that does not mean they always have a legal basis to do so.

An Orange County Sheriff’s deputy was fired last month after his March DUI arrest, when authorities allege they found his blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit to drive. 

The 56-year-old former deputy was in his truck about 3:30 a.m. March 18 when a Winter Garden police officer noticed him stopped beyond a crosswalk at an intersection, according to an OCSO internal affairs investigation. The truck did not move for two full cycles of the traffic signal and, when the officer walked to the driver’s side, she said she found the man with his head slumped on his chest with the truck still in drive.

The officer claims she repeatedly banged on the window and got no response from the man. When he awoke, the truck rolled further into the intersection, where cross traffic was traveling at 45 mph, according to reports.

The Winter Garden officer requested an ambulance for the man to make sure he was not in distress. After he was medically cleared, the officer began field sobriety tests with the former deputy, all of which she said he failed, including a one-leg stand and heel-to-toe steps.

She claims the man had red watery eyes and a strong smell of alcohol on him, as well as slurred speed. 

The man later consented to a breath test, which recorded his blood alcohol content at 0.165 and 0.179, the report said. Both are more than twice Florida’s legal limit to drive, 0.08.

The man, a deputy since 1996, was not on duty and was driving his personal vehicle at the time of his arrest. He had most recently been assigned to the agency’s special operations division in aviation, but had not been performing law enforcement duties since his arrest, the report said.

In May, the man pleaded no contest to reckless driving, after multiple attempts to suppress evidence from the traffic stop, court records show. He was sentenced to one day in jail, a DUI class and 75 hours of community service, all of which he completed.

The man was found in violation of the OCSO’s policy on conforming to laws.

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor and reports indicate that there are other OCSO personnel who have been arrested on DUI and not fired.

The man appealed his firing, but an administrative review upheld it. He is still awaiting a final decision from the Disciplinary Appeal Board, according to reports. 

If you are worried about getting fired after a drunk or drugged driving arrest, the best thing you can do is get legal help from our Florida Employment Law Attorneys at Whittel & Melton so that we can examine your arrest and make sure you do not make any potential mistakes when you meet with your employer to discuss the incident.

We understand just how much a DUI arrest and a person’s job can suddenly become two major problems to deal with. We have helped many drivers in your same predicament figure out how to handle these two separate, but related issues. 

The first step is to let us review your case information to see if we can legally protect your employment rights. Once we do, we can go over all of your options when alerting your employer about your arrest. If your employment duties require you to be able to drive for the company, or if you drive a company car, then you have to inform your employer of the DUI-related arrest offense immediately, as well as the possibility of a driver’s license suspension.

Most companies will need to be updated on any further happenings with your DUI matter. Let’s say a person was arrested for a DUI and did not tell their employer and continued to drive a company vehicle while their driver’s license was suspended, that person could very well be fired for their actions. Failing to disclose an arrest or license suspension is considered reasonable cause for an employee’s termination.

You may also be wondering if you can get fired for DUI even if you have not gone to court or been convicted. The answer is yes, it is possible, as many employers have company policies regarding DUI arrests and subsequent convictions regarding their employees.

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According to the Labor Department, a $5 million settlement has been reached with chip maker Intel Corp. over allegations of pay discrimination against its female, African American and Hispanic employees. 

As part of the agreement, Intel will pay $3.5 million in back wages and interest. It is also allocating at least $1.5 million in pay adjustments over the next five years for U.S. workers in engineering positions. 

Intel said Tuesday that it is pleased to have resolved the matter and said it achieved global pay equality in January. 

Like many other tech companies, Intel employs mostly white and Asian men, especially in technical positions such as engineering. According to its most recent diversity report , 27% of its employees are women, 9% are Hispanic and less than 5% African American.

Across the board, studies show women are frequently paid less than men for performing the same job. While the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act are designed to prohibit such discrimination, pay disparity remains a problem for many Florida women, in part because the laws themselves include a number of procedural hurdles that must be cleared before an equal pay claim ever reaches a trial court.

Employees are supposed to be free from wage discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, or disability. These rights are protected by the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Despite all these protections, there are many studies that document the significant wage disparities between men and women, and between white people and people of color. Sadly, this also means that the pay gap is the worst for women of color.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, and require that men and women be paid equally for equal work. There are very important differences in these laws, which is why you need to work with an experienced and knowledgeable employment discrimination attorney who knows the differences between the two, and can advise you on the best course of action for you lawsuit.

