The U.S. Epidemic of Workplace Dysfunction Resulting in Unlawful Employer Practices


by Denise A Romano

There is an epidemic of violations of EEO, public safety, fraud, and corruption laws that are directly related to labor law violations in government entities and US corporations. Despite this epidemic – Ethics Commissions, AGs, and IGs are unresponsive to labor violation complaints in workplaces and government, even when proof is submitted, tax dollars are misused, and there are rampant ethics, safety, and other compliance violations.

The EEOC, OSHA, and State Divisions of Human Rights are underfunded and understaffed, thus their responses to these complaints are almost always delayed and insufficient. Many complainants are retaliated against and/or fired before they’re even assigned a case number or investigator.

Given that most government employees are required to report legal and ethical noncompliance, mandatory imparital investigations SHOULD BE (but are not) implemented without exception and accompanied by absolute prevention of unlawful retaliation against complaining employees.

There SHOULD be (but isn’t) a freeze on any termination of any complaining employee while a sound, impartial, unbiased and thorough investigation is completed. Even after the completion of such an investigation, retalaition against complainants SHOULD BE (but isn’t) prevented.

Violations of EEO, OSHA, public safety, retaliaiton protections, whistleblower protections, ADA, union protections and fraud/corruption prevention laws SHOULD BE classified as serious crimes that result in prosecution. There is extremely insufficient protection for employees who use apropriate channels to report noncompliance in both government and corporate workplaces.

This lack of protection also applies to HR professionals – who often learn that those with authority over them direct them to violate laws on a regular basis. When HR professionals make these same complaints about non-compliance (even while armed with a systemic knowledge of rampant violations), they are often in the same boat as any other employee. They are met with ineffective help from EEOC, state divisions of human rights, AGs, IGs, and Ethics Commissions – and often find themselves unlawfully retaliated against and fired without sufficient recourse.

When the HR employee refuses to go along with ignoring labor and other laws – they can quietly look for another job and then quit and say nothing, quit and complain (and often get nowhere or be harmed from having done so), or try to influence their leadership.

It is a gamble as to whether even the most skilled HR employee can persuade leadership, managers, and often their workplace General Counsel to actually comply with labor and other laws.

If the leadership of a workplace is determined to continue to allow violations of  labor and other laws to protect others who are violators or to continue their very own non-compliant behavior, the HR employee will get nowhere and will probably experience unlawful retaliation and/or be fired..

Currently, legal compliance with US labor laws is essentially optional for corporate and government workplaces because most of these laws have no teeth, and the process of resolution almost always depends on legally confidential settlement negotiations, workplaces admitting no wrongdoing, complainants being fired from their jobs, violators keeping their jobs, and no official investigations (or workplace changes) whatsoever.

Only employees who can afford lawyers have a chance of recourse – and employers know this (whether they are government or private). Most lawyers will not take cases on contingency, even if complaining employees can prove employer noncompliance with labor and other laws. When there is rare justice, it comes years later – often after unlawful termination and great damage to health, families, and finances.

Most legitimate employee complaints are dismissed by noncompliant employers who unlawfully retaliate against these employees, terminate their employment and health coverage, and pay them a small sum for which they are desperate and on which they are taxed.

This money almost always comes with a gag order, the dismissal of the complaint with government authorities so there is never an official or public investigation, and the continued employment of those guilty of serial noncompliance and other violations of law, which remain unremediated.

Many General Counsel attorneys falsely believe their duty is to protect the corporation by any means instead of ensuring legal compliance and remediating noncompliance according to non-retaliation laws.

GCs who knowingly cover up unlawful practices in corporations and government entities SHOULD be addressed by the criminal justice system and their state BAR associations given the enormous financial fraud perpetrated upon taxpayers and shareholders when significant funds are used to unlawfully retaliate against employees who exercise their rights to complain about noncompliance. When this occurs in government entities, it is fraudulent misuse of taxpayer money.

These problems are epidemic and do require deterrence in the form of large fines, improved processes and REAL assistance for complaining employees, and guaranteed sound impartial investigations into unlawful practices – even when there are settlements with complaining employees. Gag orders need to be made unlawful, regardless of settlements with employees.

Every one of us knows someone who has experienced a job from helll, a manager from hell, or a company from hell. Nearly every one of us has also experienced one of these personally.

What makes workplaces hellish?

Harassment, discrimination, retaliation for making legitimate complaints, safety violations, retaliation for complaining about safety issues, a failure and/or refusal to conduct sound / unbiased investigations of employee complaints, cronyism, nepotism, inconsistent applicaiton of policies, union-busting, ethics violations, fraud, and many other behaviors that should not happen in U.S. workplaces, but which do happen in epidemic proportions.

