Harassment due to race, age, sex, religion, national origin, color, disability, marital status, pregnancy, genetic information is illegal. If you're being subjected to comments or insults based on one of these categories, it's possibly unlawful harassment. If you're being singled out for treatment different than others in a different category (e.g., you're male and the women are treated more favorably) then you might have a harassment claim.
Domestic Violence Leave
If your Florida employer has 50 or more employees, they have to grant employees leave to deal with domestic violence issues. Some counties have ordinances regarding smaller employers. The employer can't harass or retaliate against employees for taking domestic violence leave.
Objecting to Illegal Activity
The employer can't harass an employee who objects to or refuses to participate in illegal activity of the employer (not just a co-worker, but something the company does). The activity has to be a violation of a law, government regulation or ordinance. Objections to unethical or inappropriate activity is not protected. Objections to discrimination, failure to pay wages, securities or medicaid fraud, and other illegal activity are covered.
Family and Medical Leave
You can't be harassed for taking Family and Medical Leave. The employer has to have 50 or more employees and you had to be employed at least a year to qualify. The employer has to restore you to the same or equivalent position on your return. You get up to 12 weeks of leave. If you take 12 weeks and 1 day, the employer does not have to return you to the same position.
Worker's Compensation Claim
You can't be fired for making a worker's compensation claim.
Testimony Under Subpoena
Your employer cannot retaliate against you because you needed to miss work to testify under subpoena, or because of the content of your testimony under subpoena.
Having a Firearm In Your Vehicle
Employers in Florida can't prohibit employees from having firearms locked in their non-company vehicles, or take any action against an employee based on statements that they have firearms in their vehicle. The employer has to wait until you exhibit the firearm on company property. So don't wave the gun around or show your friends. Keep it locked in the car.
Other Protected Activity
If you engage in activity that is protected by statute, you are usually protected from being retaliated against. You'll need to understand your rights under each statute or ordinance.
What's Not Illegal Harassment
If your boss is just a jerk or abusive, that is not illegal. And many small employers are not covered by these laws, so you may not be protected at all. Many employees have the mistaken belief that, if they are being harassed by their employer, a supervisor, or a co-worker or they are in a "hostile work environment" that they automatically have a claim against the employer. This is simply not the case.
If You're Being Subjected to Illegal Harassment, Don't Just Quit. Report It To HR Or a Supervisor
One thing that I hear way too much of is, "I was harassed, so I quit and then I told them why." This is a frequent mistake. The United States Supreme Court says that, where an employer has a published sexual harassment/discriminatory harassment policy, the employee must report it under that policy and give the employer the opportunity to fix the situation. Appropriate remedies may be to discipline or warn the harasser, to move the harasser, under some circumstances to move the victim, to do training, or in extreme cases, to terminate the harasser. If you did not avail yourself of the employer's policy before quitting, you are likely giving up your right to sue for a violation.
Don't Refuse to Go Back to Work
Many employees simply refuse to go back to work, even where the employer has warned or disciplined the harasser. Sometimes, the fear is justified. But it is the employer's duty to create a safe workplace. If you return and are retaliated against or continue to be harassed, report it again. If the employer allows retaliation or continued harassment, that is the time to get an attorney involved.
What To Put In Your Formal Complaint of Unlawful Harassment
General harassment, hostile environment, bullying, and other disruptive behavior that is not addressed to an employee for a protected status or activity is not illegal. So before you write the long letter airing all your grievances against your boss, you may want to have an attorney look at it, or just make sure you are addressing your protected status. If you do complain, put it in writing and call it, "FORMAL COMPLAINT OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT," or "FORMAL COMPLAINT OF RACIAL HARASSMENT" or whatever category you fit into. Set forth the harassment due to your protected status, and be businesslike. This is not the time to air all your complaints about the business or your boss, only to air the specific complaint about the illegal behavior.
While a long letter stating that your supervisor is incompetent or a jerk can and should get you fired, the formal complaint addressing illegal behavior should get a serious response.
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
If you are harassed or are in a hostile work environment, make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities. Report it to the employer and give them a chance to address the situation. If they allow the harassment to continue, or if they retaliate, contact an attorney to discuss your legal options.
Additional resources provided by the author
EEOC has loads of information online about discrimination and most harassment cases. They can be found at eeoc.gov.
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