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San Diego Employment Law Lawyer
Millions of Californians live paycheck-to-paycheck due to the state’s high housing costs. Many employees fear losing their jobs if they raise sexual harassment or hostile work environment concerns, leaving them without their rent payments. Hourly workers even willingly forgo earned overtime in response to immigration and termination threats. While both California and the federal government have extensive wage and labor complaint resources, fear of retaliation often silences San Diego’s oppressed workers.
Our dedicated employment law attorneys can confidentially help claimants file wage and labor complaints, recover needed compensation, and defend against retaliatory tactics. Our experienced San Diego sexual harassment lawyers offer eligible claimants a no recovery, no fee guarantee. Schedule your free case analysis today.
COVID-19 Employee Rights in California
As employees slowly return to the office, it’s important to understand how COVID-19 impacts workers’ rights. California passed emergency pandemic safety and leave protocols addressing the ongoing health crisis. Most San Diego workers currently have the right to:
- Take up to two weeks of paid sick leave to recuperate from COVID, care for dependents with COVID, receive the vaccine, and recover from vaccine side-effects
- Receive protected leave to care for children with daycare/school closings due to coronavirus
- Report unsafe work conditions to federal or state authorities without retaliation
- Receive face coverings, personal protective equipment, adjusted work conditions to prevent exposure, and effective training to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the workplace
- Receive an employer-developed health safety plan in your language
- Stop working due to dangerous COVID-19 health and safety violations
- Request state or federal safety inspections
Employers may not retaliate against employees reporting COVID-19 violations to the state or OSHA in good faith. Retaliation may include reducing hours, terminating the employee, or creating hostile work environments. Aggrieved employees may recover back pay with interests and penalties if San Diego employers violated pandemic safety protocols and retaliated against outspoken employees. Always speak with a dedicated employment lawyer before you stop working due to COVID-19 to ensure you’re protected under state and federal law.
Minimum Wage & Overtime Protections in San Diego
California is gradually increasing the state minimum wage until 2023. Currently, eligible employees enjoy either a $14/$13 hourly minimum wage in California and San Diego County. However, workers within San Diego City limits must receive $14 per hour for city work. These minimums apply regardless of immigration status or the method of payment, and the state does not request social security numbers or identification to report minimum wage violations. Employees must also receive 1.5 times their normal hourly rate – generally, at least $21/$19.5 per hour – for every hour worked over 40 hours during their typical work week.
Many employers unlawfully attempt to avoid overtime pay by offering cash payments or adjusting worker rates/hours. Hourly workers cannot waive minimum wage and overtime rates, and employers requesting the same violate state law. These serious wage abuses may result in back pay, interest, and penalties. Employees wishing to report wage and overtime violations – including unpaid wages, unpaid final paychecks, uncompensated leave, unpaid commission, and unlawful withholdings – may file wage claims with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. However, minimum wage laws do not apply to most salaried employees and independent contracts (1099s). Discuss your eligibility for minimum wage and overtime protections within San Diego with a local wage and overtime attorney.
Understanding and Demanding Fair Compensation under the California Equal Pay Act
The California Equal Pay Act, codified in Labor Code § 1197.5, prohibits employers from paying similarly situated employees at different rates based on gender or race. Essentially, it addresses the known pay disparities between male and female employees. A lawyer might help employees file equal pay complaints if lower-paid employees perform substantially similar work to higher-paid employees of the opposite gender or different race. Similar work typically means similar working conditions, responsibilities, education, training, and experience.
However, wage differentials may lawfully be based on the following:
- Different job descriptions and tasks
- Seniority systems
- Merit systems
- Commission-based earnings
- Good faith factors other than gender or race consistent with business necessity
For example, employers may lawfully pay a male employee with a Master's Degree more than a female employee without a Master's Degree if his degree serves legitimate business interests, such as it allows him to reach more clients. Employers could not, however, use his degree as an excuse to pay female employees less if it serves no legitimate purpose within the industry. Companies subject to equal pay complaints frequently defend cases by pointing out experiential, production, and educational differences between employees. However, the employer must show that these factors account for the entire wage discrepancy. The state keeps complainants' names confidential during the investigative process, and it's illegal for employers to retaliate against employees requesting good faith equal pay reviews.
Fighting Against Workplace Harassment in San Diego
California recognizes and prohibits both sexual harassment and hostile work harassment (hostile work environments). Both claims may involve co-workers, supervisors, and business owners. Corporate employers may also bear liability for their employees' harassing behaviors if they knew about the conduct and did not take immediate remedial action. If you experienced or witnessed workplace harassment in San Diego, our employment attorneys might help you confidentially report these claims.
Defining and Fighting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Over 80% of women and 40% of men report experiencing sexual harassment, and many such claims arise from power discrepancies in the workplace. Sexual harassment often includes verbal comments, unwanted sexual touching, and cyber harassment. Many victims also experienced stalking, intimidating behaviors, and sexual assault. Workplace sexual harassment (2 CCR § 11019) often leads to hostile work environments and includes multiple minor incidents (or one major incident) of the following:
- Unwanted touching, either directly or through an object
- Inappropriate jokes, sexual innuendos, degrading comments, and racial/sexual slurs delivered verbally, electronically, or in writing
- Any direct or implied threats
- Blocking doorways or interfering with workplace movement either directly or by implied threats
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Requests for sexual favors in exchange for certain employment benefits or advancements
Employers bear responsibility for co-worker harassment if the employer knows about the alleged harassment and fails to take immediate corrective action. This action should remedy any discovered harassment, including terminating or transferring harassing employees. Ignoring harassment complaints, protecting harassing employees, or delaying investigations generally results in employer liability. Employers may not retaliate against employees for reporting harassment or pursuing compensation in good faith. This includes creating hostile work environments by isolating, shaming, threatening, or subtly penalizing victimized employees.
