Labor laws are a broad set of laws, rules, and regulations that govern relationships between employers, unionized employees, and labor unions in an employment setting.
The main purpose of labor laws is to balance out any inequities in bargaining power between employers and unionized employees by using labor unions as a middleman. As such, these laws tend to focus on regulations that affect collective bargaining power, wages, and safety in the workplace.
In addition, labor laws aim to protect the rights of unionized workers and to define the responsibilities of their employers. Since labor laws are a subset of general employment law, they tend to overlap in certain areas, such as ensuring all workers are free from employment discrimination.
What Do California’s Labor Laws Address?
California labor laws tend to contain some of the strongest pro-worker protections in the country. For instance, a recent amendment to California labor laws provides that employment contracts cannot force workers to abide by the laws of a different state, and if a contract does, then the state will deem such contract provisions invalid.
Other areas that California labor laws typically address include benefits, wages, discrimination, pensions, benefits, hiring and firing, safety issues, and various other matters that arise in an employment context. As a pro-worker state, California offers higher damages awards to employees whose employers have violated any of their rights under these topics.
Additionally, California also has a comprehensive filing process when it comes to unfair labor practices. Specifically, California appoints two state agencies to handle unfair labor practices disputes: the Labor Commissioner’s Office and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Workers whose disputes are more in line with wage and hour claims, mealtime breaks, and unclaimed benefits should file with the Labor Commissioner’s Office.
On the other hand, if a worker has suffered employment discrimination, sexual harassment, or employer retaliation, then they will be directed to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
What are the Employer’s Obligations Under Labor Laws?
Employers are obligated to comply with numerous federal and state labor laws. Specifically, in California, an employer must abide by the following rules:
- As of 2020, employers with 26 or more employees must pay at least the state minimum wage of $13 per hour;
- Employees are entitled to a certain number of sick and vacation days, which if not used, must be paid out at the end of employment;
- Employees are also entitled to unpaid meal and paid rest breaks (see state laws for detailed breakdown of hours and amounts);
- Employers must reimburse workers for business expenses;
- They must pay employees at least every two weeks and they cannot force employees to work off the clock;
- Under California’s WARN Act, an employer who terminates 50 or more workers in a one-month period, must notify the workers 60 days in advance;
- Employers must not misclassify employees as independent contractors (or else they will be liable for heavy penalties);
- Employers are required to pay time-and-a-half to nonexempt employees who work over 8 hours a day or over 40 hours a week;
- Businesses must provide harassment training for all workers and submit proof of completion; and
- Various other legal obligations required by California labor laws.
What are Some Common Labor and Employment Law Violations in California?
Some common labor and employment law violations in California include:
- Classifying a worker as an independent contractor instead of an employee;
- Failing to pay employees on time (e.g., most California employees must be paid at least twice per month, final paychecks must be issued on same day employee is terminated, etc.);
- Not paying workers their entitled overtime wages;
- Retaliating against employees who challenge employer violations;
- Failing to provide employees rest or mealtime breaks that they are entitled to under the law; and
- Not listing specific information on an employee’s pay stub that is required by California law.
The above examples are only some of the most common ways employers violate California labor laws, but there are many other ways for employers to do so. If a worker is unsure whether their employer has committed a violation, they should consult a local attorney who specializes in employment and labor law.
What Types of Remedies are Available under California Labor Laws?
There are several ways that a worker may be able to recover remedies under California labor laws. They can simply speak to the offending party or file a complaint with their company’s human resources department.
If this option fails, then they may file a complaint with the appropriate state agencies (discussed above) that handle labor law violations. Lastly, if reporting an employer to a state agency produces insufficient results, then they can take legal action by filing a lawsuit or requesting an alternative dispute resolution like arbitration.
Some remedies that are available to workers under California labor laws include:
- Recovering owed wages, benefits, and overtime;
- Receiving monetary damages and possible punitive damages;
- Being reinstated in their former position (if wrongfully terminated);
- Changing employers’ discriminatory or retaliatory practices; and
- Various other remedies that would relate to and resolve a worker’s specific claim.
Do I Need to Hire a California Lawyer for Help Resolving an Unfair Employment Issue?
Labor laws are a unique area of the legal field and tend to vary widely from state to state. As such, if you need help resolving an unfair employment issue, then you should contact a California employment lawyer for further guidance. An experienced employment lawyer will be able to assess your situation and can discuss what your best course of legal action may be to resolve your specific issue.
Additionally, your lawyer can explain what rights you have as a worker under both federal and California laws, and how they affect your matter. Lastly, your lawyer can also help walk you through the process to file a complaint with your state labor agencies, or alternatively, represent you in court if necessary to resolve your matter.