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Orange County Employment Law Lawyer
The employer-employee relationship is an important one, and most people in Orange County rely on their employment to support themselves and their households. Too often, employers try to take advantage of employees or engage in mistreatment since they know they have greater bargaining power. Fortunately, both federal and state laws provide employees with significant protections to ensure they have a suitable working environment.
California has some of the most employee-friendly laws in the United States, though many employees still have their rights violated in different ways at the workplace. If you believe that your employer has violated the law, you might have important legal protections. You should never hesitate to contact our Orange County employment law firm for assistance.
The following are some examples of employment cases we handle. To discuss the best course of action in your specific situation, do not hesitate to contact our office for a case evaluation.
There are several laws that prohibit employers in Orange County from engaging in unfair treatment of applicants or employees based on certain factors. In California, protected factors include:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or expression
- National origin
- Age (over 40)
- Marital status
- Medical condition
- Genetic information
- Military status
No employment decisions can be based on any of these factors, including hiring or promotion decisions, pay rates, terminations, and more. In addition, employers may not implement policies that unfairly impact a protected group of employees.
Some examples of discriminatory conduct might include:
- Refusing to hire an applicant because they appear to have a disability
- Asking about someone’s marital status on a job application
- Paying a female employee less than a male employee for similar work
- Not allowing an employee to work in a customer-facing job due to religious headwear
- Firing someone after finding out they are in a same-sex relationship
- Laying off an older employee and replacing them with a younger one
Anyone who is a victim of such discrimination at work has the right to hold the employer accountable for violating the law and the employee’s rights. Employees can seek lost wages and other losses they incurred.
Often, employers will deny that such decisions were for discriminatory reasons. They will come up with another pretextual reason for the decision, and it is the plaintiff’s job to then prove that the given reason was, in fact, pretext. This can be a challenging legal task, and anyone in this situation needs an experienced employment attorney handling their case.
Another aspect of employment is discrimination involves reasonable accommodations. Employees may request reasonable accommodations from an employer to help them perform their jobs in light of disabilities or religious beliefs. For instance, an employee might request special technology for a phone system due to hearing impairment or accessible meeting rooms due to physical impairments. An employee might request break times to align with prayer times or the ability to go against hair or dress codes due to religious beliefs.
Employers may only deny such a request if they can show the reasonable accommodation would cause undue hardship to the company. This is a high bar, and most reasonable accommodations should be granted. If not, and if the employer does not have good reason to refuse, the employee has the right to take legal action against the employer.
Harassment based on protected characteristics is also prohibited in workplaces under state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Harassment is considered to be a form of unlawful discrimination. Sexual harassment is the most commonly reported type, though such conduct can occur based on an employee’s age, race, disability, or other reasons. No matter what type of harassment you’re the victim of, our Orange County sexual harassment lawyers can help.
Many harassment cases involve a hostile work environment. This occurs when someone’s harassing conduct rises to a certain unlawful level. Keep in mind that an isolation comment or joke might not constitute unlawful harassment for the purposes of a legal claim. Instead, the conduct must be offensive enough or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.
If you believe you are working in a hostile work environment, you should immediately report the matter to your employer, such as to a supervisor or human resources department. If your employer fails to take sufficient action to stop the harassing conduct, you can hold them liable for subjecting you to a hostile work environment. If the situation persists after you make your complaint, and it is so intolerable that you cannot keep going to work, you might quit and then hold your employer liable for constructive discharge. If you’re thinking about quitting for this reason, it is never a bad idea to first discuss the matter with an employment lawyer.
There is another type of sexual harassment that can occur at work, which is referred to as quid pro quo harassment. This harassment comes from a boss or someone else who is in charge of your employment decisions. This individual might:
- Offer job benefits or promotion if you agree to engage in sexual activity
- Threaten termination or other adverse employment action if you refuse to engage in sexual activity
This is such a serious situation that your employer does not get the opportunity to take action to avoid liability. Your employer is automatically liable if an authority figure engages in quid pro quo harassment, and you should seek help from an Orange County employment lawyer immediately.
Wage and Hour Issues
The California Labor Code has significantly more progressive requirements for employers than federal law. Such requirements for non-exempt employees include:
- Paying the state-mandated minimum wage (which is set to hit $15 per hour for all employers by 2023)
- Paying 1.5 times the usual hourly rate for overtime hours
- Paying two times the usual hourly rate for double-time hours
- Providing adequate meal and rest breaks
- Providing paid sick leave as accrued in accordance with the law
- Providing a last paycheck within the specified time
- Compensating employees on final paychecks for accrued and unused vacation time
- Paying employees for all hours worked, including setup and clean up
Many wage and hour cases involve employees who are seeking unpaid wages because their employers violated one or more labor law provisions. If there are several employees who suffered the same losses from the same employer, they might be eligible to file a class action lawsuit and bring the case all at the same time. This can save everyone time and resources. Whether you have a wage concern on your own or you have a group of people with the same concern, you should have an Orange County employment law lawyer evaluate your options.