Understanding Hostile Work Environments and Non-Sexual Harassment
Most intention labor law violations, including minimum wage violations and sexual harassment, also involve hostile work environments. While sexual harassment is the most commonly reported type of workplace harassment, harassment also includes unlawful behaviors targeting employees for their race, disability, pregnancy, gender, religion, military service, and sexual orientation. Bullying behaviors create unlawful hostile work environments if inappropriate actions create abusive work atmospheres.
The laws prohibiting hostile work environments in California cover a broad range of behaviors. Such behaviors commonly include racial slurs, inappropriate jokes, abusive emails and cartoons, implied threats, and other conduct interfering with your comfort and work production. A San Diego employment attorney might help you determine whether certain behaviors qualify as non-sexual harassment creating a hostile workplace.
Pursuing Federal Workplace Discrimination Claims
Various state and federal civil rights laws prevent workplace discrimination based on employee characteristics unrelated to performance and conduct. These include:
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act – These laws prevent discrimination against employees over 40 for reasons unrelated to job performance. Unlawful conduct generally includes firing older employees solely to reduce retirement benefits or make room for younger prospects.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act – Generally prevents employers from reducing pregnant employees' work hours (unrelated to legitimate health and safety), terminating pregnant employees to avoid maternity benefits laws, or refusing to rehire returning mothers under the same conditions.
- Americans with Disabilities Act – Prevents discrimination unrelated to job performance and conduct for qualifying disabilities. The law also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, such as purchasing a modular ramp to increase workspace access.
- Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act – Protects current and retired military personnel, including those from Naval Base San Diego, from discrimination based on the potential for deployment, transfer, or other military-based characteristics.
Equal Opportunity Employment (EEO) laws also prevent employers from discriminating against employees (prospective, current, or former) due to their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or disability. Discrimination may include refusing to hire, offering lower salaries, reducing hours/wages, terminating, or otherwise oppressing employees in these protected classes. To qualify for compensation, which may include punitive damages for intentional discrimination, workers must prove that their employer acted against them due to their protected characteristics.
Examples include suddenly reducing employee hours after reporting a pregnancy, threatening and paying immigrants less because of their national identity, or refusing to hire an African-American candidate because of subliminal racial prejudice. If you believe an employer took negative actions against you because of certain protected characteristics, discuss your rights with a San Diego unlawful discrimination lawyer.
Addressing and Preventing Workplace Retaliation & Wrongful Termination in San Diego
It’s often the rule – not exception – that employees standing up for their rights will experience some form of employer retaliation. This could include direct retaliatory conduct, including firing or disciplining the employee, or more subtle types of workplace revenge. California prohibits retaliatory conduct related to reporting and pursuing good faith labor violation claims. This includes blowing the whistle on widespread safety, financial, tax, health, payroll, leave, and insurance violations.
Claimants might even recover specialized compensation for doing so. To claim certain retaliation protections, it's important to discuss your claims with a San Diego employment attorney. Triggering some protections requires employees to file state or federal administrative complaints and cooperate with investigations.
Defining Retaliation under California Labor Laws
Most employers understand that immediately firing employees who file sexual harassment complaints creates a prima facie case of retaliation. As such, supervisors may engage in more subliminal punishments or behaviors designed to force employees to resign (constructive wrongful termination). Retaliation may include the following conduct:
- Creating hostile work environments
- Industry blacklisting
- Threatening and engaging in intimidating conduct
- Demoting or denying promotions and raises
- Isolating or ostracizing the employee
- Transferring the employee or negatively altering her workspace and job description
- Suddenly accusing employees of poor performance and changing job expectations
- Terminating or laying off complaining employees
- Taking disciplinary actions or filing vengeful wrongful conduct reports
- Reducing pay, hours, and benefits
Claimants reporting equal pay, minimum wage/overtime, sexual harassment, and discrimination claimants might recover lost income, benefits, and punitive damages for retaliation. These claims are actionable in addition to underlying unlawful conduct claims.
Understanding Wrongful Termination & Constructive Termination Claims
Wrongful termination claims include terminations based on protected status, but they more generally allege that an employer terminated an employee for unlawful reasons. Examples include retaliation, refusing to perform sexual favors, or asking for protected medical leave. Because San Diego employees can be terminated with or without cause – called at-will employment – claimants must link the termination to the unlawful conduct. This generally means providing testimony about how your termination coincided with the illegal event, medical records (if necessary), and termination paperwork.
Your employment lawyer and labor investigators can generally use this information to conduct more thorough investigations, which commonly reveal additional violations and victims. Even if employers attempt to avoid wrongful termination claims by creating difficult work situations, you might quit and file claims under a theory of constructive wrongful termination.
Schedule a Confidential San Diego Employment Law Case Review Today
Our San Diego employment attorneys help clients recover lost income, fight unlawful discrimination, and address workplace harassment without any upfront costs. Our labor law lawyers often work with individual claimants and groups of employees to confidentially assess their concerns, and if necessary, file protected complaints and lawsuits. Discuss your San Diego labor law claims with our experienced legal team by scheduling your free case analysis today.