Know your rights as an employee - and be prepared to protect them
The holiday season is ostensibly a time of joy and cheer, but it's also notorious for certain violations of employment and wage and hour laws. It's vital for Ohio employees to go into this time of the year with a clear understanding of their legal rights. Here are three of the most common holiday-related employment law violations we see — and how we can help protect your rights.
Unpaid overtime and other wage and hour violations
The holiday season is also the busy season in many industries, including retail, transportation, shipping, hospitality, and food service. Some employers hire seasonal help to get them through the holidays, but in many cases, full-time employees are required to pick up overtime. This will likely be an especially big issue in the 2022-2023 holiday season because of the tight labor market.
Remember, under both federal and Ohio law, unless you meet the legal criteria to be considered exempt, your employer must pay you overtime (time and a half) for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a single workweek. The vast majority of workers in this situation are not exempt and should be paid overtime. In addition, any bonuses or commissions you receive during the same workweek should be included when the overtime rate is calculated — so, for example, if you are paid a holiday bonus during a week when you also work over 40 hours, your overtime rate should be based on your higher effective hourly rate with the bonus taken into account.
You also have to be paid for all hours worked, including travel time that is part of your job (for instance, if your employer sends you to another location to provide holiday coverage). Keep close track of your hours and your pay to ensure that your rights under the wage and hour laws are respected. A wage and hour attorney from our firm can help you recover any unpaid or underpaid overtime.
Discrimination regarding holiday pay and time off
Neither federal nor Ohio law requires private-sector employers to give employees paid time off for the holidays or to pay time-and-a-half for working on a holiday. However, many employers choose to provide certain paid holidays or to pay extra for work on a holiday as a job benefit. Your employer is generally free to set their own policies regarding holiday pay and time off, but they must enforce their policies in a lawful and non-discriminatory manner. For example, if your employer shows a preference on the basis of gender, religion, age, or another protected characteristic, that is illegal discrimination. Furthermore, if you have an employment contract that includes stipulations regarding holiday pay and time off, then your employer must honor the contract.
In addition, employers are required to reasonably accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs, which may include time off for a religious holiday. Depending on the circumstances, a reasonable accommodation might include allowing you to take a religious holiday off unpaid or to use your vacation time; either way, the employer must make a good-faith effort to accommodate your religion. If your employer refuses to make reasonable accommodations, you may have a religious discrimination claim.
Sexual harassment at office holiday parties
It's common for boundaries to be blurred and professionalism to be relaxed at office holiday parties, especially when alcohol is involved. However, employers need to recognize that an office holiday party is still a work event, and it's still bound by the same rules as any other work event.
In particular, sexual harassment at holiday parties is a huge issue, whether that's sexualized gifts or activities, comments, or even unwanted touching. A single egregious incident at a holiday party may be enough to support a sexual harassment claim on its own, or it may be part of a larger pattern of behavior that creates a hostile work environment.
Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure employees are safe from sexual harassment at the office holiday party. That may include proactively sharing their sexual harassment policy before the party, limiting alcohol use, and encouraging victims and witnesses to promptly come forward to report any incidents so they can be addressed immediately. Remember, you are legally protected from retaliation by your employer for filing a sexual harassment report in good faith, even if it turns out to be a misunderstanding.
Talk to an employment law attorney about your legal rights
Again, if your rights were violated during the holidays, you have recourse, but you need the right attorney to advocate for your interests. Give us a call or contact us online to schedule your free case evaluation with Nilges Draher LLC. We can help.