Employment law covers a diverse set of employee rights. In America, employers are prohibited from mistreating employees. Examples of mistreatment include denial of pay or benefits and employment discrimination. When employers subject employees to these types of mistreatment, employees have the right to seek legal counsel, protest the unlawful actions, and, when necessary, file a complaint with the appropriate government agency or a lawsuit in state or federal court.
Most U.S. jurisdictions follow the at-will employment doctrine. This gives employers the right to hire, promote, terminate, and control other conditions of employment in a mostly unilateral way. Employees have the right to quit, and employers must follow any employment contract, such as policies spelled out in an employee handbook. Baring a contractual restriction, at-will employment leaves the employer free to act as it sees fit (unless the action breaks a specific law).
When an employer breaks a specific law, an exception to the at-will doctrine is created. Employment discrimination laws create this exception. Under both federal and California state law, employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants in terms of hiring, firing, promotions, and other employment decisions. Employees also cannot be subjected to harassment on the basis of illegal discrimination or retaliated against for taking action against illegal discrimination or harassment.
To have an actionable claim, employees must demonstrate that they suffered an adverse consequence because of the employer’s actions. For example, firing an employee is an adverse action. The employee must also prove that the adverse action was taken because of a characteristic protected by law. Examples of protected characteristics under federal or California law include the following:
- National origin
- Age (Over 40)
- Sexual Orientation (California law)
In addition, employers are prohibited from requiring employees to sign agreements that waive their rights under the law. In some cases, employers present employees with employment agreements that state the employee gives up their right to bring any action against the employer for discrimination or other reason. Such agreements are usually disallowed by the courts because they defeat the purpose of the law.
A notable exception to this has occurred with arbitration agreements, as explained by Mother Jones. While arbitration agreements don’t take away the employees rights under the law, they do require that any disputes be settled in private arbitration. This requirement has become controversial because many employment experts view it as disadvantageous to employees because arbitration is binding and private. Proponents of these agreements argue it saves time and cost on both sides.
Labor Standards and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
The California Department of Labor enforces a variety of laws regarding employee compensation and working conditions. These standards include minimum wage, overtime, vacation pay, and receiving final paychecks. When an employment dispute entails compensation instead of discrimination, it often falls under the purview of the Department of Labor.
ERISA is a federal law protecting workers’ rights to benefits. For example, many employees are covered under an employer health plan. In cases where employers are self-insured, an employee suffering an illness that costs the employer money may be fired. This violates ERISA. It may also violate discrimination law.
Employment law cases can be tricky. Often, managers will cover up their true motivations, especially in discrimination cases. Employees may suffer dire financial and career consequences, as well as emotional distress. The law office of Robert E. Cartwright handles employment discrimination and labor law cases. It’s easy to feel like fighting back against an unscrupulous employer is impossible. The fact is that employees are entitled to protection and win the vast majority of employment law cases. If you are struggling with an employment law problem, contact the law office of Robert E. Cartwright.
For more information on our Employment Lawyer in San Mateo, please visit our site.