Employers are also required to accurately classify employees as exempt or non-exempt, as well as employees or independent contractors. Many cases arise because someone was improperly classified, which often means they were denied their rightful compensation or benefits under the law. Our experienced attorneys can review your situation and advise whether you might have been misclassified and, if so, whether you are owed back pay.
Employment laws provide many rights to employees, including the right to make valid requests or to complain of unlawful or unethical conduct of their employers. Too many employees fail to come forward with requests or complaints because they fear their employers might take negative action against them for doing so.
The good news is that the law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise a legal right. The bad news is that employers regularly engage in such retaliation anyhow. If you believe you suffered unlawful retaliation, you should allow our legal team to review your options.
Workplace retaliation can happen for many reasons, such as:
- Complaining of unlawful discrimination
- Complaining of unlawful harassment or hostile work environment
- Complaining of possible wage and hour violations
- Complaining of health and safety violations
- Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability or religious beliefs
- Filing a claim for workers’ compensation
- Requesting qualified family and medical leave or pregnancy disability leave
- Reporting violations or unlawful acts by an employer to authorities or government agencies
If any of the above applies to you, and you suffered an adverse employment action, you might have been the victim of retaliation.
When many people think of an employer retaliating against them, they might first think of getting fired. However, retaliatory acts can include much more than termination, and retaliation is often more subtle.
Retaliation can involve any type of adverse employment act, including:
- Refusing a promotion or pay raise you deserved
- Demotion or pay reduction
- Reduction of hours or denial of your usual overtime
- Getting switched to less desirable shifts or assignments
- Disciplinary action
- Poor - and undeserved - performance reviews
- Being excluded from important meetings or decisions
Any of these retaliatory actions could damage your career, and you have the right to hold your employer liable. However, proving retaliation can be challenging since your employer is likely to deny it. You want the right employment attorney in Orange County on your side.
California is an at-will employment state, which means that your employer can terminate your employment at any time for any reason, as can you. That said, your employer cannot terminate you for a reason that has been deemed legally impermissible.
Legally impermissible reasons for termination include the following:
- Discriminatory reasons - Employers cannot fire you because you are a member of a protected class, such as due to your race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics, as discussed above.
- Retaliatory reasons - Employers cannot fire you in retaliation for complaining of violations, requesting qualified leave or benefits, or exercising other legal rights, as discussed above.
- Reasons that violate public policy - Employers are prohibited from firing an employee for reasons that violate public policy, which includes engaging in an activity protected by the law. This can include termination for whistleblowing, fulfilling a legal right or duty such as voting or serving jury duty, or refusing to engage in illegal activity requested by an employer.
Wrongful termination can also occur in the context of an employment contract. While California is an at-will employment state, and many employment relationships are at will, some companies request for employees to sign employment contracts. These contracts can have various provisions, but most of them include:
- A term of employment
- The requirement that the employer (and employee) must have good cause to terminate the employment relationship early
If an employer fires an employee before the contract expires and does not have good cause as required by the contract, it can constitute wrongful termination.
Bringing Employment Law Claims
The process of holding your employer or former employer liable for violating your rights will vary depending on what type of claim you have. Different agencies enforce laws regarding discrimination than enforce wage and hour laws, and there can be different procedures to seek relief or different remedies available.
It is important to have an Orange County employment law attorney on your team to navigate the right process for you. Some relief that employees might obtain in successful employment law claims can include one or more of the following:
- Unpaid wages
- Lost earnings from lost promotions or termination
- Penalties for violations of certain wage and hour laws
- Damages for emotional distress
- Reinstatement to a previous position
- Changes in the employer’s policies to prevent future violations
We can evaluate the remedies that you might be entitled to under the law and file the proper claims against your employer to seek the relief that you deserve.
Speak with an Orange County Employment Law Attorney Right Away
Whether you suffered unlawful discrimination or harassment at work, your employer failed to pay you full wages, or you experienced work-related retaliation for exercising a lawful right, you need legal help to ensure your rights are protected. Our law firm is dedicated to representing employees in and around Orange County, and we never represent employers in these cases.
Even if you are unsure about your rights, you should get counsel from an experienced Orange County employment lawyer. Contact our office for more information and a free case evaluation as soon as you can.