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. Whether you are an employee, employer, or job applicant, it is important to understand the rights of employees and the duty of employers.
Your Most Important Employee Rights
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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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 and Kingsley. 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.
At Kingsley and Kingsley, 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) 990-8300 for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation. We can fight to protect your rights and help you secure the compensation you rightfully deserve.