3 Reasons to Call a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer
|Ottinger Employment Lawyers|
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Los Angeles, CA 90013
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When the relationship between an employer and employee goes sour, it is often riddled with issues worthy of legal intervention.
In this guide, we’ll walk through three of the most common ways that Los Angeles employees have their rights violated at work.
We will also describe what kind of legal recourse is available, and explain how an experienced employment lawyer can help you get the recovery you’re owed.
Ottinger Employment Lawyers is a highly-rated employment law firm in Los Angeles providing legal counsel to employees and executives.
Our California employment lawyers have represented thousands of employees in almost every industry in the area and won millions in settlements.
We handle a wide range of employment-related legal disputes. Contact us to see how our employment attorneys can help your case.
California Wage Violations
Wage theft is an epidemic in California — especially in the Los Angeles area. An estimated thirty percent of workers in Los Angeles are paid less than the legal minimum hourly rate for their work.
This means that over the course of a year, employers in Los Angeles are cheating workers out of as much as $1.4 billion in unpaid wages.
Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to provide employees the compensation they’re owed for their work. It can take many forms, including when an employer:
- Fails to pay minimum wage,
- Fails to pay overtime or paying insufficient over time,
- Bounces a paycheck,
- Refuses to pay split-shift premiums,
- Fails to pay or provide promised wages,
- Makes unauthorized deductions from paychecks, or
- Neglects to pay final wages on time.
Wage theft also isn’t limited to just the loss of wages. Employers also commit wage theft when they:
- Fail to provide promised benefits (including sick leave and vacation,)
- Ignore rest and meal break laws,
- Refuse to reimburse employees for business expenses, or
- Take employees’ tips.
Wage theft is illegal under federal and state law. Fortunately, California has a robust set of laws protecting the rights of employees to mandatory minimum wages and legally entitled benefits.
The California Wage Theft Protection Act of 2011 requires that all private employers provide workers critical information about the pay and benefits they’re entitled to in their preferred language.
Examples include wage rate, designated payday, the intent to claim allowances (meal or lodging) as part of the minimum wage, and the basis of wage payment (by hour, shift, day, week, piece, etc.)
This also includes any applicable rates for overtime wages. If any changes are made to workers’ compensation, employers must provide notice in writing seven days before making the change.
More recently, California passed a law in 2021 that offers employees more avenues for getting restitution for lost wages, as well as raises the penalties for employers stealing compensation.
Under California AB 1003, the intentional theft of wages totaling more than $950 from a single employee in a 12-month period is punishable as an act of “grand theft” — a felony with more serious consequences for perpetrators than simple wage theft.
Now that intentional wage violations constitute a felony, California prosecutors are more likely to investigate wage theft and take legal action against employers, who now face the possibility of prison time for stealing from their employees.
This law also applies equally to employees and independent contractors seeking restitution for unpaid wages.
Who Can Experience Wage Theft?
There are a few exceptions where California workers are not legally entitled to minimum wage. These positions include individuals who work as:
- Learners or trainees (for the first 160 hours of work)
- Indentured apprentices
- Outside salespersons who spend than half their working time away from the employer’s place of business selling items
If you’re still in the first 160 hours of a learning and training period, you’re not entitled to minimum wage, but your employer can’t pay you less than 85% of the minimum wage (rounded to the nearest nickel). Your employer also doesn’t have to pay you minimum wage if you’re their spouse, child, or parent.
What Do I Do If My Boss Is Stealing Wages?
If your employer is withholding your earned compensation or benefits, there are a couple of ways you can recover what’s owed to you:
- File a civil lawsuit,
- File a claim with the U.S. Department of Labor, or
- File a wage claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).
Thanks to the robust set of laws that protect workers’ rights, filing a claim in California generally has better results for workers than pursuing a claim with the federal government.
You can initiate a wage claim by filing a claim form with the DLSE office via email, by mail, or in person. California’s DLSE requires that you submit copies of documents that help support your claim and provide evidentiary proof of what your employer owes you.
