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Looking at exceptions to the at-will employment rule, P.3

In addition to the statutory protections we have mentioned in previous posts, there are also common-law or court-created exceptions to the at-will employment rule. For example, states may recognize certain exceptions to the rule based in public policy, such as termination based on refusal to commit a prohibited act, engaging in acts that are in the public interest, exercising statutory rights or reporting a violation.

Such exceptions may have some crossover with statutory protections, but it is important to be aware that such protections may exist. Minnesota prohibits employers from terminating an employee for refusing to perform actions which the employee objectively believes may violate state or federal law. The benefit from this protection, though, the employee must inform the employer that the order is being refused because of the belief that it is illegal.

Looking at exceptions to the at-will employment rule, P.2

Previously, we began looking at the topic of at-will employment, noting both the general rule and the fact that there are important exceptions to the rule, including contractual protections and illegal discrimination statutes. Protection against employer retaliation is another important exception.

Protection against retaliation applies to various forms of protected activity, including whistleblowing. Employees who are terminated based on the exercise of their legal rights should understand that there are protections available at the federal level, and possibly the state level as well. Minnesota is among the states that have statutory protections against whistleblowing.

Responding to age discrimination in the workplace: work with experienced advocate

Last time, we began looking at the issue of age discrimination, which is an obstacle in the workplace for an increasing number of Americans as the baby boomer generation ages without leaving the workplace. Again, federal law prohibits discrimination against workers 40 years of age and older in both hiring and employment, and although employers are not prohibited from inquiring about age in hiring, such inquiries can sometimes indicate discriminatory intent.

In most cases, employers engaging in age discrimination are going to be very cautious about how they do so, defending questionable job requirements and inquiries as having a non-discriminatory purpose. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—the agency responsible for handling discrimination complaints and pursuing discrimination litigation—carefully scrutinizes age-related pre-employment inquiries to determine whether they are made for lawful purposes. 

Aging boomer population is increasingly at risk for age discrimination

One of the protected classes identified in federal anti-discrimination laws, alongside race, sex and religion, is age. Younger workers may not be as aware of age discrimination as a problem in the workplace, but many older workers can tell stories about their experiences. A recent article in The Washington Post highlights the issue.

Anti-discrimination laws, according to many, have not effectively solved the problem of age discrimination. There are probably various reasons for this, but part of the problem is likely that proving an employer chose to hire a younger worker because he or she was younger is not easy. Proving discrimination of any kind can be a challenge, but age discrimination is particularly challenging since employers can so easily cover it up. 

Looking at exceptions to the at-will employment rule

When an individual is terminated from his or her position on upsetting terms, there is a tendency to feel that there must be some sort of legal recourse to punish the employer. In some cases, there surely is, but in many cases, there is not. Knowing how to determine when there may be recourse is important.

The general rule in almost every state is that the employment relationship is at-will. Just as employees have the ability to leave their position at any time for any reason, employers have the ability to terminate employees at any time for any reason or for no reason. There are important exceptions to the rule, though, and employees should be aware of them so that they know how to protect their rights.

Physicians: work with experienced attorney when facing patient sexual abuse allegations

In our previous post, we began looking at a recent report which emphasized the failure of state medical boards to adequately address physician sexual abuse of patients. As we noted last time, statistics of physician abuse of patients and states’ handling of such situations are one thing, but evaluating the circumstances of an individual physician’s case are another.

Whenever a physician is accused of something as serious as sexual misconduct with a patient, the allegations must certainly be taken seriously. In such cases, though, nothing can be assumed for sure and a thorough investigation must be made. When the state medical board gets involved in a case, it is especially important for physicians to have an advocate at their side to ensure that their rights are protected. 

Report looks at state medical board handling of patient sexual abuse by physicians

Physicians, despite their contributions to the health of thousands of patients over the course of their careers, are fallible people who make mistakes. Not only are there personality quirks to speak of among physicians, but also sometimes lack of good judgment and, on occasion, poor character. As with any population of individuals, there is going to be a certain subset of the population which engages in wrongful, or even criminal, conduct.

Patients, of course, expect that physicians who engage in such conduct will be appropriately dealt with by their employers and state medical boards, receiving discipline as necessary. According to a recent report, though, despicable behavior such as sexual abuse of patients too often goes unaddressed. The report laments that too many physicians are allowed to continue in their practice despite having adequate grounds to receive discipline for such behavior.

Will paid parental leave one day be required under federal law? P.2

Previously, we began looking at recent events suggesting the possibility that there may eventually be a move to require businesses to provide paid family leave for employees. As we’ve previously mentioned, the Family and Medical Leave Act does require businesses to provide job-protected leave, but businesses are not required to do paid leave. This is left to states and individual businesses.

Another relatively recent development suggesting a possible move to paid family leave is a piece of guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Administrative guidance, to clarify, is non-binding advice concerning how the public can best remain in compliance with certain laws. The EEOC’s guidance dealt with a variety of federal laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. 

Will paid parental leave one day be required under federal law?

Having time to take for one’s own health, or the health and well-being of family members, is critical for work-life balance, and there are laws in place to help ensure that employees do have the ability to take time for family and medical leave. At the federal level, there is the Family and Medical Leave Act as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  

These laws, as important as they are to protecting employees’ right to attend to family and medical leave issues, offer only limited protections when it comes to taking leave from work. Specifically, they do not provide for paid family and medical leave. While businesses are free, in most places, to offer greater protections to employees, they are not required by law to do so, at least not yet. 

Sex discrimination in hiring: watch out for pregnancy screening, P.2

Previously, we began looking at the topic of pregnancy screening in the job interview process.  By pregnancy screening, we are referring to an employer’s attempt to ferret out job applicants who either are pregnant or who plan on getting pregnant in the near future. Most employers are wise enough to know they cannot do this openly, though some are surprisingly bold in their discrimination.

More often than not, pregnancy screening will be subtle in nature and discriminatory intent cannot be proven directly with the employer’s own words. Usually, a plaintiff will have to make use of circumstantial evidence to prove discrimination. This may require presenting statistical evidence of hiring decisions, pointing to unnecessary job requirements which have the effect of excluding pregnant applicants, or looking at the overall culture of a company with respect to its friendliness toward parenthood and work-family balance. 

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