We Help Employees Obtain the Compensation They Deserve Under State and Federal Law
Employees have rights under both state and federal law. Unfortunately, employers regularly violate these rights, often resulting in significant economic and non-economic harm to employees. If you have ever found yourself in a situation where your rights were violated, you know the difficulty of handling the matter yourself. Our experienced lawyers, however, are here and available to help you take issues like workplace discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and retaliation head on. To schedule a free case evaluation with a member of our team, call our office today at (510) 200-0162 or contact us online.
A number of laws on both the federal and state level protect employees from various types of discrimination. The following are brief descriptions of different types of discrimination that may occur in any workplace.
- Age discrimination – Some employers may feel tempted to terminate older employees and replace them with younger individuals who demand much lower salaries for their work. However, all employees age 40 or older have important protections against employment decisions or harassment based on their age.
- Sex discrimination – Sex discrimination can violate California and federal laws in many different ways. Sex discrimination can include unequal pay between genders for the same work, adverse employment action due to pregnancy or childbirth, refusal to promote or hire members of a certain sex, and more. The law does apply to men who suffer sex discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled a sex-discrimination case against California-based Lawry’s Restaurants for $1 million for “maintaining a longstanding companywide policy of hiring only women for server positions in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” according to a press release. California law definitely makes it clear that sex discrimination and harassment protections apply to men as well as women.
- California law also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Racial discrimination – Employment discrimination based on race is prohibited by both state and federal law. Importantly, racial discrimination can involve both overt racist comments as well as negative employment actions based on a person’s race, such as failing to hire a qualified candidate, passing a person up for a promotion, unequal pay, or termination.
- Religious discrimination – Discrimination based on a person’s religion is also prohibited by state and federal law. Furthermore, employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for certain religious practices of employees. This can include making dress code exceptions for headwear or allowing a flexible schedule for prayer times or holy day celebrations.
- Disability discrimination – The law protects the rights of individuals with certain actual or perceived disabilities to earn a living. Employers may not treat someone unfairly simply because they have a disability or base employment decisions on a disability if the person is able to perform the job. Employers must also provide reasonable accommodations to allow a person with a disability to perform his or her job.
Some instances of employment discrimination can prove difficult to identify. Employers typically do not say things like “I am firing you because you are a Muslim” or “You are not getting this promotion because you are black,” when engaging in discriminatory practices. Instead, they may claim to base adverse employment decisions on employment issues such as poor work performance or attendance. When employers use false reasons to justify an adverse employment action that is actually motivated by discriminatory intent, the false reasons are referred to as “pretextual.”
Proving pretext is not easy, but an experienced attorney can often gather evidence that will show when an employer actually took action for an impermissible reason. Fortunately, a lawyer has many ways to gather evidence that disproves the reasons offered for a particular employment action. If you have any suspicion that you were the victim of employment discrimination that was justified using false reasons, review the facts of your case with an attorney as soon as possible.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
One particularly pervasive form of sex discrimination is sexual harassment. While it is illegal to harass employees based on any protected factor, sexual harassment is generally the most common form of this misconduct. Sexual harassment can range from comments or jokes of a sexual nature to unwanted sexual advances to sexual assault. Unlawful sexual harassment falls into two broad categories:
- Quid pro quo – This occurs when a supervisor or person with authority makes your employment—or aspects of your employment—depend on satisfying sexual demands. This can include either offering rewards for sexual favors or threatening adverse action if you refuse sexual advances.
- Hostile work environment – This type of harassment involves comments, jokes, come-ons, images, or other sexually offensive communications. When they become pervasive or offensive enough, they create a hostile work environment.
Sometimes, victims have a hard time knowing whether they experienced sexual harassment. If you feel offended or uncomfortable with something that happened at work, never hesitate to ask an experienced employment law attorney to evaluate your rights.
Like anyone else, executives and other people at your place of employment may engage in wrongdoing. Such wrongdoing can include unethical behavior, violations of the law, fraud, health and safety violations, and much more. There comes a time when concerned employees may want to report such misconduct but are afraid they will lose their jobs or suffer other adverse consequences for doing the right thing. Fortunately, the law protects employees who are brave enough to come forward and report the violations and misconduct of their employers.
The law prohibits employers from taking any adverse action against whistleblowing employees, which can include harassment, demotion, refusal of promotion or tenure, termination, or any other similar employment action. If your employment was negatively affected because you reported wrongful behavior, you have the right to seek compensation and reinstatement. If you are even considering blowing the whistle on your employer, discuss your rights with an employment law firm first. In California, the law protects employees who are fired or retaliated against for making complaints about violations of the law to the employer. There does not need to be a report to an outside agency.
Wage and Hour Violations
State and federal laws strictly regulate how employees are paid, including setting minimum hourly wages, overtime payment requirements, meal and rest break requirements, and more. California laws often provide more wage and hour rights and protections to employees than federal laws. For example, the minimum wage across the state of California is much higher than the federal minimum wage, and some cities may have even higher minimum wage requirements in place than the state level.
