California Labor Law: Unfair Treatment in the Workplace

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When unfair treatment happens in a workplace, all of the workers at that company are negatively impacted. The direct victim of the unfair treatment and his coworkers are subjected to a hostile work environment, and they receive the message that their employer condones unfair treatment. To protect employees from unfair treatment in the workplace, worker protection laws are established by both the federal government and each state. These laws protect employees from facing discrimination at work, from being paid less than the minimum wage, or denied benefits they are entitled to receive.

Additionally, employees are protected from working in environments that adversely affect their health and well-being.

California Worker Protection Laws

California’s worker protection laws are notably further reaching than federal worker protection laws like Title VII of the _Civil Rights Ac_t. In California, in addition to the protections provided by federal law, employees are protected from discrimination on the following grounds:

  • AIDS/HIV status.
  • Marital status.
  • Ancestry.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender identity and expression.
  • Political affiliation and activities.
  • Military status.
  • Medical condition.
  • Status as a domestic violence victim.

Additionally, California law renders non-compete agreements unenforceable. These are stipulations that an employer places on employees requiring them to abstain from working with the employer’s competitors for a set period of time after the employee leaves her position. In another attempt to protect employees, the California legislature passed AB-5, a law requiring employers to reclassify many types of contract workers as employees, thus making them eligible for employee protections such as protection under anti-discrimination laws. This law went into effect on January 1, 2020.

Unfair Treatment in the Workplace Examples

Unfair treatment in the workplace comes in many forms. Although many of them violate state or federal law in some way, some are simply unethical, rather than illegal. Examples of illegal unfair practices in the workplace include:

  • Refusing to hire or promote an individual of a certain race or ethnicity.
  • Subjecting an employee to harassment based on his status in a protected class.
  • Segregating employees based on their sex, race or another protected class.
  • Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee based on his disability.
  • Denying an employee the same benefits enjoyed by other employees due to his status in a protected class.

Although an action committed against an employee may be legal, it can be inappropriate and unfair. In these situations, there is often little the employee can do to rectify the situation beyond discussing it with his supervisor and looking for work elsewhere. Perhaps the most common example of unethical and unfair treatment in the workplace is a manager playing “favorites” with an employee based on personality or relationship.

Filing an Unfair Treatment in the Workplace Lawsuit

In California, an employee who feels she has been mistreated at work can file an unfair treatment in the workplace lawsuit with help from either the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Which of these agencies will be the one to work with the employee will depend on the circumstances of her case. The agencies work together, and when a California employee files a claim with one, the other also receives copies of her paperwork and cooperates with the investigation. Generally, an employee would file her claim with the DFEH if the unfair treatment she experienced specifically violated California law rather than federal law. For problems that violate federal law, such as denial of Family and Medical Leave benefits, the employee would usually file her claim with the EEOC.

An unfair treatment in the workplace lawsuit starts with a complaint to one of these agencies. To ensure her claim remains valid and she can file a lawsuit against her employer if necessary, the employee must file her claim with the DFEH within one year of the date of the unfair treatment episode and within 300 days of that date if she files with the EEOC. Upon receiving the claim, the responding agency investigates the filer’s workplace and the alleged incident or pattern of action. If the agency finds unfair treatment has occurred, it will typically attempt to facilitate a settlement between the employee and the employer before filing a lawsuit.

Read More: Most Common Workplace Lawsuits

Proceeding via Settlement or Court Hearing

If the employee and employer cannot reach a settlement, the agency with which the employee filed her claim may opt to file a lawsuit against the employer. The agency then has the burden of proof to show that discrimination did occur and that it did cause the employee to suffer damages. If the court agrees with the plaintiff’s claim, it rules in favor of the employee. Otherwise, it rules in favor of the defendant, which means the employee is not entitled to recover any compensation related to the case.

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