California Labor Laws: An Overview
People who live and work in the state of California are protected by laws that prevent mistreatment and abuse by employers. The state is among the most pro-worker in its laws and statutes, however, it doesn’t stop employers from violating the laws. If you are a resident of the state and working at a job where mistreatment occurs you have recourse for reporting violations committed by employers, and even filing a lawsuit under some circumstances. Here is an overview of the California labor laws that every worker should know.
Overview of California’s labor laws
Federal labor laws establish a base of protective measures for workers, and it sets up the framework for states to build upon. Each state further develops laws and statutes to protect workers from unfair treatment. XPert HR explains that California offers the most variances from federal laws, enhancing antidiscrimination protection above federal law. The state also augmented worker protection and benefits through higher minimum wage requirements, paid sick leave, and paid family leave insurance. All employers are required to comply with federal and state laws from pre-employment through dismissal of a worker or retirement. When there is a difference between state and federal laws, workers benefit by deferring to the law that most effectively provides relief from employer abuses in legal actions.
Drug testing, criminal background checks, and credit checks
Employers may require drug testing of job applicants, but notice of the requirement must be provided in advance. Some employers may perform credit checks for certain positions and must provide applicants with notice of the action, then notify applicants of any negative action taken based on the results of the credit check. Criminal background checks are legal when the employer can show that the information sought is consistent with the necessity of business and job-related. Employers are restricted from using arrests that did not culminate in a conviction for making hiring decisions. Nor is it legal to consider convictions expunged, eliminated by statute or concealed, participation in diversion programs, arrests that occurred under juvenile courts, or nonfelony convictions for possession of marijuana over two years ago. To summarize, your employer may subject you to drug testing, a criminal background, and credit checks under the law, but they must follow the laws and statutes set forth by the state of California when using the information to determine your eligibility for work. Departures from the laws provide workers with legal recourse. Information obtained may not be used against an applicant in some situations.
Restrictions on salary history inquiries
Employers are prohibited from using the salary history of an applicant to determine the salary to offer upon hire. Employers are banned from asking applicants about their salary history, benefits, and compensation in writing or orally. If the applicant discloses the information without prompting and voluntarily the salary history may be used. there must not be a disparity in comparable salaries within the company when such an event takes place.
Class Law Group explains that California has strict laws governing wages and compensation for workers. The minimum wage for 2022 is $14 per hour and for some jobs, it is $15 per hour for some other jobs. Changes in wage law will increase the minimum wage to $15 statewide in 2023. Employers must pay overtime wage rates at 1.5 X the hourly wage for work over 8 hours per day, more than 40 hours per week, and on the 7th consecutive workday. In California, employers must pay double time for shifts over 12 hours per day and over 8 hours on the 7th consecutive day of work. Off-the-clock work is illegal. Employers cannot legally force workers to spend time working without pay. Employers must pay workers at least every two weeks. Workers must receive their paychecks within 10 to 11 days of the payday, and final checks are due on the day of termination or within 72 hours of the termination. Employers are not required to grant paid time off but may do so at will. All vacation hours accrued and not used by the employee must be paid by the employer or cashed out when the employee leaves the company. Additionally, employers must reimburse all expenses incurred by employees necessary to perform job duties. Misclassifying employees as independent contractors violates California wage law. It is an act that is punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 per worker misclassified. Additionally, employers will compensate the workers for shortfalls, overtime business expenses, and reimbursements. The wage laws must be adhered to by every employer. Employees have the right to file grievances if they believe that their employers violated wage laws causing them financial harm. Employees have protection under the Wage Theft Protection Act. Employers must provide each employee with a written copy of their rights upon hire. Employees are entitled to receive a copy upon request, according to Employers.org. Employers may use a form prepared by The Labor Commissioner to comply with the California labor law. Employers must provide nonexempt employees a notice that fully discloses the employer’s name and address, the pay rate, payday, and sick leave information.
California labor laws regarding discrimination of protected classes and retaliation
California law forbids employers from discriminating against employees or retaliating against those in protected classes. Women, people of color, breastfeeding mothers, people with religious preferences, and persons with qualified disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodation in the workplace under California labor laws. Employers may not pay persons in protected classes less than workers in comparable jobs not in protected classes without justification. Employers must provide evidence justifying a disparity in compensation, for example, years on the job or longevity, advanced qualifications, certifications, or other reasons, as defined under California labor laws. All workers shall receive fair treatment without discrimination.
