Things Your Boss Can’t Legally Do:
California Employee Rights and Workplace Boundaries
Have you ever felt threatened at work? Are your overtime wages not being paid? These common workplace scenarios are illegal under the state and local regulations in California. Unfortunately, not all employers respect their employees’ rights. It is therefore up to you to know what your boss can’t legally do in California to take action where necessary.
This article discusses California employee rights and how to seek legal justice against violations.
What Are the Legal Rights of Employees in California?
California’s Department of Industrial Relations Labor Enforcement Task Force (DIR) is a state agency that administers workplace laws that help protect employees in the public and private sector, and even job applicants during the hiring process. These rights include being paid minimum wage and overtime (for non exempt employees), receiving rest and meal breaks, workplace safety, workers’ compensation benefits, and unemployment benefits. California law also prohibits workplace discrimination.
These rights are available to all employees irrespective of an employee’s background and legal status. Hence, employers are obligated to offer these rights without any discrimination. Employers also many not retaliate against you for exercising your rights. You can always consult an employment law attorney to seek justice if you face these issues.
Let’s discuss these and some of the other things your boss can’t legally do under California employment law.
Discrimination and Harassment
Your workplace should be a safe environment where you can focus on your job and perform well. The environment should be free of employment discrimination or harassment, especially from your boss.
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law, are anti discrimination laws which prohibit employers from discriminating based on various protected characteristics, as well as workplace harassment. It includes but not limited to:
Race: Employers cannot treat California workers differently because of race or ethnicity.
Gender: Discrimination based on gender, including gender identity and expression, is unlawful.
Age: Employees of all ages are protected against age-based discrimination.
Disability: Employers must provide suitable accommodations to employees with disabilities and cannot discriminate based on disability status.
Religion: Discriminating against employees based on their religious beliefs or practices is prohibited.
Sexual Orientation: Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited.
Other Protected Characteristics: FEHA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also cover other characteristics such as national origin, marital status, pregnancy, etc.
The law also strictly prohibits employers from allowing harassment, including sexual harassment, in the workplace. Harassment can take various forms, including verbal, physical, or visual harassment.
Harassment that creates a hostile work environment can lead to serious emotional distress. The stress can also cause poor work performance, further jeopardizing your employment.
Employers are legally obligated to take prompt and effective measures to prevent and address discrimination and harassment. You can file a complaint against your employer if they violate these California employee rights.
Your boss also cannot retaliate against you for asserting your rights. Suppose you report discrimination, harassment, or workplace violations, or participate in a legally protected activity such as requesting equal pay, whistleblowing, or filing a workers compensation claim. In that case, your employer cannot take adverse employment action against you, such as firing, demoting, or harassing you.
California has robust whistleblower laws, ensuring that employees can report unlawful activities within their organizations without fear of retaliation. It encourages a culture of accountability and transparency in the workplace.
Violations of Wage and Hour Laws
Both federal and state wage and hours laws protect California employee rights. Here are the things your boss can’t legally do under these strict guidelines:
Every state has a minimum wage that employers must consider when determining fair compensation for employees. California’s minimum wage is $15.50/hour as of 2023, higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
However, the California Department of Finance has announced a new wage of $16.00 from 2024. This wage may apply earlier in some cities due to current economic conditions. You can seek legal action with the help of a reputable law firm if your employer pays below California’s minimum wage or federal minimum wage.
California labor laws also define rules for overtime pay. In California, non-exempt employees are entitled to pay for hours worked beyond 8 hours/workday or 40 hours/workweek. Overtime pay is typically calculated at one and a half times the regular hourly rate.
However, certain employees may be exempt from overtime laws. While most workers are hourly employees who are not exempt from overtime, exempt salaried employees must also earn a monthly fixed salary equivalent to no less than two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment in order to be exempt from overtime. Hence, it’s essential to know your classification and rights.
Meal and Rest Breaks:
California employee rights include meal and rest breaks during the shifts. Here’s what the majority of employees receive:
A continuous 30-minute meal break without pay when their workday exceeds five hours.
An extra 30-minute unpaid meal break when their workday extends beyond 12 hours.
A compensated 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work.
Your boss must provide these breaks, and you have the right to take them. Thus, employers cannot pressure you to skip or work through breaks.
Employers must withhold a portion of the wages paid to California residents for state income tax purposes. This withholding ensures that the individual’s state income tax liability is paid gradually throughout the year. Employers can also make deductions from wages for things authorized by the employee, such as health insurance or retirement plan contributions.
