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Woodland Hills California Employment Law Blog

Why should I pay attention to my employee handbook?

The fact that California allows employees to be fired at-will grants employers wide latitude to terminate their workers, provided that no civil rights laws have been violated. However, if workplaces set strict guidelines for how their employees may be hired and fired in their employee handbooks, they may have ended up setting aside the state's at-will doctrine.

An employee handbook is an official document prepared by your workplace. According to entrepreneur.com, a handbook describes how employees are to conduct themselves. A handbook also lays out disciplinary actions if employees break the rules. These handbooks assist employers by establishing a legitimate case that an employee was terminated by breaking the rules described in the handbook. However, spelling out conditions for termination can also help establish a case of wrongful termination.

Are you a employee or an independent contractor?

It is not uncommon for California businesses, especially small companies or startups, to misclassify employees as independent contractors. The idea of using independent workers might be attractive to managers and executives, as it is typically cheaper and allows access to labor on an as-needed basis. However, your employement status should reflect the duties, responsibilities and risks you take rather than the desires of your employer to reduce payroll costs. 

One of the challenges you might face in determining the exact nature of your professional relationship with your employer is the fact that everyone's job is different. For example, what would be your status if you were a sales expert who works on commission, has the freedom to track down independently-generated leads and works outside of the office? The answer might hinge on something as simple as whether your company reimbursed your travel and discretionary expenses. 

Getting the compensation you deserve for your hard work

Some workers, especially those in skilled trades, enjoy the benefits of large organizations that protect their rights directly. For example, the California Labor Federation represents over two million working people in the state. However, we know that not everybody enjoys the same protection. At Jay S. Rothman & Associates, we are proud to step in and represent clients who do not have large, state-wide organizations backing them up. 

One of the most common types of problems we see is, unsurprisingly, the unwillingness of employers to pay our clients the wages they are due. Payroll often represents the largest percentage of the cost of doing business. We find it unfortunate that some companies are willing to bend or break the rules in order to reduce the impact employees have on a corporate budget. 

Can men be victims of sexual harassment?

When you generally think of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace, you may envision men making inappropriate comments or gestures toward their women coworkers or employees. However, a greater number of men are coming forward as victims of sexual harassment at work. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, men accounted for 11 percent of all sexual harassment claims in 1997. That number has increased to 16.3 percent and some say is low, due to the fact that men who are being harassed are often hesitant to come forward with this information.

In recent media, more women have been put on administrative leave or disciplined for committing acts of sexual harassment on their male employees. Women may make unwarranted and/or unwelcome comments to males, propositioning them to be intimate in order to move up in the company or keep their job. This increase in incidents may, in part, be correlated to the rising number of women in high positions, such as CEOs and managers in the workplace.

What constitutes an adverse employment action?

When you are a California employee, your employer must provide you with a safe and healthy workplace free from various types of discrimination. One of the things your employer cannot do is take any action against you that inhibits your right, or the rights of your co-workers, to report discrimination to supervisors and/or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC considers any such action your employer takes either before or after you make a discrimination complaint as an adverse employment action

Adverse employment actions can take many forms, but some of the most common ones are the following:

  • Terminating your employment
  • Taking away your supervisory responsibilities
  • Threatening you with an unfavorable work reassignment and/or a lowering of your salary or wages
  • Threatening you or a member of your family with an immigration action such as deportation
  • Overly scrutinizing, analyzing or examining your work
  • Belittling you in the media

Religious discrimination within the workplace

The choice to practice a religion is your own decision. The right to practice your own religion, or no religion at all, is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Religious discrimination may occur in your workplace when an employer or coworker treats a person harshly because of his or her religious beliefs. Treating someone differently because they married an individual that associates with a religion can also be a form of discrimination.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, traditional and organized religions are not the only beliefs that the law protects. The law also protects people who have “sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.”

Recognizing workplace retaliation

As someone who earns a living working in California, you have certain rights, and one of them involves your right to call attention to harassment, discrimination and wrongdoing within your place of business without having to fear for your job. When your employer, supervisor or someone else at your place of business treats you unfavorably because you took such action, he or she may be guilty of employment retaliation, and you may be able to hold that employer accountable. At the office of Jay S. Rothman & Associates, we have a firm understanding of what constitutes workplace retaliation, and we have helped many victims of this type of behavior pursue appropriate recourse.

Per the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you have certain rights with regard to participating in what are known as “protected activities,” and no one in your place of business can treat you poorly or unfairly because you decide to exercise them. What might work-related retaliation look like? It can take on numerous forms, but you may be a victim of workplace retaliation if your employer demotes you, fires you or changes your duties for less desirable ones in the wake of you exercising a protected right.

How common is sexual harassment?

There is little argument that sexual harassment has come to the forefront, over the past few years, of the legal and ethical discussions surrounding professional life. However, many people are still unclear as to what exactly constitutes this behavior. If you have these questions, you might find validation in knowing that the California courts are probably currently considering relevant cases at this very moment. 

Sexual or gender harassment is inarguably present in many workplaces around the state; simply glancing at the news of court verdicts favoring claimants in these cases should provide evidence of this. Whether it is present in your work environment, legally speaking, is a different question.

How do you know how much overtime you are owed?

California employees might use many different methods to prove that they were working during certain hours, but you might not have the opportunity to use some of the more effective options should you find yourself already embroiled in a wage and hour dispute. Any overtime your employer might owe you would probably depend on:

  • Total hours you work per week
  • Hours per day or shift
  • Number of days per week you work

Some cases of unpaid overtime are relatively straightforward, but the rules have the potential to become complicated quickly. It is important to keep track of your hours. This might, in certain cases, preclude the necessity to go to trial, therefore avoiding costly court fees and maximizing any recompense you might receive from your employer.

Does having a criminal record justify employment discrimination?

The law protects the rights of job applicants who have a criminal record, in accordance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

However, federal laws do allow employers to use criminal records as a basis for some employment decisions — a practice, which can easily snowball into categorically denying employment to applicants with a criminal history. For residents of California, new legislature is putting this employment discrimination to an end.

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