In order to prove a case of race or gender-based wage discrimination an employee must show that an employer treats workers differently based on race, color, gender, or national origin.

Race-based wage discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states it is illegal for an employer to discriminate based on race. Race-based discrimination can be committed against an employee, or even someone who is applying for a job. Some examples of race-based discrimination includes: 

  • Pay rate
  • The decision whether or not to hire an applicant
  • Title
  • Promotion
  • Benefits

It is illegal for an employer to make an employment decision with regard to any of these terms of employment based on race, gender, color, or national origin. Race and gender-based discrimination does not necessarily have to be overt. An employer may have committed race or gender-based wage discrimination by implementing seemingly-neutral policies that disproportionately affect people of a particular race or gender.

A successful race or gender-based discrimination claim can include the following compensation: 

  • Back pay
  • Lost wages 
  • out-of-pocket expenses
  • Court costs and attorneys’ fees
  • Damages for emotional and mental anguish

Punitive damages, which are given out to punish your employer for violating the law. These are only awarded in situations where the employer acted intentionally or in a particularly egregious way.

With that said, many people facing discrimination in the workplace are scared to come forward out of fear of being retaliated against by their employer. Our Florida Discrimination Attorneys at Whittel & Melton want you to know that the law strictly forbids retaliation against employees for reporting illegal discrimination. If you have complained of discrimination or made a report to HR, and after you said something, your employer demoted or terminated you, or diminished your wages and/or benefits, you may very well have a claim for retaliation. To prove a claim of retaliation, you must prove that you suffered an adverse employment action because you complained about or reported discrimination.

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Did you know that in much of Florida, a person can be fired or not hired simply because they are gay, bisexual or transgender? 

Yes, blatant discrimination is still perfectly legal even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage to be legal more than four years ago. 

Currently, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, backed by big business, is yet again trying to change that.

Multiple Tampa Bay-area legislators have introduced bills for the 2020 legislative session that would prohibit businesses from discriminating against their employees on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Both Senate Bill 206, sponsored by Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and House Bill 161 would amend the state’s Civil Rights Act of 1992 to prohibit such discrimination. The act already prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age or handicap.

The bills also would prohibit businesses and landlords from discriminating for those same reasons, but the language allows for discrimination for religious reasons.

For nearly a decade now, lawmakers have tried to pass an anti-LGBTQ discrimination bill, but the efforts have not made headway in Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature.

This leaves many questioning if this is the year change will happen. The public policy director for Equality Florida, created in 1997, which advocates on behalf of the LGBTQ community, said 60 percent of Floridians are protected from discrimination by ordinances passed by cities and counties, including Hillsborough and Pinellas and all three counties in South Florida.

The issue has widespread bipartisan support with recent polling showing nearly 70 percent of both Americans and Floridians back protections against anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Twenty states have already passed similar legislation.

Dubbed the “Competitive Workforce Act,” lawmakers are selling the legislation as not just the right thing to do, but as a way to lure businesses to Florida.

Some of the biggest political donors in the state, such as Disney and NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light, strongly support it. 

Those companies and more than 450 others have created a nonprofit to advocate for the bill, arguing that anti-LGBTQ discrimination costs the state an estimated $362 million a year in lost productivity, turnover and inability or difficulty recruiting employees.

Last year, the bills were co-sponsored by nearly half of all lawmakers, but Republican leadership in both chambers prevented the bills from getting a hearing in any committee.

Neither House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, nor Gov. Ron DeSantis responded to requests for comment about where they stand on next year’s bills.

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in three cases that deal with whether it’s legal to fire workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Without statewide laws, being fired for being gay or transgender remains a real fear for many Floridians.

Discriminating against someone in the workplace due to their sexual orientation or gender identity is still a major issue in the United States, as this article points out quite clearly. Our Florida Discrimination Attorneys at Whittel & Melton firmly believe that no one should be discriminated against, regardless of who they are or what their sexual orientation is.

