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Employment Law FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:

Employment Law

A:

California law, as well as Federal law, protects emplyees from oppressive treatment in their employment based on a workers’ inclusion in a protected category: race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, etc., or where the worker has engaged in “protected activity”, i.e. exercised a legal right or refused to commit an illegal act. Employees are also protected from adverse employment action where they disclose illegal or unsafe employment practices to a government agency or, in many cases, to their own superiors; commonly referred to as a “whistleblower.” The following categorical explanations may be helpful in understanding the basic principles of the law in employment relationships. Generally, employees in California are classified as “at-will”, which means that the employer can terminate the employment realtionship at any time with or without cause and for any reason, good or bad. It likewise means that the employee may terminate the employment relationship at his or her will. The “at-will” employment doctrine gives the employer wide latitude in terminating the employer-employee relationship, however the employer’s ability to terminate an employee is tempered by the following legal principles:

Q:

Discrimination

A:

The law of DISCRIMINATION protects employees who fit into one or more of what are called “protected categories.” Examples of protected categories are: Race, Ethincity, National Origin, Sex, Sexual Orientation, Religion, Physical or Mental Disability, Age, or, in a fairly broad sense, Association. Employers are prohibited from treating employees who fall into one or more of these categories, differently from other workers who are similarly situated. Refusing to pay similar wages, promote, or treat equally in the terms, conditions and privileges of employment is illegal.

Q:

Harassment

A:

HARASSMENT is the creation of a hostile work environment based on an employee’s inclusion in the same DISCRIMINATORY “protected categories”, as detalied above, or as a form of retaliation as detailed below. HARASSMENT can come in the form of excessive and unwarrented verbal abuse or disciplinary action, epithets, poor performance evaluations, demotions, wage reductions or other adverse employment actions which have a negative impact on the employees’ work history. In the case of SEXUAL HARASSMENT, the illegal conduct manifests itself in two ways, which may work seperately or together; QUID PRO QUO: sexual favors for preferential treatment in your employment, or, HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT: which is the exposure to unwanted sexual jokes, sexually charged photographs, crude and offensive palaver, or being treated differently as a member of the opposite sex. Sexual Harassment laws are applicable to both male and female employees. Employees who are harassed usually experience shame, emotional discomfort, embarassment and humiliation as a result of harassment.

Q:

Retaliation

A:

RETALIATION cases arise from incidents where the employee has engaged in “protected activity”, i.e. exercised a legal right which has had some negative residual effect on the employer or the employee has refused to perform an illegal act for the employer. Examples include an employee being absent from work for extended periods due to a medical condition, or “whistleblowing” -reporting the employer’s illegal or unsafe business practices causing govermental investigations into the employer’s business practices. When this occurs, the employer usually directs its anger at the employee which often results in the employer taking retaliatory or “adverse employment action” against the employee; i.e. unwarrented discipline, unfavorable transfers, demotion, poor performance reviews, verbal abuse or termination. Retaliatory acts on the part of the employer are usually designed to make the employee’s life more difficult in an attempt to make the employee quit their employment.

Q:

Wrongful Termination

A:

With certain exceptions, an “at-will” employee may be terminated for any reason with or without cause. However, an employee may not be terminated for their inclusion in a “protected category” or for complaining about harassment or discrimination. Nor can an employee be terminated for reporting an employer’s illegal conduct or safety violations (commonly referred to as “whistleblowing”), engaging in certain legal activities within or outside the employment, or refusing to perform an illegal act relating to the employment.

Q:

Breach of Contract

A:

Certain written or verbal agreements may be binding as a contract for employment and is and exception to the “at-will” employment doctrine in California. It is different than an “employment agreement”, which usually means that the employee is at-will and does not constitute a contract for employment. If you have an employment cotnract, your rights and obligations are different than those of an “at-will” employee and you should contact this office for an opinion as to your status as an employee or independent contractor.