Employment Law Attorneys in San Diego Providing Legal Advice and Representation for California Workers
Employment laws in California are complex and ever-changing, but it is crucial for you to have a basic understanding of your rights and responsibilities as an employee, employer, or even as a job applicant. Learn the facts about California employment laws and see what an employment law attorney can do to help you protect your rights.
What is Employment Law?
Employment law refers to a wide-ranging set of rules encompassing all areas of the relationship between workers, employers, and the government. It applies to current employees, former employees, and job applicants. Employment law regulates essential aspects such as how long an employee is allowed to work, how much that employee should be paid, and the minimum working conditions requirements for a particular type of work.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is among the most impactful employment laws in the country. Enacted in 1938, it sets a federal minimum wage and determines how states should set their minimum wage rules – for example, each state can have its own minimum wage, but it can never be less than the federal minimum wage in most cases. It also sets forth rules concerning overtime and overtime pay. Other important labor laws include the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1963, the National Labor Relations Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Is California an At-Will State for Employment?
Many people confuse the terms “at will” and “right to work” when referring to employment law. Most states – including California – apply a common law doctrine that is referred to as employment at will. This means that an employer has the right to terminate an employee at any time and for any reason, with the exception of discriminatory factors such as gender, nationality, race, religion, and others. Likewise, the employee may choose to terminate their employment at any point and for any reason.
On the other hand, the right-to-work law gives employees the right not to belong to a union, making it illegal to force employees to join unions and pay union fees if they are not interested in doing so. It is important to note that California is an at-will employment state, but it does not have any right-to-work laws.
What Are My Rights as an Employee in California?
Employees in the state of California have a variety of rights, and some of those rights extend to job applicants as well. For example, workers are entitled to having a safe workplace with the proper conditions to keep them healthy and free of injuries and illnesses. They are also entitled to be paid fair wages for the work they perform. In addition, workers have the right to enjoy a work environment free from any discrimination or harassment at all times and also have the right to file a complaint against their employer without suffering any type of retaliation.
Job applicants are also protected from being discriminated against by prospective employers. Employers cannot demand answers to questions about the job applicant’s religious beliefs, for example. They may only conduct a credit and background check after obtaining authorization from the job applicant.
Are There Laws Protecting California Employees From Discrimination?
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act forbid employers from terminating or declining to hire someone based on their religious beliefs or disabilities (with some exceptions) or someone who belongs to a protected group. Examples of protected categories include but are not limited to race, nationality, religion, disability (physical or mental), age, gender identity, marital status, and others.
There are also specific laws protecting pregnant women or those who need to go on leave due to the birth of a child or for taking care of a child. California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave law, the California Family Rights Act, and New Parent Leave Act are some of the laws that make it illegal for an employee to be terminated due to being pregnant or taking a leave. Employees with disabilities also receive some protection from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that requires employees to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with qualifying disabilities.
Do Wage and Hour Laws Apply to All Employees in California?
Wage and labor laws apply to all non-exempt employees in California, regardless of their immigration status. With the exception of independent contractors and exempt employees, all workers are entitled to be paid at least the state minimum wage. Likewise, employers cannot demand that employees work “off the clock” to evade overtime pay requirements. Any employee that works overtime should be paid accordingly (either one and a half times their regular pay or double their regular pay, depending on the situation).
It is worth mentioning that independent contractors do not have the same rights as employees. For that reason, some employers may attempt to classify employees as independent contractors to avoid paying them the proper wages and benefits. This is a common problem, and any employee who is misclassified as an independent contractor may be entitled to back pay and benefits and should seek the help of an employment law attorney to discuss their case.
What Should I Do if I Believe I Have Been Wrongfully Terminated?
Just because California is an at-will state for employment, that does not mean employers may fire you for specific reasons, such as simply belonging to a protected category, engaging in whistleblowing, or reporting that employer for wrongful or illegal practices. An employer must have a non-discriminatory, legal reason for firing an employee. In that sense, wrongful termination can be understood as a termination that breaches the employee’s legal rights.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, gather as many employer documents as possible and reach out to an employment law attorney immediately. For example, if you have sent a written complaint to your employer and were terminated shortly after, make sure to save a copy of your written complaint as well as your employee handbook and any emails or pertinent documents to support your case.
It is also vital that you seek a new job in the meantime, as you are expected to mitigate your damages by finding a new job or at least documenting that you have made an earnest effort to find new employment. If you win your case against your former employer, you might be entitled to receive the difference in your pay as well as additional compensation for emotional distress and legal fees.
Are There Special Types of Wrongful Termination Cases?
There are a few special types of wrongful termination cases based on public policy violations, mixed motives, or constructive termination. An employee has the right to initiate a claim against their employer if they can prove that their employer has violated a standard public policy. For example, if an employer tries to force an employee to sign a legally unenforceable contract and the employee ends up being terminated because they refused to sign a said contract, that employee may be able to initiate a wrongful termination case.
Other times, employers may act in a more subtle manner and try to allege that the motive for firing an employee is legitimate, but upon further investigation, it becomes apparent that their reasons are primarily illegal or discriminatory. For example, if an employee is allegedly terminated due to poor job performance, but that employee can prove that their performance is comparable to everyone else’s with the only difference being that the employee is of a different race, they may have a wrongful termination case against their employer.
Finally, some employers may create a hostile or unsustainable work environment for an employee, basically forcing that employee to resign. Even though an employee who voluntarily resigns may not bring a lawsuit against their employer, this special type of wrongful termination case called constructive termination allows employees who can prove they were bullied off the job to seek legal action against their employers. For example, an employee who is constantly subjected to unfair criticism and threats of pay cuts or demotion without reason may be left with no choice but to resign from their position because the employer created intolerable work conditions. In any of these cases, the help of a seasoned employment law attorney is essential for a successful case.
What Can an Employment Law Attorney Do to Help Me?
When you encounter challenges in your relationship with an employer, you should have the means to understand the law and to know when to stand up for your rights. Many employees fear retaliation and put up with less-than-ideal work conditions to keep their jobs. However, California workers have rights that employers must respect, regardless of the employee’s background or immigration status.
However, it is not always easy to understand employment laws and see how they apply to your situation, especially when you are under emotional distress while dealing with a challenging work environment or not being paid fair wages. This is when speaking to an employment law attorney can make all the difference.
Your employment law attorney can explain your rights and the laws that affect your case using plain language and advise you on the best course of action. If you have a strong case, your attorney can help you gather the evidence you need to build your argument and assert your rights in the courtroom, and will also represent you and work to protect your interests at every step of the way.
At Khosroabadi & Hill, our attorneys understand how challenging it is to deal with an employer not respecting the law and acting in a wrongful or illegal manner. Our firm has helped countless workers in San Diego and all over California to expose their employers’ wrongdoings and receive proper compensation for their damages. If you have questions about employment law or wish to discuss your situation and see if you have a case, reach out to our office in San Diego by calling 858-240-2093 and requesting a no-commitment initial consultation to see how we may help you.