Justice Watch: Labor, Employment Attorneys Face Brave New World In 2014

, Daily Business Review

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Margaret Mevers, partner at Lydecker Diaz in Miami.
Margaret Mevers, partner at Lydecker Diaz in Miami.

For employers, keeping up with the rapidly changing issues that could land them in court can be akin to a game of Whac-A-Mole.

Attorneys who practice in the labor and employment field expect 2014 to be a year where issues as varied as expanded pregnancy rights, social media and workplace bullying will be on the front burner.

Last year ended with a lesson on free speech when "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson was suspended for homophobic and racist remarks to GQ magazine. Numerous employment attorneys reminded people there is no right to free speech in a private workplace.

The government may not be able to throw a worker in jail for bigoted speech, but that doesn't mean an employer can't fire the same worker for acceptable conduct in the workplace—and Robertson was an employee of A&E cable network.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is no free speech in corporate America," Fort Lauderdale attorney Donna Ballman, who represents workers, wrote in an article on AOLjobs.com.

Attorneys contacted by the Daily Business Review had plenty of consensus on hot issues in 2014 and which ones will make employers take notice.

Working women who face discrimination because of pregnancy will most likely soon have a new avenue to seek redress: Florida state courts. State district courts are in conflict on whether the state civil rights law protects pregnant workers, and the issue is now before the Florida Supreme Court, and legislation to amend the Florida Civil Rights Act to make it clear that pregnancy is protected is expected to pass, attorneys said.

The change in law would be significant because state trial courts are considered a friendlier venue for plaintiffs than federal courts, where worker lawsuits often die on summary judgment motions.

"There is significantly more exposure if this becomes part of Florida state law," said Miami attorney Larry Perlman, an associate in Foley & Lardner's labor and employment practice.

Pregnancy issues in employment lawsuits are booming, attorneys said.

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