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California teens suffering sexual harassment, unlikely to report

We often think of sexual harassment in California in adult terms, but younger workers also suffer from this workplace scourge. In fact, a shocking study shows that one-third of American teenagers have been subject to sexual harassment on the job, a far higher statistic than many of us may have imagined. The fact is that no one is immune to this type of workplace experience, no matter his or her age. That is why younger workers need to remain particularly vigilant about the signs of sexual harassment -- and why they deserve added protections.

Younger workers often do not realize that they are being sexually harassed. Teens may tease each other at school, but those same actions in the workplace constitute a serious offense that could lead to a sexual harassment claim. Other workers who use sexual innuendo are often promoting a hostile work environment that can be difficult for teens to navigate. In a world in which only 5 percent of adult victims report sexual harassment, younger workers are even less likely to say something.

How to pinpoint workplace discrimination and harassment

When it comes to workplace discrimination and harassment, many people have a difficult time understanding their rights.

It is important that you know how to pinpoint workplace discrimination, ensuring that you are able to fight back in the event that you become a victim. While most people never have to concern themselves with this, some are put in a difficult position on a regular basis.

Wrongful termination in violation of public policy

In the state of California, an employer is prohibited from firing an employee if doing so would violate public policy. This holds true despite the fact that California has been established as an at-will employment state.

While all employers are expected to understand this side of the law, the same does not hold true for workers. Instead, many people don't realize there are laws in place to protect them in the event of a discharge due to violation of public policy.

What is national origin discrimination?

Although we often talk about racial discrimination in California, there is another, more insidious, type of discrimination that could be considered equally egregious: discrimination based on national origin. This larger umbrella captures discrimination against employees because they appear to belong to a certain ethnic group, but it also extends to those who hail from certain parts of the world, display an accent or even are married to a person of a particular ethnicity. You may be surprised to learn that discrimination may even occur between two workers who share the same national origin.

Equal opportunity employment laws prohibit employers from instituting mandatory rules that have a negative impact on certain groups without significantly impacting workplace outcomes. For example, many employers have required that employees only speak English while they are on the job. Although this may make sense in a customer-service setting in which most clients are more likely to speak English, it is less likely to be useful in a more private work environment such as an office setting.

Wrongfully terminated? Age discrimination law may have the answer

Most of us are familiar with the idea of discrimination in the workplace based on gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, but did you know that there is a far more insidious form of discrimination at play in today's economy? More and more workers are suffering wrongful termination not because of their appearance, but because of their age. Luckily, federal legislation protects California employees from this type of unfair discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits age discrimination against those who are older than 40 years old. This important piece of legislation protects older workers from being cruelly phased out of the workforce in favor of younger, cheaper labor.

You might think that this is a new piece of legislation, but the ADEA actually dates back to 1967, when civil rights were an integral part of the national conscience. The Act was created to prevent unfair displacement of older workers, largely because long-term employment among the older age groups was becoming a significant problem at that time. Furthermore, employers in that era were setting arbitrary age limits for specific job functions that were not necessarily dependent upon age.

FMLA notice requirements

Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act, some employees are able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from their job over a 12 month period. Best yet, the leave is job protected, meaning that the employer must keep your position available until you return.

If you are eligible for FMLA leave and need to make a claim, it is important to know what is expected of you. This is not something you decide on today and implement tomorrow (unless it is an absolute must). Instead, there are notice requirements to be aware of.

Am I an employee or an independent contractor?

As a worker, you may begin to wonder if you are an employee or independent contractor. There are many reasons why it is important to be accurately classified. For example, this will impact benefit eligibility, pay, and taxes.

There are some basic factors that determine if a person is an employee or independent contractor. Knowing these factors will help you better understand how you should be classified by the company you are working for.

California, others pondering new laws supporting FMLA

After years of dealing with recession-era job issues -- along with an increasingly dwindling middle class -- lawmakers along the West Coast are dedicating themselves to helping their states' employees balance work/life issues. California, for instance, is currently considering a law that would broaden Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provisions, bolstering the state's already strong family leave policies. In fact, California was the first state to pass such accommodating laws in 2002, leading other states such as Rhode Island and New Jersey to follow suit. The current California law has already been approved by the state Senate and is currently under consideration by the Assembly.

California is a trend-setter when it comes to extending additional legal protections for family and medical leave. In fact, the state's rules are often held up as a model for other legislative efforts. A 1 percent payroll tax throughout the state allows qualified workers to enjoy six weeks of paid maternity, family or caregiver leave at about half of their weekly salaries, with benefits reaching a maximum of $1,100. California, along with Rhode Island and New Jersey, built its family and medical leave rules on existing disability systems.

What steps do I take if I've been sexually harassed at work?

If you have been sexually harassed at work, you should never feel that you have to put up with this sort of behavior. You need to realize that this is not acceptable. You need to make it clear to the other party that you are not going to stand for this.

There are steps you can take if you have been sexually harassed at work. These include:

Whistleblower protection includes potential for monetary reward

Did you know that you might be eligible for civil compensation as a whistleblower if you provide credible information leading to the identification of an Internal Revenue Service violator? In addition to general whistleblower protection for reporting your California employer's financial misdeeds, you could actually be eligible for a financial incentive through the courts. Whistleblowers may qualify if they provide specific information related to the collection of penalties, interest, taxes and other amounts from commercial violators.

Whistleblowers may be eligible for this compensation if the amount collected from the commercial violator exceeds $2 million and certain other qualifications are met. The IRS may pay as much as 30 percent of the gross amount that is collected to the whistleblower who broke the case. Blowing the whistle has never been more profitable! A variety of rules and regulations govern the distribution of funds related to whistleblower lawsuits; an attorney can provide additional information about qualifying elements of your whistleblower case.

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