Labor laws cover various legal issues and concerns in the area of employment. They generally have to do with providing various protections and legal rights for workers and employees. Thus, they often cover disputes such as those involving wrongful termination, fair compensation, and collective bargaining negotiations.

Labor laws tend to cover employees as a group, rather than individual rights as in employment law. However, there can be much overlap between labor laws and employment laws, and in some cases, the terms are used interchangeably. Labor laws however tend to have their history in labor organizations and movements. 

What Do California’s Labor Laws Address?

California labor laws address many different legal issues. These may involve employment, benefits, wages, workplace discrimination, pensions, labor disputes, safety issues and many more. 

Under California state law, all employees have legal rights and protections. Employees who feel that their employers have violated their workplace rights or may have discriminated against them have many remedies available to them. Thus, labor laws also prescribe different legal remedies for a wide range of work-related violations.

What are an Employer’s Obligations Under Labor Laws?

Under state and federal labor laws, employers must prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation and also comply with state and federal wage and hour laws. Employers are not allowed to harass or allow their employees to harass someone on the basis of sex or any other protected categories under state and federal law. 

Employers, including managers and supervisors, are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who complain or report incidents of harassment and discrimination. Employers are obligated to prevent, investigate, and resolve harassment, discrimination or any other wrongful practices in their workplace.

California and federal laws also prohibit any type of employment discrimination on the basis of the protected categories of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, and disability. However, California labor law also prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender identity;
  • Gender expression;
  • Marital status; and/or
  • Medical/genetic condition.

So, unfair treatment then becomes unlawful when it is based on one of the above-mentioned protected categories. In order to establish a case of discrimination under California law, an employee must prove the following elements:

  1. The discrimination was based one of the protected categories;
  2. They are qualified for the position;
  3. They are subject to an adverse employment action; and
  4. Individuals in similar situations who were not members of the protected class were treated more favorably than them.

There are multiple labor and employment agencies at the state and federal level which handle various issues involving unfair employment practices. Among the major ones in California are: 

  • The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH); 
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); and 
  • The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) of the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR).

Employees in California who feel that they have experienced unfair employment practices may have different complaints. These in turn may involve different agencies. For example, age discrimination is usually handled by the EEOC, while violations of minimum wage and overtime laws are generally handled by the DLSE or the DIR. Different claims may have different filing requirements. So, it is important to look at the rules and procedures which deal with filing a particular claim.

How Do I File a Discrimination Claim Against an Employer?

California employees who believe that they were discriminated against must first file with the appropriate state or federal administrative agency before filing a lawsuit in court. Under California law, employees usually have one year from the discriminatory act to file with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

Another option is to file a claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This must be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory act if the charge is also covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law. Under California and federal law, adverse employment actions may include:

  • Termination or firing;
  • Demotion;
  • Transfer;
  • Unfavorable job assignment;
  • Reduction in pay;
  • Failure to interview or hire; and
  • Denying promotion or advancement among other employment decisions.

Claims for discrimination and retaliation filed with the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) follow a simplified process. Employees must print and mail a complaint form available at the DIR. On the form, the employee will be asked to provide the reasoning for the complaint, their employer’s information, contact information for any potential witnesses and what outcome the employee desires to have.

Do I Need to Hire a California Lawyer for Help Resolving an Unfair Employment Issue?

Because of the complexities of the multiple state and federal agencies, differing filing requirements and  the complaint and appeals processes, it is highly recommended that employees in California who have complaints regarding unfair employment practices seek the advice of an experienced California employment lawyer in their area before proceeding. An attorney can provide legal guidance and representation during the process.