Q&A

What is an at-will employee?

In California, an at-will employee is one whose employment has no specified term and who may be terminated at the will of either party, with or without cause and with or without notice. An at-will employment relationship is presumed if there is no oral or written agreement specifying the length of employment or the grounds for termination.

How do I know if I am entitled to overtime pay?

Under California law, all nonexempt employees who work in excess of eight hours, up to and including 12 hours, in any given workday, or for the first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of work, the employee shall be paid one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay. For all hours worked in excess of 12 hours on any workday and for all hours worked in excess of eight on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek, the employee shall be paid double the employee’s regular rate of pay.

However, certain employees are exempt from receiving overtime compensation, including but not limited to, outside salespersons and those who fall under the administrative, executive or professional exemption.

I frequently work through my meal periods and have not received any break periods. What are my rights?

In California, employers must provide employees meal periods of not less than 30 minutes for a work period of more than 5 hours per day and permit non-exempt employees to take a 10 minute rest period for every four hours worked in a day.

If an employer fails to provide meal and rest periods to any non-exempt employee, the Labor Code states that the employer shall pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each work day that the meal or rest period is not provided.

I was fired from my job. My employer did not pay me my final wages. Is this lawful?

No, under California law, an employee who is discharged must be paid all of his or her wages, including accrued vacation, immediately at the time of termination.

My supervisor and I do not get along. He yells at me and uses profanities when speaking with me. Do I have a case for harassment?

You cannot sue a supervisor or employer for harassment simply because there is a personality conflict or because your supervisor uses profanity. His conduct must target you because you fall into a protected category.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) expressly prohibits harassment of employees, applicants, or persons providing services pursuant to a contract only if you fall into one of the following categories:

Race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex (harassment based on sex includes sexual harassment, gender harassment, and harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions), sexual orientation, or age over 40 years.

What is "wrongful termination"?

Wrongful termination means you have been fired unlawfully. In California, there are many impermissible or unlawful grounds for termination, including: whistleblowing (reporting certain types of wrongdoing by the company); discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, age or disability, pregnancy; retaliation for or interference with certain medical leaves; and abuse and mismanagement of medical and disability leaves in particular.

You cannot be fired for complaining about wages or asking for overtime, requesting an accommodation for your disability, requesting protection from sexual harassment, requesting a qualified medical leave, or complaining about unsafe working conditions. You cannot be fired in retaliation for filing a worker’s compensation claim. The Labor Code includes numerous other examples.

Do you have a valid claim for wrongful termination?

If you have been terminated or fired, our checklist can help you identify reasons for which your discharge might have been unlawful. A wrongful termination is any firing that is done in violation of: (i) federal, state, or local laws; (ii) the terms of an employment agreement; or (iii) for reasons that are against public policy.

Wrongful termination checklist: do you qualify?

What is a "Whistleblower?

It can be anyone who refuses to engage in unlawful behavior and is then punished, usually by being fired. Today, we have many statutes in California and across the federal government protecting whistleblowers depending on their industry and employment, and the nature of their whistleblowing (i.e., what they are reporting and to whom).

Generally, if you report unlawful behavior internally to management, and are then fired, you would be a whistleblower with a legitimate claim. If you report unsafe work conditions and are fired for it; or financial fraud or fraud against the federal government, you would qualify.

How long of a leave can I take during my pregnancy?

It depends. An employee disabled by pregnancy may generally be entitled to up to four months of disability leave. However, if the employer provides more than four months of leave for other types of temporary disabilities, then the employer must make the same leave period available to women who are disabled due to pregnancy, or childbirth itself, or a related condition.

Moreover, the leave can be taken before or after birth — basically during any period that the women is disabled due to pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition. Additionally, an employee may take any leave entitlement under the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”). For example, a woman might take some four months disability leave for her pregnancy disability, and an additional 12 weeks CFRA leave to bond with her baby.

Can I return to work after my pregnancy leave?

When the pregnancy disability leave concludes, employees are guaranteed a return to the same position. Notably, if the position is no longer available (e.g., because of plant closure), an employer must offer a comparable position, unless it can prove that none exists.

What is discrimination in the workplace under California law?

Discrimination is harassment or disparate treatment because of one’s race, religion, skin color, ancestry, nationality, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, marital status, military and veteran status, physical disability, mental disability, or various other attributes.

What do I need to prove disparate treatment in the employment place?

You need to prove that you have incurred an adverse employment action such as demotion and failure to promote because of discrimination. It is not enough that your boss did not grant you a promotion because he did not like you are favored other people. You must show that the failure to promote was because of discrimination, for example, because you are a woman or African American.

How do I qualify under the California Family Right Act (CFRA)?

An employee must be employed by the company for 12 months and the company must have over 50 employees within a 75 mile radius of the work site. A leave must be for serious illness of the employee or a family member of the employee.

What do I need to qualify for a pregnancy leave of absence?

The employer needs to have only 5 employees and there is no minimum time that you have to be employed.

What are my rights under California Family Right Act (CFRA)?

The leave guarantees that the employee can return to its job within the 3 month period. The leave is unpaid but the employer must pay its share of the employee’s medical insurance contribution.

What if my employer tries to fire me for asking for meal and rest breaks?

Legally, your employer cannot fire you for asking for these breaks. If they do, they may be guilty of retaliation, which can add significant penalties for them, including the cost of your lost and future wages, punitive damages, and even emotional suffering.

Can my boss give me a bad reference?

Yes, an employer is entitled to provide their honest opinion of your workplace performance. However, if a bad reference involves slander, defamation of character, or misrepresentation in order to prevent you from getting a new job, you may have case against them. As this requires extensive and legitimate evidence, it is in your best interest to have a Los Angeles employment law attorney in your corner.

Can my boss make me work holidays?

While your boss cannot force you to do anything, there is no law that prohibits employers from keeping their business open and scheduling staff to work on holidays. An employer can take any disciplinary action as defined in your contract, if any, if you do not adhere to your work schedule.

If I am here illegally, am I covered by employment law?

Typically, undocumented workers are entitled to the same state and federal employment rights as documented workers. However, it is important to know that an employer is prohibited by law to hire or continue to employ illegal immigrants. Thus, if an employer becomes aware of your status, they are required to refuse to hire or end your employment.

Can my boss cut my pay without notice?

No. An employer is entitled to make deductions as required by law (including taxes), when authorized by an employee for the purposes of insurance or other benefits, and according to hours missed by an employee. The employer must notify an employee of any decisions to cut pay for any other reason prior to doing so.

Can my boss withhold my paycheck?

An employer is not permitted to withhold your paycheck for any reason. If your boss believes that you owe money, they have the option to pursue legal action against you, but they cannot deduct that money from your paycheck.

Does my boss have to pay me for vacation and sick days if I quit?

California law recognizes accrued vacation time as wages, meaning employers are required to include any unused time in your final paycheck. However, state law does not recognize sick days as wages, meaning that, unless specified in your contract, employers have no obligation to pay sick days.

If I was sexually harassed by a vendor of the company, is the company liable?

Yes. Employers are required by law to prevent sexual harassment, enforce a policy against it, and take remedial and punitive action. If you reported the incident to the employer and they did not take action to protect you from further sexual harassment, then the company is liable.

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