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This page contains general discussion about employee rights in the most usual circumstances about which Mr. Cordes represents clients. Those areas include at-will employment, wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, accommodation of disabilities, medical leave, and unpaid wages, including overtime and minimum wage.
Unless there is an agreement to the contrary, employees in California are employed "at will." "At will" employment simply means that both the employer and the employee have the right to end the employment relationship for any reason or no reason at all. Under most circumstances, there is no requirement that an employer have good cause, or any cause, to terminate an employee. In other words, an employee is not guaranteed continued employment as long as he or she his doing a good job.
There are, however, certain exceptions to this general rule. These exceptions make up the law of unlawful or wrongful termination. Back to Top
In California, most employees are employed "at will." That means that an employer does not need to have a good reason to terminate an employee; similarly, an employer who has what seems to be a bad or an unfair reason or a reason that is not accurate, is not liable for wrongful termination. Wrongful termination focuses on an employer’s motivation for the termination. It is wrongful termination for an employer to terminate an employee because of discrimination; that is, an employee’s race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, medical condition, age, or marital status. It is also wrongful termination for an employer to retaliate against an employee who is making complaints about an employer’s violations of law or is refusing to participate in unlawful activity. It is also wrongful termination to terminate an employee for medical leave or jury time. Finally, it is a wrongful termination if an employer violates an express or implied, oral or written contract not to terminate an employee under those conditions. Back to Top
Employment discrimination includes negative job actions, such as termination, demotion, or negative changes in the terms and conditions of employment, that are motivated by an employee’s race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, medical condition, age, or marital status. Back to Top
Sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual favors, sexual advances, or propositions; verbal conduct such as epithets, slurs or derogatory comments or comments about a person’s body, appearance or sexual activity; physical conduct, including assault, impeding or blocking movement, or any physical interference with normal work or movement; individual harassment such as leering looks, offensive gestures or derogatory posters, cartoons, or drawings. Unwanted conduct such as the type described above which is sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to create a hostile work environment is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment also includes gender harassment or sex based harassment; that is, conduct that shows hostility based on gender even though the conduct itself is not sexual, such a comments that women do not belong in the workplace. Back to Top
An employer must reasonably accommodate an employee with a covered disability. A covered disability is any impairment which interferes with an employee’s major life activities such as walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, or working, who can otherwise perform the essential functions of the position. A crucial aspect of the obligation to accommodate is for there to be an interactive dialogue between the employer and the employee to discuss what the employee’s needs are and what the employer can or should do. Back to Top
Employees who work with employers who employ over 50 people and who have been employed at least one year are entitled to up to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave to care for a serious health condition of themselves or a family member. Pregnant employees who work for employers who employ over 5 people are also entitled to up to four months additional unpaid pregnancy leave. Employees with disabilities may be entitled to greater periods of leave if such leave is a reasonable accommodation for a disability. Back to Top
California law requires employees to get paid time and one-half for all hours worked in excess of 8 in one day or 40 hours in one week, unless they are "exempt" from the requirements to pay overtime. In order to be "exempt" from the requirements to pay overtime, an employee must be employed in a administrative, executive, or professional function and spend over 50% of his or her working hours exercising discretion and independent judgment or supervising other employees. Just because an employee has a managerial sounding title or is paid a salary, does not mean that person is not entitled to overtime pay! Back to Top
Almost everybody who works in California is entitled to minimum wage. Exceptions are few and far between. Back to Top