Types of Unlawful Employment Practices
In California, it is almost always illegal for employers to discriminate against workers because of their sex, race, religious beliefs, disability, or age (if the employee is at least 40 years old). In most situations it is also illegal for employers to discriminate against workers on the basis of factors such as marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity. A number of workplace laws broadly protect employees from unfair discrimination, most notably the Fair Employment and Housing Act.
California law generally requires an employer to engage in a timely, good faith interactive process with a job applicant or employee with a known disability. This process is meant to determine whether a reasonable accommodation, if necessary, is available. An employee who can prove discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act may be entitled to recover monetary damages.
Employers generally may fire any employee at any time, and for any reason that is not illegal. But an employer cannot fire an employee for refusing to violate the law, or complaining about illegal conduct or a wrong the employer committed that affects the public at large. An employer also cannot fire an employee for notifying authorities about some wrongdoing harmful to the public, generally known as whistleblowing.
In California, it is unlawful to subject someone, based on gender or another protected status (for example, race or disability), to unwanted harassment that causes the work environment to be hostile or abusive. Harassing conduct may include verbal, physical, or visual harassment, or unwanted sexual advances. Similar to federal law, for the employer to be liable, the harassment must be severe or pervasive, considering the conduct, its frequency and duration, the circumstances under which it occurred, whether it was physically threatening or humiliating, and the extent to which it interfered with the work performance.
Conduct conveying the message that management views women as sexual playthings, or that the way for women to succeed in the workplace is to engage in sexual behavior, is sexual harassment. In addition, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.
Certain constitutional and statutory provisions specifically prohibit employers from discharging employees for designated reasons. The California Constitution, for example, states that a person may not be disqualified from entering or pursuing a business, profession, vocation, or employment because of sex, race, color, creed, or national or ethnic origin. In addition, it is an unlawful employment practice to terminate an employee for taking or attempting to take family or medical leave.
Unpaid Overtime, Commission, or Minimum Wages
Overtime is defined under California law, for most jobs, as any work done beyond eight hours in one workday, beyond 40 hours in one workweek, or on the seventh consecutive day in one workweek. For non-exempt positions, overtime work is compensable at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay, and overtime work performed in excess of 12 hours in a workday or in excess of eight hours on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek is compensable at a double time rate.
Payment of a wage less than the legal minimum wage is unlawful. Any employee who receives less than the minimum wage is entitled to recover the unpaid balance of the full amount of the minimum wage, including interest, reasonable attorney fees, and the costs of the lawsuit. The employee may also be entitled to recover liquidated damages in an amount equal to the wages unlawfully unpaid.
In addition, if an employer breaches its commission agreement with an employee, the employee can file a claim regarding failure to pay such commissions.