No one who works for a living in the United States should have to suffer employment discrimination in the 21st century. In all fifty states, when an employer treats an employee or a job applicant differently because of that person’s race, gender, nationality, age, disability, orientation, religion, or pregnancy, it’s a violation of the law. Employment discrimination may include the denial of benefits, favoritism, unwanted advances, or wrongful termination because of someone’s race, gender, nationality, orientation, religion, age, disability, or pregnancy. If you are facing discrimination at your place of work, it should not be tolerated. You should speak at once with a good employment rights lawyer, and in California, with an experienced Fresno employment attorney.
Employment rights are protected by federal law under Title 7 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers with fifteen or more employees from discriminating on the basis of an employee’s race, religion, gender, or national origin. Some states offer more legal protection. For example, if you are employed in California by a smaller company – with five to fourteen employees – your employment rights are protected under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) of 1959.
EVERY EMPLOYEE IS PROTECTED
Every employee in the United States is protected by federal and state laws, although the state laws vary widely. Additionally, if you received an employee handbook from your employer, that handbook may create additional, legally enforceable employment rights. Whether the issue is harassment, a wrongful termination, or the failure to pay legal wages, all employees in the United States have rights, although California’s anti-discrimination laws are perhaps the most comprehensive in the nation. In California, legally “protected characteristics” include race, religion, ancestry, physical disability, national origin, medical condition, mental disability, marital status, sex, age, and sexual orientation.
If you believe that you are a victim of employment discrimination and that your rights as an employee have been violated, have an experienced employment rights attorney guide you through each of the steps that you’ll have to take. Employment discrimination claims are handled somewhat differently from other injury claims. For example, prior to filing an employment discrimination claim in California, you must obtain a “right to sue” authorization from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or both. Typically, you would file with the EEOC to pursue a federal employment discrimination claim or with the DFEH to pursue a claim under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Under FEHA, the state of California protects more disabled persons’ rights than under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and those protections cover more employers. If you take any legal action to protect yourself against employment discrimination, be sure that you have your own attorney’s guidance at every step of the process. Any mistake or misunderstanding at the start could be used against you or could derail your legal efforts entirely.
FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION
Anti-discrimination laws are statutory exceptions to traditional “at will” employment arrangements. Without an employment contract or some other agreement, in most states and in most circumstances, an employee may legally be fired “at will,” but no employee may be fired as an act of discrimination or retaliation. Unfortunately, some companies and employers still violate their employee’s rights and threaten their jobs. Employment discrimination takes several forms:
- Disparate impact: when an employer’s company policies have a disproportionate negative effect on a particular protected group.
- Disparate treatment: when one group is favored – or disfavored – disproportionately. If only Asian males (or any other group) are being promoted, or if only Asian males are having their hours reduced, it constitutes disparate treatment.
- Harassment: when an employee is the victim of bullying, hostility, intimidation, unwanted advances, or retaliation because of that person’s protected characteristic.
When disparate treatment, disparate impact, and harassment are pervasive and enduring at a particular place of work, the law considers that workplace a hostile work environment. California’s anti-discrimination laws provide practical and certain legal solutions for employees who are facing discrimination problems at work. An employee who prevails with an employment discrimination claim is legally entitled to full reimbursement for any lost wages, and in many states and many cases claimants are also entitled by law to compensation for their emotional distress and for the costs of their legal fees. If you are a victim of discrimination at work, don’t hesitate to stand up for yourself and take legal action. It is your right. Consider filing an employment discrimination claim with the help of an experienced employment rights lawyer. If the discrimination is happening currently, make the call as quickly as possible.
YOUR SPECIFIC EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS
Every employee in the United States has a number of specific employment rights. In most cases, for example, your employer is required by law to pay you at least the minimum wage. With some exceptions, most employers must also provide you with regular breaks, time-and-a-half overtime pay, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, and time off for a serious illness or for a new birth. Your employer cannot expect employees to tolerate a degrading, hostile, or humiliating work environment. If you are disabled, your employer may be required to make changes that assist you in the basic functions of your work. You have specific legal rights regarding:
- the kinds of questions you may be asked in a job interview
- the conditions of drug testing
- the conditions for background checks
- wages, hours, overtime, benefits, leaves, and deductions
- promotions and terminations
- non-compete agreements
You also have the right to safe working conditions, and in most circumstances, you have the legal right in California to join a union. Unlike the courts in many other states, non-compete agreements are usually considered invalid by California’s courts. In most cases, you cannot be penalized in California for accepting a job from your ex-employer’s competitor or for working with the same clients after leaving the job where you met them.
Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you may also be entitled to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave if you suffer a serious medical condition, need to care for a family member with a serious health condition, cannot work due to a pregnancy or childbirth-related condition, or have a new child in the family. You qualify for family medical leave if you have worked for the same employer for at least one year, for at least 1,250 hours in the immediately preceding year, and if your employer employs at least fifty workers in a 75-mile radius.
The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provides for comparable employee rights under state law. And if a pregnancy or a childbirth-related condition renders you unable to work, you may be entitled to four more months of disability leave under California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Act. Before requesting a CFRA or FMLA leave, learn the details about your leave rights. For example, a CFRA or FMLA leave can be used consecutively, or if medically necessary, intermittently throughout the year. However, if you know in advance that you will need such a leave, you are required to give at least thirty days’ notice.
The current minimum wage in California (as of January 1, 2016) is $10.00 per hour, although several California municipalities have set higher minimum wage amounts. Employees who receive tips must nevertheless receive at least the minimum wage, and employers may not take any portion of employees’ tips in California. By law, workers who report hazardous working conditions may not be terminated or face any retaliation whatsoever from an employer. Employees in California are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits without having to prove that anyone was at fault if they are injured in the “course and scope” of their employment duties.
NEW LAWS IN CALIFORNIA
In 2015, California lawmakers passed a number of new laws that will directly impact private sector employers in California and enhance or add to the rights of California employees:
- California’s equal pay law was amended to allow employees to ask colleagues about their wages to determine if grounds exist for an equal pay claim, to lower the burden of proof for plaintiffs, and to increase the burden of proof for employers’ defenses.
- The family members of “whistle-blowers” are now protected from employer retaliation.
- Employers may not now retaliate or discriminate against a worker who requested an accommodation for a disability or religious belief, whether the request was approved or denied.
- To help an employee collect unpaid wages where there is an existing judgment against an employer, the California Labor Commissioner is now authorized to file a lien on real estate or a levy on an employer’s property, or to impose a stop order on an employer’s business. The Labor Commissioner may also now issue citations to enforce local minimum wage and overtime laws.
If an employer discriminates or has discriminated against you, don’t let any anxiety or trepidation keep you from seeking justice. Discrimination simply will not be tolerated by most courts or by most people in the United States, and employment discrimination is always unacceptable under California law. If you have been discriminated against by an employer – or if you’re not sure – speak to an attorney at once, and in California, contact an experienced Fresno employment attorney immediately.