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protecting the rights of employees in rhode island

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Rhode Island Employment Law Blog

The importance of family medical leave protections

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides protections for job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks for an employee's serious medical condition or a serious medical condition of an employee's covered family member. Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave (RIFML) is a similar state law in Rhode Island except that it provides up to 13 weeks of job-protected leave for an employee or covered family member's serious medical condition.

Family leave may be taken for the birth of a child or for the care of a newborn within one year of the child's birth; to care for a newly adopted child of the employee or newly placed foster care child within one year of the adoption or placement; to care for the employee's spouse, domestic partner, child or parent who is suffering from a serious health condition; if a serious health condition renders the employee unable to perform essential functions of their job; and in some other circumstances as well.

What's age got to do with it?

During their teenage years and in their early 20s, people often tell this age group that they lack experience to be good enough at something. Time goes by, you gain experience and then someone may tell you -- or at least make you feel -- that your age is now a hindrance to your success. There seems to be just one age group that is desirable to have in the workplace. However, Rhode Island and elsewhere prohibit companies from practicing age discrimination, right?

Yes, age discrimination is against the law. Unfortunately, some business owners or their staff will try to find ways around the law in order to hire and promote who they want.

What is an agreement not to compete?

If you have been asked to sign a noncompete agreement or an employment contract with a noncompete clause in it, you may wonder what it refers to. In general, a non-compete agreement is entered into before the employee begins work and takes effect once the employee ends their working relationship for that employer. An agreement not to compete is typically included in an employment contract the employee may be asked to sign.

A noncompete agreement may be used to protect trade secrets or the good will of the employer's company, however, they cannot be used to limit a former employee's ability to earn a living and will be closely scrutinized by the court if a dispute arises. To be considered valid, a noncompete agreement must protect a legitimate business interest of the employer, must be reasonable as to scope, geography and time and must be supported by sufficient consideration. If the agreement is signed prior to employment, the employment can be considered sufficient consideration.

Sexual harassment basics

In general, it is unlawful to harass an individual, either an applicant for a job or an employee, on the basis of that person's sex. By definition, sexual harassment can include sexual harassment, or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and verbal or physical harassment that is sexual in nature. In addition, harassment is not limited to harassment that is sexual in nature.

Prohibited harassment can also include offensive remarks about an individual's sex. As an example, harassing a woman by making offensive comments about women in general is prohibited and is illegal. Both the victim and the harasser can be either a man or a woman and the victim and the harasser also do not need to be of the opposite sex and may be of the same sex. The harasser can be a variety of different parties in the workplace including the victim's supervisor, the victim's supervisor in another area, the victim's co-workers or a party such as a client or customer.

Pregnancy discrimination is prohibited in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, discrimination based on pregnancy is prohibited. The Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act prohibits discrimination based on sex, including discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions unless there is a concern based on a bona fide occupational qualification.

All state employers are covered by the law, as well as private employers with greater than 4 employees.

Applicants and workers are protected from race discrimination

Racial discrimination can refer to a variety of behaviors that are prohibited in the workplace, including racial slurs, racially offensive jokes and stereotyping based on race. It is also illegal to discriminate in the hiring process because of race. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides workers in Rhode Island and nationwide with protection from race discrimination in the workplace. Both federal and state laws offer protections against race discrimination. Workers should be aware that they do not have to tolerate racial discrimination in the hiring process or workplace.

Additionally, workers cannot be reprimanded, demoted, terminated or subjected to other forms of negative treatment based on their race, national origin, ethnicity or color, as this may be considered workplace race discrimination. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against an employee based on race or if the employee has reported prohibited or illegal race discrimination in the workplace.

Some important facts about sexual harassment

Understanding what sexual harassment is and some important facts about it can be helpful for victims of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and violates Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title 7 applies to employers with 15 or more employees; state and local governments; the federal government; and a few others.

Sexually harassing activity can include unwelcome sexual advances; requests for sexual favors; and other verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature and occurs under certain circumstances. Such behaviors can constitute sexual harassment when the conduct impacts the individual's employment, either explicitly or implicitly; unreasonably interferes with the work performance of the individual; or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment.

You can fight back against racial discrimination

It is illegal to discriminate in the workplace because of someone's race, gender or various other factors. Despite the fact that it is illegal, it still happens, and victims of this type of reprehensible behavior often do not know what to do to protect themselves and keep it from happening again. 

If you experienced discrimination on the basis of your race, you do not have to put up with it. You have the right to seek a positive outcome to your situation, holding liable parties accountable for racial discrimination and seeking fair reparations for your mistreatment. You have the right to a workplace free from any type of discrimination, and the right to fight back against it.

The benefits and enforcement of employment contracts

Employment contracts can address important uses and benefits, but it is also important to know what to do if an employment contract has been breached. Not all employment relationships have an employment contract and, in fact, many may not. Many employment relationships are referred to as "at-will" employment, which permits an employer to terminate an employee for any reason that is not against the law and does not place restrictions on an employee, such as a non-compete agreement or non-disclosure agreement would.

When an employment contract is in place, it typically includes the nature of the employee's work-related responsibilities and employee's salary. In general, employment contracts can include: the responsibilities of the employee; the term of employment; the benefits the employee will receive; policies concerning vacation and sick leave; grounds for termination; covenants not to compete; a non-disclosure agreement; an ownership agreement; an assignment clause; and a method for resolving disputes, should any arise.

Rhode Island restaurant worker brings sexual harassment claim

Victims of workplace sexual harassment are legally protected. A former dishwasher at a national chain restaurant recently brought a lawsuit in Rhode Island alleging sexual harassment and workplace discrimination. The former dishwasher brought a claim against his former managers accusing them of discriminating against him for being a heterosexual male and allowing sexual harassment from a male coworker to continue despite being aware of it. The man asserts that the male coworker repeatedly touched him inappropriately. The man also asserts he complained about the harassment but the manager tolerated it.

In addition, according to the lawsuit, the restaurant retaliated against him. Under state and federal discrimination laws, employers cannot retaliate against employees or discriminate against them for reporting discrimination or harassment. In addition, state and federal laws bar employment-related discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex. The man asserts he was inappropriately touched by a male coworker and reported it to his manager but was told that was how the gay staff behaved and that the behavior was tolerated.