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What Are My Rights As An Employee In California?

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Aug 14, 2023 | 0 Comments

In California, it is against the law for employers to discriminate or retaliate against employees who belong to certain protected groups.  In addition, CA employers are required to provide accommodations to pregnant woman, protect whistleblowers, allow wage discussions, provide equal pay, and allow an employee to access his or her personnel files, among others.

Employment law covers a range of rights and responsibilities that make up the relationship between an employer and employee. Employment law applies not only to current employees, but also former workers and individuals who are applying for a job. A number of the legal disputes that involve companies, corporations and even smaller businesses relate to employee rights.

Employment law can be a complex and challenging area of the law to comprehend and thoroughly understand. In California, these laws are constantly evolving. As an employee you have a number of rights, some of which we have outlined in the below Key Points - Table of Contents. Whether you are an employee, employer, or job applicant, it is important to understand the rights of employees and the duty of employers.

Key Points - Table of Contents

Your Most Important Employee Rights in California

California law requires that employers pay employees for any overtime hours worked that exceed eight hours in a workday and in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. Employers also must pay employees that work a seventh consecutive day in a workweek.

Employees have a reasonable right to privacy in the workplace. This right applies to the worker's personal possessions such as backpacks, purses or briefcases, or storage lockers that are accessible only to the employee. It also includes private mail that is specifically addressed to the employee.

Workers also have the right to privacy when they are having personal phone conversations. However, such rights do not apply to work e-mail messages and Internet usage while using the employer's network and computer system.

Here are some of the important rights to which all employees are entitled in California:

  • The right to a safe workspace that is free from dangerous conditions that could cause injuries or illnesses
  • The right to be paid fair wages for the work that is performed
  • The right to a work environment that is free of harassment and discrimination of all types
  • The right to not be retaliated against for filing a complaint against an employer

In addition to employees, those who apply for jobs also have rights, even though they are not technically employees. They have the right not to be discriminated on the basis of characteristics such as race, national origin, religion, age, or gender during the hiring process.

For example, an employer may not ask a job applicant about their religious beliefs or conduct a credit or background check of a prospective employee without first receiving permission from them to do so.

Are There Different Types of Employment Discrimination?

Discrimination in the workplace is illegal under federal and state laws. Since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, federal and state governments have enacted a number of laws, which prohibit employers from discriminating against employees. Here are some of the most common types of discrimination we see in California workplaces:

Race, Religion, and Nationality

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits an employer (with 15 employees or more) from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, or religion. It is illegal under this federal law for an employer to refuse to hire, discipline, fire, deny training, demote, or harass any employee based on these protected characteristics.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), this type of discrimination can include:

  • Treating an employee or job applicant unfavorably because they belong to a certain race
  • Treating an employee or job applicant unfavorably because they have personal characteristics associated with a particular race, including hair texture, skin color, or specific facial features
  • Treating an employee or job applicant unfavorably because of their skin color or complexion
  • Treating an employee or job applicant unfavorably because they are married to or associated with a person of a certain race, skin, color, nationality, or religion

Sex & Gender Discrimination

This type of discrimination involves treating a job applicant or employee unfavorably because of their sex or gender identity. Discrimination against an individual based on their gender identity, including transgender status or sexual orientation, is considered sex discrimination and a violation of Title VII.

Any form of sex or gender discrimination in any aspect of employment such as hiring, firing, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, etc., is prohibited under the law. Further, the federal Equal Pay Act requires employers to provide equal pay to men and women for equal work, regardless of their sex or gender.

Age Discrimination

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees who are over 40 years of age. For example, it is illegal for a company to fire or lay off older employees and hire younger or cheaper employees to perform the same jobs.

Disability Discrimination

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bars discrimination against those who are disabled. In addition, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities.

For example, if an employee is wheelchair-bound, the employer should make sure there is a parking space and wheelchair access for that employee.

Reasonable accommodation may also include a modified work schedule or work duties, unpaid time off, or special devices that will help the employee in the performance of their job duties.

Wage And Hour Law Violations

Wage and hour laws in California apply to all non-exempt employees, which means that laws pertaining to overtime or meal breaks won't apply to you if you are either an independent contractor, not a full-time employee or a so-called "exempt" employee.

It is important to understand the difference between an employee and an independent contractor or exempt employees because companies often misclassify employees in order to avoid paying them full wages and/or benefits.

What Is an Independent Contractor?

An independent contractor is someone who renders a service under a contract or agreement for a specific pay and maintains control over the means by which the work is performed. For example, contractors can determine their own hours of work and don't have to complete timecards like non-exempt employees do.

Which Employees Are Considered Exempt?

On the other hand, exempt employees are often administrative, executive, and professional employees. In order to be considered "exempt," an employee must spend more than half of their work time performing managerial work and earn a monthly salary equivalent to at least twice the state minimum wage for all full-time employment.

