Employee FAQ: Understanding Worker Rights and Responsibilities in California

Do Employees in California Have Rights in the Workplace?

All employees have basic rights. What those rights are can vary by state, but there are some that are the same across the board. Employees have a 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.  

As an (Non-exempt) employee in California, you also have the right to:

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

Federal and state laws establish rights and implement systems to address violations of rights. Always speak to an employment law lawyer in Los Angeles if you work in the area and believe your rights have been violated.

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 and whether or not the employer violated a law or public policy in doing so. For example, an employer may not terminate your employment due to your protected class, such as 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.

Even if you are an at-will employee, that does not mean you were not terminated wrongfully. There are specific reasons for termination that can make it unlawful. 

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

Determining whether or not your termination was wrongful can be a complicated task, and the rules for determination vary by state. 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? 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 do not constitute wrongful termination.

Do I Have to Work Overtime in California?

In short, the answer is yes, your employer may require that you work overtime. In California, absent a collective bargaining agreement for union workers, alternative workweek schedules and for some specific professions, the employer must pay no less than 1.5 times the regular rate of pay or two times the regular rate of pay for overtime. There are no limits to the number of hours an employee over the age of 16 can work in one week.   

Can I Take a Rest or Meal Break during Work Hours in California?

The FLSA does not require meal or rest breaks. As such, their availability really depends on state laws, and those vary widely. In California, Meal Periods are provided for every five hours of work for non-exempt employees, with some exceptions.  In California, rest periods of no less than 10 uninterrupted minutes are typically required for every four hours of work or every major fraction thereof. F

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. 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. California has a State sponsored protection that largely mirrors the FMLA described below. 

The FMLA only applies to companies of a certain size (50 or more employees).

The California Family Rights Act has additional protections which may provide 12 weeks of job protected leave each year to care for yourself or family members. Depending on the circumstances for taking this leave, the FMLA and CFRA leave may either run concurrently or you may use them separately. 

If I Quit or am Terminated, What Happens If the Employer Withholds My Last Paycheck in California?

You must receive payment in full for the time that you worked within 24 hours of your termination. Even if you resigned, the employer is required to pay you all wages owed within 72 hours of your resignation. A failure to pay these amounts can result in increased penalties onto the employer. 

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 your state's fair employment agency, in California that is the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the California Civil Rights Department. You may also bring your complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An attorney can also 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, suspended, reduce the employee's hours or transferred to a less desirable position or locaiton. 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 or misconduct.

Contact an Employment Law Attorney in Los Angeles Today

If you believe your employer has violated your rights under federal or state law, our employment law lawyer in Los Angeles can review your case and advise you of any legal action you can (and should) take. At Miller Wilmers APC, we uphold the rights and interests of our clients and work toward making sure employers do the same. Contact us using our online form or call us at 661-312-8370 to schedule a Free Consultation today.

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