As a Michigan employment lawyer, I represent individual clients in a variety of employment law cases, including discrimination and harassment cases. I have represented employees from a wide variety of occupations, including doctors, engineers, government workers, and blue collar workers.
When representing individual clients, my goal is to protect their legal rights arising out of state and federal law, as well as any contract rights my clients may have.General Overview of State and Federal Laws that Protect Employees
In Michigan, most employees are “at-will” employees, which means that an employer can terminate an employee’s job for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all, as long as it is not an illegal reason. Illegal reasons generally fall under the scope of state and federal discrimination laws. Illegal discrimination includes adverse employment actions based on race, gender, sexual harassment, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital status, or pregnancy.
Therefore, even if you are an at-will employee who does not have a written contract with your employer, you still have legal rights under state and federal civil rights laws that protect you from illegal discrimination and harassment. Adverse employment actions can include a number of things, such as being fired, disciplined, demoted, or otherwise mistreated. If your employer does any of these things to you based on the fact that you are included in a classification that is protected under state or federal civil rights laws, your employer’s actions are illegal.
In addition, state and federal civil rights laws also prohibit an employer from retaliating against employees for engaging in protected activity, such as reporting improper or illegal conduct, making a complaint of discrimination or harassment, or reporting a suspected or actual violation of the law.
The main federal and Michigan civil rights laws are as follows:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is a federal law that prohibits harassment and discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion. This statute covers employers with 15 or more employees (as defined in the statute).
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act. This is a federal statute that covers employers with 20 or more employees and prohibits discrimination against any employee who is more than 39 years old.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act. This is a federal law that applies to businesses with 15 or more employees. It prohibits employers from discriminating against disabled employees. Disabled employees are those who meet this statute's definition of "qualified employees with a disability."
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Under this amendment, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.
- The Equal Pay Act. This federal law makes it illegal to pay male and female workers differently for equal work that is performed on jobs of equal skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions in the same workplace. The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal. It is job content, not job titles, that determines whether jobs are substantially equal. This statute applies to any employer that has one or more employees.
- The Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. This state statute applies to employers with one or more employees and prohibits discrimination based on sex, marital status, familial status, height, weight and age. Under this law, the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex specifically includes sexual harassment.
- The Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act. This Michigan statute applies to an employer with one or more employee and prohibits discrimination against an individual based on their disability. In essence, under this law an employer is prohibited from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an employee because of a disability that is unrelated to that employee's ability to perform the duties of required in a particular job or position.
It is important to remember that these laws not only ban intentional discrimination, but also discrimination that arises because of disparate treatment of certain employees as well as the disparate impact that certain actions may have on a legally protected class of employees.What Should an Employee Do if They Experience Discrimination or Harassment?
What can an employee do if they believe his or her employer is treating them in an illegal manner? The first and most important thing that person can do is to consult with a competent Michigan employment lawyer. Often, employees will try to handle these sorts of situations on their own or rely on the HR department to help them get things sorted out. Unfortunately, most employees do not have the training or expertise to adequately handle an employment law dispute. Moreover, the HR department is there to protect the employer, and cannot be relied on to protect the employee’s legal rights, or even inform the employee that they have legal rights.
It is important that an employee promptly consult with a competent Michigan employment lawyer in order to properly preserve all of his or her legal rights. Federal civil rights laws require an aggrieved employ to first file a charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). There are strict deadlines for filing a charge with the EEOC, and if these deadlines are not met, important legal rights and remedies can be lost forever. If a charge is timely filed with the EEOC and the EEOC declines to pursue the case, the employee is issued a “right to sue” letter and can then pursue their case in court.
Michigan civil rights laws do not require an employee facing discrimination or harassment to file a charge with the EEOC or the Michigan Department of Civil rights before filing a lawsuit in Michigan state court. However, expert guidance is required when navigating Michigan state courts in employment law cases. Michigan courts are often viewed as more hostile to claims of discrimination or harassment by employees than are federal courts. As a result, many Michigan employment lawyers prefer to bring many types of discrimination and harassment cases in federal court rather than Michigan state court. In many cases, state law civil rights claims can be included in cases that are filed in federal court.
It is crucial that anyone who believes they may be the victim of workplace discrimination or harassment contact a Michigan employment lawyer as soon as possible. Statute of limitations for employment related legal claims can be as short as 90 days. Also, the Michigan Court of Appeals has authorized employers to shorten legal statute of limitations if certain notifications are given in employment related documents, such as employment applications and handbooks.Representation of Individuals Faced with Michigan Non-Compete Agreements
I also have extensive experience representing clients in Michigan non-compete cases. Many employees have serious misunderstandings about Michigan non-compete law. For example, I often hear from clients and potential clients that they believe non-competes are illegal in Michigan because Michigan is a “right-to-work” state. Unfortunately, many employees will sign non-compete agreements based on their incorrect understanding of the law and their mistaken belief that such agreements are unenforceable in Michigan.
The truth is that as long as employee non-compete agreements comply with certain requirements set forth in the Michigan Antitrust Reform Act, Michigan courts will enforce these kinds of agreements. Generally, this law requires that employee non-compete agreements (1) be designed to protect an employer's reasonable competitive business interests; (2) have a reasonable duration; (3) have a reasonable geographic scope; and (4) prohibit competition only in a clearly defined line of business.
If an employee’s non-compete agreement complies with these requirements, a Michigan court may very well enforce it. This can lead to the employer obtaining an injunction that prevents an individual from plying their trade, often without that individual even being made aware of the court case before the injunction is issued. Some Michigan employers are overly aggressive in requiring employees to sign non-compete agreements and are also overly aggressive in trying to enforce non-compete agreements against ex-employees who truly pose no danger to their former employer.
It is critical that anyone facing the possibility that a Michigan non-compete agreement may be enforced against them contact a Michigan employment lawyer as soon as possible. It is also important that employees consult with competent legal counsel before signing any Michigan non-compete agreement that is presented to them by their employer.Contact a Michigan Employment Lawyer to Discuss Your Case
If you believe that you have been the victim of illegal discrimination or harassment at work, you should promptly contact a Michigan employment lawyer so that you can be properly advised about your rights and possible remedies.
Please feel free to contact Michigan employment lawyer Michael J. Hamblin for more information on how he can help you with your legal needs.