Examples of LGBTQ discrimination can include:

  • Being harassed by your boss or co-workers because of your sexual preference
  • Your co-workers or employer making derogatory comments about homosexual, transgender, or bisexual individuals
  • Being denied a promotion because of your sexual preference
  • Being treated differently by your boss because of your sexual orientation
  • Being denied insurance or other work benefits because of your sexual orientation

A federal appeals court recently ruled that the Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination against LGBTQ employees. While the court decided that “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination,” there are still no federal laws that make it clear that LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace is against the law. Several states have passed bills to protect these workers, but most states are still without any type of anti-discrimination laws. 

The following states currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington

The following states currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity:

  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Wisconsin

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On Thursday, numerous local government officials from 31 U.S. states pressured McDonald’s Corp’s to do a better job of protecting workers from groping, obscene comments and other forms of sexual harassment, adding their voices to an employee-led campaign that has seen walkouts at several stores.

In a letter to CEO Steve Easterbrook, 115 mayors, commissioners, city councilors and school board members asked McDonald’s to meet with workers, hear their stories and together craft tougher policies to effectively stamp out harassment.

The officials are part of an advocacy network called Local Progress.

MCDSMembers of the U.S. Congress have written similar letters and employees have ramped up pressure on McDonald’s at a time that the chain and other fast food restaurants have struggled to find and retain enough staff.

The letter said McDonald’s employees have filed more than 50 sexual harassment complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Reuters could not verify this because EEOC complaints are not public.

When asked to comment on the letter, McDonald’s referred to its Aug. 28 statement announcing a new training program for safe workplaces, which has support from more than 2,000 franchisees.

“Together with our franchisees, we have a responsibility to take action on this issue and are committed to promoting positive change,” said Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s USA president. “These actions are one more step we are taking to raise awareness at all levels of McDonald’s that will transfer both inside and outside the workplace.”

Workers and those organizing them are trying to pressure McDonald’s, the largest U.S. restaurant chain by sales, to boost wages and address violence and harassment problems at its roughly 14,000 U.S. locations, most of them independently owned.

On Tuesday, workers at a Los Angeles McDonald’s walked off the job to protest, saying retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is rampant and they have been excluded from policy discussions, according to organizers and news reports – one of several similar protest in the last year and a half.

Last year, McDonald’s started working with RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country, to improve its policies.

McDonald’s released an announcement in August that they were implementing an even broader program focused on mitigating violence, harassment, bias and bullying, to start in October.

McDonald’s says they are doing everything they can to stop sexual harassment. In a statement, the company said:

“We have strong policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment. . . . To ensure we are doing all that can be done, we have engaged experts in the areas of prevention and response.”

Fast food companies and other restaurants often try to blame illegal behavior on their franchisees. Franchise arrangements are where one company buys the right to use the branding, trademarks and products of a larger company in exchange for a fee and royalties on profits. Due to how corporate controls these restaurants, it can be somewhat murky when trying to identify the responsible party: the franchisee or the corporation.

The franchising company often has policies for everything from advertising to food preparation. Franchisees, however, usually do not have the same degree of established policies and procedures for things like hiring or investigating sexual harassment complaints. This can translate to mean that such complaints do not receive the response they should under the law. 

While McDonald’s has said in multiple statements that it has implemented trainings to prevent sexual harassment in its company, it remains unclear whether McDonald’s efforts have been passed down to the franchisees. 

Sadly, many fast food workers, or employees of restaurants, fail to realize that the sexual harassment they experience in the food industry is unlawful, or that they have any recourse when management ignores their complaints.

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Power Design, an electrical contractor that’s completed more than 1,000 projects nationwide, is facing a lawsuit in the District of Columbia, where officials claim the company illegally misclassified hundreds of workers to lower wages and avoid payroll taxes.

The suit claims that instead of classifying the workers as employees, the St. Petersburg-based company used two labor brokers to classify at least 535 electrical workers as independent contractors. As a result, the workers did not receive overtime, sick pay or, in dozens of cases, even the minimum wage, according to the lawsuit. 

“Power Design cheated hundreds of district workers out of their hard-earned wages and stripped them of their legal rights,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said in an announcement of the suit. “When companies misclassify employees as independent contractors, they steal from their workers and gain an unfair advantage over competitors that follow the law.”

The District of Columbia’s Workplace Fraud Act requires construction companies to classify workers in most circumstances as employees who are paid at least a minimum wage, overtime and other benefits, officials said.

