Most employers like to think that they follow the labor laws, but many business owners and their employees often unknowingly break federal and state employment statutes.
Unfortunately, this can result in employee claims which can lead to time-consuming and costly legal lawsuits.
Labor Laws Intended to Inhibit Employer Over-Reach
Many states, including California, have laws prohibiting employers from taking any job-related action against a worker based on that worker’s lawful conduct off the job.
And while that can sometimes put an employer in a difficult position with a "problem" employee, an employer’s right to monitor what employees do on their own time - and make decisions based on that conduct - is quite limited, especially in California.
Employees of government and public entities have a constitutional right to privacy that protects them from most employer monitoring and from an employer inquiring about their off-the-job conduct. For that reason, public employees are largely protected from monitoring.
Keeping It At Home
A number of federal and state laws prohibit employers from acting on information about employee's personal lives outside of work.
For example, under the National Labor Relations Act, it’s illegal for an employer to monitor or conduct surveillance of employee union activities, including off-the-job meetings or gatherings. Employers are likewise barred from taking any action against an employee who uses medical marijuana, which is legal under state law in California although not by federal law.
However, a 2008 California Supreme court ruling in Ross v. RagingWire determined that an employer does not have to hire a job applicant who tested positive for marijuana even if the use is allowed under California law.
Overall, this decision confirms that an employer’s interest in conducting pre-employment drug screening overrides any privacy interest that a job applicant may have in off-duty use of marijuana, even if the marijuana use is permitted by the Compassionate Use Act
Generally speaking, employers are entitled to take action after learning of an employee’s conviction for illegal activity outside of work hours. However, the employers still have the burden of demonstrating that the decision or policy is job-related and consistent with their business operations.
For example, an employer would be entitled to look into the drunk driving arrest of a company delivery driver, or the conviction of an investment broker who embezzled money in another capacity.
Labor Laws in California: Common Employee Lawsuits
Despite the best efforts and intentions of employers in California, avoiding employee lawsuits can be challenging. And while there are multitudes of employer violations that can be committed - knowingly and otherwise - there are a few common ones that make up the bulk of legal cases.
Here are the four most common employee claims made against employers nationwide, according to statistics from the EEOC:
The most common form of employee lawsuits are discrimination claims. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal organization tasked with enforcing these laws, they received almost 94,000 of discrimination claims in 2013 alone. The EEOC tracks the many forms of discrimination and all alleged cases, particularly those concerning protected categories like race, sex, nationality, religion, sexual preference, age or disability.
2. Discriminatory Discharge
Discriminatory discharge occurs when an employee is either fired or laid off because he or she falls into a legally protected category, as listed above. The EEOC website states that:
An employer may not take into account a person's race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information when making decisions about discipline or discharge.When deciding which employees will be laid off, an employer may not choose the oldest workers because of their age.Employers also may not discriminate when deciding which workers to recall after a layoff.
Retaliation often occurs in the context of a discharge. An example would be firing an employee due to his or her engagement in a legally protected activity, such as:
Filing a claim of discrimination
Participating in an investigation of such a claim
Refusing to commit an illegal act, such as refusing to lie during an investigation
Retaliation can also occur without a discharge. In fact, almost any adverse action committed against an employee involved in a claim is illegal.
Harassment includes offensive conduct relating to any of the above mentioned categories (i.e. gender). It also includes offensive jokes, objects or pictures, name-calling, physical assaults, threats and anything else that might interfere with one's performance at work. This type of conduct can create an intimidating, hostile, or abusive environment.
The harasser can be anyone that is associated with the workplace, including full-time employees or contractors. Anyone can lodge a harassment complaint, regardless of whether they witnessed it or were the recipient of it.
Complying With Labor Law - California and Federal
Another key step in maintaining HR compliance and increasing your company's cost-effectiveness is to consider outsourcing. A professional payroll management and workforce solutions provider such as Accuchex can offer much-needed help with Human Resources needs and questions.
If your organization would like to learn more about its obligations, or acquire resources to deal with these types of situations, Accuchex recently partnered with HR Solutions Partners to offer its customers the most up-to-date and professional human resources management solutions available. To learn more about the different levels of Human Resource Management services available, please follow this link.
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