There are many laws that exist on a federal and state level to protect employees from unfair treatment by their employers. When employers violate these employment laws, the affected employees have the right to take legal action against them.
Common Grounds for a Lawsuit Against Your Employer
The following 15 employment law violations are the most common grounds to sue your employer.
Illegal Interview Questions
Employers are not permitted to weed out prospective employees from the hiring process by asking discriminatory questions. Employers are not entitled to information regarding pregnancy plans or status, health conditions, disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, religion, and sexual orientation. Even though these types of requests are illegal, employers may still try to ask vague questions such as how the prospective employee spends their time to try and get them to divulge protected information voluntarily.
In the state of California, it is illegal for an employer to harass or discriminate against an employee on the basis of their:
- National Origin
- Sexual Orientation
When employers violate this law, the affected employee must be able to prove that they faced adverse employment action due to their protected status. This can include harassment, being denied advancement, unwarranted disciplinary action, or even termination.
Discriminatory Discipline & Retaliation
Unwarranted write ups, suspension, and other unfair disciplinary action may be grounds for legal action if the motivation behind it was based on discrimination against a protected class or as retaliation for engaging in a protected activity. If an employee files a complaint about unsafe working conditions and is then suspended, they may have grounds for a claim against their employer.
California is an at will employment state. This means that unless there is an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement that states otherwise, the employer or the employee can end the employment relationship at any time. However, there are still a few things that employers are not permitted to terminate employees for. If an employee is fired because they are a member of a protected class, or because they engaged in a protected activity, they may be able to claim that they were wrongfully terminated. Protected activities include:
- Filing a complaint
- Participating in an investigation
- Taking medical leave
- Filing a Worker’s Compensation claim
- Taking time off for jury duty
Failing to Accommodate Medical Disability Requests
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to provide employees with reasonable disability accommodations when requested so long as the accommodation would not cause the employer undue hardship. Under the Family Medical Leave Act, employees have the right to take 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave to recover from injury or illness or to care for a family member suffering from an injury or illness. If an employer fails to provide either accommodation or leave, an employee may have the right to file suit for damages.
Wage & Hour Violations
There are many laws and regulations, such as the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, that require all employers to provide their employees with accurate compensation for all hours worked. When employers try to violate or circumvent these wage laws, their employees may be able to take legal action.
Employers are not permitted to dock an employee’s pay as a disciplinary measure or retaliation. On the rare occasion that an employer can legally dock an employee’s pay, they can not lower it below minimum wage or overtime rates. Not only are employers not permitted to require employees to work off the clock, but they must also compensate them for any unauthorized extra hours worked. The same rule applies to overtime; the employee must be compensated properly for any hours worked. Employees cannot waive their right to overtime pay.
Illegal Wage Deductions
There are only a few things that employers in California can deduct from an employee’s wages such as:
- Income Tax
- Court Ordered Garnishments
- Insurance Premiums
- Pension Payments
Employers in California are NOT permitted to deduct the following expenses from an employee’s wages:
- Business Expenses
- Medical/Physical Exams
According to the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders, employers are only ever allowed to deduct the cost of damaged property or register shortages if they can definitively prove that the loss was directly caused by the employee acting willfully or grossly negligent.
Working Off the Clock
Sometimes, an employee may be asked to perform work off the clock or feel that they have to due to tight deadlines or an overfull workload. This can involve anything from setting up before the start of a shift, finishing a task after clocking out, or answering emails on a day off. Not only is the employee not being compensated for this time worked, but those hours are not being included when calculating overtime pay. Employers are prohibited from requesting that employees work off the clock and are expected to compensate them properly for all hours worked.
The general rule in California is that employers must pay nonexempt employees:
- 5 times their rate of pay for every hour worked past 8 hours in a workday
- 5 times their rate of pay for every hour worked past 40 hours in a workweek
- 2 times their rate of pay for every hour worked past 12 hours in a workday
- 2 times their rate of pay for every hour worked past 8 hours on the 7th day in a row worked
There are other regulations in place for employes with different kinds of pay structures as well. If an employer fails to pay their employees for overtime hours, or do not pay them accurately, the employees may be able to sue for those unpaid wages.
In the state of California, employers must allow their employees to take a meal break for at least 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked. Employers are not permitted to require their employees to perform any kind of work or job duties while on this break. If this meal break is not provided, or if it is taken late, the employer may face penalties.
