Employers are responsible for taking care of their employees and ensuring that the work environment is free of hostilities. California law requires employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment for the employees. Sometimes, however, employees believe they (1) are being discriminated against, (2) have been fired for no reason, or (3) are working in a hostile environment. In this article, you can get a sense of how to properly set up your work environment to be clear of hostilities, as well as how to deal with any employment law claims that your employees bring to your attention.
How can I protect my company from employment lawsuits?
The best way to protect a company from any employment lawsuits is to create a strong Human Resources (HR) department. The HR department should consist of multiple people, not just a single person. Having a single person running the HR department could lead to favoritism from that person, and it could further lead to a hostile work environment. Therefore, it is essential to have a team of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives working to ensure the office environment is free of any harm or hostilities. Employers should keep in mind that a strong HR department can minimize the chances of an employment lawsuit that’s harmful to their culture, morale, and, yes, bottom line.
The role of the HR department is to establish and enforce meaningful policies that protect the employees working there. Remember: generally, an employee may only follow up with a lawsuit after the HR department fails to adequately address the issues that the employee brought to the company’s attention, and so decisive action can prevent major problems in the future.
As an employer: Keep in contact with an employment attorney on an annual basis, as well as when specific business questions arise. By doing so, employers can ensure that their company properly adheres to the California Labor Law codes each time they are updated. This is critical because, as many might expect, learning the law in its entirety is difficult, time-consuming, and just not feasible for most people. Therefore, employers should have an experienced attorney by their side to help with any of their legal needs. For example, if an employee approaches an employer with a claim that they haven’t been paid the legally proper amount for their work, an attorney can help you compile their work hours, paychecks, and any other necessary information to form an appropriate response and potentially dismiss the claim.
What are some claims an employee can bring against me?
There are many different claims an employee can bring against their employer. Wage and hour issues are the most common type of employment law claim, including overtime and back pay wages, as well as where an employee believes that they’ve been getting paid less than they deserve (which may or may not relate to minimum wage requirements).
Below is a non-exhaustive list of possible employment law claims in California:
- Properly Classifying Employees: California employees are predominantly “at will.” At-will employment means the employer may terminate the employee at any time for any legal reason. Independent contractors, by contrast, work on a contractual basis, and they cannot be fired for no reason. Instead, their termination requires a more narrow definition of “cause,” as provided in their contract. California employment law discusses the difference between these classifications at great length.
- Sexual harassment and Discrimination Claims: Sadly, harassment and discrimination can still happen in the workplace. Whether it takes the form of light touching, constant verbal harassment, etc., it continues to happen across the country. These examples could result in a hostile work environment in which an employee wouldn’t feel comfortable coming into work anymore, and so we have laws prohibiting such conduct.
- Wrongful Termination: Like sexual harassment and discrimination, the sad fact is that many employees experience wrongful termination. Some of the most common circumstances in which wrongful termination arises are whistleblowing and resistance to sexual harassment. Basically, the employee called out the employer for doing or failing to prevent something wrong, and the employer retaliated against them in response.
- Medical leave and PTO: California law requires employers to give time off for medical reasons and family matters. The law also addresses many issues related to PTO generally. For example, in California, employers are required to provide PTO in the form of sick days, but not vacation days. In fact, even though vacation days aren’t required under California law, there are many rules governing how they’re earned, when they can be used, and more (where they’re offered in the first place).
- Workplace Privacy: Privacy is a major issue in every corner of our society today, and legislation is only beginning to catch up to the impact of technology on our privacy. The workplace is no exception. Currently, employers generally have wide latitude in monitoring their employees, such as video and telephone surveillance in the workplace, but employers must be careful to disclose any surveillance properly and obtain any required consent. Moreover, employers can only extend so far beyond the workplace, such as publicly available social media presences.
With so many different laws and practices, it’s hard to fully understand the scope of the law, especially while the rules continue to evolve (such as recent state legislation designed to combat COVID-19 in the workplace or, as mentioned, privacy law). It’s easy to slip up somewhere and end up causing a big issue further down on the line. Fortunately, Pride Legal is well versed in employment law. Our experienced attorneys are available to help you with each and every step of your business to ease the burden of compliance and ensure that you do not break any laws.
Contact Pride Legal
If you or a loved one has been involved in an employment law claim, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further questions. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.