Fairness and equality are cornerstone ideals in America, but not every employer embodies or enforces them. However, does unfair treatment alone mean you can take legal action against your employer?
As our Los Angeles employment attorneys can explain, the viability of a California employment lawsuit depends on a myriad of factors, including:
- The exact nature of the adverse action and how substantially you were impacted.
- Whether the motivation for the adverse action was – in whole or in part – a protected characteristic or activity.
- The strength of the evidence you have of the employer’s unlawful motivation for the adverse action. (This includes whether others similarly situated were treated the same way or differently.)
- When these adverse actions were taken.
This is not to say you need to have every single detail in order for your initial consultation with an employment attorney, but it’s a good idea to have basic answers so that your attorney knows where to start.
What Are Protected Characteristics and Actions?
The simple fact of being slighted at work isn’t necessarily cause for litigation. In general, it must involve certain characteristics or actions that are protected by law.
- Examples of protected statuses include: Religion, Race, Age (over 40), Disability, Sex, Gender/Gender Identity, Marital Status, Ancestry, Veteran Status, Military Status, Medical Condition, Genetic Information, Color, or Pregnancy/Any Related Condition.
- Examples of protected activities include: Serving on a jury, Taking necessary family leave, Attending court and/or seeking care as a victim of a crime, Sharing your salary/wage information with others, Participating in a workplace complaint, Taking time off to fulfill first responder duties, Exercising lactation rights, and Whistleblowing.
These aren’t necessarily exhaustive lists; it’s best to consult with an attorney if you aren’t sure whether your unfair treatment was unlawful.
Is All Unfair Workplace Treatment Unlawful?
No, not all unfair workplace treatment in California is against the law. California is an at-will state when it comes to employment law. That means your employer can fire you for almost any reason without consequences. However, the exceptions arise when those adverse actions are taken as a result of some protected status or action.
So for example, if you are fired because of your age, but you are under the age of 40, your age is not a protected characteristic under the law. It’s not fair, but it’s not illegal.
Do I Have to Wait Until I’m Fired to File a Complaint?
You need not have been wrongfully terminated in order to file a claim of workplace discrimination or workplace harassment.
Some examples of adverse actions that can have legal consequences for an employer when done for a discriminatory reason:
- Denial of a job.
- Denial of a promotion, training, or education opportunity.
- Inequality in pay.
- Inequality in work conditions.
- Unfavorable job transfers or demotions.
- Denial of work-related benefits.
Firing is just one of numerous adverse actions that may have legal consequences.
Workplace harassment is also actionable when it involves constant, inappropriate comments about a protected group or activity. It can also involve inappropriate requests or unwanted touches.
Lots of people automatically think “sexual harassment” when they think of workplace harassment. However, workplace harassment that’s based on any protected characteristic or activity may be legally actionable.
While complaints rooted in adverse employment actions in California can only be taken against companies with 5 or more employees (full or part-time, doesn’t matter), workplace harassment claims can be pursued against employers of any size.
How Do I Prove It?
This is a discussion you’ll want to have with your employment attorney, who can provide you with specifics based on the facts of your case. That said, some general examples of evidence frequently used in employment law cases include: Commendations, writeups/reprimands, commendations, witness testimony, personal notes, texts and emails, employee handbooks, and records pertaining to prior HR complaints.
How Much Time Do I Have?
You do not have unlimited time in which to file a claim because the law imposes statutes of limitations on legal actions.
In general, you have just one year from the date that you were harassed, discriminated, or retaliated against in which to file an administrative complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (the first step in most cases). However, you have two years to file most claims for wrongful termination, retaliation, breach of an oral contract, or outrageous workplace conduct resulting in emotional distress. For claims of failure to pay wages/overtime and fraud, you generally have three years. Breach of contract claims can be filed within four years.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.