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Rhode Island Employment Law Blog

Key elements of an employment retaliation claim

No one should have to encounter discrimination or harassment in the workplace. However, when it does occur, individuals may be scared to come forward for fear of facing negative consequences at work.

Those who still choose to stand up and those who encounter retaliation from an employer may be able to file a claim. In such cases, there are a few key elements to be aware of.

Major law firm facing workplace discrimination allegations

A major employment law firm which has at times received accolades for its treatment of women in its workplace is now facing serious allegations of systemic gender discrimination, particularly with respect to wage discrimination and unequal advancement opportunities.

The workplace discrimination complaint, filed by one of the firm's "nonequity" shareholders, alleges that women who are shareholders in the firm are paid over $100,000 less than are men who are doing similar work. Moreover, the complaint also points out that while over half of associates working for the firm are female, less than one-third of the higher-ranking shareholder attorneys are women.

At will employment a bedrock of Rhode Island law

Rhode Island law allows for none of the common exceptions to the rule of at-will employment that many of its sister states permit, and this means that employees in this state, if at all possible, are going to want to consider negotiating for some limitations on when they can be fired.

To review, the idea of at will employment meets that either an employee or an employer have the option, for a good reason or even particular reason at all, to terminate their employment. This general rule, to which the vast majority of states adhere in some respect, can be modified via employment contracts in which an employer may promise, for instance, not to fire an employee except for certain reasons.

More on religious discrimination and religious accommodations

A previous post on this blog reminded Rhode Island employees that their employers cannot discriminate against them based on the sincerely held religious persuasion.

However, even though outright religious discrimination and harassment are illegal, it is important for Rhode Island residents to understand exactly what this looks like in practice.

How do stock options work?

As part of their employment contracts with new, upper level recruits, many employers in Rhode Island offer what are called stock options. While many executives and managers may be somewhat familiar with stock options, it may be hard to understand exactly what these are without speaking to an attorney or someone familiar with the world of finance.

As the name implies, a stock option is the right of an employee, at a certain point down the road, to purchase shares in a company's stock at an agreed upon price. The ultimate purchase price is, at least in theory, supposed to be lower than what someone could get the stock for were they just purchasing it on the open market.

Paternity leave under the FMLA

Under the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, many if not most Rhode Island employees have the right, under certain circumstances, to take a leave of absence from their work for up to 12 weeks in order to have and care for a child.

One item that might be overlooked is that, under the FMLA, fathers also have the right to take paternity leave, as the Act specifically allows for time off to "bond" with one's child, so long as the leave is during the first year after the child is born or placed in the employee's home as an adoptee.

Trust us to negotiate your severance package

Given the ongoing changes in the landscape of employment law, it is becoming more and more common for Rhode island employers and employees to negotiate agreements when an employee leaves a company, even if the departure is involuntary and under less than happy circumstances.

Generally, the severance agreement involves an employee agreeing to forego certain legal rights, including the right to sue his or her former employer or join a competing firm, and the employer in exchange gives the employee some financial incentives even though he or she will no longer work for the company.

Rhode Island city settles race discrimination suit

Government offices, such as fire departments, police precincts and the like, are certainly not immune from workplace discrimination. In fact, the City of Providence recently settled a claim which one of its firefighters made alleging he was the victim of discrimination based on his ethnicity.

The firefighter seems to be still be on active duty; however, he alleged the fire department improperly transferred him to another, presumably less prestigious post. He claimed this happened because of his race and that his old position got filled by a white colleague. The firefighter also contended that he had heard derogatory comments about his race and that firefighters of Hispanic origin could not use certain parking spaces which were open to others.

5 reasons to hire an attorney for a severance agreement

Whether a severance agreement is simply part of leaving your position, or you are seeking a significant package for years of dedicated work, the outcome will be important. It is good to note that there is a difference between severance agreements and severance packages.

A severance, or separation agreement, includes conditions that you must agree to when leaving your employer. They typically include binding written contracts regarding competition or disclosure of information. A severance package refers to your employer's offer of additional benefits or pay beyond standard pay. These two terms are often lumped together into one long and detailed contract provided by your employer.

To whom do I have to report sexual harassment?

No one really wants to talk to anyone about an experience in which they were sexually harassed. This victim may feel embarrassed enough about experiencing sexual harassment and, as such, it may be tough to re-hash the facts of an incident. Moreover, there is always a question of whether the people to whom the victim reports are trustworthy. If they represent the employer, it may be downright intimidating to report the harassment.

However, Rhode Island victims of sexual harassment need to be aware that, before making a court case out of a hostile work environment, the law effectively requires them to use their company's internal procedures to prevent sexual harassment to see if the problem can be stopped. This will usually require a victim to discuss the incident, at least enough so their employer can investigate further.