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Orange County Employment Law Blog

Employee civil rights violations in California

Although some actions may very be unfair, not every action is prohibited by civil rights laws. Discriminatory actions by an employer must be actions that occur due to a person's protected status. Protected statuses include race, religion, gender, national origin, color, disability, pregnancy, familial status and veteran status.

A discriminatory act is prohibited at all stages of employment, from advertising an open position to termination of a person's employment. Employers may not discriminate against a worker in its hiring decisions or in promotions, pay, or provision of benefits or bonuses, for example. If a person's civil rights have been violated, he or she may attempt to negotiate a settlement short of filing a lawsuit in court. In many cases, he or she may need to pursue the matter through litigation.

What is the ADEA?

Those who are employed in California or elsewhere in the country may unfortunately have first-hand experience with the concept of age discrimination, which is the act of treating an employee or a candidate to become an employee differently because of his or her age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is a federal law that provides protection to workers who are over the age of 40.

In some cases, protections are available at the state level for those who are under the age of 40. It is also important to note that age discrimination can take place even if both the workers or applicants and the employer are over the age of 40. The law does not ban favoring a worker because he or she is older than another worker or applicant who may also be qualified to do a certain job.

McDonald's named as joint employer by NLRB

Workers in California may be interested to learn of a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that McDonald's corporate may be named as a joint employer together with its franchisees in the labor law violations committed by the franchisees.

The ruling was issued on Dec. 19 and could potentially mean McDonald's may be held jointly liable for laws broken by any of its 2,500 franchisees. More than 86 claims have been alleged against both McDonald's and McDonald's franchisees in the past few years. Complaints include illegal actions such as retaliation against workers for attempting to organize in order to increase wages and protesting work conditions. The 86 complaints have all been found to have legal merit, and have all been filed since Nov. 2012.

According to the numerous complaints, workers who attempted to assert their rights under federal and state labor laws were subjected to retaliatory actions by McDonald's.Retaliation included reductions in hours, firing, surveillance, discriminatory workplace discipline, threats, interrogation and promises of benefits in order to quell employee attempts at organizing and forming unions.

The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act

California employees may be interested in some information about the Americans with Disabilities Act and how it impacts the workplace. This federal law is integral in protecting the interests of employees with disabilities in order to counter and give redress for any workplace discrimination they may face.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees who qualify from disability discrimination in the workplace. In order to qualify as a person with a disability, one must either have an impairment, either mental or physical, that impedes major activities in their life, or be regarded or recorded as having such an impairment. The types of discrimination that a disabled person may face at their workplace include discrimination with regard to hiring, payment and benefits decisions, among others.

What is age discrimination in the workplace?

In California, as in all other states, age discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee or applicant for employment is treated less favorably than similarly-situated younger employees because of their age. Discriminatory actions can occurs at all stations along the employment spectrum from the hiring process, through training and promotions, to decisions on which employees will be let go in a layoff. Given this broad application, the actions of co-workers who harass an older worker, as well as an employment practice that disproportionately affects older employees, may constitute age discrimination.

Discriminatory employment actions based on age are forbidden by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a federal law that applies to employers with 20 or more employees. The ADEA provides age discrimination protection to workers 40 years of age and older, but some states provide these protections to workers younger than 40. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act also prohibits workplace age discrimination, and provides remedies for recovery when it is proven to have occurred.

Equal pay and workplace sex discrimination in California

California employers are forbidden to discriminate in the workplace against a worker due to his or her gender in addition to a number of other protected statuses. One aspect of the prohibition is the mandate that an employer may not pay someone less for the same work or in the same position as his or her opposite-sex counterpart. Unfortunately, despite the provisions of the law, sex-based pay discrimination still continues to occur in California and in other states across the country.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sex-based discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favorably due to his or her sex. Unlike other types of discrimination cases, someone who is alleging a violation of the equal pay provisions is able to file a case directly in court without having to go through the EEOC's complaint and investigation process first.

Religious discrimination in the workplace

In California and around the country, those working for employers who are subject to federal anti-discrimination laws have the right to remain free from religious discrimination in the workplace. Religious discrimination can take the form of being treated unfairly due to the person's beliefs or because that person is married to or associated with someone who is part of a particular religion. This means that a person cannot be discriminated against because of their religion in all aspects of employment, including training, hiring, firing or fringe benefits.

In addition to employment aspects, federal law also requires employers to respect and accommodate the person's religious practices, as long as they are within reason. In order to accomplish this, the employer may be required to make adjustments that allow for this accommodation. The only instance an employer may not be required to accommodate a person's religious beliefs or practices is if doing so would cause a major disruption to the operations of the company.

Genetic information discrimination in employment

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws that pertain to employment and investigating complaints of violations from California and throughout the country. These laws prohibit various types of discrimination, including the use of genetic information. Specifically, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits genetic information discrimination in employment.

Under federal employment law, the protected category of genetic information includes information about an employee's or applicant's genetic tests, family medical history and involvement by either the individual or that person's family in genetic services or related clinical research. Additionally, the genetic information of someone's own or family member's fetus or embryo is protected. It is forbidden to use genetic information in employment decisions, since such information has no relevance to work ability. GINA limits requests for genetic information and permits disclosure in a limited number of circumstances. All aspects of employment, including hiring, terminations, salary, promotions or demotions, fringe benefits and more, are protected by the law.

Workplace harrasment and discrimination

Employees in California may benefit from reviewing the laws enforced by the state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The laws are designed to protect workers from illegal harassment and discrimination based on several factors such as race, a disability, marital status, ancestry, age, religion, sex and sexual orientation, among others. California law places a number of requirements on employers to help minimize the likelihood of these adverse events from occurring at the workplace.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits the harassment of employees and prohibits employers from limiting the use of any language at workplace, unless essential for sustaining business. Still, employers are required to inform employees of any language restriction and the penalties for any infractions. The laws also require employers to take reasonable measures to prevent harassment or discrimination from occurring at the workplace. State law requires employers to inform workers on the nature of sexual harassment, its illegality and any legal remedies available.

The steps to take when filing a complaint against an employer

Employees in California who feel as if they have been discriminated against may file a complaint against their employer with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. The process begins by filing DLSE Form RC1, which may be downloaded from the Internet and is available in multiple languages. When filling out the form, it is important to provide all of the information that it asks for.

Failure to fill out the form in its entirety may delay the process of filing the claim and potentially resolving the problem. If there are any documents that the complainant wishes to attach to the form, only copies should be sent. This is because there is a risk that a document could be lost during the claim process. Forms should be signed and dated by the person making the complaint and mailed to the correct address.

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