Employment Law

How to Prove Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination in the workplace is not just a moral issue; it’s also a legal one. In California, employees have protections against such discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). However, knowing you’re protected and proving discrimination are two different things. Contact our San Diego disability lawyers to further evaluate your case and fight for your rights to get you maximum compensation you deserve.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation Today!

What Constitutes Disability Discrimination?

Under FEHA, disability discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee or job applicant unfavorably because of their disability. This includes not only physical disabilities but also mental health conditions and perceived disabilities.

Establishing Your Case: Key Elements

Proving disability discrimination involves demonstrating several key elements:

You Have a Disability or Are Perceived to Have One

Under the FEHA, a disability broadly includes any condition that limits one or more major life activities.

These life activities include physical tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, working, and major bodily functions.

Both physical and mental disabilities fall under FEHA. This inclusive definition recognizes a wide range of conditions as disabilities, from mobility impairments to mental health disorders.

To establish your disability, you may need medical documentation from a healthcare provider that should detail how your condition affects your major life activities.

FEHA also covers individuals perceived to have a disability, even if they do not. If an employer discriminates against an employee based on the belief that the employee has a disability, this falls under the scope of disability discrimination.

You Are Qualified for the Job

To claim protection under FEHA, you must demonstrate your qualifications for your job. This means you can perform the position’s essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation.

Essential functions are the fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual holds. They do not include the marginal functions of the position.

Evidence to establish your qualifications can include your job description, which outlines the essential functions of your job, and your employment records, such as performance reviews and evaluations.

These documents can demonstrate your ability to perform your job duties effectively. If you require reasonable accommodations to perform these functions, it’s important to clearly communicate this need to your employer.

You Suffered an Adverse Employment Action

An adverse employment action is any action the employer takes that negatively impacts your employment status. This can include termination, demotion, a reduction in pay or hours, denial of promotion, or reassignment to a less desirable position.

Even actions like exclusion from training or professional development opportunities can be adverse if they negatively affect your employment prospects.

Documenting these changes might include letters, emails, or notices from your employer, records of changes in your pay, hours, or responsibilities, and any other evidence that demonstrates how your employment status was adversely affected.

The Disability Was a Substantial Motivating Factor in the Adverse Action

Proving that your disability was a substantial factor in the employer’s decision to take an adverse action requires showing a direct link between your disability and the action taken by your employer.

Evidence might include the timing of the adverse action (such as being demoted shortly after disclosing a disability), inconsistent or shifting reasons provided by the employer for the action, or direct statements from decision-makers that suggest bias or discrimination.

Sometimes, circumstantial evidence can also demonstrate this link. For example, if an employer has a pattern of adverse actions against employees with disabilities or a noticeable difference in how disabled and non-disabled employees are treated, this can help establish that the disability was a substantial motivating factor.

You Need Medical Documentation

Medical documentation is a fundamental component in proving disability discrimination cases. This type of documentation, typically provided by a healthcare provider, should clearly establish the nature of your disability and how it impacts major life activities.

Additionally, it should outline any specific accommodations necessary for you to perform your job effectively.

The detail in the medical documentation should be comprehensive enough to clearly understand your condition without violating your privacy rights. This documentation not only confirms the existence of a disability as defined by the FEHA but also serves as a basis for any requests for reasonable accommodations.

Keep Your Employment Records

Your employment records are a key source of evidence demonstrating your qualifications and how you were treated compared to non-disabled employees. 

These records include your job description, which outlines the duties and responsibilities of your position, and performance reviews, which can provide a history of your work performance.

Performance reviews are particularly important as they can demonstrate your ability to perform essential job functions over time. A consistent record of positive performance evaluations can strongly counter any claims by an employer that your disability impacts your job performance.

In addition, records of any disciplinary actions or other official communications regarding your performance or conduct at work can be relevant.

If these records show a change in treatment or assessment of your performance after disclosing a disability or requesting accommodations, they can indicate discriminatory behavior.

Do You Have Communications Between You and Your Employer?

Communications between you and your employer, including emails, memos, and notes, can be used in a disability discrimination case. These documents can provide a timeline and context for how your employer responded to your disability and any requests for accommodations.

Email correspondence requesting accommodations and the responses to those requests can be particularly telling. They may reveal whether the employer engaged in the interactive process required by FEHA in good faith. Any written comments that suggest discomfort, bias, or unwillingness to accommodate your disability can be powerful evidence of discriminatory attitudes or practices.

Equally important are any informal notes or memos you might have kept detailing conversations or meetings. These personal records can help recall specific dates, times, conversations, and meetings, which might be crucial in establishing a pattern of discrimination or retaliation.

Witness Statements

Witness statements from colleagues or others in the workplace can provide valuable third-party perspectives on your job performance and the employer’s behavior. These statements can corroborate your account of events and provide additional context to the employer’s actions.

Vector design illustration depicting workplace discrimination, featuring an employee facing harassment and a disabled person advocating for equal employment opportunity.

Colleagues may offer insights into your work performance, interactions with supervisors, and any changes in treatment following the disclosure of a disability or a request for accommodations. They can also provide observations about the workplace culture and how other employees with disabilities are treated.

In cases where direct evidence of discrimination is not available, witness statements can be particularly impactful. They can help paint a broader picture of the work environment and the employer’s practices and attitudes toward employees with disabilities.

How to Document Everything

Detailed records of all interactions related to your disability and employment will form the backbone of your case. This includes keeping copies of medical documentation, emails, and written communication regarding your disability, requests for accommodations, and any instances of alleged discrimination or adverse employment actions.

Keep a personal log or diary, noting dates, times, and descriptions of relevant conversations and events. This documentation will serve as evidence should you need to pursue legal action or file a complaint.

Request Reasonable Accommodations

Under FEHA, employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations to effectively perform their job duties. If you need such accommodations, request them formally from your employer.

Make this request in writing and clearly state the specific accommodations you need based on your medical condition. Document the entire process, including your employer’s response to your request. This documentation can demonstrate whether or not your employer engaged in the required interactive process to determine appropriate accommodations.

File a Complaint

If you believe you have been a victim of disability discrimination, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Both agencies enforce laws against workplace discrimination.

Filing a complaint typically involves providing details of your case, including any evidence of discrimination. The DFEH or EEOC will then investigate your complaint, which may involve interviewing witnesses, reviewing documents, and working with your employer to resolve the issue.

Concept of law and order: A notebook labeled "DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION ACT" rests on the backdrop of the United States flag.

In California, under the DFEH, you generally have up to three years from the date of the discriminatory act to file a complaint. This extension from the previous one-year limit became effective on January 1, 2020. For complaints filed with the EEOC, the standard deadline is 300 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory act.

This timeframe applies if a state or local agency like the DFEH enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. If not, the deadline is 180 days from the date of the incident.

