Hawaii, the 50th state admitted into the United States, is fairly remote from the 48 “contiguous” U.S. states, both in terms of demographics and economics. According to a recent census, Hawaii is home to 1.3 million people spread out over an archipelago of eight islands in the central Pacific. HI’s economy is driven primarily by tourism, agriculture, and maritime, defense, and research institutes. Hawaii has a very distinct Polynesian influence, in terms of both its language and its cultural attitudes towards workplace decorum.
Hawaii’s antidiscrimination body is the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (also known as the DLIR). The DLIR enforces wage and hour, family leave, and public works laws, develops and enforces policies regarding occupational safety and health, manages labor and industrial relations appeals, deals with worker compensation and disability compensation claims, and handles other civil rights and job discrimination and harassment concerns.
The DLIR’s mission is to ensure productivity, safety, and economic protections for the state’s workers. The agency regularly gets input from both business and labor communities and holds hearings and policy debates.
One of the interesting cultural divisions in the state is between native-raised Hawaiians (“kama’aina”) and outsiders from the mainland and elsewhere (“haole”). Some haole laborers, students, and officials have at times complained about unfair treatment at work or in the school system.
In Hawaii, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate based on race, color, religious affiliation, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), disability, age, sexual orientation, genetic information, AIDS/HIV, marital status, arrest and court records, credit history, and status as a victim of sexual or domestic violence.
Under federal law, companies with 15 or more employees are subjected to Title VII – the overarching law that prohibits employment discrimination. Common forms of workplace discrimination include wrongful termination, wrongful demotion, prejudicial hiring practices, unequal pay, unfair reassignment, changes in benefits, failure to promote, and other unjust actions.
Sexual harassment is also considered illegal by state and federal laws. It can take many forms, but often involves unwanted sexual advances, offensive comments, crude jokes, public distribution of explicit materials, demands for sexual favors, and inappropriate touching. Employers are legally required to maintain a safe working environment free of any type of harassment. Even if the employer is not directly involved in sexual harassment, they may be held liable for permitting it to take place.
Additionally, employees have the right to report discrimination or harassment to the appropriate authorities without negative consequences. These individuals are protected as a whistleblower and cannot be retaliated against for their courage to report a violation.
The debate over how to integrate various diverse sectors of Hawaii’s population will no doubt continue, but if you or a loved one has been discriminated against, and you believe you may have a workplace discrimination, harassment, or retaliation case against a Hawaii employer, contact a local attorney today.