ABC’s of Employment Law – Part 2
Welcome to part 2 of our ABCs of Employment Law series, letters H through M.
H is for harassment– a form of employment discrimination, generally defined as unwelcome conduct based on a protected status (see letter “P”) such as race, sex, religion, or age. Harassment is illegal if the conduct is so severe and/or pervasive (meaning serious and/or frequent) that it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile or abusive. Harassment is also illegal if enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment.
I is for interrogatories- questions one party asks another as part of discovery. Discovery in the process by which the parties in a lawsuit exchange information. A common form of discovery, interrogatories are written questions that are sent to a party and then answered within a certain period of time. Other common types of discovery are requests for production of documents, where one side asks the other to provide documents relating to the case, requests for admission, where one side asks the other to admit under oath that certain statements are true, and depositions, where a witness is questioned about a case under oath.
J is for jury- a body of people selected to give a verdict in a trial. Either side can ask for a jury, instead of a judge, to decide the facts of a case if it goes to a trial. Jurors are drawn from the jury pool based on the Court’s location. Typically, the court will either have the judge or the lawyers ask the potential jurors questions to see if they should serve on the jury for a particular case. Either side may ask for a juror to be removed for cause, such as an obvious bias that would affect their ability to give a fair decision. Courts also usually allow each side to dismiss a few jurors without giving a reason. Once selected, the jury listens to the evidence presented by both sides and then deliberates in private. When they have reached a decision, they tell the judge what they have decided about the case, called a “verdict” (see letter “V.”)
K is for knowledge- information someone does or does not have. In certain types of employment law claims, one of the issues is the employer’s knowledge about a problem. For a Fair Labor Standards Act (see letter “F”) claim, an employer’s knowledge that they are violating the law with respect to how employees are paid, as opposed to genuinely believing that a pay practice is legal, can increase the amount of damages an employee can collect. In a harassment case, the employer must have a level of knowledge called “notice,” meaning it knew or should have known that the harassment was occurring, in order to be considered liable for the harassment.
L is for liquidated damages- money damages a party may be entitled to other than “actual” damages. A contract between two parties may specify a certain amount as “liquidated damages,” meaning that if one party breaks the contract, the other party is entitled to that specified amount instead of having to prove the actual amount lost as a result of the broken contract. More frequently in employment law, “liquidated damages” refers to money you can claim in a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (see letter “F”). If you were not paid minimum wage (see letter “M”) or overtime (see letter “O”) in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, you can demand that your employer pay you the actual amount you should have been paid PLUS an equal amount as “liquidated damages,” essentially doubling the amount you are seeking.
M is for minimum wage- the lowest hourly amount an employee must be paid for time worked, unless they are covered by a minimum wage “exemption” (see letter “E”). The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, and in March 2019 the minimum wage in Michigan will increase to $9.45 per hour.