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California Workplace Injuries: Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to your questions about the Jones Act, California workers’ compensation, or employment law. If you have more questions, contact us.

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  • What is a “good-faith” dispute in a wage and hour case?

    A “good faith” dispute removes an employer’s liability to pay waiting time penalties to an employee.

    By law, employers are required to pay all outstanding wages owed to a worker within 72 hours of the employee’s last shift. If this is not done, the employee can collect waiting time, which is an additional day of pay at the employee’s regular rate for each day the worker is kept waiting for his or her final wages.

    However, the worker is not eligible for waiting time penalties in California if the employer shows that there was a good reason the wages were not paid.

    When Can an Employer Claim a Good Faith Dispute?

    The good news is that, even by making a good-faith defense, the employer agrees that the employee’s claim is valid. However, the defense allows an employer to state the reason why the wages were not paid on time—and if the reason is valid, the employer can get out of paying some or all of the waiting time penalties.

    Depending on which good faith dispute is made, an employer may be able to escape liability for:

    Waiting Time Penalties:

    Employers can be excused for a violation of state and federal pay requirements if the employer can prove that his actions conformed with an applicable written order, ruling, or interpretation of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. Even if the written rule that was applied is later overturned or rescinded, the employer can claim a good faith dispute as long as the order was in effect at the time of the dispute. If successful, the defense allows employers to avoid liability altogether.

    Liquidated Damages:

    Under some circumstances, an employer can admit that the company owes you back pay while also reducing the number of liquidated damages you are owed. Liquidated damages are an additional amount equal to the amount of back pay owed, and are intended to punish the employer for wrongdoing. If the employer had reason to believe that he or she was doing the right thing—for example, listening to the advice of a lawyer who gave misinformation—then the company may not be liable for liquidated damages.

    For more information on your wage and hour case, read through our free book, California Truck & Delivery Driver Wage Theft: The Ultimate Straight Talk Guide to Getting Your Hard Earned Wages Back.

  • What are whistleblower laws?

    In order to encourage the reporting of illegal business practices, state and federal laws include a "whistleblower" clause that prevents retaliation against an employee who reports workplace violations to the authorities.

     

     

    What Actions Are Protected Under Whistleblower Laws?

    California’s Whistleblower Protection Act protects both public and private employees who report violations of law, violations of public policy, and breaches of the public trust. The state law includes employees who report a suspected violation internally (such as to a manager or supervisor), and also protects third-party and contract employees.

    Employment laws prohibit discrimination or retaliation against workers who report:

    Labor Law Violations:

    California labor laws prevent adverse actions against workers who report wage violations, including unpaid wages, overtime, meal and rest breaks, working minors, and other violation of the labor code. In 2016, additions to the California Labor Code prevented retaliation against a whistleblower’s family members, as well as prohibiting retaliation by third parties (such as contractors).

    Workplace Health and Safety Violations: Federal laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, Toxic Substance Control Act, Water Pollution Control Act, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act protect workers from retaliation if they report concerns about environmental dangers, unsafe work environments, health code violations, or potential illegal dumping.

    Patient Safety Concerns:

    California Health and Safety Code 1278.5 prevents retaliation against patients, nurses, medical staff, and healthcare workers who report poor quality of patient care and unsafe healthcare conditions. Healthcare workers what have been terminated after reporting violations to the facility itself or to a government entity is entitled to reinstatement, reimbursement, and the payment of his or her legal costs.

     

    Not only must terminated whistleblowers be rehired, they are also eligible to file a claim against the employer to recover any damages that the discrimination has cost them. Compensation can include repayment of lost wages, benefits and vacation pay, and additional damages for hardship and offense caused by the retaliation. In some cases, retaliation can carry criminal charges for the employer. For more information on these types of cases, please use our website to learn more about California employment laws.

     

     

  • What is employment at will?

    Simply put, employment “at will” means that both parties can terminate the work contract at any time.

    While this means that an employee has the right to leave a job for any reason, he or she may also be fired at any time by the employer—and neither party has to give a reason for the decision. This simple doctrine can cause big headaches for both employers and employees.

    Exceptions to the California Employment At-Will Rule

    Although an at-will employee can generally be fired at any time, for any reason, there are some exceptions. At-will employees are still protected by state and federal laws. Which means you can't be fired because of:

    Discrimination:

    Employers are subject to strict labor laws to protect employees from discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. If you were fired because of your race, gender, nationality, religion, disability, medical condition, marital status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age, you have recourse to sue your employer for reinstatement or damages.

