I am a California attorney and cannot give legal advice in your state. My comments are information only, based on federal law and general legal principles. YOUR STATE MAY HAVE ITS OWN LAWS THAT OFFER SIMILAR OR GREATER PROTECTION. If I mention your state’s laws, it only means I did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant. You MUST check with an attorney licensed in your state to learn your rights.
I'm sorry this happened to you, especially in these hard economic times. The harsh reality is employees and job applicants have very few employment rights, and employers have a lot of leeway in how they choose to run their businesses. In general, an employer can be unfair, obnoxious or bad at management. And an employer can make decisions based on faulty or inaccurate information. An employer has no obligation to warn an employee that he or she is not performing as the employer wants. It’s not a level playing field. An employer hires employees to provide work for its benefit, not for the benefit of the employees. Don't expect the employer to take care of its employees; it doesn’t have to and it rarely does.
There are some limitations on what an employer can do, mostly in the areas of public policy (such as discrimination law or whistle blowing), contract law, union-employer labor relations, and constitutional due process for government employees. Please see my guide to at-will employment which should help you understand employment rights: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/an-overview-of-at-will-employment-all-states. After you take a look at the guide, you may be able to identify actions or behavior that fits one of the categories that allows for legal action. If so, an experienced plaintiffs employment attorney may be helpful.
Unless your state has its own law regarding workplace harassment, you will have to rely on federal law. Under federal law, unlawful harassment is a form of discrimination. To be unlawful, the harassment must be must be based on a protected category, such as race, sex, religion, disability, age (40 and over), pregnancy, or genetic information. Harassment can include verbal conduct, slurs, derogatory comments, comments or questions about a person's body, appearance, religious, or sexual activity, or indication of stereotyping. Harassment can also include offensive gestures, sexually suggestive eye contact or looks, mimicking the employee in an insulting way, and derogatory or graphic posters, cartoons or drawings.
Harassment is unlawful when the conduct is either severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive environment. Severe conduct would include most physical contact and many types of threatening, vulgar or degrading conduct. Pervasive conduct is widespread, happens frequently and/or in many situations. One offensive statement is not pervasive, but the same comment made over and over again may be pervasive.
Employment rights come from the state and federal legislatures. One of the best things working people can do to improve their employment rights is to vote for candidates who have a good record on pro-employee, anti-corporate legislation. Another way to protect employment rights is to form or affiliate with a union, or participate in the union already in place.
I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.
*** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***
Unfortunately, employers typically have more "authority" than one may believe. However, "No right is absolute," and I strongly advise you to consult with an attorney.
Joshua S. Guillory
Answers posted by me on this site are not to be considered legal advice. I am currently licensed to practice law in Louisiana. I advise those seeking legal representation to contact an attorney for a consultation.