California Employee Rights Lawyers | Valerian Law
Workplaces should be safe places that pay you fairly. Sadly, many workers experience illegal and unfair working conditions. At Valerian Law, we help workers experiencing illegal work situations, such as wage theft, misclassification, unequal pay, unsafe workplaces, retaliation, and discrimination. We recover compensation, protect careers, and improve workplaces through individual and class action cases.
It can be challenging to navigate the many laws and regulations regarding labor and employment rights on your own. Our labor and employment attorneys can assist you regardless of whether you are an employee looking for information about harassment in the workplace or you have come across large-scale violations and need to file a whistleblower lawsuit.
We are here to help with all your employee rights questions and needs.
What Are My Rights As An Employee In California?
California employment law protects employee rights in a number of ways. At our firm, we understand the best ways to utilize the legal system to your advantage.
Types Of Employment Cases We Handle
Our California labor and employment attorneys have experience handling the following types of disputes:
Most employees are at-will employees. This means their employer can terminate their employment at any time for almost any reason.
But there are many exceptions to at-will employment in California law. An employee who loses his or her job for wrongful reasons has the ability to seek remedies under California wrongful termination law. If your employer fires you in violation of an implied contract or in violation of public policy, you may have the right to compensation.
California employees also have the right to be free from wrongful termination (or wrongful failure to promote or demotion):
In violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act
Due to failure to provide reasonable accommodation for disability
As retaliation for a qui tam lawsuit
In violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s whistleblower protections
Because of the employees’ political speech or activities outside of work
Additionally, you may be eligible for back pay and benefits under California's WARN Act. This will apply if you lose your job as part of a mass layoff or business closure/relocation with less than 60 days' notice.
Wage and Hour Disputes
Workers come to us for help with resolving issues related to wages including unpaid overtime, recovering wages that have been wrongfully calculated, unfair clock-in and clock-out timekeeping, not getting breaks, and disputing wage theft.
California wage and hour law sets minimum standards for
Meal breaks and rest breaks
Hours of work
Itemized wage statements
The company must also pay overtime to non-exempt employees (time and a half). This starts when you work more than eight (8) hours in a day or forty (40) hours in a week. These are just some of the main areas of wage-and-hour protections in California.
Employers in California sometimes try to escape their wage and hour obligations by misclassifying employees. They do this by classifying hourly workers as salaried employees or independent contractors in order to circumvent wage and hour laws. Misclassification saves businesses a lot of money but costs workers dearly. California has recently improved protections for workers who are treated as independent contractors. That’s when a business claims you are not an employee at all, but a contractor. You should not be responsible for paying business expenses and you should get all the protections and benefits of proper employee status.
Keep this in mind — your employer CANNOT retaliate against you for bringing forth a wage and hour complaint or other labor complaints.
Pay Discrimination and Unequal Pay
California law prohibits pay differences (disparities based on sex, gender, race and ethnicity unless the employer proves valid (bona fide) other reasons that explain the full amount of the difference. The key for the employee make sure that the job of the higher-paid person qualifies as “substantially similar work.” Substantially similar work means substantially similar skill, effort, and responsibility. Importantly, the employee does not have to prove that a manager or the company was acting out of a biased motive.
California has some of the strongest equal pay laws in the country, and employers may face stiff penalties on top of unpaid wage damages. Employers can be on the hook even if they were not intending to discriminate. And, it is up to the employers to justify the pay differentials for workers doing the same or substantially similar work.
California workers also have the right to disclose their own wages and salaries. Gag rules cannot be imposed to bar employees from talking about their pay (or other working conditions). Employees also have the protected right to ask their companies for the salary scale that applies to them. Meanwhile, even when applying for a job, job applicants cannot be asked for their salary history information. Employers cannot use prior salary to justify sex, race or ethnicity-based pay differences.
In California, workers can seek what is called liquidated damages, or double damages, as well as civil penalties, for violations of the California Equal Pay Act and Fair Pay Act. Employees must act soon to protect their rights, because each paycheck could trigger a deadline for legal action.
Valerian Law is skilled and experienced at enforcing Equal Pay protections for California employees. If you believe that another worker of a different sex/gender or race/ethnicity was paid more for the same or substantially similar work, we can assess whether you have a strong claim and walk you through your legal options.
Discrimination involves job decisions – such as hiring, firing, and setting work conditions – that are conducted in a discriminatory manner. California employment discrimination law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on:
Race, color or ethnicity
National origin and ancestry
Age (40 and over)
Gender identity, gender expression
Pregnancy (including childbirth, breastfeeding)
Disability and medical condition, mental and physical
California employment discrimination law also prohibits employers from discriminating because of the employer’s perception that that the worker has a protected trait or because the worker has associated with or advocated for coworkers who have these protected traits.
Employers that commit or fail to address discrimination in the workplace may be held accountable by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
If you believe you have faced discrimination in the workplace due to your race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, disability, or age, our team can help you assess your legal options and determine the best course forward. We represent employees in DFEH and EEOC complaints and in discrimination lawsuits.
The Federal Civil Rights Act and various California state laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act, help to protect against workplace harassment. Harassment is mistreatment based on a protected class to the point of creating a “hostile work environment."
California and federal law prohibit sexual harassment at work, which may take the form of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. The law also prohibits quid pro quo harassment, in which employees are offered rewards for sexual acts at work.
If you believe that you have been harassed at work, you should file a harassment complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). If the DFEH issues you a "right to sue" notice, you may take legal action.
The California attorneys at Valerian Law can advise you on the best course of action if you experience any kind of harassment at work.
