Higgins Law Firm, PLLC

An Iowan Protecting the Rights of Iowans

Get Help Today


West Des Moines Employment Law Blog

How does Iowa law view wage discrimination?

All workers in Iowa are entitled to the same treatment under the law. That includes the freedom not to be discriminated against for any reason. If an employee faces discrimination due to his or her age, gender identity, sexual orientation, creed, national origin, color, religion or disability and is paid less in wages because of it when compared to other employees, it is illegal. There are many consequences an employer can face with this treatment of employees. It is vital for workers to understand what employers are not allowed to do and, just as importantly, what they can do in terms of paying wages.

When is the employer liable in an Iowa workplace harassment case?

Workers in Iowa are protected from harassment under the law. While this is generally perceived to be linked to sexual harassment, there are numerous other ways in which a worker can be harassed. People who are facing this treatment might realize early on that they have the right to seek compensation in a legal filing, but they are often unaware of how liability is determined. Knowing when the employer is liable for harassment that happened at the workplace can be a foundational issue when considering a legal filing over harassment.

When there is a supervisor or manager who involves what is known as a "tangible job action" into the harassment, then there is employer liability. Examples of tangible job action include the worker being hired, fired, denied a promotion, not given a raise and other aspects that will affect the job. If there is harassment by a supervisor or a manager and the issue is related to a hostile work environment, the employer will be liable unless it is shown that there was reasonable care taken to prevent and formulate a remedy to the harassment and the person who alleges he or she was being harassed failed to use corrective or preventative ways to avoid harm. If there is harassment by a supervisor or manager, the alleged harasser might be liable as an individual along with the employer.

Key points about sexual orientation, gender identity and the law

For Iowans who are concerned about discrimination at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the law protects them. However, there are certain points that workers must be aware of when they are thinking of filing a claim about workplace discrimination because of these factors. Some will benefit them when considering a claim, others will not.

Employers can have a dress code and standards for grooming at the workplace. The employer must let the employee adhere to dressing and grooming in a way that is consistent with his or her gender identity, but apart from that, grooming and dress codes are allowed. Much has been made in the media regarding segregated restrooms. In Iowa, employers can have segregated restrooms. They are, however, obligated to let the employee use the restroom that adheres to the gender identity.

Whistleblower reports on injury practices at public works

Iowa workers who see wrongdoing or danger at their job might be afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation or mistreatment for doing so. They might even be concerned about losing their jobs. However, it is a person's right to report any violations, whether it is the breaking of federal law, agency misconduct, dangerous actions and much more. To encourage workers to speak out without fear of reprisal, there are laws providing whistleblower protection so they can report wrongful activities and be shielded from repercussions at the workplace. Those who are considering reporting any issue should know about protections accorded to whistleblowers.

A fine of $3,500 was issued to the city of Des Moines because of violations with training and recordkeeping. One violation led to a fine of $2,500 from the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration after a worker who had an industrial truck accident did not receive adequate retraining to avoid another injury. A fine of $1,000 was issued after records regarding work injuries could not be provided in four hours. With some records, they were not available after five days. A worker had served as a whistleblower in late 2017 by complaining that employees at the city's public works did not report injuries due to concern about being reprimanded after being injured.

Sexual orientation discrimination in Iowa

In the state of Iowa as well as the rest of the United States, all people are protected from discrimination in the workplace. They are protected from discrimination on the basis of disability, gender, marital status, age, race, nationality, color, religion and sexual orientation.

Discrimination is the act of giving negative or differential treatment to a person that has, or is perceived to have, one of these protected characteristics. This could be not inviting an older person to an office event, or failing to make reasonable alterations to make the workplace accessible for a disabled person. It may also mean demoting women because they are pregnant, or firing or refusing to hire individuals because they practice a certain religion, for example.