However, unauthorized wage deductions, such as a deduction for a cash register shortage or damaged equipment, are typically not allowed under the law, and can constitute wage theft. Employees must know these rights to understand if their boss is violating them, and may be entitled to recover unpaid wages.
Employers often intentionally or unintentionally misclassify employees as independent contractors to reduce payroll taxes, overtime, and minimum wage. This practice violates wage and hour laws, and results in the denial of various employee benefits (such as workers compensation coverage or unemployment insurance).
California law strictly prohibits employers from engaging in this behavior, and it is very difficult to properly classify a worker as an independent contractor under California employment law. Therefore, you must know your employment status and seek legal help from an employment law attorney if you think you may be misclassified as an independent contractor.
Working off the Clock:
One of the things your employer can’t legally do but may ask of you is to work “off the clock.” This happens if you are asked to do any of your work duties without your time being tracked (and consequently paid). Under California and federal law, an employer is required to keep an accurate record of all time spent working. Such records are also required to determine overtime pay.
Invasion of Privacy
Your boss cannot unnecessarily invade your privacy in the workplace. While employers have the right to monitor workplace activities to some extent, they must do so within legal boundaries. Monitoring, such as video cameras, should be related to legitimate business purposes. Furthermore, employers should inform employees of any monitoring in place.
Employers may legally monitor communications on company-owned phones or computers, so it is wise to conduct any personal communications on your own devices. Employers can also look at your publicly-available social media, however, they may not request that you provide access to private social media accounts.
Employers generally cannot terminate you or discipline you for your off-duty activities away from the workplace either, including political activity, as long as those activities are not unlawful.
Your employer may also not request medical records or other personal data except in limited situations relating to your ability to perform a job. Access to other personal records, such as credit reports and driving history, can be required in the context of a background check
Your boss cannot terminate your employment for unlawful reasons. In California, employment is generally considered “at-will,” meaning employers can terminate employees without cause. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
Wrongful termination based on discrimination, harassment, retaliation, breach of contract, or public policy violation is illegal. Consult with reputable California employment lawyers if you believe you were wrongfully terminated. They can help you understand your rights and pursue appropriate legal action if necessary.
Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodations
Your employer is legally obligated to offer reasonable accommodations to enable you to perform the essential functions of your job if you have a disability. If you have a disability that requires accommodation, you should contact your human resources department and request an accommodation, and they are required to engage in a good faith effort to accommodate you. These accommodations can take many forms, so long as they allow you to perform your job, and they do not cause the employer undue hardship. Some potential accommodations include making physical changes to the workplace, adjusting your work schedule, providing assistive devices or tools, or allowing you to use assistive devices in the workplace. This legal requirement ensures that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to thrive in the workplace.
Failure to provide these reasonable accommodations constitutes a violation of both federal and state laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at the federal level and the Fair Employment and Housing Act in California have clearly stated guidelines around these violations. If you feel your boss isn’t accommodating your disability, you should consult a .
How Do I File a Complaint Against an Employer in California?
If your employer is violating your rights, you can file a complaint. Here are the simple steps for doing so:
Gather Relevant Evidence
Identify the issue clearly and gather relevant evidence to support your claim. Any witness statements, emails, and documents proving your claims against your employer can strengthen your case.
You can contact your employer or human resources department to address the issue internally. Your workplace likely has an internal complaint procedure you can follow to resolve the issue without retaining an employment law attorney. Make sure that you follow the employer’s guidelines for making the complaint.
File a Complaint
You can file a complaint with a government agency if the actions taken by the internal committee aren’t satisfactory. Here are some agencies you can contact for different issues:
California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) or the U.S. Department of Labor for wage and hour law violations.
California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for discrimination and sexual harassment issues.
California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) for workplace safety issues.
Consult an Expert Employment Law Attorney
Consult expert California employment lawyers to navigate the legal complexities of California employment law. An employment law attorney can guide you through the process while protecting your rights. Make sure that you provide your attorney with any and all documentation and information necessary to allow them to evaluate and take action to preserve your rights.
Expert California Employment Lawyers at BLG Can Help You Sue Your Employer
Your workplace should be a safe environment free from harassment and discrimination where you can focus on your job and career growth. California employment law clearly states the things your boss can’t legally do. Ensure your rights and seek legal help if state or federal guidelines are violated.
Need an expert employment lawyer to win the case against your employer? Bourassa Law Group, an experienced employment law firm in California, has your back!
Let our seasoned California employment lawyers guide you, offering legal advice to safeguard your rights. Employment law matters, and we are determined to seek justice for your rights.
Contact us today to book a free consultation call.
The Bourassa Law Group
9440 Santa Monica Blvd #301
Beverly Hills CA 90210
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