Employment Law Services
Harassment on the Job
Conflict on the job is a reality of the work place. From the employee’s perspective, perceived harsh treatment often is characterized as “harassment.” It is very important to have some basic understanding that not all work place conflict, whether or not it makes one feel harassed or discriminated against, is something the law can address.
There is no law that generally bans “harassment.” Rather, harassment is only one of the kinds of conduct that is prohibited under the law if it related to an unlawful motive or based on a protected characteristic. The most common example people often think of in terms of harassment is sexual harassment, which generally involves such things as requests for sexual favors or creating a hostile or demeaning work environment (improper language, pictures, etc.). Harassment and discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, color, religion, national origin, and certain disabilities also is unlawful under federal law. Harassment and discrimination to advance some kind of illegal or unethical activity, or to cover it up, may be covered by state law depending on the circumstances.
The discrimination laws generally cover discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, and covered disability. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) provides protection to individuals age forty (40) and older from discrimination in the work place. It applies to all employers with twenty (20) or more employees. Although the ADEA protects you from discrimination on the basis of age, it does not make unlawful discrimination on the basis of other traits that some people consider to be closely linked with age. For example, laying off employees on the basis of their high salaries does not necessarily constitute age discrimination just because it naturally affects older employees. Nor does the law require employers to allow older employees extra training or to bump younger employees just to keep an older employee on the payroll even if the older employee has been loyal and performed in an excellent manner. Rather it prevents employers from using age as a basis for employment decisions, or from using other factors as a cover (i.e. proxy) for age discrimination.
“Wrongful discharge” is a concept about which there is much misinformation and confusion in recent years. Many people misunderstand concepts such as “employment at-will” or “right to work” and make false assumptions about whether they be fired lawfully under the circumstances.
The term “right to work,” really does not have anything to do with the typical termination decision. It involves the basic right in South Carolina to work without having to join a union or pay union dues. What most people mean when they say “right to work” is “employment at-will.” Many people say that South Carolina is an employment at-will state. In fact, South Carolina is not much different than other states in terms of how it applies the employment at-will doctrine.
One growing area of employment law is the area of employee competitiveness. Many employees who seek to compete with their current or former employer find themselves in trouble because they fail to understand the full range of issues that arise. For example, just because a future job or business will not violate terms of a non-compete agreement, doesn’t mean that the departing employees does not have to seriously consider whether the employee can operate without using the employer’s “trade secrets.” In addition, while employed, there are strict rules on what an employee may not do as a result of common-law duties of loyalty.