Here is a list of certain documents that you will want to include for common wage claims:
- Time records;
- Paychecks and pay stubs,
- Bounced paychecks;
- Notices from the employer regarding your employment information such as your rate of pay, any overtime rate of pay, your regular payday, and whether you’re paid by the hour, shift, day, week, salary, piece, commission, or otherwise;
- Collective bargaining agreement, if applicable;
- Worksheets showing irregular hours worked, unpaid commissions, unreimbursed business expenses, unpaid vacation time, etc.; and
- The name and contact information of your attorney, if you have one.
After the DLSE receives these documents, they will schedule a settlement conference between you and your employer. If the wage dispute can be resolved at that time, a settlement agreement is drafted and signed by both parties.
If not, then a wage claim hearing will be held, where both you and your employer have the chance to testify under oath and submit evidence to the CA Labor Commissioner.
The Labor Commissioner then has 15 days to make a decision in your case. In addition to compensation for the wages and benefits you’re owed, they may also assign legal penalties to your employer for their violation of your rights.
How Long Do I Have To File A Claim?
There are time limits within which you have to file your wage claim with the California DLSE — otherwise, you won’t be able to seek reimbursement of the owed compensation.
Which time limit applies depends upon the circumstances of your case:
- One year for penalties regarding a bounced check or failing to provide access to, or a copy of, payroll or personnel records;
- Two years for an oral promise to pay wages higher than the minimum wage;
- Three years for violations of minimum wage, overtime, unpaid rest and meal breaks, sick leave, illegal deductions from pay, or unpaid reimbursements; and
- If you have a written employment contract, four years from the date of the breach of the terms of that contract.
The bottom line: Don’t wait too long to get the money that’s owed to you. The sooner you file a complaint, the more time you have to gather evidence, prepare for potential complications, and seek guidance in how to best approach your hearing.
If you’re unsure about your options or have questions about the circumstances of your case, consult with an employment attorney.
An experienced employment attorney can guide you through the nuances of the law and the complaint process to make sure you get the recovery you’re owed.
Discrimination and Harassment in California
Despite the growing number of federal and state laws condemning prejudicial behavior in the workplace, employment discrimination is still pervasive in California.
All employers have the responsibility to provide a workplace free of differential or adverse treatment of individuals based on certain characteristics, including pregnancy status, age, race, religion, gender, or disability.
If your employer fails to protect you from harassment based on one of these features of your background or identity — or if they take adverse action against you because of it — your right to equal employment opportunities has been violated, and you can hold your employer accountable under California law.
Who Is Protected From Discrimination?
California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act protects individuals from illegal discrimination by employers based on the following characteristics:
- Race, color,
- Ancestry, national origin,
- Religion, creed,
- Age (40 and over,)
- Disability, mental and physical,
- Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions,)
- Sexual orientation,
- Gender identity, gender expression,
- Medical condition,
- Genetic information,
- Marital status, or
- Military or veteran status.
This law applies to all public and private workers who are employed by a company with five or more employees.
If you face adverse treatment in hiring or at work specifically because of one of these protected characteristics, you can file a complaint of employment discrimination with the California Civil Rights Department. All workers, regardless of immigration status or citizenship, can file a charge of unlawful discrimination.
In certain cities, there may also be additional protected classes. For instance, in San Francisco, it’s also illegal for employers to discriminate based on a worker’s height and weight.
What Does Discrimination Look Like?
Illegal discrimination at work can take a variety of forms:
- Basing hiring or firing decisions on an employee’s membership in a protected class. For example, if an employer opts not to hire someone because of their professed religious beliefs.
- Demoting or reducing the hours of someone solely for discriminatory reasons, such as passing over a worker for shifts because of their age.
- Threatening to fire or take adverse actions against an employee because of their request for reasonable accommodations due to a life event — due to pregnancy, illness, or a disability.
- Harassment in the form of verbal or physical insults, jokes, comments, or behavior based on a protected class that creates a hostile work environment.
It is important to remember that the law protects you against any retaliation by your employer for filing complaints, either internally with your HR department or externally with a governmental body.
Retaliation for speaking out against misconduct, filing a complaint, or participating in an investigation (even if you’re not the one who suffered the original harassment) is also prohibited under California law.
What About Sexual Harassment?
A 2019 study revealed that California workers of both genders report experiencing at least 5% more incidents of sexual harassment than the national average.
Sexual harassment is considered a form of employment discrimination perpetrated on the basis of an individual’s sex.
