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As workers, we expect our employers and colleagues to treat us with respect at all times, creating a working environment that is safe and welcoming. When an employer oversteps a boundary or violates employment laws, it can feel like a significant betrayal. In these uncomfortable situations, workers may feel lost and unsure of what to do, perhaps fearful of pursuing legal action while knowing what happened to them was unacceptable. Fortunately, the law is clear about what employers are and are not allowed to do and which types of misconduct warrant pursuing a legal claim. Talk to an employment law attorney from Mara Law Firm today to see if you can sue your employer.

Understanding Your Rights as an Employee 

Employees in any workplace possess fundamental rights and protections enshrined in law. These rights are designed to ensure fair treatment, safe working conditions, and equitable compensation. Some of your irrefutable rights as an employee include: 

Anti-Discrimination Laws

Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability. These laws aim to foster inclusive and diverse work environments. 

Harassment-Free Workplace

Employees are entitled to work in an environment free from any form of harassment, whether it be sexual, verbal, or visual. Employers have a responsibility to address and prevent such behavior. 

Fair Compensation and Wages

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping. Employees must receive fair compensation for their work, with special provisions for overtime hours. 

Safe Working Conditions

Employers must provide a safe and healthy work environment. This includes conducting regular safety inspections, addressing potential hazards, and providing necessary safety equipment. 

Family and Medical Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specific family or medical reasons without the risk of job loss. 

Reasonable Accommodations

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to ensure they can perform their jobs effectively. This could involve modifications to the work environment or job duties.

Whistleblower Protections

Employees can report illegal activities or wrongdoing within their organization. Whistleblower laws shield individuals who act in the best interest of public safety and ethics. 

Privacy Rights

Employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in certain aspects of their work, such as personal belongings, communications, and, in some cases, even social media accounts. 

Protection Against Retaliation

It is unlawful for employers to retaliate against employees who exercise their rights, such as filing a complaint or participating in a workplace investigation. 

How to know if I can sue my employer?

In employment law, various situations may warrant legal action against your employer. Before filing a claim, workers should identify whether a situation constitutes a clear legal violation. This is the foundational step in determining the viability of a potential case against your employer. 

  • Discrimination and Harassment: If you’ve experienced prejudicial treatment or harassment in the workplace, you may have a case against your employer. This includes situations where the employer either participated in discriminatory behavior or harassment or was aware of it and did not take reasonable steps to address it. 
  • Retaliation: You may be able to seek legal recourse if, at any point during your employment, you asserted your right to report illegal activities or file a complaint and faced unfair repercussions as a result. Examples include demotions, wage cuts, termination, or other disciplinary measures. 
  • Wage and Hour Violations: If your employer violated labor laws governing minimum wage, overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and accurate record-keeping, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Similarly, if you’ve been subject to wage theft, unpaid overtime, or improper deductions, these actions constitute actionable violations. 
  • Workplace Injuries: While workers’ compensation is the primary avenue for addressing workplace injuries, exceptions exist. If your employer lacks workers’ comp coverage or you believe your injury resulted from deliberate misconduct, you may be able to sue. 
  • Wrongful Termination: Wrongful termination occurs when an employee is fired in violation of their employment contract, statutory rights, or retaliation for protected activities. You may have a case against your employer if you believe you were unjustly terminated.
  • Breach of Contract: Employment contracts outline the terms and conditions of employment. You may have legal grounds for a lawsuit if your employer breaches these terms. Also, if an employer intentionally provides false information about the terms or conditions of employment, this may constitute fraud or misrepresentation. 
  • Failure to Accommodate Disabilities: Should an employer fail to implement reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability, it constitutes a breach of legal obligations outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Affected individuals are within their rights to sue their employer. 
  • Privacy Violations: If your employer has invaded your privacy through spying, unwarranted surveillance, or accessing personal information without your consent, you may have grounds for legal action.  

Statutory Limitations: Understanding Time Constraints 

When suing an employer, all states have a statute of limitations. These statutes limit how long a claimant can wait after an offense occurs before filing a claim. In California, the statute of limitations for suing an employer typically varies depending on the specific nature of the claim. Here are some common examples: 

  • Discrimination Claims (under state law): You generally have two years from the date of the alleged discriminatory act to file a claim with the California State Laws. 
  • Discrimination Claims (under federal law): If you file a discrimination claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you typically have 3 years from the date of the alleged discriminatory act under FEHA. However, this can be extended to 300 days if you want to pursue a Federal lawsuit.
  • Wage and Hour Claims (under state law): You generally have three years to file a claim for violations of California state labor laws, such as minimum wage and overtime violations. 
  • Wage and Hour Claims (under federal law): Claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) typically have a statute of limitations of two years, which can be extended to three years if the violation was willful. 
  • Breach of Contract Claims: The statute of limitations in California for breach of contract, is four years, if it was an oral contract it will be two years.
  • Wrongful Termination Claims: Wrongful termination claims in California are often based on a variety of legal theories. The statute of limitations for these cases can vary depending on the claim’s specific circumstances and legal basis but starts with two years.
  • Workers’ Compensation Claims: In most cases, if you sustain an injury on the job in California, you are covered by the state’s workers’ compensation system. You generally have 30 days from the date of the injury to report it to your employer. You have up to one year from there to file a workers’ compensation claim. 

Exemptions and Immunities: When Employers are Protected 

In the complex landscape of employment law, there are instances where employers may be granted exemptions or immunities from certain types of lawsuits. These protections are typically rooted in specific conditions, such as government affiliations or industry-specific regulations. Understanding when and why employers may be shielded from legal action can help determine whether you can still pursue legal action.

Government Entities and Sovereign Immunity

In some cases, employers who are government entities, such as state or federal agencies, may be shielded by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. This legal principle generally protects governments from being sued without their consent. However, it’s worth noting that there are exceptions, and consent to be sued can sometimes be granted under certain statutes. 

Nonprofit and Charitable Organizations

Because non-profit and charitable organizations are viewed as playing vital roles in society, they often enjoy specific protections under the law. These entities may have limited liability or be subject to unique legal provisions that can influence their exposure to certain types of lawsuits. 

Industry-Specific Regulations

Certain industries, such as healthcare or public utilities, may be subject to specialized regulatory frameworks. These regulations can impact the legal liabilities of employers within those industries. For example, in the education sector, educational institutions may be afforded certain legal protections related to educational policies, academic decisions, and disciplinary actions, or they may implement a structured process for handling employment disputes.

Workers’ Compensation Immunity

Employers who provide workers’ compensation coverage generally receive immunity from direct lawsuits by employees for workplace injuries. Workers’ compensation is designed to provide a system of benefits for injured workers, and in return, employers are protected from personal injury lawsuits related to workplace accidents. 

Collective Bargaining Agreements

Employers who have negotiated collective bargaining agreements with labor unions may have specific provisions addressing dispute resolution and legal remedies. These agreements can sometimes provide exemptions or limitations on certain types of lawsuits. 

Arbitration Agreements

Employers may require employees to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. These agreements stipulate that disputes between the employer and employee must be resolved through arbitration rather than the court system. In such cases, the employer may be immune from certain lawsuits.  

Contact the California Employment Attorneys at Mara Law Firm 

If you believe your rights as an employee have been violated, your voice deserves to be heard, and the dedicated team at Mara Law Firm is here to ensure it is. Our skilled employment attorneys stand by to review your case and explore your legal options. Call us now for a free consultation, and let us help you take the first step towards reclaiming your rights and holding your employer accountable.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney David Mara who has more than 20 years of legal experience in employment law.

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