Sometimes, employers will misclassify their employees as exempt in order to get around overtime laws. They may also hire someone as an independent contractor and then treat them as an employee to get out of paying benefits or providing worker’s compensation. It is important to know your rights as an employee and whether or not you are being properly classified.
While employers are not legally required to provide a work environment that is friendly and supportive, they are required to ensure that the workplace is free of harassment. Isolated incidents, mean supervisors, and rude coworkers do not qualify as workplace harassment on their own. However, if the conduct is pervasive and consistent and motivated by discrimination against a protected class or retaliation for engaging in a protected activity, the affected employee may have a valid claim.
Workplace sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual conduct that is severe or consistent. Things like obscene jokes, suggestive comments, explicit photos, and mild physical contact may not qualify if it happens once, the person is asked to stop, and the behavior stops. If they are asked to stop and they continue, then it may be considered harassment. Isolated incidents can be considered harassment if they are more severe, such as sexual physical contact, soliciting sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits, or threatening adverse employment action to coerce sexual favors.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against their employees for engaging in protected activities. This includes not only actions taken on their own behalf, but also things like reporting discrimination against a coworker, or participating in an investigation. Retaliation may include but is not limited to:
- Reduced hours
Can You Sue your Employer for Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress occurs when someone else’s actions cause anxiety, depression, humiliation, and stress often to the extent that it negatively impacts the victim’s daily life. There are two kinds of emotional distress that an employee may suffer that could have grounds for legal action:
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress – When an employer’s negligence or willful dereliction of duty directly results in their employee suffering emotional distress.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress – When an employer deliberately or recklessly engages in conduct that is extreme and outrageous as to directly cause their employee emotional distress.
Can You Sue an Employer for the Actions of an Employee?
Employers have an obligation to protect their employees. This means taking action when other employees are engaging in harmful behavior such as harassment and discrimination. An employee may be able to take legal action against their employer for a coworker’s conduct if:
- The employer knew about the behavior or reasonably should have known
- The employer knew that the employee was suffering harm due to the behavior
- The employer refused or failed to take action to stop the behavior
This is why it is important to make detailed written complaints via email to your human resources or equivocal department if you are facing workplace discrimination or harassment.
Before You Sue: Try Alternatives to Litigation
Employment lawsuits are generally a last resort for solving a conflict. When dealing with problems in the workplace, the first step should be to see if the matter can be resolved internally. Make a formal written complaint to human resources via email detailing the issues at hand. If this does not work, there are also government agencies that may be able to help such as the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing also known as the California Civil Rights Department. There are also many ways in which an attorney may be able to assist without going to litigation such as arbitration, mediations, and settlement negotiations.
Steps to Take If You Move Forward with a Lawsuit
Before filing a lawsuit, it is critical to ensure that there is a valid claim and evidence to support it. Without the proper preparation, a lawsuit may not have sufficient grounds to recover damages.
Be Sure There Was a Suable Offense
Employers have a responsibility to provide a work environment that is free of discrimination and health or safety hazards. They are not legally obligated to treat their employees kindly or provide a work environment that is happy or positive. There are many ways in which an employer might mistreat an employee that does not violate any laws. Things like favoritism, rudeness, and even unfair termination can be completely legal if not motivated by discrimination against protected classes or retaliation for engaging in a protected activity.
Check to See if Anyone Else’s Employment Rights are Being Violated
Often with discrimination lawsuits, there is more than one victim. If you feel you are being discriminated against, talk to any coworkers who belong to the same demographic. If you are being retaliated against, try to find out if anyone else has faced the same treatment for the same actions. The more evidence a claim has, the easier it is to prove. A pattern is generally more convincing than an isolated incident.
Find Credible Witnesses
Oftentimes, coworkers can see and hear how a fellow employee is being treated. Discrimination and harassment are often verbal and sometimes documents can look innocuous out of context. If there is no visible proof of an incident occurring or being motivated by discrimination or retaliation, then a signed firsthand account of the situation can be a convincing confirmation.
It is best to have as much evidence as possible. Keep records of all requests, complaints, performance reviews, and emails. Communicate in writing as much as possible, via email so that there is documented proof of who said what and when. Take screen shots of any text messages or chat conversations showing or discussing the situation. When making complaints, be as detailed as possible.
