Federal and state laws protect workers throughout the employment process from hiring to layoff or job loss. As a California employee, you should be aware of some basic issues.

Hiring Process

Most job openings are posted on the Internet, social media sites, newspapers, and through services that cater to individual professions. Though employers may hire whomever they wish, they cannot deny employment to people based on certain factors such as race, sex, religion, national origin, or disability.

Most interview questions may be open-ended, but it is illegal to ask about certain subjects, such as marital status, children, sexual orientation, or certain criminal arrest records.

Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour but California’s is $8.00, with some municipalities, such as San Francisco, having higher rates such as $10.55 per hour as of January 1, 2013. Tipped employees in California must be paid the minimum wage and employers cannot take any portion of their tips.

A covered worker in the state who puts in over eight hours in one day or over 40 hours in a workweek and the first eight hours on the 7th day in any one workweek is entitled to be paid at one and one-half times the regular rate of pay. You get twice the rate if you work more than 12 hours in one day or more than 8 hours on a 7th workday.

A Safe Working Environment

State and federal laws mandate that employers provide a safe and hazard-free working environment. These laws also protect workers who complain about unsafe working conditions from being fired or disciplined by their employers.

Workers’ Compensation Law

Workers injured in the course and scope of their employment are entitled to medical, rehabilitation, wage and disability benefits without having to prove negligent conduct by anyone. A deceased worker’s family may also receive death benefits.

Time-Off Regulations

The federal Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) applies to employees in companies with at least 50 employees and to all public employees. Employees must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a family member or the employee who has a serious medical condition, or to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. Employees may take up to 26 months to care for a military family member.

State employers with five or more employees must continue health benefits for those on pregnancy disability leave up to four months. Returning employees must also be offered their old job or a comparable one.

California allows up to two hours of paid time off to vote on election day provided employers are given two working days notice.

Workplace Harassment

Prohibited workplace harassment consists of any type of verbal or physical offensive behavior directed toward a person because of their sex, religion, race, national origin, or disability. California includes sexual orientation.

The behavior must be pervasive and ongoing conduct that creates a hostile working environment. A supervisor’s harassing behavior that results in a change to a worker’s status, such as a demotion or firing, is also illegal.

Comments or jokes, displays of offensive drawings or emails, leering, or engaging in unwelcome touching or fondling is prohibited sexual harassment. Harassment can include references to a person’s gender, religion, disability or national origin.

Learn more about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Getting Fired

A work contract that does not specify a precise duration is considered an “at-will” contract, meaning you can be fired for any reason and without notice as long as it is not for a discriminatory reason including age, pregnancy, a work-related injury or illness, or as a result of harassment.

It is not legal in California for a company to require you to take paid vacation time or to forfeit it. If you lose your job, state law requires employers to pay the employee for unused vacation time.

Post-Employment Benefits

Unemployment insurance: Eligible employees are those who earned at least $1,300 in the highest quarter of the base period or at least $900 in the highest quarter and earned total base period earnings at least 1.25 times the high quarter earnings. To qualify for unemployment benefits, you must have lost your job through no fault of your own and be physically able to work, actively seeking work, and ready to accept employment.

COBRA insurance: Similar to the federal law requiring employers to continue group health coverage for discharged employees in companies with 20 or more employees, California laws cover employees in businesses with two to 19 employees and for an additional 18 months after coverage ends under the federal COBRA program.

Contact an Employment Lawyer

This is only a brief introduction to complex employment laws and each state has its own provisions. Contact a California employment lawyer if you have employment issues.

Tagged as: Discrimination, Labor and Employment, Wrongful Termination