Under state and federal law, even an "at-will" employee may bring a legal action against an employer or supervisor who has sexually harassed that employee. The victim of sexual harassment can be either male or female. Under Alabama law, sexual harassment can include such things as: verbal comments, including epithets, derogatory comments or slurs; or physical conduct, including assault, impeding or blocking movement, or physical interference with normal work or movement; or visual harassment, such as derogatory posters, cartoons, or drawings; or sexual favors, including unwanted sexual advances where sexual favors are asked for in exchange for an employment benefit. "Harassment" because of sex includes sexual harassment, gender harassment and harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. In addition to monetary damages, an employee who has been the victim of sexual harassment may also recover reimbursement for attorney fees.
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay their non-exempt workers one and one-half times their regular hourly rate when they work more than 40 hours in any one workweek. Whether an employee must be paid overtime depends on many factors including the amount of money that an employee makes and the type of work that they do. While many employers may think that they can simply call an employee salaried and avoid paying overtime, this is often false. The true test of whether an employee is determined by the actual duties that the employee performs. Employees who have been deprived of the overtime pay that they earned may bring lawsuits against employers who improperly withhold overtime pay.
The FLSA also protects employees who complain about not receiving their overtime pay. If an employee is wrongfully terminated or harassed in retaliation for demanding overtime pay to which he or she is legally entitled, that employee may have a right to sue the employer for wrongful termination. If you would like additional information about the subject of overtime pay in Alabama, we invite you to contact an attorney and make an appointment to speak with him about your claim. Or, if you prefer, you can submit your information online by
Under federal law, it is unlawful for an employer to take any employment action against an employee based upon who they are or what they believe. An employer cannot discriminate against someone because of their age, race, sex, religion, pregnancy, disability or natural origin. They cannot commit an adverse employment action against an employee for discriminatory reasons. Adverse employment actions include termination, demotion, failure to promote, reduction in work hours, unfavorable job assignments or involuntary transfers. Even "at will" employees are entitled to the legal protections afforded by the statutes. This means that employees have the right to sue employers who have engaged in discrimination, and to seek monetary damages and attorney's fees.
Alabama and federal law prohibit discrimination based upon your age. Age discrimination is only provided to individuals forty years of age or older. If an employee is younger than forty, the law would not be applicable. For employees age forty and above the law prohibits age being a motivating factor in regards to adverse employment decisions made by an employer. Adverse employment decisions include termination, demotion, failure to promote, reduction in work hours, unfavorable job assignments or involuntary transfers. Also, age discrimination prohibits your being laid off or involved in a reduction in force by your employer while younger, less qualified and less experienced employees are retained by your employer.
An employer may not terminate an employee or take other adverse job actions based on that individual's race. Race discrimination is prohibited, regardless of your race. The laws prohibiting such discrimination apply to all minorities, as well as to whites. Race discrimination can be seen in the form of a hostile work environment composed of sexual slurs and matters and symbols such as a noose. Race discrimination can also be shown by an employee suffering an adverse job action, such as termination, where they were singled out and treated differently than someone of a different race. If the employee was subjected to worse discipline by the decision maker than someone of a different race under similar circumstances, discrimination may be the cause.
An employer may not terminate an employee or take other adverse job action on account of sex or pregnancy. Sex discrimination is different than sexual harassment. Sex discrimination means that an employee is singled out and treated different than employees of the opposite sex. It can apply for either males or females, although the Equal Pay Act is only applicable to help females achieve pay equality with males. For all other types of sexual discrimination claims based upon an adverse job action a charge of discrimination must be filed with the EEOC first. An adverse job action includes termination, demotion, failure to promote, reduction in work hours, unfavorable job assignments or involuntary transfers.
Pregnancy discrimination by employers is illegal. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is now a part of a law called Title VII, which is initially administered by the EEOC. After the EEOC investigation a right-to-sue is issued that allows the suit to be filed in federal court. Pregnancy discrimination prohibits employers from fabricating reasons to fire pregnant employees in order to avoid their legal obligations.
Federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of religion. This means that your employer cannot make any decisions based on or treat you differently because of your religious beliefs or practices in any aspect of employment—from hiring to firing and everything in between. In addition, where workers articulate a need to express their religious beliefs and practices in the workplace, companies are generally required to accommodate them, unless doing so would cause the company undue hardship. Typical religious discrimination cases involve terminations based upon request by an employee to be accommodated for their religious needs. These can include matters dealing with undesirable schedules, demotions, failure to promote or terminations.
The subject of wrongful employment termination is extremely broad and can only be briefly touched upon here. Generally speaking, Alabama law follows the "at-will" employment doctrine. Under this doctrine, an employer generally is free to terminate or demote an employee with or without just cause. However, there are numerous exceptions to this doctrine, many of which are discussed on this website. Some examples include being fired or demoted because of unlawful discrimination, or in retaliation for reporting safety complaints or illegal conduct by the employer. These exceptions permit even an "at-will" employee to bring a legal action against his or her employer for wrongful termination or demotion.
Under federal law, it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee because he or she has exercised a legal right. This is true even if the worker is an "at-will" employee. For example, it is wrongful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who reports, or threatens to report, an employer's unlawful activity to appropriate authorities. It is also wrongful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who makes safety complaints, or protests unlawful discrimination at the work place, or files a charge of unlawful discrimination. Retaliating against an employee who demands overtime pay or other wages is another example of wrongful retaliation, and there are many others. Again, an employee who has been discharged or demoted as the result of this type of retaliation may bring a lawsuit against the employer even if the employee is an at-will employee.
Depending on the number of employees working for your employer at or near your work site, you may be legally entitled to take medical leave under either the federal "Family Medical Leave Act" or the state. If you are entitled to take such leave, your employer cannot fire you or otherwise retaliate against you for exercising this right. This legal right applies even to "at-will" employees, and allows an employee who has been victimized by an employer that has refused to meet its obligations under these Acts to bring a lawsuit for damages against the employer. Such an employee may even be awarded reimbursement for attorney fees.
In some circumstances, there are federal and state laws that protect employees who "blow the whistle" on their employers who are breaking the law or committing acts of fraud. It is illegal for employers to terminate or to retaliate against these whistleblowers. To be protected as a whistleblower, employees must report the illegal and/or fraudulent activities to authorities outside of the company. (Internal complaints of sexual harassment and/or discrimination may be protected under certain retaliation laws.) As a response to such corporate scandals as Enron, in 2002, Congress passed the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX) protecting employees of public companies who blow the whistle by reporting illegal activities conducted by their employer.