Be Prepared to Be Scrutinized
Employers will usually try and justify their actions by claiming that they were motivated by other factors. They will often try to shift blame onto the employee instead. Everything the employee has said and done can be used against them. Coming in late, not following procedure, breaking rules, and any kind of insubordination will be brought up and examined. In wrongful termination cases, employers will use any explanation they can to insist that the termination was legal.
Be Prepared to Work in an Uncomfortable Situation at Work
There are some situations where an employee is taking legal action against an employer they still work for. This can create tensions in the workplace and have unforeseen consequences. It is important to consider all options and outcomes when deciding how to proceed. It may be helpful to consult with an attorney about the best course of action for your situation.
Determine What Your Desired Outcome of the Lawsuit Is
When filing a legal claim, it is important to know what you are hoping to accomplish. When we are wronged, we want justice, but we don’t always know exactly what might look like. With employment cases, it may be about compensation for lost wages or holding a company accountable for wrongdoing. Litigation is a long, stressful, and expensive process and the outcome should be worth the fight.
Accept The Risk That the Outcome of the Lawsuit May Be Nothing
It is possible to be completely in the right, have evidence, fight hard, and still lose. The reason that many people choose to negotiate settlements is because litigation can be a steep gamble. If you win, it can be well worth it, but you should be prepared for all possible outcomes. Sometimes, accepting a fair settlement is a wiser option than fighting it out in court and walking away with nothing.
How to Sue Your Employer
In order to file a claim against an employer, you generally must first obtain a Right to Sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The other most important factor is to find a good lawyer. Seeking the advice and assistance of employment lawyers can make the entire process easier and less stressful as well as give you the best chance at a positive outcome. You want to find the right lawyer for your specific situation. Friends and family can often provide good recommendations as well as online searches and contacting your respective State Bar’s referral service.
How an Employment Lawyer Can Help Your Employment Violation Claim
The legal system can be daunting for most people to navigate. An attorney can help guide you through the process, explain the laws, your rights, and any options moving forward as well as possible outcomes. They can also tell you exactly what evidence is needed to support your claims, file the necessary paperwork, and determine the appropriate compensation for your losses. The attorney is the one who does the heavy lifting such as settlement negotiations and court battles. They will be at your side every step of the way.
Contact Mesriani Law Group to Discuss a Potential Claim for Employment Law Violations
People have a right to be treated fairly by their employers. There are several federal and state laws that protect employees from discrimination and retaliation as well as ensuring that they are properly compensated. When employers violate those laws, they should be held accountable. Filing a claim against an employer can be an arduous process and having an employment attorney can make all the difference. Our firm specializes in employment law, and we are dedicated to fighting for the best possible outcome for our clients. If you have a claim against an employer, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.
Can You Sue Employer FAQs
Can you sue your employer for a toxic work environment?
California law defines a hostile work environment as pervasive or consistent offensive conduct that is discriminatory against a protected class or retaliation against a protected activity. Employees who are subjected to a hostile work environment are generally unable to perform the necessary functions of their job as a result. There can also be health issues that arise due to stress and anxiety created by the situation. In these cases, the employee may have a viable legal claim against their employer.
How do you win a lawsuit against an employer?
The best way to build a solid case is by having as much concrete evidence as possible. Documentation such as emails, text messages, and official records can show exactly what happened. It is also good to have credible witnesses who can verify your claims. Another key factor is having an experienced employment attorney who is willing and able to fight for you.
Can I sue my employer for setting me up to fail?
Sometimes, an employer will sabotage an employee by presenting them with impossible standards or denying them the resources needed to complete their work. This can often be a way for the employer to build a preemptive defense against a wrongful termination claim. If the employee can prove that the employer is setting them up to fail and that there is discrimination or retaliation involved, then they may be able to bring a claim against the employer.
Does suing a company affect future employment?
While some employers may be hesitant to hire someone who sued their previous employer, there are several reasons why it may not be an issue. When negotiating a settlement, the employee can ask that one of the terms be that the employer not speak ill of them in the future. Also, most background checks are looking for things like criminal charges and being a plaintiff in a civil suit is less likely to come up. Furthermore, if an employer does find out that a prospective employee sued their previous employer for violating their rights and then refuses to hire them based on that information, it can be grounds for a retaliation claim.