    Whistleblowing:

    If you provided information about your employer’s illegal or unsafe business practices, you cannot be fired for this reason.

    Legal activities:

    Employers are not permitted to terminate employees for their political activities, nor can they fire employees for engaging in legal activities during nonworking hours away from the workplace.

    Union membership:

    The National Labor Relations Act prevents employers from firing employees who exercise collective bargaining rights or seek to form a union.

    Protected leaves of absence:

    California law states that employees cannot be terminated during or as a result of taking certain types of permitted leave. Examples of protected leave include recovery from work-related injuries and maternity leave.

    Lack of good cause:

    Some employees are protected by “good cause” contracts, documents which expressly state that employees cannot be fired without a legitimate reason. The Supreme Court of California has provided that a “good cause” contract may exist even if it is not explicit. Depending on the circumstances of these cases, a court may find that the employer does need grounds to fire an employee.

     

    Most California Workers Are At-Will Employees, But There Are Exceptions:

    People who are specifically contracted to work for a specified period of one month or longer are not employed, nor are those who have specific job security provisions included in a signed employment contract.

     

    If you are fired for a reason that violates labor laws, you could have a legal claim against your employer. For more information on these types of cases, please use our blog to learn more about California employment laws.

  • When does my employer have to issue my final paycheck if I am fired or laid off in California?

    In the state of California, it is illegal for an employers to withhold pay from a terminated or laid off employee.

    In most cases, payment must be issued to terminated workers on the last day of employment. It is illegal to make an employee wait until the end of the next regularly scheduled pay period for any portion of his or her final wages. However, some industries that rely on work done away from the employer’s administrative offices may be allowed a 24-hour grace period to issue pay.

    An employee’s final paycheck must include:

    • Wages earned for all days up to and including the last day of work
    • Any unpaid wages from earlier pay periods
    • All accrued vacation or paid time off (PTO) that the employee has not used

    If you were not issued your final pay on the last day worked or within 72 hours of the last day worked, you may be able to collect waiting time penalties in addition to your final pay.

    California Penalties for Withholding Final Pay of Fired or Laid Off Employees

    Waiting time penalties are calculated using the employee's regular pay rate, including overtime and commissions. For every day pay is withheld, the employee is owed an additional day’s worth of wages up to a maximum of 30 days. For example, if your employer waited a week before issuing final pay, the employer would owe you an additional seven days of pay as a penalty. 

    Employees may still be owed waiting time penalties if their final paycheck is timely, but does not contain all wages earned. If your final paycheck is missing your PTO balances or overtime pay, you will be owed a day’s wage for every day you are kept waiting for compensation. If your employer insists that you cannot be paid until the next regular pay period, you are entitled to two additional weeks of pay for the delay.

    If your employer is withholding your final pay, you should take immediate action to protect your wage and hour claim. Please feel free to browse our articles to learn more about these kinds of cases.

  • When are California employees required to take meal breaks during shifts?

    California has strict labor laws governing when workers can take meal breaks, when they must be paid for breaks, and whether employees can work while on break.

    These laws apply to nearly all employees who are not exempt from earning overtime—and depending on how long you work, you might get more than one meal break per shift.

    For most non-exempt employees, an employer must provide:

    One Meal Break:

    Your manager or supervisor must provide you with a meal period of at least thirty minutes any time your shift is at least five consecutive hours. However, if the total work period of the day is less than 6 hours, the meal period may be waived if both the employer and employee consent.

    A Second Meal Break:

    Any employee who works more than ten hours per day must take a second meal period of at least thirty minutes. If the total hours worked is less than 12, the employee may voluntarily give up his second break as long as he did not waive the first meal period of the shift.

    A Place to Eat:

    If employers are required to remain on the premises while eating, the employer is responsible for designating a suitable place for that purpose. Under the guidelines of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC), employer requirements for break rooms may include sinks, a supply of potable water, or disposable towels or hand dryers.

    Access To Food:

    The IWC also demands that employees whose meal period occurs on a shift during the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. must be given adequate facilities for securing hot food or drinks, or the ability to heat food or drinks they have brought from home. They must also be provided with a sheltered place that is adequate for suitable consumption of food and drink.

    Not only are employers required to provide breaks, they must also ensure that employees are relieved of all duties for the entirety of their meal periods.

  • How can I prove that my employer owes me unpaid wages?

    Knowledge & Evidence

    In order to get compensation for a wage and hour violation, you need two things: you must know how state and federal wage and hour laws apply to you, and you must be able to prove how much you have worked and how much you have been paid.