Special conditions requiring workplace accommodations
Employers are required to provide accommodations for pregnancy. They must also make allowance for wage discussions and equal pay. Employers must give workers access to their personnel files and protect the rights of whistleblowers as proscribed in the EEO Diversity and Employee Relations statute. Breastfeeding mothers must receive breaks to nurse their babies. California also requires employees to provide time off or leave for medical, family, paid family leave plans, domestic violence leave, and leave time for emergency responders. Employers are required to provide accommodations for persons with disabilities who qualify for services or accommodations. Employers must also provide for religious accommodations unless doing so would cause undue hardship or expense, and it must be demonstratable. Workers must receive a job description that states the nature of the job and the physical skill requirements in advance of hire. Employers are not required to hire candidates that do not possess the physical capacity to perform the duties of a job. An example of this is an applicant in a wheelchair applying for a position that requires dock work, unloading freight, and walking. Employers may not discriminate against persons with qualified disabilities unless that person cannot perform the required tasks.
California fair employment practices
Employers with five or more workers are prohibited from discrimination against workers in the protected class. They may not discriminate based on race, hair texture, protective hairstyles, traits associated with race, religion, color, national ancestry and origin, medical condition, marital status, genetic information, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, identity, military or veteran status, or age. Any type of harassment is illegal and qualifies as an act of discrimination.
Safe working environment
California employers are required to provide workers with a safe work environment. Each employer must provide a written illness and injury prevention program. Employers must provide pregnant women with reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy. Accommodations may include modifications in schedules, equipment, and duties. Each employer must provide workers with a handbook that provides information about the policies for safety in the workplace and reporting requirements for accidents or injuries on the job.
Wrongful termination laws in California
Ottinger Law explains the situations where the termination of a worker is illegal. The wrongful or illegal firing of a worker can result in significant penalties for employers, plus orders for compensation to workers wrongfully terminated. Wrongful termination usually exists under three conditions including breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and retaliation for complaints lodged against the company. Termination may occur under certain circumstances legally if there is justifiable cause. Employers must state the reason for firing and it must fit under the description outlined in the hiring agreement between the worker and the employer. Wrongful termination exists when the reason for firing does not fall under the agreement. For example, letting a worker go to hire a family member or a friend would qualify as wrongful termination. Letting a worker go because of complaints about unsafe working conditions would cause a breach of contract. Employers are required to have written policies that state what constitutes a good cause for termination, and it must fit under California labor laws. For example, coming to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or sexually harassing another worker. A breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing occurs when an employer fires a worker in a fundamentally unfair way. Good faith and fair dealing is a two-way street that applies to both employer and employee. Both parties are required to act fairly and in good faith. When an employer and employee do something that violates the agreement of good faith and fair dealing, a legal problem may exist. violations of good faith and fair dealing covenants exist when the employer fails to fulfill its obligation to cooperate with employees to allow them to accomplish their duties. Evasions, lies, lack of communication, deliberate inaction, and obstruction or interference are breaches of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. If an employer engages in these activities and terminates a worker, there may be a just cause for a wrongful termination claim. If the worker commits these acts, there is just cause for termination.
Retaliation for complaints
Whistleblowers or workers who report acts of sexual harassment or racial bias are protected under California state law. Retaliation by firing may present a case of wrongful termination. Sexual harassment is illegal in the state of California and employers are required to provide an environment for workers that is free from sexual harassment and discrimination for protected classes. Participation in sexual harassment charges places a worker in a protected class. Retaliation for filing complaints or participating as a witness in a harassment case is illegal under California labor laws.
California labor laws are continually changing, and in most cases, they favor employees to ensure that all workers are treated fairly in the workplace. It’s wise to stay on top of current laws about wages and fair treatment in the workplace to ensure that you are treated justly. The state of California is among the most worker-friendly states in the nation with laws that go over and above federal mandates for fair labor practices. The laws are designed to protect both employers and workers. It encourages employers to establish policies that are closely aligned with fair labor practices and to put these policies in writing and distribute them to all employees, to avoid misunderstandings. When everyone follows the rules of the letter, there is little cause for litigation. Sadly, this is not always the case, and it results in unfair treatment in the workplace. If you feel that you have been the victim of unfair treatment or if you have been wrongfully fired, the labor laws in California offer protection. In some cases, compensation for financial or emotional harm is by breaches in fair labor practices. You can file a complaint with the California labor board or seek legal assistance from an attorney to fully investigate your case.