We need our laws to have TEETH and to actually be enforced. There are ways to complain about labor law violations so that you are as protected as you can be, but there are no guarantees; you may be unlawfully retaliated against. You may lose your job.

This is extremely frightening for most employees; it does result in employees not complaining and in there being no consequences for those who violate labor laws.

The stress and fear resulting from employees experiencing violations of labor laws can extends to and impact spouses, children, and other family members.

When managers and companies use intimidation and retaliation against employees to keep them too afraid to complain, it is considered UNLAWFUL RETALIATION, but that doesn’t mean employees can effectively address it while sufficiently protecting themselves.

Educate yourself and your co-workers about how to write memos and create the necessary paper trail that is needed to show that you’ve tried to diplomatically, professionally, and clearly address the issues that exist in your company.

Write to your elected officials and to journalists who will take this seriously. Tell them your stories. Feel free to include a link to this post.

The HR Toolkit: An Indispensable Resource for Being a Credible Activist provides you with sample memos to do just this. The more employees who speak up, the less companies will be able to get away with this.

 

 

7 thoughts on “The U.S. Epidemic of Workplace Dysfunction Resulting in Unlawful Employer Practices

  1. One of my many experiences w/workplace abuse was an employer who for the whole year I was at the company was praised for my performance in sales increases,etc. But when that year was up my job was “eliminated” so company wouldn’t have to give me my 1 week paid vacation. SO petty but this occurred 3 days before Xmas.Small issue yes, but so indicative of much worse happening to others. Employers will pull ANYTHING they can get away with.

  2. Another practice I see running rampant is companies bringing on workers not as employees but as independent contractors so they don’t have to provide any type of benefits & they escape paying business taxes on that worker.The worker is forced to become a business and pay those taxes whether they want to or not. An IC is by law only required to complete the work on time, not allowed to be told how or when this gets done. But company violates this by telling IC how & when THEY want job done. Then company denies this. It needs stopped.

  3. HI Denise!

    Glad to see someone promoting workplace rights. I just came across your petition on change.org, and thought I might provide some feedback as I agree with your stance and would like to see some action.

    There are a lot of issues being brought up on change.org. I think the most successful ones are short, specific, and to the point. While your letter makes many good points, it is rather lengthy and doesn’t really address a specific issue or suggest a specific action. When an issue is as big and important as this, I think it really needs to be taken one step at a time. For instance, highlighting a certain problem at a specific company.

    I hope this is helpful. Good luck!

  4. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU
    This is EXACTLY what Ive been going thru! The UNIV OF KY was my employer for 8 LONG years. I drove a work truck as part of my assignment. The trucks were in terrible condition — bad or no brakes, balding tires, no horns, no a/c, no heat, doors that wouldnt close, and BROKEN SEATS. In September 2010 I reported my work trucks unsafe condition. The front seat was broken and the seat belt was so tight that it pinned my shoulder back against the gyrating seat. This agitated the 5 BULGING DISCS in my neck to the point that I began losing feeling in my hands and feet. I complained strenuously to my supervisors and managers. They laughed at me. I reported the safety violations on up the chain of command, The employer ignored me, then told me they wouldnt accomodate my medical disability because THEY DIDNT FEEL IT WAS WORK RELATED. This is against the Americans with Disabilities Act, but UK also said I DIDNT HAVE A DISABILITY. ???!!!?!?!?!?!!! I have medical proof, including x rays, MRI results, doctors statements, and FMLA statements, all showing that my conditions IS a chronic disability. Now I have a steel plate in my spine where two discs were taken out. STILL not a disability according to UK. They lied to OSHA and OSHA did nothiong. The EEOC is stalling and probably will side with UK as well. Nobody cares. UK told unemployment that I WAS STILL EMPLOYED and on VOLUNTARY MEDICAL LEAVE OF ABSENCE in order not to award me benefits. I am STILL fighting that case. I WANT THE MEDIA TO COVER THIS STORY but nobody will listen to me. Im SO tired of fighting but I just cant give up. THANK YOU for your inspirational story and keep up the fight!

    BB Huffer

    1. I have some ideas, but I can’t guarantee they’ll work:

      Contact all of your elected officials about this. Do you have a state public integrity commission or Inspector General? Ask them to intervene and see why OSHA and EEOC are not doing their jobs. You can write one thorough complaint with dates, managers’ names, MD names and contact info, etc.

      Contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) and ask your MDs to look at their website so they know how to write letters for you asking for job accommodations. Tell JAN what’s going on and ask for advocacy.

      Write to local newspapers and write to Juan Gonzalez of DemocracyNow!

      I hope this helps. Good luck. Keep us posted.

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