     

    How to Gather Evidence for a Wage and Hour Claim

    It is vital that you have concrete proof that your employer owes you wages that you have not received. Usually, this can be done in the following ways:

    Keep detailed records of the hours you work: 

    You shouldn’t rely on just your pay stub to tell you when and where you worked. Always keep your own schedule in a separate calendar that can be used to double-check your hours against your employer’s records.

    Gather any additional evidence:

    Last-minute schedule changes and shift-swapping can cause confusion in payroll, but that doesn’t excuse an employer from paying your wages. If you traded shifts or worked at an alternate location, contact the other employee or manager who can confirm the time you worked.

    Check your classification:

    Some employees are ineligible for overtime based on the income they earn or the tasks they perform. If your employer has classified you as exempt when you are not, you could be owed back pay dating all the way back to your hire date.

    Check additional pay categories:

    Employers are required to pay workers for any unused vacation or paid time off after a worker leaves employment, so always make sure your leave balances have been accounted for.

    Take note of dates:

    Not only are employees entitled to full and accurate pay, they have a right to receive these payments within a reasonable amount of time. Check your calendar closely to see if you could be owed interest on your unpaid wages as well as an additional waiting time penalty.

    After you have collected this evidence, you should speak with an attorney to determine if you have a valid wage and hour claim. Under California law, you can collect unpaid overtime for up to three years prior to the date you file your claim, so it is vital that you act quickly. Please feel free to use our website to learn how to get proper compensation under California pay laws.

    Disclaimer: Please understand these discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, endorsement and/or discussion does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation and/or this particular case/ situation.

  • Can a California employer fire a worker who is out on a leave of absence?

    Yes.

    Unfortunately, yes. Workplaces often have their own policies regarding maternity leave, medical leave, and absences caused by family and sick leave, which should be examined carefully for any loopholes that can be used to terminate employees unfairly. There are a few laws in place that can protect workers from losing their jobs while out on leave; however, there are time limits and exceptions for each of these provisions.

     

     

    Understanding the Protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

    Employees may believe that their jobs are protected under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). While this law provides employees with twelve weeks of unpaid leave each year to cope with unforeseen illness or family problems, it does not apply to all workplaces. Employees can only enjoy the protections of the FMLA if they:

    • Work at a company that has 50 or more employees
    • Have worked for the company for at least one year
    • Have completed at least 1,250 hours of work for the employer in the required year of employment
    • Do not exceed twelve weeks of absences

    The FMLA states that employees cannot be fired for taking their guaranteed weeks of medical leave, and they cannot be retaliated against for doing so. When employees return from FMLA leave, their employers are required to employ them in their former positions or in a job that is substantially similar. If the employee is on leave due to a medical disability, an employer cannot terminate the employee due to the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Not only is it illegal to discriminate against an employee with a disability, an employer must attempt to make reasonable accommodations that will allow the employee to do his or her job.

    Employers can terminate an employee for reasons unrelated to leave and can do so whether the employee is on leave or not. For example, if an employee goes over the allotted twelve weeks, even by one day, the employer could terminate him or her for excessive absences. The important thing to remember is that while employers may terminate an employee while on protected leave, the employer must provide a legitimate reason for termination that is unrelated to the leave. If your employer has unfairly denied you a position or denied your benefits, read through a copy of our free guide, The Ultimate Straight Talk Guide To Getting Your Hard Earned Wages Back.

     

    Disclaimer: Please understand these discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, endorsement and/or discussion does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation and/or this particular case/ situation.

  • Can I get California unemployment benefits if I was fired?

    Yes, if there was no misconduct.

    While many people believe that being fired excludes them from California unemployment benefits, that is not always the case. Under California law, any employees who have left employment through no fault of their own and are actively looking for work remain eligible to receive unemployment benefits. As long as the employee has not engaged in any misconduct, he or she may collect benefits after losing a job due to:

    Layoffs.

    Employees who lose their jobs due to company cuts, reductions, mergers, or layoffs are not responsible for the loss of their positions, so they are eligible for unemployment.

    Termination.

    Employees who are terminated for misconduct cannot collect benefits. To qualify as misconduct, an employer must be able to show that you substantially breached one of your regular job duties and that your misconduct was intentional and informed. However, if you were fired because you made an honest mistake, were unable to adequately perform your job, or you weren't a good fit for the position, you should be able to collect unemployment as long as you are looking for work.

    Resignation or quitting.