To classify a worker as an independent contractor, a construction company has to prove that the worker does the job independently, is typically self-employed and does work that falls outside the core business of the company.

Independent contractors must pay all their own taxes, are not protected by most labor laws and do not have access to workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance.

Racine’s office also sued JVA Services and DDK Electric, contending that the Maryland-based companies acted as labor brokers to help Power Design cut costs and avoid its legal responsibilities. Their primary business, officials said, involved supplying Power Design with an average of 30 to 40 workers, but in one case as many as 90, for its projects.

Officials said that from 2014 to 2017 Power Design worked at least 10 large construction projects in the District of Columbia, among them the edgy LINE hotel and several luxury apartment complexes. 

According to the lawsuit, the company:

  • Never listed the workers in question as employees on Power Design’s payroll.
  • Paid less than the district’s minimum wage of $10.50 per hour to 24 workers in early 2016 and less than the minimum of $11.50 per hour to 39 workers after it rose in the middle of that year.
  • Did not pay at least 180 workers overtime to which employees are entitled in 2017.
  • Did not provide any misclassified employees with sick leave.
  • Did not pay unemployment insurance tax for any of the misclassified workers.
  • Cut costs to the point that it could submit low bids that won contracts away from competitors who complied with the law.

The Attorney General’s Office said it is seeking to recoup tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid minimum wages and overtime for workers, tens of thousands of dollars more in unpaid unemployment insurance taxes.

It also is seeking penalties from $1,000 to $5,000 for each misclassified worker and each failure to keep payroll records, which officials said could add up to millions of dollars in penalties.

In April, Power Design was ranked No. 2 among large companies in the Times’ annual Top Workplaces survey.

In response to the survey, Power Design said it had 526 employees, more than 130 active projects, a 70,000-square-foot national headquarters facility in St. Petersburg’s Gateway area and accumulative revenue exceeding $1 billion. The company also made the Top Workplaces list from 2013 to 2017.

Just because your employer has classified you a certain way or given you a certain job title does not mean that you are classified correctly as far as the state and federal governments are concerned. In order to qualify for the protection of federal (FLSA) or state labor law, an individual must be classified as an “employee.” Companies will often classify workers as “independent contractors” so they can avoid federal requirements to pay overtime and federal minimum wage.

Many businesses prefer to have their work performed by independent contractors rather than employees in order to avoid employment taxes and employee benefit costs. Employees are entitled to benefits and legal protections that independent contractors are not.

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Following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Flipper’s Pizza T. & B. Inc. – operating 11 Central Florida Flippers Pizzeria restaurants – has paid $27,425 in back wages to 70 employees for violating the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). 

The employer also paid $1,810 in civil money penalties for a child labor violation.

WHD investigators found the employer paid overtime-eligible assistant managers flat weekly salaries, without regard to the number of hours that they actually worked. This practice resulted in overtime violations when those employees worked more than 40 hours in a workweek but were not paid overtime in addition to those salaries. 

Additional overtime violations resulted when the employer calculated overtime for tipped employees incorrectly, basing those rates on servers’ cash rates only. The law requires employers to pay tipped workers overtime at time-and-one-half of at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. WHD also found the employer employed a 17-year-old minor to operate a motor vehicle to make deliveries, a violation of FLSA child labor requirements. The employer also failed to maintain accurate payroll records.

“Businesses employing minors have a special responsibility to ensure the safety of these workers by not having them perform any duties deemed hazardous,” said Wage and Hour District Director Daniel White, in Jacksonville, Florida. “The Wage and Hour Division staffs local offices and provides online resources to assist employers in complying with the law. We encourage all employers to take advantage of these free compliance assistance resources, and to reach out to us with any questions.”

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Florida Law, any employee who works more than 40 hours in a workweek is entitled to compensation for the excess hours, either by:

  • Allowing or requiring the employee to take compensatory time off at the rate of 1.5 hours for each hour of overtime (government employees only) or
  • Receiving pay for overtime at the rate of 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay.

Our Orlando Unpaid Wage & Overtime Lawyers at Whittel & Melton have seen employers cheat their employees out of overtime pay using some pretty slick techniques. While these complex and difficult-to-prove methods might be hard to spot, there are three major ways in which employers violate overtime laws:

  1. An employer may fail to pay overtime wages at the rate required by Florida law.
  2. An employer may misclassify an employee as exempt (also known as salaried) and not pay overtime when the employee should be properly classified as non-exempt and eligible for overtime pay.
  3. An employer may demand or allow an employee to work “off the clock” without pay, when the employer should actually be paying overtime wages.