Iowa woman's workplace discrimination suit allowed to go forward

For Iowa workers who believe they have been subjected to workplace harassment and other violations of the law, there are certain requirements that must be met before they can file a lawsuit because of it. Some employers might cite the failure to reach the necessary threshold as a protective device against a legal filing. However, those who have been wronged and dealt with workplace discrimination should not be dissuaded from pursuing their claims based on legal interpretations. Appealing and pushing forward can be effective in receiving justice.

A woman filed a complaint after her employer -- a small insurance agency -- continually behaved inappropriately. However, she found her case hindered by the 1965 Iowa law shielding companies with fewer than four employees from such a filing. Nevertheless, she won her appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court for the case to move forward. With that victory, she can file a lawsuit against her employer. According to the case, the woman alleges that sex discrimination and a hostile work environment resulted from her boss unzipping his pants and showing employees his genitals. The woman was an agency office manager.

What is in loco parentis under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

Iowa workers who are eligible under the Family and Medical Leave Act are entitled to have as many as 12 workweeks off for a variety of personal reasons. Their jobs will be protected during this time. People who are eligible for FMLA should know the different categories under which they can use their rights to take this time off. One is when an employee has a "in loco parentis" relationship. People who meet the criteria of an in loco parentis relationship can take time off under FMLA to care for the person who was their "parent." If they are eligible and their employer has not granted this time, they can pursue their rights under FMLA with help from an attorney.

If there is a relationship in which a person places themselves as a parent by fulfilling parental obligations to a child, it is known as in loco parentis. Under FMLA regulations, people who have daily responsibilities for the care and financial support of a child are considered to be in an in loco parentis relationship. There are, however, certain factors that are used to determine whether the person fits into this category. They are: the child's age; how dependent the child was on the adult; if there was support and how much; and the extent of duties that are generally considered linked to parenthood.

A whistleblower should have legal assistance from an attorney

Iowa workers who become aware of illegal behavior at their place of work might be intimidated or outright afraid to speak out against it. This can be in any kind of job in the public or private sector. While it could be a difficult decision to become a whistleblower, there are times when the person does not have an ethical, moral or personal choice but to do so. Understanding the Whistleblower Protection Act and how it shields whistleblowers is essential to taking the next steps. Since the law can be complicated, it is wise to have legal assistance before moving forward.

Most workplaces and employees will not be forced to deal with situations in which there is overt illegality that must be reported to law enforcement. However, it does happen. There are state and federal laws that protect employees and these must be adhered to. If they are not, a worker or other witness can report it and be granted whistleblower status. After reporting on the wrongdoing, it is not unusual for the whistleblower to be subjected to discriminatory behaviors, face harassment, be wrongfully terminated, be retaliated against and deal with numerous other methods of harassment to dissuade them from speaking out and to punish them. Intimidation should not be tolerated and these individuals need legal advice.

Detailed records about your harassment can help build a case

Despite many strides toward greater equality in the workplace, people still experience degrading harassment by bosses, managers and co-workers. Sexual harassment isn't limited to a few industries. It can happen at any kind of business, from a large corporate office to a retail establishment.

When you experience sexual harassment at work, it's natural to want to forget about it as soon as possible. After all, dwelling on negative and upsetting social interactions can only make you feel worse about the situation. However, recording all of the details could actually help you put a stop to them and protect others from similar experiences in the future.

Former fire chief in Iowa says her civil rights were violated

Although greater attention is being paid to how Iowa workers of all genders and sexual orientations are treated while on the job or when seeking employment, there are still instances in which employers are accused of committing various violations of the civil rights law. This can happen in any job, even city jobs where there should be specific guidelines and oversight. For people who have experienced harassment, violations of employee rights, and any form of workplace discrimination, having legal advice is paramount to moving forward with a lawsuit to be compensated and achieve justice.

A former fire chief has asserted that she was the victim of sexual harassment and was terminated from her job because of her age and gender. She filed a complaint regarding these matters in early February. The city administrator fired her in July 2017 three days after she was put on administrative leave. An appeal was filed with the Civil Service Commission because she said she had the right to a job with the department that was in line with her status as a civil servant. It ruled on her behalf. The city then appealed to district court. The case is pending.