What Is California's Minimum Wage?

All California employees must be paid the minimum wage as set out in the state's wage and hour laws. California's minimum wage as of Jan. 1, 2022, is $15 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees and $14 for employers with 25 or fewer employees.

With the most recent minimum wage increase, California now ranks the highest in statewide minimum wage in the United States. In fact, California's minimum wage is double the federal minimum wage, which is set at $7.25 an hour

Am I Entitled to Overtime Pay?

California employees also have the right to overtime pay. Employers must pay employees "time and a half" overtime for any work done in excess of eight hours in one workday or 40 hours in one workweek.

Employers are not allowed to circumvent overtime requirements by requiring or pressuring employees to work "off the clock." Employers must pay "double time" for any work done in excess of 12 hours in on workday or in excess of eight hours on the seventh day of a workweek.

Are Employers Required to Give Meal Breaks?

Most non-exempt California employees who work more than five hours in a workday must be given a meal break of at least 30 minutes. Also, employees who will work more than 10 hours in a day must get a second 30-minute meal break. California non-exempt employees are entitled to rest periods as well. Non-exempt employees are entitled to 10 minutes of rest period for each four hours they work.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

It is against the law to harass an employee or job applicant because of that person's sex. Sexual harassment in the workplace may include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

While the harassment doesn't have to be of a sexual nature, it could also include offensive remarks about a person's sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a female employee by making offensive comments about women in general. The victim and the harasser could be of either gender or of the same sex.

It is important to remember that the law does not prohibit offhand comments, teasing, or isolated incidents that are not serious in nature.

Harassment is considered against the law only when it is frequent, severe, and consistent enough to create a hostile or offensive work environment or when it leads the employee to be fired or demoted, or when it forces the employee to quit. A harasser may be the victim's direct supervisor, manager, colleague, or even a client or customer.

Workplace Retaliation Laws

Federal and state laws also prohibit employers from punishing job applicants and employees for asserting their rights to participate in "protected activity." Such activity may include:

  • Filing a complaint or being a witness in a government case against the employer
  • Telling a supervisor or manager about discrimination and/or harassment in the workplace
  • Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination
  • Resisting sexual advances or intervening in a situation to protect someone else
  • Asking managers or co-workers about salary information to shed light on potentially discriminatory wages
  • Complains to a state or federal agency about unsafe conditions in the workplace

When an employee participates in a complaint process, they are protected from retaliation under all circumstances. Some of the acts on the part of an employer that could be considered retaliatory include:

  • Giving an employee a poor performance evaluation as retaliation
  • Transferring an employee to a less desirable position
  • Physically or verbally abusing the employee
  • Making verbal or physical threats
  • Spreading false rumors about the individual

What Is Considered Wrongful Termination?

In California, most workers are employed "at will," which means that their employment can be terminated at any time and employers don't have to provide cause or justification for doing so. However, if an employee is fired in violation of an employment contract, for discriminatory reasons, or as retaliation for exercising their legal rights, they may have a wrongful termination claim.

The term "wrongful termination" essentially means that the employer has fired or laid off a worker for reasons that are illegal or in violation of state and/or federal employment laws. For example, if an employer laid off an employee over the age of 40 and then hired a younger worker for the same position at a much lower pay scale, that would amount to age discrimination and the laid-off employee may have a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Employers also cannot fire employees for exercising their wrongful termination legal rights. For example, if an employee complained to the company's human resources department about sexual harassment or if an employee filed a workers' compensation claim for an injury sustained on the job, an employer cannot retaliate against that employee by firing them. That would be illegal and would amount to wrongful termination.

Can You Be Fired For Any Reason In California?

California is an "at-will state," which means your employer can fire you without giving any reason for doing so. Employers may terminate employment at any time with or without cause. In California, an employer may fire employees or lay them off for any subjective reason - be it not liking your personality or if they believe they no longer need you.

Employee handbooks in most companies typically include a disclaimer about at-will employment. While you may have signed off accepting at-will employment, your employer cannot fire you for reasons that are illegal under state and federal laws. Your employer cannot terminate you on the basis of several characteristics that are protected under state and federal law such as your race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion or disability.

In addition to these, your employer is also prohibited from terminating your employment because you reported your employer's illicit activities such as fraud, sexual harassment, discrimination or unsafe workplace. Your employer cannot take any adverse employment decision against you such as demotion, termination, denying deserved promotion or training opportunities or cutting pay, to mention a few. Also, your employer cannot fire you in violation of an employment contract.

If you have been fired or laid off because of an illegal reason, you may be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer. It is crucial that you contact an experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer to find out more information about pursuing your legal rights.

What Is Unfair Treatment At Work?

Employees have an expectation that their employers will treat them with fairness, dignity and respect. This means that when you take on a job, you enter the place of employment assuming that your unique skills and abilities will be valued. You also have the right to equal treatment in terms of getting pay increases, promotions and other opportunities based on your job performance.

