Dealing with unfair treatment at work can be difficult for most people. Watching coworkers who have less experience gain promotions while you remain in the same job or always being assigned to work undesirable shifts can be frustrating. While being treated unfairly at work can demoralize people, unfair treatment is not always grounds for a lawsuit. If you believe that you have been treated unfairly at your job and would like to explore your legal options, the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler can explain whether your claim has merits.
Understanding employment at will
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, most workers are considered to be at-will employees. At-will employment means that workers can be fired from their jobs at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. However, there are recognized exceptions to the general rule under federal and state law. Terminations in violation of employment contracts are also illegal. If you have been treated unfairly at your job or have been terminated, it is unlikely to form the basis of a legal claim unless your employer violated a federal or state statute or an employment contract.
Employment contract breaches
While most people are employed at will, some employers and employees choose to enter into employment contracts. These contracts cover the terms of the employment and might include provisions about the situations that might lead to the employee’s termination. Employment contracts are common for executives, and union workers likewise work under collective bargaining agreements. If an employer violates the terms of an employment contract in regards to firing an employee, the employee may have valid grounds to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Workplace discrimination is illegal when it is based on an employee’s protected characteristics. While it is prohibited under state and federal laws, discrimination based on the protected statuses of employees continues to be a pervasive problem.
Several federal laws prohibit discrimination, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and others. Under these laws, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on the following characteristics:
- National origin
- Genetic information
- Age if over 40
Some state and local laws provide broader protections. For example, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status, and ancestry in addition to prohibiting discrimination against members of the federally protected classes. Some cities have local laws that offer broader protection as well. For example, Philadelphia’s employment discrimination law protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, family status, marital status, ancestry, and statuses as the victims of domestic or sexual violence.
Retaliation against whistleblowers
People who blow the whistle to report unlawful or unethical conduct by their employers sometimes face retaliation. Employers are not allowed to retaliate against whistleblowers. If your employer retaliates against you for reporting misconduct or safety violations to a federal agency, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit for retaliation. Whistleblower laws exist at both the state and federal levels to protect employees who have reported illegal conduct or have participated in an investigation. Reporting or helping in an investigation of discrimination, violations of environmental regulations, fraud, and other unlawful activities can trigger whistleblower protections.
The Equal Pay Act provides protections to workers in terms of their pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act also mandates that covered workers are paid a minimum wage of at least $7.25 per hour, and New Jersey mandates that covered workers are paid a minimum of $10 per hour. Workers are given the benefit of the higher minimum wage. This means that New Jersey employees have to be paid $10 per hour instead of the federal minimum wage. Employers are required to pay men and women equally when they perform equal work and have equal skills. If you find out that you are being compensated less than members of the opposite sex for the same job, you may have grounds to file a pay discrimination claim. If you are not being paid the minimum wage or overtime pay for hours that you work over 40 in a week, you might be able to file a wage and hour claim.
Get help from experienced employment law attorneys
Some unfair treatment in the workplace is not illegal. However, if your employer has discriminated against you for an unlawful reason or in violation of an employment contract, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit. Contact the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler to schedule a consultation so that you can learn about your rights and the merits of your potential claim. We can be reached by phone at 856.685.7420 or online through our contact form.