Family and Medical Leave Laws
California employees have the right to various forms of protected family and medical leave under state and federal laws that include the:
Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
California Family Rights Act (CFRA)
Both the FMLA and the CFRA provide employees with the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn biological child, a newly adopted child, a seriously ill family member, or a serious illness of their own.
For California workers, CFRA will apply if the following criteria is met:
You have worked for your employer for at least 1 year
You have worked for that employer for at least 1,250 hours in the past year
Your employer has at least 5 employees, which include remote employees
California employment law also requires employers to provide other forms of employee leave:
Paid sick leave (some of which may be used to care for an ill family member)
Bereavement leave (when offered by company policy)
Alcohol and drug rehabilitation leave
Leave to serve on a jury or comply with a subpoena
Leave to obtain relief from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking
Leave to receive literacy education
Leave for victims of crime
Leave to participate in children’s school activities
California employers may NOT retaliate against employees who take the family, medical or other protected leave that is provided by law. And in most cases, they are required to reinstate you in your previous position when you return from leave.
Employment Contracts & Severance Contracts
There are two types of contracts for employment: written and implied. Written contracts specify wages, time off, and termination reasons, whereas implied contracts are those derived from oral or written statements made by an employer or employee as well as from company policies.
There may be instances in which your employer has breached your employment contract. This occurs in cases of termination, employee discipline, working conditions, job expectations, or not paying hazard duty pay. You can take action in those cases.
Employees in California should also be aware that their employment contracts contain clauses that restrict their behavior. California laws contain many detailed rules about the types of clauses that are legal and illegal. A typical employment contract could include these clauses:
Non-compete clauses restricting your ability to leave your employer to work for a competing company or start your own company
Non-solicitation clauses that restrict your activities after you leave your employer
Confidentiality clauses that restrict what you can or cannot say about various aspects of your job
IP ownership clauses stating that any inventions or innovations that you develop while working for the employer belong to the employer (i.e. patents or copyright)
Workers often feel the fine print is too much to handle. Sometimes, employees do have the power to get better contracts. But oftentimes, employees feel that there is nothing to do about one-sided contracts. It is common for employers to present employment contracts as “take it or leave it.” It’s fair to wonder what legal protections exist when employees feel they have no choice.
These are questions that require individual attention. Before signing a new employment agreement or a severance or separation agreement, employees should consult qualified counsel. At Valerian Law, we routinely help employees navigate employment contract negotiations with prompt and individualized customized consultation and negotiation services..
Employee privacy rights are a complex area that our California employment lawyers keep current on. Some of the major topics in California employee privacy law include whether employers can:
Ask about job applicants’ criminal records
Use an employee’s medical records and history
Monitor employees’ internet usage
Drug tests employees
Check credit ratings
The labor and employment law attorneys at Valerian Law are committed to helping employees explore their rights to privacy and enforce these rights through the legal process when necessary.
California Employment Law and Immigration
It is a sad reality that employers sometimes take advantage of immigrant employees, both those who are here legally and those who are undocumented.
California general labor laws and laws against harassment and discrimination apply to ALL employees, including undocumented immigrants. "Immigration retaliation" is illegal and subject to significant penalties.
Are you in the U.S. on a visa sponsored by your employer? If so, you may also feel uncertain about asserting your rights. It's possible that you feel that you "owe" your employer for the sponsorship. Or maybe you're concerned that your company won't help you renew your visa if you assert your rights.
Nevertheless, workers on H-1B visas are entitled to the same labor protections as any other California employee. There are numerous rules and regulations surrounding the H-1B program as well. Your employer knows this. They have to follow the law if they wish to continue hiring H-1B workers.
At Valerian Law, we make sure to provide customized advice to our clients who are immigrants. We know that immigrant workers may have special concerns that must be thoroughly considered through collaboration with qualified counsel.
The Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) of California allows private citizens to pursue civil penalties that would normally only be available to the State of California. For instance, under this law, private citizens can pursue civil penalties for violations suffered by other employees in addition to the compensation they can seek for personal circumstances.
It can be frightening to launch a lawsuit, or even threaten one, against an employer. Many employees view their workplace as a second home and their coworkers as family. You may also be afraid that if you assert your rights against an employer you will have trouble finding a new job.
The attorneys at Valerian Law are experienced in the procedures for employment litigation. We can also assist you in filing complaints with administrative agencies such as the:
California Department of Fair Employment and Housing
California Labor Commissioner
United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
United States Department of Labor
Statute Of Limitations To Sue
The "statute of limitations" is a legal rule that dictates that a lawsuit arising from an accident or violation must be filed within a certain time limit, otherwise the person's legal case will be barred and their right to sue will be permanently lost. You must file claims for the following before these time limits:
Harassment, discrimination, or retaliation: 1 year after the DFEH or EEOC gives the employee a “right to sue” notice is the deadline to file in court. Before you get a right-to-sue notice from the DFEH, you must meet a 3-year deadline to file an administrative complaint with the DFEH. For the EEOC, the deadline to file with the EEOC is 300 days. The application
Retaliation and Wrongful Termination: There are filing deadlines at the 1 year, 2 year and 3 year marks.
Breach of oral contract: 2 years after the breach
Failure to pay wages: 3 years after non-payment
Breach of written contract: 4 years after the breach
In addition: Public employees in California might be subject to a 6-month deadline for presenting a money claim as a precursor to a lawsuit.
Statutes of limitations and other filing deadlines are complicated, and consultation with qualified counsel is necessary to determine your deadlines.
Consult Our Employee Rights Attorneys
At Valerian Law, our attorneys know that every employment case is different. We want to hear your full story so that we can determine the best legal strategy for your legal issues. We are committed to fighting for equal opportunity and fair treatment for all employees. Call our law office today or use the contact form on this page to schedule a consultation.