Common Misconceptions about Disability Discrimination

When it comes to disability discrimination in the workplace, several common misconceptions can create confusion and misunderstanding. It’s important to clarify these to ensure that employees and employers clearly understand their rights and responsibilities under the law. Here are some key misconceptions and the truths behind them:

Misconception 1: Only Physical Disabilities are Protected

Truth: A significant misconception is that only physical disabilities are covered under the FEHA. In reality, FEHA’s definition of disability is broad and inclusive. It covers not only physical impairments but also mental and psychological disabilities. This includes conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and learning disabilities.

Misconception 2: Temporary Conditions are Not Disabilities

Truth: Many people believe a disability must be permanent to be protected under the law. However, temporary disabilities can also be covered, especially if they significantly limit one or more major life activities. The key is not the duration of the impairment but its impact on your daily life and ability to work.

Misconception 3: Employers Aren’t Obligated to Accommodate Disabilities

Truth: Under FEHA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities as long as these accommodations don’t cause undue hardship to the business. This might include modifying work schedules, altering the work environment, or providing necessary equipment.

Employers must also engage in a timely, good-faith interactive process to determine appropriate accommodations.

Misconception 4: Asking for Accommodations is a Sign of Incompetence

Truth: Some employees may hesitate to ask for accommodations, fearing it might be seen as an admission that they cannot do their job. In reality, requesting accommodations is your right and is a recognized part of ensuring equality in the workplace.

These accommodations should give you the support you need to perform your job effectively, not to indicate that you are less capable than others.

Misconception 5: All Disabilities Are Visible

Truth: A common misunderstanding is that disabilities are always visible. However, many disabilities are not immediately apparent, such as chronic illnesses, mental health conditions, and learning disabilities. Just because a disability isn’t visible doesn’t mean it isn’t real or doesn’t have a significant impact on your life.

Misconception 6: Filing a Disability Discrimination Claim is Easy and Always Successful

Truth: Some people might think filing a disability discrimination claim is a simple path to success. However, proving discrimination requires substantial evidence. It’s not merely about filing a claim; it’s about demonstrating how the disability has led to unfair treatment in the workplace.

This process often requires careful documentation, evidence gathering, and legal assistance.

Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Employment Lawyer
Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Disability
Discrimination Attorney

Consulting with an San Diego employment lawyer can raise the chance of your case’s success. An employment lawyer can clarify your legal rights and options, gather and organize evidence, and represent you in legal proceedings if necessary. They can also guide you through the process of filing a complaint with DFEH or EEOC and offer advice on the best course of action based on the specifics of your situation.

California’s FEHA provides strong protections against such discrimination, but you need a lawyer to assert your rights under this law. By knowing what constitutes disability discrimination, understanding the evidence needed, and taking the appropriate steps, a lawyer can effectively address and challenge discriminatory practices in your workplace.

You have the right to a fair and equitable work environment, and the law upholds that right.

Proving disability discrimination requires a lawyer, so always seek representation from a discrimination lawyer as soon as possible.

Can I Get Fired for Taking Pregnancy Leave?

If you’re in California, the law protects you from unfair treatment or dismissal due to pregnancy. Let’s dive into what you need to know.

Whenever you suspect your employer violated your rights, speak with a San Diego pregnancy discrimination attorney immediately.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation Today!

Your Rights Under California Law

California is known for having some of the country’s most employee-friendly laws, which extends to protections for pregnant employees. Here’s a simplified breakdown:

Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL)

Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) is a key element of California labor law, providing vital protections for employees who cannot work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This leave offers a safety net for those whose health and well-being, along with that of their child, necessitate a temporary break from work duties.

In California, the right to PDL applies to employees in companies with five or more employees, reflecting the state’s inclusive approach to employment practices. PDL can be up to four months, but it’s tailored to the individual’s medical needs.

This duration refers to the time an employee would typically work within four calendar months, providing flexibility based on different work schedules.

The legal foundation for Pregnancy Disability Leave comes from the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). FEHA, specifically under Government Code Section 12945, mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodation and medical leave for employees disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

This comprehensive act protects against employment discrimination based on sex, which encompasses pregnancy and related conditions.

During PDL, employees are relieved from their work duties, but their job security is maintained. This means that employees should return to their original job or a position with similar duties, pay, and benefits upon their return from PDL. 

Additionally, under PDL, employers must maintain the employee’s health coverage under the same terms as if they had continued working, ensuring that the employee does not lose their health benefits during this time.

While PDL is a right, it also involves clear communication and responsibilities between employees and employers. Employees must adequately inform their employer about their need for PDL, often supported by medical certification. Employers must acknowledge these legal rights and make the necessary accommodations, aligning with the provisions of FEHA.

California Family Rights Act (CFRA)

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) stands as a cornerstone in California employment law, offering protections for employees needing time off for significant family and medical reasons, including the birth of a child.

Governed by the California Government Code Sections 12945.2 and 19702.3, CFRA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within 12 months, providing job security and health insurance coverage during this time.

To be eligible for CFRA leave, employees must have worked for their employer for over 12 months and clocked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the leave. Unlike the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), CFRA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, extending its reach to more workers.

CFRA’s protections are strong. It ensures job security, entitling employees to return to their same or a comparable job at the end of their leave. This aspect protects employees’ careers from being adversely affected by their need to take leave.

Additionally, employers must maintain the employee’s health insurance under the same terms as if they had continued to work. This provision is particularly important, as it ensures ongoing health coverage during a period that often involves increased health-related needs.

The scope of CFRA is not limited to the birth of a child; it also includes the placement of a child for adoption or foster care and caring for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. It’s distinct from PDL, which is specifically for the period of disability due to pregnancy and childbirth.

An employee in California might seek both PDL and CFRA leave, offering a more extended period of protection and leave in certain circumstances.

Employees are expected to provide reasonable notice for foreseeable events, like childbirth. Employers, in response, must respect these rights, ensuring they do not interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of CFRA rights.

Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

Beginning with California Government Code Section 12900, FEHA establishes a legal framework prohibiting employers from engaging in discriminatory practices based on various characteristics, including pregnancy.

One of the key provisions of FEHA is its stance against pregnancy-related discrimination. This means employers cannot legally make employment decisions – such as hiring, promotion, termination, or any other employment-related condition – based on an employee’s pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical condition.

This protection extends to all aspects of employment, ensuring that pregnant employees get treated the same as their non-pregnant counterparts in similar circumstances.

FEHA’s protection against discrimination includes a prohibition against harassment related to pregnancy. This means that employers must not only refrain from engaging in discriminatory practices themselves but also prevent and address any such behavior in the workplace, whether it comes from supervisors, coworkers, or even clients.

Harassment can take many forms, from overtly derogatory comments to more subtle actions that create a hostile or offensive work environment. FEHA mandates that employers take appropriate steps to prevent and correct such behavior.

