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When you are offered a job, you will usually be asked to sign an employment contract. This document is a legally binding agreement between you and your employer that outlines the terms of your employment. The contract will typically cover topics such as your job duties, salary, and benefits. It is important to read the contract carefully before you sign it to ensure you understand your rights and responsibilities.

If you think you have experienced workplace harassment, discrimination or retaliation, have been underpaid, misclassified, or not allowed to take proper meal and rest breaks, contact us today! Let us fight for your rights!

Table of Contents

1. What does “at-will employment” mean?

2. What constitutes illegal discrimination?

3. What are the protected categories under California law?

4. How do I know if my employer is illegally retaliating against me?

5. Was I wrongfully terminated?

6. What meal and rest breaks am I entitled to?

7.  What can I do if my employer requires that I work off the clock?

8. How do I know if I am entitled to overtime or improperly classified?

9. Is my employer required to accommodate my disability?

10. What is sexual harassment in the workplace?

11. Are sexual acts required for sexual harassment in the workplace?

12. What is a hostile work environment?

13. I was fired! Am I being offered a fair severance?


1. What does “at-will employment” mean?

          In an at-will employment relationship, either the employer or employee can terminate the agreement at any time, for any legal reason, with or without cause.

2. What constitutes illegal discrimination?

          Employers with 5 or more employees may not discriminate against job applicants and employees because of a protected category or retaliate against them because they have asserted their rights under the law.

Illegal discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee differently because of a protected category.  These laws apply to all business practices, including but not limited to:

                 Applications, screening, and interviews;

                 Participation in a training or apprenticeship program, employee organization or union;

                 Hiring, transferring, promoting, terminating, or separating employees;

                 Working conditions, including compensation; and


3. What are the protected categories under California law?         

California law protects individuals from illegal discrimination by employers based on the following protected categories:

                 Race, color

                 Ancestry, national origin

                 Religion, creed

                 Age (40 and over)

                 Disability, mental and physical

                 Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions)

                 Sexual orientation

                 Gender identity, gender expression

                 Medical condition

                 Genetic information

                 Marital status

                 Military or veteran status

4. How do I know if my employer is illegally retaliating against me?      

If you have complained about unlawful conduct in the workplace and your employer has taken any adverse action against you  because of your complaint, you may have been subjected to illegal workplace retaliation. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee because the employee exercised their legal rights.

Exercising legal rights may include submitting a harassment claim, complaining, participating in an investigation, reporting a safety code violation, reporting fraudulent activity, or even taking family leave for pregnancy or childbirth.

An adverse employment action may include:


                 Salary reduction


                 Exclusion from staff meetings or benefits

                 Unjust negative performance reviews

                 Demotion or Denial of a Promotion

                 Creating a hostile work environment to force the employee to quit


5. Was I wrongfully terminated?   

Even with at-will employment, there are limitations when it comes to termination.  Even if you are terminated for cause, you may have a claim for wrongful termination if you can demonstrate that an unlawful reason was a substantial motivating factor for your termination.

Unlawful termination may occur when an employee is terminated due to his or her:

                 Membership in a protected class;

                 Refusal to commit an unlawful act;

                 Exercise of their legal rights (i.e. filing a worker’s compensation claim, reporting wage theft, participating in an investigation, etc.);

                 Taking protected leave under FMLA or CFRA; or

                 Taking protected sick leave.

6. What meal and rest breaks am I entitled to?       

If you earn an hourly wage and are a non-exempt employee, for every 4 hours of your shift, your employer must give you the opportunity to take a 10-minute rest break.

If you work more than 5 hours in one day, your employer must provide you with a 30-minute meal break during which you are free to leave the premises before the end of the 5th hour.

Each break must be entirely free of any work duties, and uninterrupted. 

If you worked over five hours and did not receive your meal break, your employer must compensate you for a full hour of work.

