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A.J.
A.J., Employment Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 4300
Experience:  Licensed to practice law, I have experience in Employment, Appeals, and Landlord/Tenant Law
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Ive been filing complaints againt my supervisor for 4+ yrs.

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I've been filing complaints againt my supervisor for 4+ yrs. She nit picks at my work, gives me bad evaluations (some which she's been made to redo by her supervisor and HR). I'm stressed which has lead to panic attacks and depression and me seeing a counselor. I second guess my own work and I know I'm making mistakes now because of the constant harrassment and my own insecurities. I know her goal is to fire me but my work doesn't warrant it. I believe she is trying to make me quit, she realizes the stress she puts me through. I work for a major Utility company and I have questioned the way we bill customers and was given errors for billing them based on the actual work we've done and not what was quoted. A new HR specialist is looking at my complaints and now all of sudden my supervisor is trying to say she has alway told us to bill based on the actual work. It seems to me HR is trying to help my supervisor cover her tracks. Do I have a case for harrassment and being told to overbill customers?

SavyLawyer :

Hello, and thank you for contacting Just Answer. My name isXXXXX am an employment law professional, and I look forward to answering your question this afternoon.

SavyLawyer :

Give me just a few moments to thoroughly review your question.

SavyLawyer :

Is this a public utility?

SavyLawyer :

Also, is there any evidence that the harrasment was based on race, religion, national origin, gender, age or disability?

SavyLawyer :

or, in the alternative, do you believe the harassment was in any way due to your raising the issue of improper billing?

Customer:

This is a public utility regulated by a Utilities Commission. No specific evidence to discrimination base on any of the above but my age has been mentioned in jest as to a reason why I may make mistakes. No racial discrimination that I can prove.

SavyLawyer :

Ok, understood, and thank you for providing additional information. Based on the information provided, there are a few legal protections to look at.

Customer:

The harrassment started before the billing issues. I was trained maybe 2yrs ago on billing.

SavyLawyer :

The first would be the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. This Act prohibits employers from discriminating in any way against an employee because of their age. The fact that your age has been mentioned, even in jest, as a reason for mistakes being made may trigger protection under the Act, it is certainly an issue that could be raised with HR.

SavyLawyer :

Now, if you were to be let go, you would likely need to be able to show a pattern of age related comments as circumstantial evidence that age was involved, just one or two instances of benign (if tasteless) humor may not be enough. But a significant enough pattern may raise liability under the Act.

SavyLawyer :

The EEOC has additional information on age discrimination in the work place at:

SavyLawyer :

http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/age.cfm

Customer:

I have mentioned it to HR and they were dismissive. Said she probably didn't mean it as I took it.

SavyLawyer :

Often it helps to make sure there is a record of your concern (ie something in writing) so that if anything were to happen, you could point to the fact that you had raised age discrimination as an issue previously. As I said, ultimately, it may not be enough, I am just trying to think of any legal protections you may have (they are few and far between for employees in the US).

SavyLawyer :

Further, keep in mind that if you raise the issue again, and are retaliated against, this is also a violation of the Act.

Customer:

HR has offered to send me to another department for less pay and loss of seniority.

SavyLawyer :

Reduction of pay or being punished for raising the issue of harassment, so long as it is in the context of age discrimination (or some other type of unlawful discrimination) could also be considered a violation of the act. Say, for example, you went to HR with concerns that your work environment was hostile because of your age. HR, in return, offers to "fix" the problem by demoting you. That would arguably be a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, again so long as it was in the context of age discrimination.

SavyLawyer :

Remember that this all has to be in the context of unlawful discrimination. Just "harassing" an employee is not unlawful, the harassment has to be rooted in age, gender, race, national origin, religion or disability discrimination of some kind.

SavyLawyer :

As for being told to overbill customers, this is certainly something that you could report to the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

SavyLawyer :

http://www.ncuc.commerce.state.nc.us/overview/contactus.htm

SavyLawyer :

If you were to be terminated for doing so, the law can get a little tricky as to whether or not you are protected as a whistle-blower. The North Carolina Whistle Blower Statute only covers state employees, which you are unfortunately likely not going to be classified as.

SavyLawyer :

However, North Carolina Courts do recognize a common-law (meaning court based) rule against terminating an employee when it is against public policy to do so. One of the more common instances of this type of case is where the employee refuses to engage in illegal conduct. This is where you might find some protection were you to be let go for refusing to over bill customers of a utility company, under the common law public policy exception to the general employment at will doctrine.

SavyLawyer :

The first case to recognize this type of lawsuit was a 1985 case, Sides v. Duke Hospital, 74 N.C. App. 331 (1985) (in case you take the claim to an attorney, it is good to have a little research of an issue already done).

SavyLawyer :

So, in short, were you to be punished for trying to raise the issue of over billing, you would at least have an argument to make under the common law public policy exception to the employment at will doctrine.

SavyLawyer :

To summarize, there are really two avenues for protection you could explore. The first is an age discrimination claim under the Age Discrimination Act. The second would be a public policy exemption claim for wrongful termination because you would be refusing to take an illegal action.

SavyLawyer :

Prior to taking any legal action, it is always a good idea to sit down with an attorney licensed and in your area of North Carolina. The North Carolina State Bar Association has a referral service available at:

SavyLawyer :

http://www.ncbar.org/public-pro-bono/lawyer-referral-service/for-the-public

SavyLawyer :

I hope this helps, and let me know if you require any additional information or have related follow up question, I am happy to keep chatting. Otherwise, please remember to RATE my answer so that I can receive credit for chatting with you.

Customer:

So with her in effect bullying me and giving me evaluations that affect my pay, I have no recourse. I can't continue to work under these circumstances. I'm literally getting ill. What happens if I quit because of the pressure and stress would I have a case against the company? Or do I still have to prove discrimination?

SavyLawyer :

Unfortunately, in order to win damages you have to have a legal grounds for filing suit. This means being able to prove either that you had no choice but to leave (or were fired) because of unlawful discrimination or because you refused to take illegal action and were being punished for that. Bullying, however unprofessional it might be, is not illegal, unless it is rooted in either discrimination or as retaliation for your refusing to take an illegal action (such as over-billing utility customers). I truly wish that there was a law that prevented employers from bullying employees but there is not, at least not yet. The only time such behavior is unlawful is if it is in the context of some type of unlawful discrimination or as retaliation for an employee refusing to take an illegal action.

SavyLawyer :

I certainly do not want to sugar coat the law for you, generally the employment at will doctrine gives employers wide latitude to treat employees poorly, however unfair that might be, this is the status of employment law at this time. However, if the poor treatment is rooted in unlawful discrimination (such as age discrimination) or retaliation against a whistle-blower, as an employee that is when you may have recourse.

SavyLawyer :

I appreciate the opportunity to answer your question, and let me know if you have any additional questions. Otherwise, please remember to RATE my answer so that I can receive credit for my work.

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