Another aspect of FEHA is its stance against retaliation. This ensures that employees who exercise their rights under the law, such as taking pregnancy-related leave or filing a complaint about discrimination or harassment, are protected from adverse actions.

Simply put, an employer cannot legally punish an employee for standing up for their rights under FEHA, whether through demotion, salary reduction, job termination, or any other form of retaliatory measure.

In addition to these protections, FEHA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

This can involve modifications to job duties, temporary transfer to a less strenuous position, or flexible work hours tailored to the employee’s specific needs.

The objective here is to ensure that pregnant employees can continue to work without risking their health or their child’s health, balanced against the reasonable operational needs of the employer.

FEHA’s impact on the workplace protects pregnant employees rights and promotes an inclusive and equitable work environment. Employers are encouraged to foster a culture of respect and equality where employees feel safe and supported, regardless of their pregnancy status.

What Does This Mean for You?

So, what does all of this mean for you?

Job Security

Job security during pregnancy leave is a fundamental right under California employment laws, offering peace of mind to expectant and new parents. This protection ensures that eligible employees who take leave for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions cannot be dismissed simply for exercising their right to this leave.

When employees take pregnancy leave, they do so with the assurance that their job will be waiting for them upon their return. This protection is rooted in the principles of several California laws, including the PDL law and the CFRA.

Maternity leave concept symbolized by a note with a paper cutout of a mother and child , presented in a top-down perspective.

These laws collectively ensure that an employee on pregnancy-related leave is generally entitled to return to the same position they held before the leave.

If the same position is not available due to operational changes or other legitimate business reasons, the employer is required to offer a comparable position in terms of pay, location, job content, and career prospects.

This aspect of job security prevents discrimination against employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth. It acknowledges the temporary nature of pregnancy and childbirth as a part of life. It ensures that these life events do not unfairly hinder an individual’s career progression or employment stability.

California’s FEHA strengthens these protections by making it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on pregnancy.

Under FEHA, not only is it illegal to dismiss an employee for taking pregnancy leave, but it’s also illegal to take any other adverse employment action against them, such as demotion or reduction in pay, because of their pregnancy or leave status.

Health Insurance

Health insurance is a concern for many employees, especially during significant life events like pregnancy. In California, if you are on pregnancy leave and your employer provides health insurance, they must continue offering this benefit under the same terms as if you were actively working.

This provision is a part of the state’s employment laws, ensuring that employees do not lose their health insurance coverage when it is most needed.

The continuity of health insurance during pregnancy leave is grounded in the PDL law and the CFRA. These laws mandate that employers must maintain an employee’s health benefits during their approved leave period, so whatever health insurance coverage and employer contributions were available to the employee before must be maintained throughout the leave.

This protection is important for several reasons. Firstly, it provides financial security to employees. Pregnancy and childbirth can involve considerable healthcare costs, and maintaining health insurance coverage helps alleviate the financial burden associated with prenatal care, childbirth, and postnatal care.

Secondly, it ensures uninterrupted access to healthcare, which is critical for the mother’s and baby’s health and well-being. Regular medical check-ups, childbirth, and any potential complications require comprehensive medical support, facilitated through continued health insurance coverage.

Also, the requirement for employers to maintain health insurance coverage is in line with the broader principles of non-discrimination and job protection under California employment law. It prevents employers from indirectly penalizing employees who take leave for pregnancy-related reasons by cutting off a crucial benefit.

However, it is important to note that while employers must continue the same level of contributions as they did while the employee was working, employees are still responsible for any portion of health insurance premiums they were paying prior to the leave. Typically, arrangements for these payments are made in advance between the employer and the employee as part of the leave planning process.

In the event of any changes in the health insurance plan during an employee’s leave, the employee retains the right to any new or different benefits provided to similarly situated employees.

If the employer provides a health insurance benefit upgrade to other employees during the leave period, the employee on leave is also entitled to these upgrades.

It’s Not Just About Being Fired

The protections offered by California employment laws extend far beyond the issue of being fired. These laws encompass a broad range of workplace rights, ensuring employees are not subject to negative treatment due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions.

This includes protection against demotions, pay cuts, and other adverse employment actions that might unfairly impact an employee taking pregnancy leave.

Under the umbrella of these protections, employers cannot make any employment decision that adversely affects an employee’s status, pay, or position because they are pregnant or have taken leave.

This means a pregnant employee or an employee on pregnancy leave should not be demoted to a lesser role, have their salary reduced, or face any other action that might be a penalty for their pregnancy or the decision to take leave.

Such actions can constitute unlawful discrimination under the FEHA, which firmly establishes the rights of employees to be free from discrimination based on sex, which includes pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.

A photograph displays the text related to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

These protections are not limited to overt actions like demotion or pay reduction. They also cover more subtle forms of negative treatment, such as being excluded from training opportunities, being passed over for promotions, or being subjected to less favorable working conditions.

The law requires pregnant employees and those on leave are treated like other employees with similar abilities and qualifications. Any deviation from this principle, where pregnancy or leave is a factor, can violate the law.

Additionally, it’s important to recognize that these protections apply not only during pregnancy or leave but also upon the employee’s return to work.

When an employee returns from pregnancy leave, they are entitled to return to their original job or a comparable position, not just in title and salary but also in terms of status, responsibilities, and opportunities for advancement. This aspect ensures that taking pregnancy leave does not hurt an employee’s career trajectory.

Documentation and Communication

Effective communication and documentation are key aspects of managing your pregnancy and leave in the workplace. Inform your employer about your pregnancy and intended leave as soon as reasonably possible.

This open line of communication allows your employer to plan accordingly and ensures that you receive the necessary accommodations and protections.

When communicating with your employer, it’s beneficial to do so in writing, whether via email or a written note. This creates a clear record of when you notified your employer and the details.

Keep copies of all correspondence related to your pregnancy and leave, including the dates of your planned leave and any responses from your employer.

In addition to communication records, maintain thorough documentation of all medical documentation related to your pregnancy and leave. This includes doctor’s notes, medical certificates, and any other relevant health information.

These documents not only verify the need for leave but also protect your rights. If any disputes arise about the legitimacy or duration of your leave, this documentation will be valuable.

Remember, clear and proactive communication coupled with careful documentation forms the foundation of a smooth and compliant process for taking pregnancy leave.

Each Situation is Unique

Every pregnancy and employment situation is unique. Several factors can influence your rights and the specifics of how laws apply to your situation. For instance, the size of your employer can affect your eligibility for certain types of leave.

Under the California Family Rights Act, for instance, the minimum employer size is different than under federal law. In California, the CFRA applies to employers with at least 20 employees.

This means that if a business has 20 or more employees, it must comply with the CFRA provisions, including providing eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons, including bonding with a new child.

