3A: Understand the legal environment

You can do anything, and be anything if someone helps you!

As a lawyer, and student success expert, it is imperative that everyone understand the 21st century legal environment. As an employee, you have very few legal rights. Most people assume that they have more legal rights than they really do. For example, many people incorrectly believe that they have the legal right to date their co-workers. However, that is not true.

Most 21st century employers are fully aware that sexual relations between employees exists. However, it is a legal nightmare. As a result, if you date someone at work, or send a sexually suggestive, email, tweet, joke, or Instagram photo, you can be fired. As a rule, you should never date anyone at work, or have any conversations about sex. Never tell someone they are sexy at work, or at an office party. Here is another story that I would like to share.

In one of my very first Ivy Tech classes, we were talking about sexual harassment, and how to avoid it. Suddenly a young man from the back of the room raised his hand and asked to speak. I said, “Go ahead.” He proceeded to tell the class that he wished that he had learned about sexual harassment earlier. Why? Because he had dated a woman at his old job, and then he broke up with her. He thought it was over. However, she found out that he was dating another woman at the same job, and the old girlfriend told his boss. His boss called him into his office and asked him was this true. He said, “Yes.” His boss told him that he was fired, even though he had a PERFECT work record. The young man lost an $80,000 a year job because he did not know any better.

EMPLOYEE AT WILL

Know the law. The law in the majority of states is that you are an “Employee at will.” What that means is that you can be legally fired, for just about any reason. Emphasis, just about any reason. Here are a couple of examples: The first occurred in New Jersey where the New Jersey Supreme Cour recently said, “Casino waitresses are sex objects, and can be fired for gaining too much weight,” Waitresses can be fired for gaining weight. Likewise a woman in Iowa was fired for “being too attractive,” Fired for being too attractive. Yes, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld her being fired for being too attractive. These cases may be shocking, but it is a legal reality. More importantly, these laws also apply to every state in the USA, via Article Four of the U.S. Constitution. Article Four of the U.S. Constitution allows any other state to use the laws of another if they choose to.

Here are a few other key things to remember about the 21st century legal environment, and to keep inside of a PACS plan:

  • Your boss has no legal obligation to like or, to be nice to, you.
  • There are 9 things that you should NEVER say to your boss, as explained in this article by Megan Malugani, and Charles Purdy, of Monster.com: 9 Things you should never say to your boss!
  • Only the government, and companies, with 15 or more full time employees cannot discriminate.
  • You have a legal duty to be liked by your boss, and liked by your co-workers, and to “fit-in” to the organizations culture.
  • Unless you are part of a Union, or work for the government, you may have very few employee rights – your rights are limited to those outlined in the employee handbook.
  • Employers have the legal right to make their own rules, even rules about what type of undergarments you can wear at work. Take a look at the undergarment requirements from Disney: Undergarment regulations at Disney.
  • Work equipment is your employer’s equipment, and they can have spyware inside anything they want.
  • If you are suspected of theft, employers have the right to search your vehicle if it is parked on their property.
  • Employers have the right to protect their premises using virtually any means of surveillance.
  • You are legally required to get your job done no matter what. If you get hurt away from work, and cannot perform your job, then you can be fired.
  • If you are an “Employee at Will,” which most Americans are, that means you can be fired for any reason, and the most common reason is that you, “Do not Fit-In,” to their organizational culture or future plans. Do your best to fit-in.
  • You can be fired for abusing sick days, i.e. calling in sick and then attending a party or sporting event.
  • There is NO 1st Amendment right for Freedom of Speech for anything said, or pictures placed, on Facebook, Twitter, etc.…If you work for the government, you have to ask the HR department what you can, and cannot say on social media.
  • You cannot smoke marijuana in a place where it is legal and then keep your job if your employer gives you a drug test.
  • Unless the employer is a governmental agency, or a private employer of a certain size, “Discrimination is 100% legal.”
  • You do not have the right to “freedom of expression.” For example, you cannot have a tattoo or reveal your tattoo if your boss says you cannot.

WHAT ABOUT RACISM, SEXISM, and AGE DISCRIMINATION?

What about the Civil Rights laws? As for employment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only applies to companies that have 15 or more FTE’s (full-time employees) so, unless a state or local law prevents it, small and private companies are free to discriminate for just about any reason, age, race, sex, and sexual orientation included. As for the Civil Rights laws they only protect people from discrimination in Interstate Commerce which is regulated by Congress. Interstate commerce means that hotels, restaurants, etc…cannot discriminate because it impacts the US economy. However, private business not can legally discriminate in who they hire!

The majority of my students are surprised to learn that Federal Law allows private, and small, employers to discriminate against individuals whom they do not wish to work with; even if they are the most qualified job applicant, but that is the law. Remember, when you interview for a job, they have to like you, and they have to be comfortable working with you. A potential employer is not legally required to hire you, even if you are the most qualified person on the planet.

WHAT ABOUT PREGNANCY?

What about getting pregnant, and protection under the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA? FMLA only applies to governmental agencies, and private employers, with 50 or more FTE’s who live within a 75-mile radius of their place of business. Plus it only covers employees who have worked for an organization for at least 1,200 hours. Before deciding to get pregnant, the best thing to do is to ask someone from human resources what your rights. In short, women’s rights to get pregnant can be limited by their employers if it will impact their ability to do their job. As a result, it is always best to check with human resources before planning a pregnancy.

COMPLETE p. 48 of the workbook, then proceed to p. 49: Develop your Soft Skills

copyright 2015, 2016, 2017

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