Harassment is generally defined as any act of unwanted sexual conduct or behavior perpetrated in the workplace that creates a hostile environment for a worker. This can include:
- Sexually oriented gestures, noises, remarks or comments about a person’s sexuality or sexual experience
- Someone displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons, graffiti, reading materials or other materials that are sexually demeaning or pornographic in the workplace, or “giving” someone such items
- Unwanted physical advances, such as touching, back rubs, pats on the butt, poking, pinching, kissing, hugging, grabbing, or “accidental” brushes against your chest or other parts of your body
- Rape, sexual battery, molestation or attempts to commit these assaults
- Unwanted verbal advances or sexual propositions
- A threat to reduce your hours, benefits, rate of pay, or otherwise hurt your conditions of employment if you don’t comply with a sexual request
- Loss of employment, benefits or other adverse impacts after complaining about harassment
However, inappropriate behavior doesn’t have to be explicitly sexual for it to be considered illegal harassment. Under California law, harassment on the basis of sex can also include mistreatment or harassing comments targeting an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or transgender status.
Any person of any gender can either experience or commit sexual harassment. A 2019 report showed that 53% of California men surveyed experienced some kind of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime — that’s ten percent higher than the national average.
What Should I Do If I’m Experiencing Discrimination Or Harassment?
If you are experiencing discrimination at work, you have a few options:
- Lodge a written complaint with your employer by following the procedure in their employee manual.
- File a complaint with an external agency, such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the California Civil Rights Department.
- Consult with discrimination lawyers with experience in the field who can guide you through the process and advocate for you in court.
Employees who want to register a complaint with California’s Civil Rights Department for discrimination or harassment at work must do so within three years of the last recorded incident.
Retaliation complaints have a shorter deadline — just one year after the event of retaliation.
If you choose to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you have even less time. The deadline for filing an employment discrimination complaint with the EEOC is 180 days from the incident of discrimination.
The process of pursuing a case of discrimination against an employer can be complex and time-consuming.
Consulting with an employment lawyer familiar with the specific state and local laws that apply in your situation is an essential first step to getting the restitution you deserve.
Family Rights and Medical Leave in California
Many employees in California are protected by both state and federal laws that grant them the right to take time off for important family events and medical needs without worrying that they’re putting their jobs at risk.
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), eligible employees are entitled to job protection while they take leave to handle serious personal and family matters.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 89% of civilian workers and 94% of state and local government workers had access to some kind of unpaid family leave in 2021.
When Can I Take Family Or Medical Leave In California?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 allows eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave within a 12 month period when:
- You are unable to work due to a serious health condition.
- You are caring for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.
- You have a newborn child or have a child placed with you for adoption or foster care.
- You experience any of the “qualifying exigencies” that can arise due to an immediate family member who is on “covered active duty” as a member of the National Guard, Reserves, or regular armed forces. Workers who are caring for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness are eligible for up to 26 weeks of leave within a single 12-month period.
The FMLA also requires employers to continue to provide group health benefits for employees on leave, and to return them to their same or equivalent job when they return.
The California Family Rights Act, or CFRA, also entitles employees in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and throughout California to 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period for certain family or medical events, including bonding with a new child, an employee’s own serious health condition, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
Leave under the CFRA runs concurrently with the FMLA. Generally, leave may be taken all at once or intermittently. However, under FMLA, intermittent leave for the purpose of bonding with a new child is subject to the employer’s prior approval.
Under the CFRA, the employer may require you to take two-week minimum increments for bonding leave. The FMLA and CFRA laws cap out available leave for all qualifying events at 12 weeks total.
Except in the case of employees caring for family members who are covered service members, who may be eligible for up to 26 weeks of leave within a single 12-month period.
Although employers aren’t required to pay you under the FMLA or CFRA, workers may be able to receive benefits under California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) law.
This provides partial pay to employees who need time off to care for a sick family member or to bond with a newborn. However, your employer can require you to use accrued vacation time or other accumulated paid leave, if you do so.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible?
To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must:
- Work for a covered employer. All public agencies, including local, state, and federal employers, and local education agencies (schools) are automatically covered. In the private sector, covered employers are those who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
- Have worked for their employer for at least one year, and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave. Paid time off, like vacation or sick leave, can’t be counted toward this requirement.