On the other hand, the federal FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Under FMLA, eligible employees working for these larger employers are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for similar family and medical reasons.

Your employment history, such as how long you’ve been with your current employer and how many hours you’ve worked in the past year, also plays a role in determining your eligibility for different types of leave. Furthermore, your specific medical needs during pregnancy and the nature of your job duties might require unique accommodations.

Given these variables, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with your employer’s specific policies and how state and federal laws apply to your particular circumstances. When in doubt, seeking clarification and guidance is always a good approach.

Contact a California Workplace Lawyer

Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Employment Lawyer
Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Pregnancy
Discrimination Attorney

California law offers strong protections for pregnant employees, but knowing these laws and how they apply to you requires an San Diego employment lawyer. If you face issues related to pregnancy leave or feel your employer violated your rights, seek legal advice to understand the best course of action.

Is There Equal Pay in California?

As someone who works diligently and contributes to the success of your company, you deserve to receive fair and equal treatment from your employer.

One aspect of fairness in the workplace is equal pay. It is a fundamental right that every employee should receive fair compensation regardless of their gender, race, or any other protected characteristic.

However, achieving equal pay is not always straightforward, and many employees in California find themselves facing disparities in compensation. If you suspect your employer is violating your rights to equal pay, you must understand your rights and take appropriate action.

Below, we will explore the concept of equal pay and how you can seek legal relief for any violations. If you face unequal pay in California, an experienced San Diego employment attorney is here to help. Contact an employment law firm near you today for a free consultation to discuss your situation and explore your legal options.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation Today!

What is Equal Pay?

Equal Pay

Equal pay refers to the principle that employees should receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender or other protected characteristic. This means that individuals who perform the same job, with the same skills, experience, and responsibilities, should be compensated equally, regardless of their demographic characteristics.

The concept of equal pay stems from the principles of fairness and non-discrimination in the workplace. It aims to eliminate income disparities that exist between different groups of employees and promote equal opportunities for everyone.

History of Equal Pay Laws

Equal pay laws have evolved over time as society recognized the importance of addressing income disparities. The journey towards equal pay began in the early 20th century when women started to enter the workforce in large numbers during World War II.

Despite contributing significantly to the war effort, women received significantly less pay than men for doing the same jobs. This stark inequality led to the passage of various equal pay laws to address the issue.

In 1963, the U.S. federal government took a significant step forward by passing the Equal Pay Act (EPA). The EPA prohibits income discrimination based on gender and requires employers to pay men and women equally for performing substantially similar work. While the EPA was a crucial step towards equal pay, it did not eliminate income disparities completely, leading individual states to enact their own laws to provide further protection to employees.

California’s Equal Pay Laws

California has been at the forefront of the fight for equal pay and has some of the strongest equal pay laws in the country. The legislature enacted the California Equal Pay Act (CEPA) in 1949 and has amended and enhanced it to strengthen protections against income discrimination.

The CEPA applies not only to gender-based income disparities but also extends protection based on race and ethnicity.

The CEPA prohibits employers from paying employees of different genders, races, or ethnicities with different incomes for substantially similar work. The law recognizes that pay disparities can occur even if job titles are different, as long as the work performed is substantially similar in terms of skill, effort, and responsibility.

The CEPA also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights to equal pay.

Federal Equal Pay Laws

In addition to California’s equal pay laws, federal laws also protect against income discrimination. As mentioned earlier, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 is a federal law that mandates equal pay for equal work. It applies to employers who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which includes most private and public employers. The EPA, however, has limitations and may not fully address all forms of income discrimination.

If you suspect violations of both federal and California equal pay laws, you may have the option to pursue claims under both. An employment attorney can identify the best avenue for your claim to ensure you receive maximum legal relief.

Is Your Employer Violating Your Rights to Equal Pay?

Is Your Employer Violating Your Rights

Now that you have an understanding of equal pay laws and their significance, you must determine whether your employer may be violating your rights to equal pay. The best way to do this is to consult a California employment lawyer who can assess the situation.

If you notice any of the following signs, you may have grounds for an equal pay claim and should consult an attorney immediately:

  • Pay disparities between employees of different genders, races, or ethnicities who perform substantially similar work.
  • Unequal opportunities for career advancement or access to higher-paying positions based on protected characteristics.
  • Retaliation or adverse treatment for discussing or raising concerns about pay disparities.

If any of these signs are present in your workplace, you should begin gathering evidence to support your claim and consult an employment attorney to explore your legal options.

Proving an Equal Pay Violation

To successfully prove an equal pay violation, you must gather evidence demonstrating pay disparities between employees who perform substantially similar work.

This evidence may include:

  • Pay stubs or payroll records that clearly show differences in compensation.
  • Job descriptions and responsibilities of employees who perform similar work.
  • Testimony or statements from other employees who may have knowledge of pay disparities.
  • Performance evaluations or performance records that show consistency in performance across employees.

Gathering and organizing this evidence can be challenging, but an experienced employment attorney can guide you through the process and help build a strong case.

If you believe your employer is violating your rights to equal pay, you may be entitled to various forms of legal relief.

Depending on the specific circumstances of your case, you may pursue the following remedies:

  • Back Pay: Recovering the difference between the income you should have received and the income your employer actually paid you.
  • Front Pay: Obtaining compensation for future income disparities and losses resulting from the violation.
  • Compensation for Emotional Distress: If the violation caused emotional harm or distress, you may be entitled to compensation for the emotional impact.
  • Injunctive Relief: Obtaining a court order to require your employer to change their pay practices and provide equal pay.
  • Legal Fees: In some cases, the court may require the violating employer to pay your attorney’s fees if you prevail in your equal pay claim.

Your attorney can advise on the remedies you might expect in your specific circumstances.

How a California Employment Attorney Can Help You

Navigating the complex legal landscape surrounding equal pay can be challenging, but you don’t have to face it alone. An experienced California employment attorney can provide invaluable assistance throughout the entire process.

Here’s how they can help:

Employment Attorney
  • Case Evaluation: An attorney will thoroughly evaluate the facts of your case and determine whether you have grounds for an equal pay claim.
  • Gathering Evidence: They will gather the necessary evidence to support your claim, such as pay stubs, job descriptions, and witness testimonies.
  • Negotiations: An attorney can negotiate with your employer or their legal representation to seek a fair resolution and secure the compensation you deserve.
  • Filing a Lawsuit: If negotiations fail to achieve a satisfactory outcome, your attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf and represent your interests in court.
  • Legal Guidance: Throughout the process, your attorney will provide experienced legal advice and guidance, keeping you informed of your rights and legal options.

Other Forms of Sex Discrimination at Work

Unequal pay is a form of unlawful sex discrimination in employment. In addition to equal pay laws, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibit sex discrimination in the workplace.

