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Los Angeles Employment Law Blog

What is 'at-will' employment?

California employees and others in many parts of the country have no doubt heard the phrase "at-will employment." What is it, though, and how does it affect employees who fall into this category?

At-will employment means that either an employee or an employer can terminate employment at any time -- for nearly any reason. While this technically may be the definition, there are some exceptions to this that have been created by public policy, statutes or the courts. Examples of a few of those exceptions include:

How is sexual harassment legally defined?

Most everyone is aware that sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace. However, many may not be aware of what the legal definition of sexual harassment actually is. Sexual harassment, according to the Fair Employment and Housing Act, is defined as "harassment based on sex or of a sexual nature; gender harassment; and harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition."

There are many behaviors that would constitute sexual harassment in the workplace. These include:

Misclassification of employees

The misclassification of employees is a serious issue in California and across the country. When someone is misclassified, he or she is not eligible for overtime pay or other benefits that those who are classified as employees are.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 14 states have signed an agreement called a Memorandum of Understanding. This agreement was originally signed between the Internal Revenue Service and the DOL. Now, those states have agencies and labor commissioners who have signed the MOU with the DOL's Wage and Hour Division as well as other agencies. The goal is to make sure employees are classified correctly and have the protections they are supposed to have.

California employees sue SpaceX for violating labor laws

Many of our readers are familiar with Elon Musk and his Hawthorne-based rocket manufacturer Space Exploration Technologies Corp. While SpaceX, as it's known, may be focused on the future of space travel, according to recent lawsuits, its employment practices are not keeping up with current 21st century employment laws.

Former employees filed two lawsuits in Los Angeles County within one week this month. Both suits allege that the company violated labor laws.

Appeals court rules against California company in FMLA case

A federal appeals court ruling against a California-based company could impact other cases involving the Family and Medical Leave Act and specifically how FMLA-related notices are sent to employees. The case was brought by a woman who worked as an instructor for Corinthian Colleges Inc., which is headquartered in Santa Ana.

According to the suit, the plaintiff was terminated from her position in 2008 for not returning to work after the 12 weeks allowed by the FMLA. She also claimed that the company terminated her approximately 18 weeks after her leave began as retaliation for taking time off. Corinthian has said that they terminated her because of low enrollment by students.

Does an employee's depression qualify for FLMA?

With actor/comedian Robin Williams' suicide reportedly due to depression, more attention has been shed on this very real mental disorder. Depression can affect all aspects of a person's life, including their work and career. Some who suffer from depression do so silently. Others may approach their employers for time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act.

According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor on FMLA, the following is necessary for employees to be eligible for this time off.

California worker: Employer took bathroom videos of female staff

In an ideal work setting, Los Angeles employers would be fully compliant with laws that protect workers' rights. Unfortunately, some companies still bend or break the rules, sometimes blatantly. The difference is that victims of harassment and discrimination know they have legal protections and are exercising their employment rights.

A sexual harassment lawsuit was filed recently against an Ontario computer parts firm where women make up 90 percent of the work force. The plaintiff said she and other women who worked for Mentor Media were filmed while using a work bathroom. A hidden USB video camera allegedly was positioned under the sink facing the toilet in the co-ed restroom.

Workers filing family-leave lawsuits

The balance between work and family is one of the biggest considerations for modern American employees. For many, the amount of paternity leave, maternity leave and other family support benefits are critical when choosing an employer. At minimum, people want to get the benefits guaranteed to them under the Family and Medical Leave Act, known as FMLA. If they don't, they may file lawsuits, which is happening more often.

The FMLA guarantees set periods of leave and bars employers from retaliating against workers who take it. The amount of leave can be up to 12 weeks unpaid each year. Reasons can be based on medical or family needs.

Wrongful termination suit claims Hanford officials retaliated

California employers have a lot of flexibility in hiring and firing practices. Some Los Angeles workers may be surprised to know many employers don't need a strong reason or any reason at all to terminate an employee. That's part of living in a state with "at-will" employment rules where, barring any job or union contract to the contrary, employers pretty much have free rein over when and why to pink slip someone.

That may sound discouraging to workers, but employment laws aren't one sided. Employer discrimination and retaliation are prohibited during any stage of employment. Among other safeguards, employees are protected from being fired due to injury claims, medical conditions, national origin, religion, race, sexual orientation, gender and whistleblowing.

U.S. Senate looks at paid family leave

The shape of the employment world is rapidly changing, with employers and employees scrambling to keep up. Employers want to offer key benefits to stay competitive in securing and retaining the brightest people in global markets. Employees want to balance work and family. The latter consideration in the United States is significantly affected by the Family and Medical Leave Act. It details employer and employee rights and responsibilities with regards to family leave. The United States Senate is looking at how paid leave is a part of that.

In a recent hearing before the highly influential Children and Families Subcommittee, U.S. Senators heard from representatives of working families, their advocates and business owners, all of whom testified about the importance of paid leave. The hearing was requested by Senator Kay Hagan. It focused on a need for a universal insurance program covering medical and family leave.