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Employee FAQ: Understanding Worker Rights and Responsibilities in California

As an employee in California, you have rights. Coupled with those rights are responsibilities. Both are meant to make sure that work environments are safe and productive for everyone. Sometimes, though, things happen. An issue arises. If your rights are violated in any way or if an employee fails to uphold their obligations, you may have legal action to compensate for any damages you suffer. 

But oftentimes, it's understanding whether or not you have a right to file a claim. Many people fail to file a claim because they fear for their job. These are things you should not have to worry about. What's more, you should be compensated when you suffer damages. At The Sentinel Firm, our employment law attorneys based in Los Angeles handle a wide range of employment issues. Contact us at 213-985-1150 to schedule a free consultation and to know whether or not you can take legal action for harm suffered by an employer or co-worker.

What Workplace Rights Do Employees in California Have?

Employees in California have a lot of rights. Like a lot a lot. In fact, it is one of the most employee friendly states in the country.

For example, all employees have basic rights such as the right to work in an environment where they are not discriminated against or harassed due to their race, religion, national origin, age, disability, color, sex, or genetic information. You also have the right to minimum wage, overtime, proper meal and rest breaks, and the proper classification of your position.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), you also have the right to:

  • Safe and healthful workplaces
  • Protective equipment free of charge, where appropriate
  • Information (like chemical hazards, workplace injuries, exposure data, etc.) 
  • Training, where appropriate
  • File a complaint with OSHA to request an on-site OSHA inspection

These are just a few examples of basic rights that employees have in California. There are many more. Federal and state laws establish rights and implement systems to address violations of rights. Contact us now if you think any of your rights have been violated.

Am I an At-Will Employee in California?

An at-will employee is an employee that is free to leave their place of employment at any time for any reason, or for no reason whatsoever. In California, the majority of employees are at-will employees. If, however, you signed a written employment contract, you are more than likely not an at-will employee.

Can my Employer in California Fire Me for Any Reason?

Whether or not your employer can fire you for any reason, or no reason at all, depends on whether or not you are an at-will employee. If you are an at-will employee, your employer can fire you for any reason AS LONG AS it is not an illegal reason. For example, they are not allowed to fire you due to your race, sex, religion, or disability. 

If, however, you signed a written employment contract, the employer may only be able to terminate your position based on the terms and conditions of the contract.

How Do I Know If I Have a Wrongful Termination Claim in California?

Determining whether or not your termination was wrongful is very fact specific. Most at-will employees can be terminated without reason. Wrongful termination is different from unfair termination. Wrongful indicates the employer did something unlawfully.

Are you a member of a protected class? For instance, what is your ethnicity, national origin, religion, or gender? Are you pregnant? Are you over the age of 40? Do you have a disability? Did you endure sexual harassment at work? If fired because you are a member of one of these classes, you may have been wrongfully terminated. The next task is to be able to prove it.

On the other hand, if you are terminated because your boss favors another person, there were personality conflicts, or you posted something on social media that your boss did not like, these things generally do not constitute wrongful termination. 

A Family Member is Sick, and I Need to Take Time off Work to Care for Them. Does my Employer Have to Save My Position and Let Me Take a Leave of Absence?

The answer to this question depends on a few different factors.

For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does provide employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave per year. This time is uncompensated, and there are several requirements that must be met, including that the employee must have worked with that employer for at least 12 months. There are other requirements, too. Plus, the FMLA only applies to companies of a certain size (50 or more employees).

However, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in California applies to companies that only have 5 or more employees. Under the FEHA, an employer may be required to provide an employee time off to take care of a sick family member as a reasonable accommodation. During this time off, the employee's job generally will be protected. 

As you can see, there are different laws that attorneys can use to deal with the same factual situation. You need an attorney that will apply the law in a way that is most beneficial to you.

I Complained at Work about Discrimination, and my Employer Retaliated. What Can I Do in California?

Your employer cannot legally retaliate against you for complaining about work-related discrimination. However, they may still discipline you or terminate your employment for reasons unrelated to the complaint. 

If you feel like your employer is retaliating against you for the discrimination complaint, you should first speak with a supervisor or a human resources representative. If this does not resolve the issue, you can address your concern with California's Civil Rights Department or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Call us now and we can advise you on your best course of action in these or other situations.

What is a Whistleblower Claim?

When an employee suspects that there is misconduct or fraud occurring within their place of employment, and they report this activity, they are known as a whistleblower. When this occurs, employers often seek to retaliate against the employee by having them fired or transferred. Because of this, federal and state laws have been enacted to prevent retaliation against whistleblowers. 

A whistleblower claim is a formal complaint exposing or describing certain types of alleged fraud, misconduct, or health/safety condition.

What is California's Law on Working Overtime?

In California, hourly nonexempt workers are entitled to overtime pay. Employers are required by law to pay it. If you work 8 or more hours in one day, you're entitled to time and a half, which is 1.5 times your regular rate of pay, for each hour you work over eight. If you work more than 40 hours in one workweek, you're entitled to time and a half for each hour you work over 40. There's more, though. If you work 12 or more hours in one day, you're entitled to two times your regular rate for each hour over that amount, and if you work more than 8 hours on the 7th consecutive day in one workweek, you're also entitled to double your regular rate of pay.

Can I Be Fired for Reporting My Employer's Illegal Behavior?

No. Whether you are objecting to illegal behavior directed at you specifically (such as discrimination or harassment) or blowing the whistle on other criminal behavior, you are legally entitled to job protection and freedom from retaliation from your employer.

That said, some employers certainly will attempt to retaliate against you, but this action is illegal. That's why it's important to approach employment law matters with the guidance of an experienced attorney who can help you anticipate and prepare for such actions and help you protect your rights.

Do I Need an Employment Law Attorney in California?

Whether you need an employment law attorney is a trick question. An employment law attorney can always be helpful regardless of the situation, but you are not required to retain one. It becomes important to do so the more complex or nuanced your case is. Even when filing the initial claim with a state or federal department, an attorney can make sure you do so properly and strategically. The people working in these government jobs usually mean well, but they have a demanding workload and cannot take the time to sift through the complaints and get the details right, and that can be detrimental to you.

Ultimately, speaking to an attorney can help you understand what you need, what's at stake, and how to best proceed. Call us now. We can help you.

Find Out if You Have a Case

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The Sentinel Firm is committed to answering your questions about Employment Law and Personal Injury law issues in California. We offer a Free Consultation and we'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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