7. What can I do if my employer requires that I work off the clock?

          It is illegal for an employer to make any non-exempt employee work off the clock.  Employers are even prohibited from allowing employees to clock in for necessary before- or after-shift work, or simply assigning more tasks than is possible to complete in your compensated hours. If you can demonstrate that you performed uncompensated work for an employer, and that the employer knew or should have known you were performing hat work, you may have a claim for reimbursement of the unpaid time, plus potential penalties. 

It is illegal for employers to require or request that employees work through their breaks or complete necessary paperwork outside of their shifts.

8. How do I know if I am entitled to overtime and properly classified?

All non-exempt employees must be paid overtime pay whenever they work more than 8 hours in a workday or 40 hours in one work week as follows:

          * 150% (time and a half) of their regular compensation when they work more than 8 hours in a workday, or 40 hours in a workweek, and

          * 200% (double time) of their regular compensation when they work more than 12 hours in a workday, or 8 hours on their seventh consecutive workday.

Generally, employees are only exempt from overtime if they earn a specified minimum annual salary, which is set by the law and subject to change, and they spend most of their time at work doing intellectual, managerial, or creative tasks which require the exercise of discretion and independent judgment. A typical exempt employee may be a store manager, an engineer, or an outside sales representative.

As of January 01, 2023, the minimum annual salary for Exempt Employees in California is $64,480.00, regardless of the number of employees.

However, an “exempt” title in an offer letter, listed job responsibilities, or even an agreement with an employer does not necessarily exempt an employee from being paid overtime requirements. Many employers misclassify employees to avoid giving them requisite rest and meal breaks and paying them overtime.  Every situation must be assessed based on its individual facts.

If you think you have been improperly classified as an exempt employee and not been allowed to take proper meal and rest breaks, or not paid overtime, you may be entitled to compensation.

9. Is my employer required to accommodate my disability?         

Yes. Employers with five or more employees are required to engage in the interactive process to try to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability, unless it would cause an undue hardship on the employer. Reasonable accommodations may include transitioning or altering job duties or work schedules, providing mechanical aids, or reassignment to vacant positions.

It is unlawful for an employer to fail to engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process with an individual seeking an accommodation for a qualifying disability.

10. What is sexual harassment in the workplace?    

Sexual harassment in the workplace is negative, inappropriate, or unwanted conduct directed at a worker because of their sex or gender.

California law protects against a broad range of behaviors that can constitute sexual harassment, ranging from conditioning employment benefits on tolerance of unwelcome sexual advances, to the creation of a sex-based hostile work environment.

11. Are sexual acts required for sexual harassment in the workplace?       

No, sexual acts are not required to prove sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact, sexually harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire at all.

California sexual harassment law protects employees against any kind of harassment based on sex, gender, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. 

Sexual harassment can be anything from sexually explicit discussions or content in the workplace to pervasive sexual favoritism.

12. What is a hostile work environment?

A hostile work environment is workplace bullying severe enough to create a legal cause of action. It is usually created by harassment, based on any protected characteristic, that is either severe or pervasive enough that an employee reasonably believes the work environment to be abusive.

What constitutes a hostile work environment depends on the context of any given workplace, and the specific facts of each situation. 

Factors which may be considered to determine whether a hostile environment has been created include:

                 The frequency of the conduct;

                 The severity of the conduct;

                 Whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or ‘merely’ offensive; and

                 Whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.

13. I was fired! Am I being offered a fair severance?

When employees are laid off or terminated, employers will often offer a “severance”, which is a settlement amount in exchange for a full release of any future claims against the employer and its affiliated entities.  Employers will usually start as low as possible to see if employees will accept the amount being offered.  The amount the employee may be entitled to depends on various factors, including their length of tenure with the company, their position, and the circumstances leading up to the termination.  Don’t settle for less than you are owed! If you think you have been offered a severance that is lower than you are entitled to, we can fight to negotiate a higher amount on your behalf! Contact us today! 


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  • “John helped me find doctors, he referred me to his neurologist, his physical therapist, I mean, anything I needed he was right there, every step of the way. I couldn’t have asked for a better result from all of this, I would absolutely recommend Gomez Trial Attorneys.”

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