How to File a California Employment Law Claim

Submitted by pec on

If you believe that you have suffered from discrimination in your workplace, been fired for a reason which is in breach of state or federal employment legislation, or have evidence that you are underpaid according to state employment laws you may be eligible to file a California employment law claim. There are both state and federal government agencies that are in charge of enforcing employment laws and you should file your claim with the most appropriate agency to pursue your employment complaint. Read on below to understand what steps you should take.

Understanding California's Employment Laws

Workers in California are protected by both California’s own state and federal employment legislation. Both parallel sets of legislation protect workers from being discriminated against while in their workplace, as well as other protections from negative factors in their place of work such as being fired for whistleblowing or applying for statutory benefits and allowances. State wage and hour laws ensure that all waged employees in California are paid at least the state minimum wage and are paid the correct rate if they work overtime.

The following state and federal laws are in place to protect California workers while employed. 

1. Wage and Hour laws (state employment laws)

These establish the state’s minimum hourly wage, overtime rates, statutory meal and rest breaks. The minimum wage in California is $14 or $15 an hour depending o the size of the workplace. Overtime is any time worked over 40 hours in any 7 day period. Overtime must be paid at 150% of the normal hourly rate.

2. Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA – state). This state employment law protects workers from being discriminated at work because of their color, age, religious affiliation, ethnic identity, pregnancy. It also protects workers from retaliation against them by their employer because they have exposed illegal practices or refused to carry out illegal activity at work (whistleblower protection).

3. California Family Rights Act (CFRA – state). This law provides protection for employees who need to take leave to care for family members who are sick.

4. Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act (HWHFA - state). This law provides protection for employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave per year for serious medical treatment.

5. Civil Rights Act 1967 (federal). This federal law is parallel legislation with the FEHA and provides similar protections against discrimination, whistleblowing and other types of retaliation by an employer. Separate federal legislation (below) protects workers from other forms of discrimination.

6. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA- federal). This act provides protection against discrimination against anyone who is disabled and makes it compulsory to provide adequate facilities for disabled employees (e.g. ramps for those in wheelchairs).

7. Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA – federal). This act provides protection against discrimination against an employee over 40 because of their age.

8. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA – federal). Provides protection for employees who need to take unpaid time off work for medical reasons or to provide care for family members.

Types of Claims Under California Employment Law

  • Wage and hour claims (unpaid wages, overtime violations, less than minimum wage rates, lack of meal or rest breaks).
  • Discrimination and harassment claims (based on race, gender, age, disability or other protected class).
  • Retaliation claims (for reporting illegal workplace activities or exercising rights such as applying for or taking family or medical leave, workers’ compensation)

Where to File Different Types of Claims

Because both California employment laws and federal equivalents provide often parallel protection, you can choose to file your claim with either a state or federal agency. Note that the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), which is in charge of federal anti-discrimination laws, only investigates claims made by workers who are employed in workplaces where 15 or more employees are employed. State agencies will investigate claims by employees in smaller workplaces. 

Generally, state and federal government agencies may cooperate on some claims e.g. the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the EEOC have a work sharing agreement so that claims of workplace discrimination can be reviewed by either agency.

The following state and federal agencies investigate different types of claims. You need to file your claim with the relevant agency that will deal with your claim. Most agencies have an online claim facility and you may be able to file your claim in person at the appropriate office. Phone calls are usually only to confirm whether the basis of your claim is something that that particular agency will deal with.

  1. California Labor Commissioner's Office (DLSE) for wage and hour claims.
  2. Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) for discrimination and harassment claims.
  3. Department of Labor (DoL) – the federal agency that oversees federal employment laws on wages and employment conditions.
  4. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) for all discrimination or retaliation claims by employees in workplaces with 15 or more employees.
  5. The California Superior Court for certain claims not covered by the DLSE or DFEH.

Steps to Filing a Claim

  1. Make sure you know which agency – state or federal – will investigate your complaint and how you file your claim with them.
  2. Make sure you understand which state or federal employment law has been broken before you file your claim. An employment law attorney can help you decide which law your employer has breached and which state or federal agency is best suited to dealing with your claim.
  3. Prepare the evidence you need to submit with your claim that supports your allegations that your rights under state or federal employment legislation have been breached. 
  4. Make sure you know what the time limits are when you file a claim. Each agency has a maximum time limit for filing a claim which is timed from the date that a breach of state or federal law took place. 
  5. File your claim with the relevant agency providing all supporting evidence.
  6. Contact an employment law attorney for advice if your claim cannot be resolved by the state or federal agency it was filed with. You may be able to sue your employer for damages through the civil court if your case is strong.

Speak With an Employment Law Attorney

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