Sex discrimination encompasses various forms of unfair treatment or harassment based on an individual’s sex or gender. In California, the law recognizes and addresses multiple manifestations of sex discrimination in addition to unequal pay.

Gender-Based Harassment

Gender-based harassment involves unwelcome conduct based on a person’s sex or gender. This can include offensive jokes, derogatory comments, or any behavior that creates a hostile work environment. Both male and female employees can be victims of gender-based harassment.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a specific form of sex discrimination that includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It can occur between individuals of the opposite or same sex and may involve quid pro quo harassment, where employment benefits are conditioned on submitting to unwelcome sexual advances.

Discrimination in Hiring and Promotion

Discrimination based on sex can occur during the hiring process or when considering employees for promotions. Employers must evaluate candidates based on their qualifications and abilities rather than their gender. If a person is denied a job or promotion solely because of their sex, it constitutes sex discrimination.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Employers cannot make employment decisions based on an employee’s pregnancy status, and they must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees.

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment occurs when unwelcome conduct based on sex creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile workplace. This can include inappropriate comments, offensive jokes, or any behavior that interferes with an employee’s ability to perform their job.

Retaliation for Pregnancy or Family Leave

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for taking pregnancy or family leave. If an employer demotes, terminates, or takes adverse action against an employee for exercising their right to leave for family or medical reasons, it constitutes sex discrimination.

Failure to Provide Lactation Accommodations

California law requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private space for nursing mothers to express breast milk. Failure to provide these accommodations can be considered sex discrimination.

Gender Identity and Expression Discrimination

California law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression. This protects individuals who identify as a gender different from the one assigned at birth. Discrimination against transgender individuals, including denial of employment opportunities or harassment, is a violation of these laws.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Discrimination based on sexual orientation is also prohibited in California. This protects individuals from adverse employment actions or harassment based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Constructive Discharge

Constructive discharge occurs when an employee resigns due to intolerable working conditions caused by discrimination. If an employee is forced to quit because of ongoing sex discrimination, it may be considered a form of illegal conduct.

As you can see, sex discrimination can take many forms that affect your workplace environment and career, including equal pay concerns. In California, victims of sex discrimination have the right to file complaints with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

They may also pursue legal action by filing a lawsuit against their employer. Employees must know their rights and to seek legal counsel if they believe they have experienced any form of sex discrimination in the workplace.

Employers often fight hard against liability, as an equal pay or another sex discrimination claim can be financially costly and hurt the company’s reputation as a fair and desirable employer for key candidates.

Consult an Employment Lawyer Immediately if You Suspect Unequal Pay at Work

Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Employment Lawyer
Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Employment Attorney

Equal pay is not just a legal right – it is a matter of justice and fairness in the workplace. If you suspect income disparities or any violation of your rights to equal pay, do not hesitate to take action and consult with an experienced employment lawyer as soon as possible.

An attorney will evaluate the specifics of your case, guide you through the legal process, and protect your rights under all relevant employment laws.

Time is of the essence when pursuing an equal pay claim, as there are strict deadlines for filing a lawsuit. These deadlines can vary for federal and state claims, so never assume you know how much time you have. Further, evidence of unequal pay can fade, or employers might try to conceal such evidence to avoid liability.

Act quickly as soon as you suspect you illegally received unequal pay. A California employment lawyer is ready to help you.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation Today!

2024 New Laws Protecting Workers’ Rights

Several New Laws Protect Workers’ and Survivors’ Rights Starting in 2024 

At Haeggquist & Eck, our lawyers are proud members of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA) because they fight for employee rights as we do. We stay up to date on current legislation and new laws that affect workers’ rights. Below are some of the new laws protecting workers’ and survivors’ rights that will be in effect as of January 1, 2024.1   

Protecting Survivors from Weaponized Defamation Lawsuits – AB 933 

This new amendment strengthens the existing California defamation law to better protect speech made by survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination from retaliatory and baseless defamation lawsuits filed by those who harmed them and allows them to recoup their legal fees and seek treble damages if they successfully defend their defamation suit. The law now states that “communications made without malice regarding sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination” are privileged, and that if a survivor wins a defamation suit in these cases, the accuser who filed the suit is on the hook for the legal fees. Specifically, the survivor would be “entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, plus treble damages for any harm caused to them by the defamation action against them, in addition to punitive damages available.”   

Reproductive Loss Leave – SB 848 

California employees can now take up to 5 days of reproductive loss leave when experiencing a reproductive loss event, including a miscarriage, failed adoption, or an unsuccessful assisted reproductive technology procedure. This leave is in addition to the bereavement leave that employees can already take for the death of a family member. The reproductive loss leave must be taken within 3 months of the event and, in the absence of an existing policy, can be unpaid. An employer cannot refuse or retaliate against the employee for taking this leave or giving information or testimony regarding it.  

Workplace Violence Prevention Plan – SB 553 

This is the first workplace violence prevention law that requires California employers to create, adopt, and implement written workplace violence prevention plans that include annual training, violent incident logs, and the creation and retention of various records. Cal/OSHA will begin enforcing this new law on July 1, 2024. This law also allows employers or collective bargaining representatives of employees who have suffered violence or a threat of violence in the workplace to seek a temporary restraining order and an order after hearing on behalf of the employee and other employees.  

Equal Pay and Anti-Retaliation Protection Act – SB 497 

Existing law already protects employees by prohibiting employers from discharging or discriminating against them for reporting violations of the law or taking other protected actions. This amendment to the California Labor Code creates a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if an employee is disciplined or discharged within 90 days of certain protected activity. This makes it easier for employees to establish they have been retaliated against by their employer. It also prohibits employers from paying an employee a wage lower than the rate paid to another employee of the opposite sex for the same work and retaliating against an employee for examining, disclosing, discussing, or aiding with wage-related information. 

Employment Discrimination: Cannabis Use Outside of the Workplace – SB 700 

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on several categories. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against someone due to their use of cannabis outside of the workplace. Beginning in 2024, it is unlawful for employers to ask applicants about their prior use of cannabis. This exemption does not apply if employers are allowed to consider or inquire about that information according to the Fair Employment and Housing Act or other relevant state or federal laws. 

Non-Compete Agreements – AB 1076 

This codifies existing case law that states that any non-compete agreement entered into as part of an employment contract is void and unenforceable unless it meets certain exceptions. It makes it unlawful for an employer to include a non-compete clause in an employment contract or require an employee to enter a non-compete agreement that does not meet the exceptions. It also requires employers to notify current and former employees in writing by February 14, 2024, that the non-compete clause or agreement is void and unenforceable. Violating this law would be considered an act of unfair competition. 

