Knowing Your Rights in the Workplace

A large number of laws have been passed to protect the rights of employees in the workplace. The questions below are common questions that you may have as you enter the workforce. Your rights as an employee are not only complex, but are constantly changing. therefore, this is only a brief guide to each of your rights, and a list of resources is included at the end. 

1.) What can an employer ask me in an interview? 

Interview questions should generally relate to the skills and background necessary for the job. An employer cannot ask you your age, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or whether you have ever had a disability. An employer usually cannot ask about arrests that did not lead to a conviction, nor can an employer ask about convictions in which the records were sealed. 

2.) Can I be drug tested? 

You can be drug tested as a job applicant. Once you are an employee, usually your employer must have a reasonable suspicion that you are using drugs to require a drug test. Exceptions to this include if your job involves safety issues. 

3.) Does my employer need a good reason to discipline or fire me? 

Employment in California is "at will,"  meaning that you may be disciplined or fired without being given a reason. The exception to this is that you cannot be disciplined or fired because of your age, race or certain other personal characteristics (see "discrimination" for details). Employers cannot discipline or fire an employee due to lawful conduct away from the workplace.

4.) What is considered discrimination in the workplace?

Webster's dictionary defines discrimination as "a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit." The law prohibits a difference in treatment based on your race, sex, color, national origin, age, religion, disability, marital status, medical condition, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Discrimination can come in many shapes and form s including employers refusing to hire or promote a person based on one of the above character traits, not allowing a person reasonable time off for religious beliefs, and jokes or   negative comments regarding minority groups. Before you decide that you are a victim of discrimination, make sure that you are performing your job well. Then follow the grievance procedure at your place of employment. 

5.) What are California's requirements for wages and overtime pay? 

You must be paid at least minimum wage ($10.00 per hour as of January 2016) and tips cannot be considered part of the minimum wage. You must be paid overtime (one and a half times your usual wage) for every hour or part of an hour that you work, which is over eight hours in a day or over 40 hours in one week. The exception to overtime is if you are considered an "exempt employee." 

6.) Am I entitled to a break? 

Employees are entitled to a paid 10-minute break for every four hours and an unpaid 30 minute meal break every five hours. 

7.) Am I entitled to vacations, sick time, and leaves of absence? 

State law does not require your employer to provide you with vacations, holidays or sick time. Employers of five or more employees must provide reasonable accommodation to employees for conditions related to pregnancy. You may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for pregnancy. You can also qualify for up to six weeks of partially paid time off to care for a sick child, spouse, parent, or domestic partner. 

8.) Can my employer deduct anything from my paycheck? 

No. Items deducted from your check should be done so with your written authorization. Examples of items that can be deducted from your check are: union dues, tax withholdings, losses caused by your dishonesty, and food and lodging considered to be part of your salary. 

9.) What happens if I am injured at work? 

If you are injured while performing your job, you are eligible for benefits under the Worker's Compensation Insurance Program. Injuries must be reported within 30 days of the injury and your supervisor should be notified immediately. 

10.) What is sexual harassment? 

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcomed sexual conduct on the part of a supervisor, co-worker, or client. This can include sexual comments, pressure for sexual favors, inappropriate touching, a sexual assault, unwelcomed sexual jokes, or even degrading posters. Another example of sexual harassment is if your boss denies you a promotion because you refuse his or her sexual demands. All of these are a form of illegal discrimination. If you feel that you have been discriminated against, get a copy of your employer's sexual harassment policy and follow  the compliant procedure. 

11.) Is there anything I can do about unsafe working conditions? 

Yes, you have the right to work in a safe and healthy workplace. If you feel that your workplace is unsafe, you have the right to anonymously ask the California Occupations Safety and Health inspectors to check your workplace for safety violations. 

12.) Can I join a union? 

Yes, you normally have the legal right to join a union. Unions have a legal duty of fair representation to all of the workers in the unit. 

13.) Can my employer give me a bad reference? 

Yes, if it is the truth or if it is offered as an opinion. Your employer cannot lie about your job performance to keep you from getting a new job. 

14.) Do I have the right to review my personnel file? 

Yes, you have the right to see your personnel file while you are an employee and for a limited amount of time after leaving your job. You also have the right to request copies of all paperwork that you have signed. 

15.) Can I keep my health benefits after leaving a job? 

Yes, you can keep your health coverage through a program called COBRA for up to 18 months. You must pay the employer's cost of continuing your coverage to participate in this plan. 

16.) How do I get unemployment benefits? 

The State's Employment Development Department (EDD) determines each person's eligibility for unemployed benefits. In order to qualify, you must: complete the EDD application, be unemployed or underemployed, have earned the minimum amount of wages required during the past 18 months, have lost your job through no fault of your own, be available to work, and be looking for a job. 

 

If you feel that you have been treated unfairly, please take the time to get more information regarding any of the questions listed above. Below are resources available to you to get additional information: 

 

Beyond Foster Care: Need for Services Beyond the Age of 21

This survey is for California former foster, Independent Living Program (ILP) eligible probation, and dual status youth ages 22 to 35. The purpose of the study is to explore the experiences and need for services of California former foster, ILP eligible probation, and dual status youth who are between the ages of 22 and 35. Participation in the study would last about 20 to 35 minutes. You may choose to withdraw your participation at any time. Your answers will be confidential. The information will be kept in a secure database with no identifying information for the duration of the study. 

The findings of this study will be used to provide suggestions for programs and services that will improve long-term outcomes for former foster, ILP eligible probation, and dual status youth. 

Visit this link in order to complete the survey! 


 

Additional Resources

 
          
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