- Work at a location where the employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles.
The basic requirements for coverage under California’s CFRA differ slightly from the FMLA. In addition to all CA state and local governments, all private companies with five or more employees must provide protected family leave.
Employees also don’t have to work at a site with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the location for them to be eligible for CFRA leave. Workers do have to be employed for at least 12 months with at least 1,250 of work to qualify, though.
Who Counts As A Family Member?
Under the FMLA, only a spouse (including a same-sex spouse), child, or parent is considered a family member. Registered domestic partners are not.
As of 2023, under the California Family Rights Act, eligible employees may take leave for a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or someone else related by blood or in a family-like relationship (“designated person”) with a serious health condition.
What Counts As A “Serious Health Condition”?
A serious health condition is any illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that causes or requires:
- Any period of incapacity or treatment in connection with or after inpatient care, such as an overnight stay in a hospital.
- Any period of incapacity of more than three consecutive days requiring absence from work, school, or other regular daily activities with ongoing medical treatment.
- Ongoing treatment by a health care provider for a chronic or long–term health condition.
- Restorative dental or plastic surgery after an injury.
- Pregnancy (including prenatal medical appointments, incapacity due to morning sickness, and medically required bed rest).
In California, employees are also qualified for up to 12 weeks of Pregnancy Disability Leave (provided their employer has more than five employees).
Pregnancy Disability Leave may be taken in addition to CFRA leave and does not have to run concurrently.
Employers are legally allowed to request verification from a medical professional as proof of any serious health condition.
They must make this request within five days of your leave notice, and then you have at least 15 calendar days to obtain the medical certification. Be aware: Under privacy law, your employer is not legally allowed to ask you to disclose your specific medical records.
Can You Be Fired For Taking FMLA Or CFRA Leave?
No. After you take FMLA or CFRA leave, you are entitled to return to the same position unless it is no longer available.
If it’s not available (e.g. due to layoff or closure), then you must be offered an alternative position that is comparable in shift, work schedule, pay, benefits, location, job duties, and promotional opportunities.
If you are not given the same or a comparable position upon return from leave, the employer must prove that there was no such comparable position.
You can’t be fired — and if you are, your employer has committed illegal retaliation, and you have grounds for a suit of wrongful termination or discrimination.
The bad news? Companies often violate FMLA regulations by denying leave or firing employees who request it.
The good news? Because they occur often, many FMLA retaliation cases can be resolved quickly with positive outcomes for workers — and damages are automatically doubled for employees who’ve suffered FMLA retaliation.
The life events that qualify for job-protection leave under state or federal leave laws can vary. If you have any confusion about whether you are eligible to request leave, speak to an attorney immediately.
A skilled attorney can help you identify all your rights and obligations under the leave laws so you can protect your time off and make the most of it.
How A Los Angeles Employment Lawyer Can Help You
If you are overwhelmed by a work-related problem, you don’t have to fight it alone. Ottinger Employment Lawyers is a highly-rated employment law firm in Los Angeles providing legal counsel to employees and executives.
Our California employment lawyers have represented thousands of employees in almost every industry in the area and won millions in settlements. We handle a wide range of employment-related legal disputes, including:
- Employment contracts,
- Severance packages,
- Employment-related agreements,
- Other compensation and negotiations,
- Wage and hour violations,
- Pregnancy discrimination,
- Sexual harassment, and
- Wrongful termination.
Our team of lawyers can help you understand your rights and guide you through the process of filing state, local, or federal complaints.
An experienced attorney can also help you navigate a settlement and advocate for you if you choose to sue in civil court. They’ll make sure that you’re getting the maximum number of possible remedies available, which could include:
- Back pay (past lost earnings)
- Front pay (future lost earnings)
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Policy changes
- Reasonable accommodation(s)
- Damages for emotional distress
- Punitive damages
- Attorney’s fees and costs
Contact a California Employment Lawyer Today
Each employment case is different, so an attorney who has seen almost every kind of scenario is your best champion.
Our employment law attorneys at Ottinger Employment Lawyers have handled almost every kind of employment case, and we have multiple decades of combined experience.
We also know how to persevere, which is exactly what you need when asserting your rights in a workplace dispute.
Our Los Angeles employment lawyers are here to treat you well and win the results you need.