Contracts in Restraint of Trade – SB 699 

This law prevents California employers from entering into contracts with employees or prospective employees that restrict their ability to engage in another lawful profession, trade, or business. It makes it illegal for employers or former employers to attempt to enforce contracts that are void under existing laws. If an employer violates this law, they will commit a civil violation and the employee, former employee, or prospective employee could take legal action to receive compensation for any damages and to cover attorney’s fees and costs. It also bans enforcement of non-competition agreements entered into between parties located outside of California if the employee has since then relocated to California or is otherwise seeking employment with a California company. 

Paid Sick Days Accrual and Use – SB 616 

The Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act of 2014 was amended to increase the paid sick leave requirement that employers in California must provide from 3 to at least 5 days or 40 hours within 6 months of employment. It also includes provisions on how employees can use paid sick days. This amendment excludes railroad employers and their employees from the act’s provisions and makes changes for CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) employees and certain individual providers of in-home supportive services. Lastly, it includes provisions that shall preempt any local ordinance to the contrary. 

Arbitration Appeal Delays – SB 365 

Corporations can no longer delay justice for workers and consumers. Previously, corporate defendants could effectively pause a worker’s or consumer’s case, sometimes for years at a time, by simply filing an appeal. With the passing of SB 365, cases can now move forward even if a company files an appeal, instead of putting the case on hold. 


  1. California Employment Lawyers Association 

Do California Labor Laws Apply to Out-of-State Workers?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, some Americans were already working remotely, many out of state. Working remotely for a company in one state from another can provide many benefits to both the employee and their employer. However, employment laws in most states are still catching up to this concept, which can leave several gray areas for both employees and employers to traverse.

California, with its thriving economy and diverse job market, often attracts talent from all corners of the globe. As a result, employers may find themselves managing a workforce that spans multiple states.

This can raise important questions about which labor laws apply to out-of-state workers, especially in a state with distinct labor regulations like California.

California’s labor laws are complex, especially for out-of-state employees. Employers, employees, and must all understand these regulations to ensure legal compliance and protect their rights. This understanding is crucial in navigating the intricate legal landscape of California’s employment laws. Employment and labor law attorneys understand out-of-state employees laws and can help you get the compensation you deserve.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation Today!

Understanding Jurisdiction: Where Do California Labor Laws Apply?

California labor laws are renowned for their comprehensive nature, providing many employee protections. However, they primarily apply to individuals who perform work within the state’s borders. This includes individuals who physically work in California, regardless of their residency or the location of their employer. 

Typically, if an individual is working in California, they are subject to California labor laws, irrespective of where they live, including both part-time and full-time, in-state and out-of-state workers.

Extraterritorial Application: When do California Labor Laws Reach Beyond State Borders?

While California labor laws primarily apply to in-state workers, there are scenarios where they may have extraterritorial reach. The central determinant of these situations is the relationship between the employer, the employee, and the state.

California labor laws may apply in certain situations, such as the following:

Temporary Assignments in California

If an out-of-state worker is temporarily assigned to work in California, California labor laws protect them for the duration of their assignment. This includes requirements for minimum wage, overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and other labor standards.

California as the Principal Place of Work

If California serves as the principal place of work for an out-of-state employee, they spend a substantial amount of time working within the state. In that case, they are considered a California employee. This designation subjects them to California labor laws, even if they reside in a different state.

Employer’s Principal Place of Business

When a company is in California, its out-of-state employees may be subject to California labor laws, particularly if the employer exerts significant control over the employment relationship.

The application of California labor laws to out-of-state employers has been clarified through significant legal precedents. One noteworthy case, Sullivan v. Oracle, saw the California Supreme Court decisively ruling that California’s overtime laws extended to non-residents employed within California, even if their employer has headquarters in a different state.

Furthermore, the California Labor Code incorporates specific provisions that imply jurisdiction over out-of-state employers. For instance, Labor Code Section 558.1 explicitly holds individuals, including corporate officers or executives, accountable if they contribute to violations of wage payment laws, even if they operate from an out-of-state location.

This provision indicates that California labor authorities have the capacity to hold out-of-state employers responsible for infractions under California labor laws. This legal framework ensures that protections extend to all individuals working within California’s borders, regardless of their employer’s origin.

What California Labor Laws Cover

California labor and employment law offer many different protections to employees. Some of the most notable ones are as follows.

Minimum Wage and Overtime

California’s minimum wage laws are among the most progressive in the nation. Currently, the minimum wage varies based on the size of the employer and certain other factors. Out-of-state workers temporarily assigned to California must receive at least the state’s minimum wage for the duration of their assignment.

Overtime pay is also regulated, requiring employers to compensate non-exempt employees at a premium rate for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek.

Professional agreement: Businessman shakes hands with a lawyer or judge post-contract signing, confirming a completed deal.

California’s standard overtime regulations stipulate that any non-exempt employee who is 18 years of age or older or a minor employee aged 16 or 17 who is not mandated by law to attend school and isn’t otherwise legally barred from the work in question should not work for more than eight hours of any given workday, or beyond 40 hours in any workweek.

An employee should receive compensation at a rate of one and a half times their regular pay for all hours worked beyond eight hours in a workday and over 40 hours in a workweek (or double time as specified below).

By law, eight hours of labor constitutes a full day’s work. Any work beyond eight hours in a workday or exceeding six days in a workweek necessitates the employee receiving proper overtime compensation, which should not be less than:

One and a half times the employee’s standard rate of pay for all hours worked beyond eight hours up to and including 12 hours in any workday, and for the initial eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of the workweek, and

Twice the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked beyond 12 hours in any workday and for all hours worked beyond eight on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.

However, it’s important to note that there exist several exemptions to the overtime law, signifying that these regulations do not cover specific classifications of employees. Moreover, there are exceptions to the general overtime law outlined above, where overtime applies to particular classifications of employees on a different basis than we mentioned earlier.

Meal and Rest Breaks

California law mandates specific meal and rest break periods for employees. Failure to provide these breaks can result in penalties for employers. Out-of-state employees working in California must be afforded these breaks in accordance with state regulations.

In California, the law entitles most workers to the following designated breaks:

  • A continuous, unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes when their workday extends beyond five hours
  • An additional uninterrupted, unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes if their workday exceeds 12 hours
  • A compensated 10-minute rest period for every four hours of work

It’s worth noting that specific categories of workers, like domestic workers and farm workers, are subject to distinct meal and rest break regulations. For further details on meal and rest periods, you can refer to the official resources provided by the Labor Commissioner.

Additionally, for outdoor workers, there are supplementary rights in place to safeguard against heat-related illnesses. Employers are mandated to permit outdoor workers to take breaks as necessary to cool off in a shaded area.

Sick Leave and Paid Time Off

California labor laws also dictate provisions for sick leave and paid time off, ensuring employees have access to necessary time off for illness or personal reasons.

Employees, whether in full-time, part-time, or temporary positions, qualify for paid sick leave in California if they have a minimum of 30 days of service with the same employer within a year.