Employers can violate wage and hour laws in many different ways, including:
- Failing to pay the required minimum hourly wage
- Miscalculating hours or not paying for all time worked
- Failing to pay proper overtime payments
- Misclassifying someone as exempt from overtime pay
- Denying employees the required meal or rest breaks
- Failing to issue paychecks on time
- Withholding wrongful deductions from paychecks
- Wrongfully taking tips from tipped employees
All of the above can cause substantial losses for employees, and individuals who suffer financial harm due to wage and hour violations may have the right to take legal action and obtain the compensation they deserve.
Another common way that employers may violate wage and hour laws is to misclassify certain employees as independent contractors. Independent contractors do not have the same protections under the law as employees. For this reason, employers may try to claim someone is an independent contractor to avoid having to comply with wage and hour laws, tax requirements, discrimination laws, and much more.
Employers do not get to determine when someone is an independent contractor, however. The law has a specific test for making this determination, which is closely related to the facts of your employment situation. If you believe you are misclassified as an independent contractor and have suffered financial losses as a result, please contact our office today for a free case evaluation.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Right Act Violations
Companies that employ 50 or more employees are also subject to laws allowing family and medical leave for qualified employees. Employers are required to grant as many as 12 weeks of leave per year for qualified employees based on:
- Serious medical conditions, including those related to pregnancy or childbirth
- Caring for a family member with a serious medical condition
- Bonding with a new baby, adopted child, or foster child
- Exigent circumstances related to the active military duty of a family member
Employees caring for a family member who is injured or ill after active duty may qualify for longer leave time.
While employers must grant family and medical leave when an employee meets all the requirements, they do not have to provide paid leave. Companies do, however, need to hold the employee’s job—or a similar position—open while they are on leave. Denying leave or ending someone’s employment because they took leave violates an employee’s rights.
California is an “at-will” employment state, which means that employers have the right to end an employment relationship without having a good reason—and vice versa. This freedom to terminate employees at any time, however, does not mean that companies can terminate employees for unlawful reasons. Unacceptable reasons for termination include:
- Discrimination due to protected factors
- Retaliation for exercising a lawful right, such as complaining of harassment or requesting family and medical leave
- An employee’s refusal to engage in unlawful or unethical conduct
- Engaging in a public duty, such as serving on a jury
- Reporting unlawful conduct (whistleblowing)
At-will employment allows an employer to terminate you for many reasons, or for no reason at all. However, an employer may NOT terminate you because of your race, religious attire, disability, request for rightful accommodations, or similar discriminatory reasons.
As discussed above, employers will often give pretextual reasons for wrongful terminations. An attorney should closely examine these situations for evidence of pretext. For example, if your employer stated that he terminated you because you were late, and another person of a different race was not terminated despite also arriving to work late, it could constitute evidence of your discriminatory and wrongful termination.
Another form of wrongful termination occurs outside of at-will employment relationships. If you and your employer signed an employment contract, your employer cannot terminate you in violation of the contract’s terms. Many employment agreements include a set period of employment and your employer cannot terminate you without just cause. If an employer terminates you without just cause, you may have a legal cause of action for breach of contract due to the wrongful termination.
Workers need enforceable federal and state laws to effectively protect their rights—which means that employees need to feel safe asserting their rights by calling attention to unlawful employer conduct or participating in investigations to determine whether unlawful conduct has taken place. To this end, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for asserting their rights under various laws, including the National Labor Relations Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, and various state laws such as California’s Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) statutes.
Common types of retaliation include (but are not limited to):
- Disciplinary actions
- Refusal of pay increases
- Refusal of promotions
- Assignment to less desirable workplace duties
In addition, in California, retaliation can include a general pattern of retaliatory conduct that doesn’t fit exactly within any of the above catagories.
If you have experienced ANY type of adverse employment action and you believe it came in retaliation for exercising your rights, you should not wait to discuss what happened with a member of our legal team.
Our Law Firm Can Help
Going up against an employer is always stressful and often intimidating. Often, people are too afraid of losing their livelihoods to take action and exercise their rights under federal and state employment laws. You should know that help is available and you do not have to take on your employer alone. Employment laws are complicated and ever-changing, which can make fully understanding your rights or when they were violated difficult. You should never hesitate to contact our office to learn more about how we can assist you.
Call Us Today to Speak With an Employment Law Attorney in Oakland, California
Employees have significant rights under both state and federal law. Unfortunately, these rights are regularly violated by employers who fail to provide employees with the protections to which they are entitled. At Winer, Burritt & Scott, LLP, we have more than 60 years of combined experience and have recovered more than $200 million on behalf of our clients. Our track record of success and legal acumen allows our clients to rest assured that we will bring their employment case to the most favorable resolution possible under the law. We are committed to protecting employees’ rights and holding employers accountable for failing to comply with their legal obligations.