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Detroit Employment Law Blog

When your ethical self convinces you to become a whistleblower

Anyone who decides to become a whistleblower has his or her reasons for speaking out. This may surprise you, but the possibility of gaining a financial reward does not offer much motivation for blowing the whistle. Most whistleblowers in Michigan never receive a huge sum of money in exchange for the information they possess. So, why do people decide to take such a big step for little-to-no personal gain?

We have learned that it all comes down to ethics. In the majority of whistleblower cases in or near Detroit, ethical concerns played a large motivating role. These good American citizens felt concern about the possibility that an employer or an organization participated in illegal activities. It so bothered them that they chose to speak out instead of living in silence with their knowledge.

You can do your own part to help end workplace discrimination

Workplace discrimination continues to be a problem for the Detroit workforce. Despite the laws specifically written to protect workers, discrimination based on age, religion, disability and many other factors still happens.

To show that it isn't all bad, we want to take a short trip back in time to look at some historical milestones that have improved the American workforce.

  • In the early 1800s, American unions gained the right to strike against unfair work conditions
  • In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was born, making it illegal to use child labor while also mandating a minimum wage and overtime pay
  • In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, making it possible to take time off for family matters without fear of termination

What does a formal severance policy typically include?

Some employers negotiate severance on a case-by-case basis, while others have a formal policy in place.

While no two companies take the exact same approach to severance, a formal policy typically includes the following:

  • Conditions: This defines the circumstances in which an employee qualifies for severance, such as layoffs related to downsizing. It will also outline circumstances when severance is not paid, such as termination for cause.
  • Groups covered by the severance policy: It's possible that only some employees will qualify for severance pay. For instance, a company may offer severance to salaried workers but not hourly employees.
  • How it's calculated: Employers can calculate severance however they best see fit. A common approach is offering payment based on how many years you worked for the company. For example, you could receive one week's salary for every year you were employed.
  • How and when it's paid: Some employers pay severance in a lump sum, while others do so using the same pay schedule you're familiar with. Also, make note of whether you're to receive a check or direct deposit.
  • Documents required before receiving severance: You may have to sign certain documents before receiving severance pay, such as a legal release and noncompete.

What do fair employment contract arbitration clauses look like?

In recent decades, more and more Michigan executive employment contracts have begun including an arbitration clause. This means that the two parties -- employers and employees -- agree to settle any contract disputes or violations outside of a courtroom. When you sign an employment contract containing an arbitration clause, you could severely limit your legal options if a dispute arises.

Still, because litigation is costly and inconvenient for both parties, arbitration clauses are not always a bad provision. The key is to make certain your employment contract's arbitration clause is as fair as possible to all parties.

Is tenure denial an example of sex discrimination in academia?

Many Michigan college and university professors teach and conduct research as associate professors, adjunct faculty, part-time lecturers or graduate assistants. Often, those on non-tenure tracks or working as associate professors are women.

If you’re a female university professor, you may have applied for tenure with hopes of career advancement. Tenure offers job security, financial stability and the ability to keep doing what you love. However, in instances where tenure is denied, it may be evidence of discrimination.

Discrimination against female workers is still very common

STEM careers are those in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Historically, these are areas that have seen far more male workers than female workers, though the workplace in 2019 is certainly supposed to offer equal opportunities to all workers, regardless of gender.

Unfortunately, it appears that is certainly not happening. According to reports, a staggering 50% of women in these fields have experienced discrimination on the job. They do not see equal treatment when compared to their male counterparts.

Recent discrimination suit shows why fast action is necessary

If you have ever been a victim of workplace harassment, you probably waited a long time before you even considered legal action. Many people hesitate because they hope the behavior will stop on its own. Another reason for hesitation is because victims might not be completely certain that discrimination is occurring.

A recent news report reveals why swift action is necessary to find a satisfactory legal remedy. A former police officer with the Warren, Michigan, police department is attempting to sue the city and several individuals for workplace discrimination. The ex-cop claims that the city "discriminated against her and abused and harassed her" because she is a woman and an African-American. She also alleges the following:

  • The city failed to provide proper diversity training, which resulted in a "racially and sexually" hostile work environment.
  • The police department consistently violated her rights by failing to assign her with "adequate backup" when she was on duty.
  • The department discriminated against her by handing down poor performance reviews and questioning her competence as a female cop.

How does the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act work?

Even though potential auto industry whistleblowers in Michigan have several ways to report safety infractions to the government, the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act (MVSWA) may make it easier. The MVSWA protects consumers as well as the public because it encourages those with knowledge about safety infractions to alert the government.

If you are unfamiliar with the MVSWA, it is worth the effort to learn more if you work in the state's auto industry. This will equip you to choose the whistleblower reporting method that best meets your needs. You should seek help from an attorney if you feel concerned about retaliation after you blow the whistle regardless of how you choose to report wrongdoing.

Pay close attention to these employment contract provisions

Upon receiving an employment contract, you'll turn your immediate attention to details such as compensation, benefits and paid time off.

While all of these details are important, it's critical to pay close attention to the many provisions that could impact you in the future. Here are three that deserve your full attention:

  • Confidentiality agreement: This part of the contract states that you are not permitted to share any information about the employer's business, such as how it collects data, its processes or any trade secrets. In most cases, a confidentiality agreement remains in effect even after you leave the company.
  • Non-competition agreement: In the non-competition clause, you agree that you will not work for a competing company while employed or for a predetermined period after your employment ends.
  • Exclusive employment: Some contracts state that you are not allowed to hold another job while working for the company. Others only note that you are not permitted to work for anyone in the same or a similar industry.

What are the pros and cons of executive arbitration clauses?

Executive employment contracts can be simple single-page documents or complex agreements with many different clauses. As executives in Michigan and other states become savvy about the agreements they sign, clauses designed to protect all parties are becoming commonplace.

Arbitration clauses, for example, appear more frequently in employment contracts than ever before, but are these clauses as good for the employee as they are for the employer? The best way to answer such a question is to have a legal professional look over the document before signing.

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