Additionally, they must have completed 90 days of employment before they can begin using their accrued paid sick leave. However, if an employee is covered by a collective bargaining agreement that already offers paid sick days or paid time off, they are exempt from this law.

For 2023, employees deserve up to three days’ leave. In 2024, it will increase to five days of sick leave.

Discrimination and Harassment Protections

California has robust laws prohibiting workplace harassment and discrimination. These protections extend to all employees, regardless of their state of residence.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) serves as the primary safeguard against employment discrimination in the state. It applies to employers with five or more full- or part-time employees, unlike comparable federal laws that typically cover employers with at least 15 employees. Consequently, more employers in California must comply with the state’s anti-discrimination regulations instead of federal guidelines. Although, FEHA anti-harassment law pertains to employers with one or more employees.

While many of the same anti-discrimination principles in federal laws are also in California’s FEHA, the state’s laws generally afford broader protection against discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment. In most cases, California law takes precedence over federal law when it provides greater protection for employees.

Both California and federal law cover the following categories:

  • Age (40 years and older)
  • Disability (encompassing mental and physical conditions)
  • Genetic information. The federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits the use of genetic information in employment decisions and places strict limitations on its disclosure.
  • Ethnicity/national origin, which includes restrictions on language use
  • Pregnancy, including childbirth and related medical conditions
  • Color
  • Race
  • Religion, covering beliefs, practices, and observances
  • Sex, which includes gender identity or expression, as well as sexual orientation
  • Military or veteran status

Additionally, the following categories are either protected under California law but not federal law or are more comprehensively defined in California:

  • Ancestry
  • Religious creed and observance. California state law offers extra safeguards for religious creed, encompassing religious dress and grooming practices not currently covered by federal EEO laws.
  • Marital status
  • Medical condition (inclusive of cancer and genetic characteristics)
  • Pregnancy, which, under California law, extends to breastfeeding and related medical conditions, is currently not part of the federal definition
  • Reproductive health decision-making

Traits historically linked to race, including but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles.

Workplace Safety

California employers are required to maintain a safe and healthy work environment. This includes compliance with the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) regulations.

Under the law, your employer must take measures to guarantee your safety and well-being, including providing adequate training and protective measures for you to carry out your duties safely.

Your rights regarding a safe workplace include:

  • Proper Training: Your employer must ensure you receive thorough training regarding safety protocols on the job.
  • Hazardous Materials Warning: You have the right to be informed about any hazardous materials to which you may have exposure during your work.
  • Protective Gear: If your job involves working with hazardous or contaminated materials, your employer must supply you with appropriate protective gear.
  • Request for Inspection: You can confidentially request an inspection of your workplace by the Division of Occupational Safety & Health if you suspect safety or health standard violations.
  • Confidential Complaint Filing: If you observe or suspect any safety or health concerns at your workplace, you have the right to file a confidential complaint with the Division of Occupational Safety & Health.
  • Refusal of Unsafe Work: You have the right to refuse work that goes against legally mandated safety or health standards. If you’re contemplating this action, consult an attorney to ensure legal protection.

Furthermore, your employer is prohibited from retaliating against you (e.g., demotion or termination) for either formal or informal complaints regarding workplace safety or health. You have six months from the date of any such retaliation to file a complaint with the state Labor Commissioner.

(For federal employees, this timeframe decreases to 30 days for filing a complaint with the Federal Department of Labor.)

Leaves of Absence

California provides various types of protected leaves to employees. Understanding these provisions is crucial for both employers and employees.

The types of leaves of absence you might deserve include:

  • Family and Medical Leave
  • Voting leave
  • Jury duty
  • Maternity leave
  • Military service
  • Organ and bone marrow donation
  • Sick leave
  • Crime victims leave
  • Leave for school activities

Given the complexities surrounding the application of California labor laws to out-of-state workers, seeking qualified legal advice is paramount. An experienced San Diego employment law lawyers can provide useful insights and ensure compliance with state regulations, protecting the rights of both employers and employees.

Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Employment Lawyer
Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Employment Lawyer

Remember that while California labor laws primarily apply to in-state workers, certain scenarios can extend these protections to out-of-state employees. 

All parties involved must understand these nuances. Consulting a knowledgeable employment attorney can offer invaluable guidance in navigating this complex legal terrain.

Can I Get Fired or Demoted for Reporting Discrimination?

Demotions and wrongful termination happen every day in every state in America for many reasons, including reporting discrimination. Unfortunately, employees frequently don’t exercise their rights when it comes to the illegal actions of their former employers.

Essentially, your employer can fire you for nearly anything, as most states have at-will employment—but they can’t fire you for everything.

With the help of an experienced wrongful termination lawyer in San Diego, employees can hold these employers accountable for their illegal actions under state and federal laws.

Schedule a Free Case Evaluation Today!

What Is Wrongful Termination?

An employer has extensive discretion in terminating an employee. Even still, many terminations break state or federal laws, such as those against discrimination or retaliation.

Wrongful termination happens if an employer fires, dismisses, or forces an employee to quit in violation of any state or federal law or public policy or if the employer violates an existing agreement between the employee and the employer.

A wrongfully terminated employee is entitled to damages for past and future lost income and benefits, emotional distress, and possibly others.

Being let go from a job may constitute wrongful termination if:

  • Your termination involved discrimination – You lost your job due to your disability, race, age, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sex/gender, medical condition, or other protected categories, which is a violation of your state and federal legal rights.
  • Your employer retaliated against you for exercising your rights – You were fired after making a report or complaint regarding workplace wrongdoing or illegal conduct or after standing up for your protected rights.

Discrimination: Grounds for Wrongful Termination

Although employers may legally dismiss employees from their jobs for no reason (“at will” employment), it’s against federal and state laws to fire an employee due to their race, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, sexual orientation, age, and/or disability.

When an employer illegally terminates an employee, the employee:

  • Likely has a valid wrongful termination claim
  • Can file an official complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
  • Should hire a wrongful termination lawyer to help protect their rights and pursue compensation for their damages

Retaliation Against Employees for Exercising Their Rights: Grounds for Wrongful Termination

In most states, employees have particular workplace rights, including the right to:

  • Privacy
  • A safe work environment 
  • To blow the whistle on the illegal actions of an employer
  • Exercise their whistleblowing rights by reporting an employer to OSHA or some other authority for their law violations

Suppose an employer demotes or fires an employee for exercising their rights under the law or in retaliation for blowing the whistle on some violation, such as a safety issue. In that case, the employee likely has a valid wrongful termination claim and can file a lawsuit against their employer for several different kinds of damages.

At-Will”Doesn’t Mean No Rules

The concept of at-will employment means an employee can be terminated at any time and for any or even for no reason, as long as the reason for the termination isn’t illegal. So, even though your employer has many reasons they can fire you, they can’t fire you for a few specific illegal reasons.