    In most cases, people who quit their jobs are not eligible for unemployment unless they can show good cause for leaving employment. For example, employees who were facing illegal or unethical treatment by their employers (such as harassment, threats, discrimination, or a dangerous work environment) can collect unemployment if they attempted to resolve the situation before leaving their jobs. In addition, employees who need to relocate for family reasons or have pressing health or personal matters may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

    How California Workers Can Get the Unemployment Benefits They Are Owed

    Unfortunately, some employers will misrepresent the terms of an employee’s separation to prevent the employee from collecting unemployment. If you were denied unemployment on the grounds of misconduct or for some other inapplicable reason, you are within your rights to appeal the decision and collect your benefits. To learn more about taking action after unfair termination, browse through our articles or read through our free guide, The Ultimate Straight Talk Guide To Getting Your Hard-Earned Wages Back.

     

    Disclaimer: Please understand these discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, endorsement and/or discussion does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation and/or this particular case/ situation. 

  • What are the rules for “reporting time pay” in California?

    Any Time an Employee is Required to Show Up to Work Should Be Considered Paid Time

    Under California Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Orders, employers must pay employees for unworked (but regularly scheduled) time, also known as reporting time. Simply put, any time an employee is required to show up to work should be considered paid time, even if he is not given a sufficient amount of work to cover all hours.

    Under the rules of reporting-time pay in California, if an employee is required to report to work, but performs less than half of his or her usual workload, the employee must be paid for at least half of the scheduled day’s work at his or her normal pay rate. In addition, employees cannot be paid for less than two hours on a day of reporting, regardless of the time worked.

    However, employers are not required to compensate employees for reporting time under the following exceptions:

    • If work operations are interrupted by threats to employees or property.
    • If civil authorities recommend that work be suspended.
    • If public utility services are interrupted, shutting off electricity, water, gas, or sewer service in the workplace.
    • When work is interrupted due to an act of God, such an earthquake or other natural disasters.
    • If the employee has reported but is not fit to work.
    • If the employee reported to work later than his scheduled time and was fired or sent home as a disciplinary action.
    • If the employee is compensated on paid standby status.
    • If the employee’s regularly scheduled shift is less than two hours.

    Wage Theft Is More Common Than Most Employees Realize

    If you don’t know your rights, it is easy for an employer to take advantage of you. In our free guide, The Ultimate Straight Talk Guide To Getting Your Hard-Earned Wages Back, we explain how employers can nickel and dime employees out of their paychecks, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of lost compensation. Download your copy today to get the facts on California wage violations.

  • Is “donning and doffing” required to be paid for by a California employer?

    Yes.

    In order to perform their work effectively, many employees are required to wear special clothing, such as hats, boots, aprons, and other equipment. Depending on the job, it can take over 10 minutes to put on and take off required clothing before and after each shift or breaks. In some cases, employers may insist that this “donning and doffing” be done on the employee’s own time.

    However, California employers can be compelled to pay workers for any pre- or post-shift activities that take place in service of the employer, even if the employee has not begun his principal work activities. Any tasks that are considered to be essential to the employee’s principal work activity should be compensable as part of an employee’s weekly pay, including:

    Uniforms:

    Police officers, doctors, mechanics, and other professionals who are required to wear uniforms should be paid to do so on-premises, especially if their work activities require a change of clothes mid-shift.

    Safety Gear:

    Some workers need to wear safety gear for the full duration of their shifts, such as food service workers or biochemical engineers. In many cases, the protective equipment needed takes several minutes to put on and take off, and doing so at home could compromise both the safety and sterility of the uniform. Any changing of clothes that cannot be done at home without posing a threat to the worker or work environment must be paid for by your employer.

    Shift Overlap:

    Some employees are required to report earlier than their scheduled start times in order to orient themselves about the day’s events. Nurses may be required to talk to the previous shift nurse to document medications taken by each patient, while waiters often arrive early to memorize daily specials and taste dishes to describe them to customers. Employees are often told that this time is required, but is not paid—leading to hundreds or thousands of lost wages over the course of an employee’s career.

    Preliminary Duties:

    There are occasional instances where an employer will require a worker to be on the premises early in order to unlock doors, sign for a delivery, or meet a visitor. If you arrive earlier than your usual shift to “open up,” make coffee, answer e-mails, take calls, schedule appointments, or anything else for your employer, your paid time begins when you begin work—regardless of when others arrive.

    Donning and Doffing Can Lead to Overtime Violations

    A full-time employee who has been docked pay for pre- and post-shift work could be entitled to a significant amount of overtime pay. Learn more about California wage violations in our free guide, The Ultimate Straight Talk Guide To Getting Your Hard Earned Wages Back.

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