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Detroit Employment Law Blog

Were your whistleblower rights violated?

What if you're a federal employee who saw a coworker breaking the law, but when you reported the behavior to your supervisor, you were told to keep quiet? Would you tell your supervisor's boss about what happened? Would you go to the appropriate legal authorities and tell them what's going on?

Perhaps you realize that your boss has instituted a policy that results in the violation of federal environmental protection laws. Many federal employees face this kind of ethical dilemma at their workplaces on a daily basis. Should you report illegal behavior that you witness at your work even if it could result in the loss of your job or some other negative employment consequence? In fact, employees who report illegal behavior can receive protection under the federal law from any kind of retaliation.

Jury awards nearly $17 million in discrimination case

A federal jury in Michigan has awarded a former Ford engineer nearly $17 million in a discrimination lawsuit.

The suit alleged that Ford discriminated against the man for his Arab background and then retaliated against him after he reported the discrimination.

6 things to look for in an employment contract

You have reached a point in your career where you are more than an employee. Companies come to you with contracts when they want your services.

It is absolutely critical that you understand exactly what benefits the contract offers. Below are six things you should look for:

  1. Job security: Does the contract protect you from being fired? How much warning should you get and what steps need to be followed if you are going to be terminated?
  2. Reasons for termination: Make sure these are as specific as possible. When things are open-ended, you may not have the security that you want.
  3. End dates and start dates: Is the contract going to last until you resign or get fired? Or will you only work for the company for a specific time, at the end of which, you'll have to negotiate a new contract?
  4. Exclusive employment clauses: If you sign the deal, are you only allowed to work for that company? If you do freelance work on the side -- for a charity you're involved with, for instance -- do you run the risk of getting fired?
  5. The full compensation package: Do not just look at the monthly or yearly pay. Check out retirement benefits, health care options and more.
  6. Your status if the company is sold: Are the new owners obligated to keep you on, or can they fire you and start over with a new staff? Do you get any compensation if the company is sold and you lose your job?

Filing a discrimination case in Michigan

Michigan law is very specific about protecting its citizens from workplace discrimination. The law makes it clear that it is illegal to discriminate against any person on the "basis of age, arrest record, color, height, marital status, national origin, physical or mental disability (including AIDS and HIV), race, religion, sex and weight." No company, no matter how big or small, is exempt from the discrimination laws.

When it comes to filing a discrimination case, Michigan laws are also specific. Having an attorney at the onset is a good idea since he or she will readily know the steps to take and the evidence you may need.

Jackson teacher wins whistleblower lawsuit

Jackson Public Schools was ordered to pay a teacher $388,485 in both economic and punitive damages on March 7. After more than a week of trial and litigation, a dispute that began in 2015 was finally settled. However, the school board still has a 30-day period in which they can appeal the decision.

This case fits the standard whistleblower scenario, including alleged acts of retaliation. In October of 2015, the high school art teacher allegedly had a disagreement with a student in her classroom. While she was attempting to take a piece of the student's artwork from him, he either pushed or hit her hand, injuring her.

Employee contracts: what they actually are and what they mean

Michigan employment contracts are usually thought of as an agreement you sign when you start a new job. They include the details of your salary, vacation and other benefits you will receive in exchange for the work you are expected to perform. More or less details can be included. But is that really what an employment contract is?

An employment contract can be nothing more than an employment relationship where the employer and the employee both understand the terms. For instance, an employer can offer an employee a job explaining what he or she will earn (something of value) in return for his or her services. The employee may accept the offer and go to work. As long as the terms are mutually agreed upon, a written contract is not necessary. However, "subsequent words and actions of the parties" must not be contrary to the terms agreed upon.

A new workplace discrimination decision for transgenders

A former transgender funeral director recently won a favorable decision against Michigan-based R.G & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes for discrimination. The former funeral director was transitioning from a male to a female when she was fired from Harris Funeral Homes in 2013 after disclosing her secret.

Three appellate judges in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals voted in favor of the transgender woman and against Harris Funeral Homes declaring that "businesses cannot discriminate against employees for identifying as transgender." According to a staff attorney for the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union, this is a victory showing that transgender individuals are protected by federal laws and cannot be discriminated against based on their sex.

U.S. Supreme Court clarifies whistleblower law

In a February decision, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified who is entitled to receive whistleblower protection under the Dodd-Frank Act.

The issue for the court was whether Dodd-Frank shields employees who report wrongdoing to their employer but not to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010 as part of Wall Street reform.

Whistleblower let go from hospital

A nurse anesthetist, who was allegedly on contract with Sparrow Carson Hospital, complained to the State of Michigan in October about an orthopedic surgeon on staff by the hospital. On Nov. 2, an investigation was opened due to his complaint. Shortly after, the anesthetist was let go from his work at the hospital.

The State had received four other complaints about the orthopedist in the past four year according to records obtained by the State Journal. The complaints against the orthopedist were for high infection rates among his patients.

Tips for negotiating an employment contract

When you switch jobs or consider switching jobs, you probably compare the advantages or disadvantages of one job over the other. If the switch is desirable to you, but doesn't quite meet your requirements, you may be able to negotiate a better deal at your potential new company.

When it comes to the employment agreement, be clear about what you want. Whatever you do, don't just sign the agreement without having your attorney go over it with you. Your potential employer will probably respect this, not hold it against you.

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