If your employer has tried any of these methods on you, or you believe they might be doing something else to short you on overtime pay, our Orlando Unpaid Overtime Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to help. We want to expose their unlawful behavior and make sure you are paid what is owed to you. 

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which enforces federal wage laws, lists these as top wage-theft industries:

  • Nursing
  • Casinos
  • Homecare
  • Nannies or Childcare
  • Restaurants
  • IT Workers
  • Construction
  • Retail
  • Oil and Gas Field Services
  • Security Guard Services
  • Call Centers

It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do. If you think your employer is cheating you out of your overtime pay or engaging in other wage theft, let us review your case. 

If you regularly work more than 40 hours per week without getting any overtime pay, your employer owes you a large sum of money. You are legally entitled to collect all unpaid overtime from your employer. Our Florida Employment Lawyers at Whittel & Melton know how to help you recover the money that rightfully belongs to you. Let us evaluate your situation and determine what course of legal action is best. While it may seem like an insurmountable task to make an FLSA complaint about your employer, it is important to remember that employers cannot retaliate against you for exposing FLSA violations.

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Seven employees at the Florida Department of Health clinic in Haines City have spoken out publicly regarding being harassed by management for speaking Spanish at work.

They say they have been made to feel like criminals for simply speaking Spanish. 

The seven nurses and clerks at the Florida Department of Health clinic in Haines City are outraged over their workplace’s attitude towards them speaking their native language to each other.

The women are all Puerto Rican and say they were hired because they are bilingual. Haines City does have a high Hispanic population. 

Despite this, they say management has forbidden them to speak Spanish to each other.

They claim the harassment intensified in the last year, but has gone on much longer.

The women filed a complaint with the Polk County Health Department and have also reached out to the Tallahassee office. However, they say no action has been taken.

Activist groups like Alianza for Progress have taken notice and are stepping in to support the women.

The Florida Department of Health has yet to make an official statement regarding these complaints. 

Being verbally abused, intimidated, and/or harassed at work can be incredibly stressful and traumatic. This creates what is better known as a hostile work environment, and many employees who experience this kind of abuse from their employer or a coworker often feel like they have no options to end their suffering. That is simply not the case, and our Florida Discrimination Attornyes at Whittel & Melton can help you understand how to resolve these issues. We see too many victims of hostile work environments feel pressured to either quit their job or suffer through continued harassment and intimidation, but we can help to find you other options. 

Discrimination is defined by Florida state and federal law as the unfair and often hostile treatment of another individual based on their race, color, sexual orientation, or personal characteristics. In regards to Spanish speakers, they are often discriminated against because of their ethnicity and their cultural background. In the state of Florida and throughout the United States, discrimination in the workplace is against the law. When off-color comments or harassment about race happen in the workplace, this creates a hostile work environment. 

A lawsuit can be filed against your employer if they are allowing discrimination and harassment in the workplace to happen and fail to do anything about putting a stop to it. Discrimination and harassment in the workplace can take on various forms, so it is imperative to find an attorney in Florida who understands the rights of employees to review your case. 

There are several elements that must be present when it comes to hostile work environments based on discrimination lawsuits against your employer, inculding:

  • It must be shown that your employer is discriminating against you based on your religion, disability, race, color, or age in some way.
  • It must be shown that your employer’s behavior and actions have lasted for an extended period of time. With that said, you cannot sue your employer for one off-handed comment. Any and all incidents where your employer created a hostile work environment should be documented, recorded and filed with your company’s HR department.
  • Your employer’s actions must be consistent and severe enough to affect your ability to perform your everyday work duties. 
  • If your company has done nothing to eradicate issues of abuse or harassment, then you can move forward with legal action against your employer.

If you, your co-workers, or anyone else you kow has been the victim of a hostile work environment based on discrimination, it is in your best interest that you seek legal guidance from our Florida Discrimination Attorneys at Whittel & Meton who can guide you on filing a lawsuit against your employer for creating and facilitating a hostile work environment. We are Spanish-speaking Florida lawyers who can fight aggressively on your behalf to achieve a successful outcome for your case.  

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