But not all workplaces prioritize fairness and equity. In order to protect your rights, it is important to recognize situations when you are being treated unfairly at work. Unfair treatment can manifest in different forms including discrimination. Specifically, it may involve harassment or discrimination based on "protected characteristics" such as age, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, ethnicity, religion, nationality and so on.

Discrimination is defined as treating an individual or a group of people differently based on one or more of these protected characteristics. Such treatment is illegal under state and federal laws. Harassment involves unwelcome behavior that alters the work environment for the targeted individuals making it difficult for them to do their jobs.

Here are just some of the most common examples of unfair treatment in the workplace:

  • Segregating workers who have fallen out of favor
  • Spreading lies or rumors about an employee
  • Not providing some employees with information they need to do their jobs, thereby putting them at a disadvantage
  • Not providing training opportunities that are given to other workers
  • Posting negative or intimidating images or statements on social media
  • Sending harassing messages via company email or direct messaging
  • Treating one group of workers better than others in terms of pay, benefits or other privileges
  • Terminating workers based on reasons other than performance or conduct

If you are being mistreated or treated unfairly at work, it is important that you document such treatment; report it to your supervisor or to your company's human resources department; contact the authorities if you have been the victim of unlawful activity such as sexual assault; and seek medical treatment or psychological counseling if you have been harmed physically and/or emotionally. It is also critical that you seek the counsel of an experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer as soon as possible to make sure your legal rights and best interests are protected.

What Is Illegal For Employers To Do?

No one is above the law - not even your employer. There are a number of California and federal laws, which protect employees from discrimination, harassment, wage theft and other unfair labor practices. Here are just some of the things your boss cannot do under the law:

  • Ask prohibited questions such as your age or religion on job applications. In California, public and private employers are prohibited from asking job candidates for their salary history.
  • Mandate employees to sign broad non-compete agreements.
  • Not pay you overtime wages or a minimum wage.
  • Discriminate against workers based on legally protected characteristics such as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability.
  • Allow you or require you to work off the clock.
  • Retaliate against you for reporting harassment, discrimination or other illicit activities in the workplace.
  • Misclassify you as an independent contractor while treating you like an employee.
  • Turn a blind eye to a hostile work environment.

If you believe that your employer is violating labor laws, it is important that you contact an experienced Los Angeles employment attorney to obtain more information about your legal rights and options.

Fair Employment Practice Responsibilities

Some employees may require accommodations by their employer. There might be specific accommodations that your employer could be required to provide.  Some examples include:

Pregnancy Accommodation

In California, employers have a legal responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, ensuring they can perform their job duties without endangering their health or that of their unborn child. This includes adjustments to work tasks, schedules, and facilities to support the well-being of pregnant individuals in the workplace.

Religious Accommodation

Reasonable religious accommodations in the workplace is required by FEHA. This might include allowing time off for religious observances, providing space for prayer or meditation, and modifying dress code policies to accommodate religious attire.

Disability Accommodation

In California, employers are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. FEMA has a separate violation for an employer that does not engage in the interactive process.

Access to Personnel Files

In California, employers are mandated to grant current and former employees access to their personnel files upon request. This access allows individuals to review and obtain copies of documents such as performance reviews, employment contracts, and other records maintained by the employer.

Discussion of Wages

In California, employers are prohibited from restricting employees' discussions about their wages or working conditions. It is the responsibility of the employer to refrain from implementing policies that infringe upon employees' right to openly communicate and share information about their compensation and workplace environment.

What Actions Can You Take?

If your rights are being violated on the job, there are a number of steps you can take to protect your rights.

First, stay calm and do not act out on your employer. If you have an employment contract, make sure you have a copy of it and become familiar with the conditions of the contract. Ask your employer or the human resources department about why you were terminated. Ask to view your personnel file. You have the right to do so. Request and negotiate a severance package.

Do not allow your employer to intimidate you or coax you into signing anything you don't want to sign.

Reach Out to Our Firm Today If You Need Help Taking Legal Action

If you're not sure what your next step should be, then speak with an employment law attorney at Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers. Many people do not need to hire an attorney, but, if you are not sure, it makes sense to have your questions answered by an experienced, licensed legal professional.  Schedule your free consultation to discuss California employee rights termination by a reputable Employment lawyer.

At Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers, we have more than four decades of experience fighting for the rights of employees who have been mistreated, wronged, and exploited. Our legal professionals are passionate in our pursuit for justice and fair compensation for our clients.

If you believe your rights as an employee in California have been violated, call us today at (818) 239-7030 for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation. We can fight to protect your rights and help you secure the compensation you rightfully deserve.

About the Author

Eric Kingsley

Eric B. Kingsley is a 2023 "Best In Law" Award winner and has litigated over 150 class actions. He is also an AV peer rated attorney and a prolific speaker at various seminars on employment law.


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