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San Francisco Employment Law Blog

What does your employee handbook say about sexual harassment?

If you have reason to believe you've been the victim of sexual harassment at your place of employment, reviewing your employee handbook is one of the first steps you should take.

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination. In addition to this federal law, there are state laws in place to protect you as well.

Will you avoid doing these things if you’re terminated?

If your employment is terminated for any reason, it's easy to become upset. It's also easy to overact and make things worse on you.

Here are a few actions you need to avoid if you're terminated:

  • Storming out of the office. Rather than do this, remain calm and collect everything you need. For example, you may want to save documents from your computer and remove personal items from your office and desk.
  • Lashing out. There's never a good time to scream or yell at former bosses or coworkers, as this can result in police and/or security becoming involved. Keep your cool and hang on to your dignity while you think things through for the future.
  • Talking about severance when you're upset. Rather than jump right into this, review your employment contract and employee handbook. This gives you a clear idea of what you're owed, as well as where to start negotiations.
  • Broadcasting your situation to the entire office. It's tempting to tell your coworkers what happened, but there's no point in doing so. It'll only make you more upset, while also putting them in an awkward position. Keep to yourself as you deal with your termination privately.

Current protective measures for age discrimination

Discrimination of any sort is unacceptable. When people face discrimination in the workplace, it can be exceptionally challenging, because most people spend the majority of their time in their work environment.

Thankfully, for those facing age discrimination, there are measures in place to protect them. There are a few important facts to understand about these measures.

The goal of sexual bullying: Intimidation

In many ways, sexual bullying is just another term for sexual harassment. They may appear the same to an outsider, and they share many of the same symptoms. That said, sexual bullying is most often not about any type of physical attraction or desire for a relationship -- even a one-sided relationship -- but about intimidation.

It's just a way for the bully to push you around and make you feel inferior to them. They may do this to increase their own standing and position in the office or just because they want to feel like they are in control.

Key questions to ask if your employment is terminated

If you receive a termination notice from your employer, it's important that you don't become upset. Stay calm, learn more about the reason for your termination and then implement a plan for protecting yourself.

A big part of this process is asking key questions of your supervisor, company owner and/or HR department. Here are a few to start with:

  • What is the reason for my termination? This can range from company downsizing to lack of performance. You want to know exactly why you're losing your job, as it'll help you decide what to do next.
  • Can I receive my personnel file? It's important to do this, as it gives you a better understanding of any underlying issues that may have led to your termination.
  • How much severance pay will I receive? It's not required by law, but your employer may offer it anyway. Just the same, you may have negotiated this into your employment contract.
  • When is my last day of work? Your employer is likely to give you at least two weeks notice, but you want to know for sure. This allows you to better plan everything from your finances to your job search.
  • What happens to my health insurance? You want to know how long it remains active, as well as your options for continuing it in the future.

Little known facts about workplace sexual harassment

When it comes to workplace sexual harassment, most people assume they'll never experience this. However, even if your company promotes a healthy work environment, you never know when someone will cross the line and put you in an awkward and dangerous position.

When many people think about workplace sexual harassment the first thing that comes to mind is a man harassing a woman, such as by repeatedly asking her out on a date or unwanted touching.

Steps to take if your employment contract is terminated

Even if you don't like your job, there's nothing worse than receiving a notice of termination. Not only will this impact your finances, but it can also take a toll on your personal and professional lives.

Here are some key steps to take if your employment contract is terminated:

  • Review your contract: When doing so, make note of the process your employer must follow to terminate the contract. For example, it may state that they have to give you two weeks' notice.
  • Don't retaliate: If you're upset with the way you were terminated, retaliation may come to mind. Don't do this, as it can harm your ability to receive the compensation that's owed to you.
  • Don't sign anything: For example, your employer may present you with a severance agreement, asking you to sign it on the spot. Take the time to review every document in great detail, as you don't want to sign something that will limit your legal rights.
  • Determine if you were wrongfully terminated: Maybe you believe your employer fired you as a result of your age, race or religion. Or maybe you were terminated in violation of the terms and conditions outlined in your contract and employee handbook.

FAQs about reasonable accommodations in the workplace

If you have a disability and find it difficult to work, all hope is not lost. You may be able to request an employer to make changes to job duties, work environments or hiring processes to ensure you can fulfill your responsibilities. The Americans With Disability Act requires eligible employers to make reasonable accommodations to help workers with disabilities get jobs and perform their tasks to the same extent as workers without disabilities. 

But it can be difficult to know exactly what a reasonable accommodation is and how to fight for it. Here is a basic overview of workplace accommodations. 

Disability discrimination in the workplace

California employees have the right to work without subjection to discrimination based on their disabilities. Despite the laws in place to discourage this practice, many disabled workers experience varying degrees of bias at work. It is also not uncommon for employees who do not have disabling conditions to experience disability discrimination due to misconceptions

Not all physical and mental impairments are obvious, nor do they all require employers to make long-term accommodations. Some impairments are temporary and invisible. Regardless of the nature of a person's disability, the following actions of employers violate federal law.

Workplace discrimination: Collect evidence to protect yourself

If you believe you're the victim of workplace discrimination, it's important to collect as much evidence as possible. While this isn't always easy, doing so will put you in a better position to take action against your former employer in the future.

Here are some of the many types of evidence to collect as you begin to formulate your strategy:

  • Personnel file: You have the right to a copy of your personnel file, so request this as soon as possible. If your employer doesn't comply, your legal team can reach out to obtain what they need.
  • Written log: It's critical to make note of every instance of workplace discrimination, including the date, time, action and who was involved. Keep this in a safe place.
  • Physical evidence: This isn't always available, but physical evidence can help your claim. This can include things such as discriminatory emails and text messages from your supervisor.
  • Witness information: Depending on the circumstances, there may be people who witnessed the alleged incidences of discrimination. Make note of what they saw, their name and contact information.
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