One very important right of workers here in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S. is the right to voice workplace safety concerns without the fear of retaliation. Employees need to be able to express their concerns about workplace hazards and safety threats so that the employer, or authorities, can be aware of any issues that may endanger workers or patrons.
Women and minorities recognized Equal Pay Day in Milwaukee on Tuesday by holding a demonstration at the Equal Rights Division, according to a local news report. The group used the occasion to call for the strengthening of existing anti-discrimination employment laws, and State Rep. Chris Sinicki and Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson spoke at the event.
Although it has been illegal for employers to discriminate against workers and applicants with disabilities for more than 20 years in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S., a recent news report suggests that this type of discrimination is still very common. Only 18 percent of Americans with disabilities of working age are currently employed, and this is actually down 2 percent from 2009. According to the Associated Press, these numbers have been relatively stable since the Americans with Disabilities Act outlawed discrimination in employment in 1990.
Many Wisconsin residents may have felt a bit relieved when last week's U.S. jobs report showed the unemployment rate dipping in February to its lowest point since December 2008. As the economy continues to mend, many people who have long been out of work may be able to finally find employment.
A key aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act is the fact that employers need to grant reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. In order to eliminate artificial barriers to employment, employers must work with disabled employees to provide things that may be necessary such as a restructuring of duties, tools for the job, a job-protected leave, a modified work schedule or a reassignment, for example. When employers fail to abide by the law and provide accommodations, there may be consequences.
Many employment disputes arise not because there are grey issues with employment law itself, but because it is difficult at times to enforce these laws. For example, discrimination in just about any shape or form is illegal in the workplace. This is a very clear cut issue, however, workers do not always know their rights when it comes to discrimination and even when they do it can be difficult to prove their cases and remedy them.
In April, 2010, a 62-year-old Wisconsin woman was fired from Computer Systems, LLC, in Milwaukee. The woman had worked loyally for the company for 38 years before she was suddenly replaced by a younger employee who she had just finished training. Last month, the now defunct computer company settled an age discrimination lawsuit filed by the former employee for $32,500.
When an employee in Wisconsin decides to blow the whistle on his or her employer by exposing fraud, he or she can generally do this anonymously. Depending on which government whistleblower program the claim falls under, employees may be able to file the claim completely anonymously, or they may have to tell the government who they are, but not their their employers.
Here in Wisconsin, and throughout the country, when an employee has knowledge that his or her employer is doing something illegal, the employee is in a very difficult position. The honorable and responsible thing to do is often to report the illegal activity by alerting authorities, but the whistle-blower might then risk being fired or retaliated against by the employer. Of course, it is illegal for the employer to respond in that way, but that does not always stop them.
As the U.S. Supreme Court's session comes to a close, it feels as if decisions are released at breakneck speed. With so many rulings handed down each day -- and with one major opinion held until the last hour -- it can be easy to overlook one or two. The court's opinion in a Fair Labor Standards Act case earlier this month could easily be overlooked. However, the decision will affect an untold number of employees and will change the employment law landscape in every state.