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Santa Barbara Employment Law Blog

To report or not to report sexual harassment in the workplace

Companies in California may not have a legal obligation to put sexual harassment policies in place, but most have one anyway. Sexual harassment policies may be especially important in the Golden State, where the #MeToo movement rocked Hollywood and took down some of the most well-known names in the entertainment business. These men — and sometimes, women — allegedly took advantage of younger candidates and employees seeking to advance their careers.

CNN reports that 90% of human resources professionals say the company they work for has sexual harassment policies in place. This helps to provide workers with protection in a number of ways. It establishes a route for people to address, report and prevent sexual harassment. Good policies also outline the consequences of proven allegations, regardless of position in the company.

Employee handbooks and wrongful termination

The at-will doctrine used by the state of California means employers are free to fire workers for any reason, provided the employers do not violate civil rights laws that forbid discrimination. However, if a company describes specific procedures for firing an employee, it could be argued that the company has waived at-will firing. One place to look for these procedures is an employee handbook.

As explains, workplaces create employee handbooks to address a number of subjects, including how employees are to behave while on the job, how they are to dress, and their place in the company hierarchy. If an employee breaks a rule, the employee may be disciplined. Lesser disciplinary actions may involve the loss of privileges or benefits, while in more severe cases, an employee may be terminated.

Wage theft rampant in California

Right now, there are no fewer than 20 California companies with outstanding wage theft judgments against them that are illegally operating with impunity despite owing workers more than a million dollars in penalties and back wages.

According to the director of the Women's Employment Rights Clinic and an associate law professor at Golden Gate University, they get away with it because, "[t]here's no accountability. Many of the cases that are being brought by workers are challenging flat-rate pay for 24 hours of work, conditions that are akin to modern-day slavery."

Make sure employers are giving you required breaks

There are many rules and regulations to protect workers in California, and giving appropriate breaks is one of them. The state requires employers to give rest and meal breaks when employees work a certain number of hours. If an employer does not grant these breaks, there are consequences.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers get a 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work. This rule excludes personal attendants, professional actors and sheepherders. Certain workers, such as those physically active in motion pictures, can take additional rest breaks. These breaks should ideally happen in the middle of a work shift, but employers can alter this to keep operations running smoothly.

Racial discrimination now includes hairstyles in California

If you have friends of African ancestry in California, you have likely heard the stories. Women and men alike are often bullied by bosses to cut their dreadlocks or pull their afros into a more allegedly respectable style. The bullying does not involve harsh remarks and sternly worded emails either. These people are threatened with their jobs. Even children are affected by hair discrimination. Some are threatened with being booted from their schools. If you are of African ancestry, then you have probably experienced these injustices firsthand.

Do you want to know what is most disturbing in these cases? Firing Black people in America for wearing their hair in natural styles is actually perfectly legal in almost every state. Because of this, it happens all the time. One Forbes article reports that when doing a Google search for “Black person fired for hair” they received 107 million results.

Sexual harassment and what your employer can do about it

Because of the #MeToo movement, more people are aware of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace. Californians may believe that sexual harassment is a new phenomenon or suddenly on the rise. The truth is that sexual harassment has been a problem since women first entered the workforce. Women have just finally created a platform from which to share their stories.

Contrary to popular opinion, men have also been subjected to sexual harassment. Most may not come forward, but it is a problem that also needs addressing. Because of this, men have also lent their voice to the #MeToo movement.

Trucker lunch breaks under attack in California

Truck drivers in California and all across America are tired. There is no doubt about it. These drivers have some of the toughest and most dangerous jobs in the country, working long hours on the road away from family and friends. Companies are struggling to find enough truck drivers to keep up with consumer demands. As a result, currently employed truck drivers are taking on more loads than they otherwise might have, further contributing to driver exhaustion.

As if this was not enough, the federal government has now launched an all-out attack against lunch breaks for truck drivers. According to Business Insider, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration decided last December that trucking companies in California were under no obligation to provide paid rest and meal breaks for truck drivers who drive in and outside of the Golden State. This is despite the fact that virtually all other laborers in California get a 30-minute break so long as they work more than five hours for a shift.

You can sue if an employer violates the Fair Labor Standards Act

You've been worried about your pay for some time. You find discrepancies each paycheck, and your employer ignores your attempts to talk through why your hours aren't matching with your pay.

You decided to make a complaint to the Wage and Hour Division, because talking to your employer wasn't helping you. Now, your employer has started acting differently toward you, going as far as to reduce your hours to next-to-nothing. You'll have to find a new job because of these sudden changes. Essentially, your employer is hoping you'll quit, and you're being penalized for filing a complaint.

How can I deal with microaggressions at work?

Microaggressions are small, seemingly minor slights that target minorities in the workplace. While these issues may not seem significant, over time they add up to create a hostile and unwelcoming environment for some workers. Knowing how to counter these slights in a meaningful and constructive way is crucial, according to

Comments about appearance are hardly ever welcome in the workplace. This is especially true regarding comments about a person's hair, which many women of color are unfortunately subjected to. In this case, it's best to consider who is responsible for the slight. If it's a co-worker, feel free to pull the person aside and explain why comments like that are offensive. If the person is in a position of authority, it's usually best to seek out a sympathetic individual who is on the same professional level. While it's unfortunate, the words of this person could hold more weight, especially if they are in good standing in a company or organization. 

Sneaky ways age discrimination occurs in the workplace

So you feel like your job is in danger since you turned 50? Have you seen coworkers that have suddenly been laid off when they reached retirement age?

Since laws have been passed that make age discrimination illegal, employers have become more creative in the ways they weed out older employees. For instance, there might be a sudden "downsizing" or perhaps a restructure that eliminates certain positions held by an older workforce.

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