Does At Will Employment Mean My Employer Can Fire Me at Any Time for No Reason?

Close-up of text highlighting the term "employment at will" in a document, referencing the concept of at-will employment.

Generally speaking, at-will employment does mean that your employer can fire you at any time for no reason at all. They can also fire you for some reasons—because they thought you were rude toward them, another employee, or a customer, because you failed to perform to their standards, because you broke the dress code, or didn’t adhere to another company policy. They can dismiss you because they don’t like the way you park your car or that you eat a salad every day for lunch.

Are those reasons a bit over the top? To most people, yes. Are they illegal? No.

However, what your employer can’t do is demote or fire you as an act of discrimination under a protected class or characteristic because you blew the whistle on wrongdoing in the workplace or because you exercised another employee’s right under the law, such as taking FMLA leave or filing a worker’s compensation claim.

Why is Employment At-Will Important in Wrongful Termination Cases?

Unfortunately, many employers who wrongfully terminate their employees hide their true actions behind the disguise of employment-at-will law. They will give no reason for letting the employee go, or they will say that business is down and the employee’s position is no longer necessary.

But in reality, they fire an employee for some other and illegal reason—such as they don’t like their race or gender, that they are pregnant, or that the employee blew the whistle on their illegal actions, including reporting discrimination.

Making the differentiation between at-will and illegal is crucial in wrongful termination cases. Employers know when they fire employees for unlawful reasons and will take significant steps to hide their true intentions. It takes a seasoned wrongful termination lawyer to uncover evidence supporting a wrongful termination claim.

Wrongful Termination for Retaliatory Reasons

Employees are protected under federal and state laws if they decide to report wrongdoing. They can stand up for their rights and the rights of others without fearing termination or even other adverse employment events.

It’s illegal for businesses to fire employees for complaining about or reporting:

  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment or other illegal harassing behaviors
  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Violations to either a law enforcement agency, government authority, or someone in the company with the authority to investigate and fix the violation

You use the same standard as discriminatory wrongful termination and proving retaliatory wrongful termination. Usually, the most compelling evidence in retaliation claims is various events that can establish a direct connection between an employee’s complaint and termination.

However, just as with discrimination-based termination, other convincing evidence in retaliation cases includes inconsistencies or flaws in the employer’s purported non-retaliatory termination reason or the employer ignoring its own internal policies and procedures regarding behavior correction and termination.

How to Fight Wrongful Termination

Employees victims have several options when it comes to fighting wrongful termination.

First, they can file a complaint with the applicable government agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and their state’s equivalent government agency. With a thorough investigation and application of state law, the employee may have a successful wrongful termination lawsuit.

An experienced wrongful termination attorney can assess your situation and make recommendations based on:

  • How long you worked for the company
  • Your performance based on positive evaluations, promotions, salary raises, and bonuses
  • Current company policies, either written or oral, describing disciplinary and termination procedures
  • Other pertinent measures

Once they make a determination, your attorney can take the next steps toward protecting your rights and pursuing compensation.

What Compensation Can I Receive from a Successful Demotion or Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?

In a successful wrongful termination case, you may seek compensation for:

  • Lost income
  • Benefits
  • Other damages, including emotional distress
  • Punitive damages

The kinds of compensation you may be entitled to depend on the specific details of your case and the harm you suffer due to your wrongful termination. Each case is different, so it’s essential to speak to a wrongful termination lawyer to determine what your case can be worth.

When Should You Hire a Wrongful Termination Attorney?

If you suspect you were wrongfully or illegally let go from your job, don’t wait to contact a wrongful termination attorney. The sooner you hire a lawyer, the sooner they can collect evidence to support your claim and protect your rights.

Employers can destroy, lose, or hide evidence. Call a lawyer to collect and preserve it as soon as possible.

In addition, your legal rights after a wrongful termination have expiration dates. If you don’t exercise them within the given deadline, you cannot exercise them at all. So, contact a wrongful termination lawyer as soon as possible.

Do You Have a Valid Discrimination Claim?

Suppose you have recently been fired from your job or experienced any other negative employment actions, and you are a member of a legally protected class. In that case, you might wonder if you have a discrimination claim.

The best way to determine this is to meet with an attorney who is well-versed in your state’s workplace discrimination claims.

Discrimination comes in many different forms, all of which are violations of employees’ rights and can be related to other protected personal characteristics under state and federal laws.

The most common legal claims for discrimination arising from the following characteristics:

  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy, including medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth
  • Age—employees aged 40 and over are protected from different treatment or being forced out of work due to their age
  • Race/national origin
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Disability— employers must provide their employees who have a physical or mental disability, either short-term or long-term, with reasonable accommodations. They must also engage in good faith discussions with these employees to identify together what accommodations are necessary.

Specific negative employment actions that reveal discrimination can include:

  • A demotion
  • Failure to hire
  • Unfavorable transfer or job assignment
  • Denial of promotion or advancement
  • A decrease in pay or reduction of benefits or employment-related perks
  • Being forced to quit
  • Termination or firing
  • Any other adverse decision that significantly affects the terms and conditions of employment

What Should I Do if I Believe I Have Been the Victim of Employment Discrimination?

If you believe you are a victim of employment discrimination, report the incident to your employer right away and ensure you document any relevant evidence, including emails, notes, or witness statements. 

You may file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a related state agency. In addition, a seasoned employment discrimination attorney can handle the employment discrimination complaint process and be your steady advocate.

Can I File a Complaint While Still Employed?

Even if you are still employed, you have the right to file an employment discrimination complaint.

Unfortunately, some employers will retaliate against employees who take such actions. For instance, after making a report, you might be fired, demoted, or given a less desirable client or work schedule. As such, hire a discrimination attorney to file your complaint.

After you file a complaint with the EEOC, it’s their job to complete a thorough investigation regarding your allegations. If the agency finds adequate evidence to support your complaint, it can attempt to settle the complaint between you and your employer. If they fail, the EEOC can file a lawsuit on your behalf. An experienced lawyer can explain this process and what is involved.

Damages in an Employment Discrimination Case

Similar to a wrongful termination case, if your employment discrimination case is successful, you may recover compensation for several damages, such as the following:

  • Back pay
  • Front pay
  • Lost benefits
  • Emotional distress damages

Depending on the specifics of your case, you may also be entitled to attorney’s fees and other costs associated with your workplace discrimination claim.

Speak With a Wrongful Termination Lawyer Today and Find Out if You Have a Case

Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Employment Lawyer
Alreen Haeggquist, Employment Lawyer in San Diego

Don’t procrastinate when it comes to your legal rights. Instead, contact a skilled wrongful termination lawyer today. An employment law attorney can tell you if you have a valid claim, get your case started, and support you every step of the way. 

This is a difficult situation, and you need an objective legal professional representing you from the beginning of the process until you receive justice from your former employer.

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