We live in a new world, where technology has changed so many aspects of how we work. Technology and social networks have made immediate contact possible between every employee and their supervisors, creating massive economies of scale.
But they have made instant surveillance possible, too, and never has it been harder to work without feeling the effects of sexual harassment and discrimination. We understand this new technical landscape, and the often subtle ways workers can be mistreated.
Our client base includes employees at some of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated companies and ranges from C suite executives and engineers to senior scientists and program managers. We have handled brick-and-mortar employment claims as well, representing nurses and security guards, to sales representatives and professors.
Sexual harassment and workplace discrimination in San Francisco
Sexual harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environments are both illegal. In stride with Federal laws, California has established powerful laws through its Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA). Local city employment laws may provide even further protection for their citizens by preventing employers from engaging in height/weight screenings or other similar measures that discriminate against certain groups without cause.
We understand the complexities of the modern workplace, and the increasing need for employees to understand the nature of their rights, even as the nature of our work changes. We are here for your call.
If you believe you are the victim of employment discrimination or harassment in the San Francisco Bay Area, contact our employment law office. We are available for a free consultation to review your file and counsel you as to your options.
The United States Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees the enforcement of federal anti-discrimination laws. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing state laws. These laws apply to discrimination in every aspect of employment including hiring, job advertising, recruitment, referrals, job assignments, and promotions, pay and benefits, discipline and termination, accommodations for disabilities and religious activities, training, internships, conditions of employment, dress code, and other employment-related activities.
In California, it is illegal for employers to discriminate based on:
- Race or skin color
- Ancestry or national origin
- Religion or creed
- Age (40+)
- Mental or physical disability
- Sex or gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or related medical conditions)
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or expression
- Medical condition
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- Military or veteran status
State regulations also prohibit sexual harassment, including gender-based harassment of a person of the same gender as the harasser. The California DFEH definition of sexual harassment as “unwanted sexual advances or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” including:
- Visual conduct such as leering, making sexual gestures, displaying sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons, or posters
- Verbal conduct such as making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, and jokes; graphic verbal commentaries about someone’s body, describing someone using sexually degrading words; and other verbal abuse of a sexual nature
- Physical conduct such as touching, assaulting, or impeding movements
- Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
- Threatening or retaliating after getting a negative response to sexual advances
These behaviors are all disrespectful and illegal. They create a hostile work environment and should never be minimized. If you are the victim of sexual harassment or discrimination in your workplace, it is important to contact an experienced employment law attorney who understands the evolution and application of federal and California law.
Workplace Safety in California
Most workplace injuries can be prevented. Yet each year thousands of Californians are injured on the job. Employers are responsible for providing and enforcing policies to maintain a safe work environment. The State of California and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have strict rules about keeping employees safe. They must:
- Identify and correct health and safety hazards
- Have a written injury and illness prevention plan
- Inform employees about potential workplace hazards and train employees on how to work safely
- Provide Workers’ Compensation Insurance to pay for work-related injuries
- Report all workplace injuries and illnesses that need more than basic first aid.
- Display the California and OSHA poster “Safety and Health Protection on the Job” where all workers can see it
- Call Cal/OSHA immediately when an employee is seriously hurt or dies on the job
As an employee in California, you have the right to speak up about safety and ask questions if you think the work environment is unsafe. You have the right to refuse any work you feel could result in serious injury or put your life in danger. If you feel that these rights have been violated, you should consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable in local employment law. Consulting with an experienced California employment lawyer can help prevent any illegal retaliation. It’s illegal for an employer to terminate or discriminate against employees when they question or complain about unhealthy or unsafe conditions.
Wage and hour violations in San Francisco
The San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement has laws on the books to protect workers from unfair practices. These ordinances cover:
- Minimum wage. If you work in San Francisco at least two hours a week (including part-time or temporary work), you are entitled to the San Francisco minimum wage (minimum wage is $16.99 as of 7/1/2022).
- Paid sick leave. Employers must provide people who work in San Francisco with paid sick leave (including part-time and temporary workers).
- Lactation in the workplace. Employers must have a lactation policy that explains how to make a request for lactation accommodation and provides lactation breaks in a designated lactation location.
- Consideration of salary history. Prospective employees cannot be asked about their current or past salary history. Employers cannot disclose a current or former employee’s salary history without that employee’s permission unless the salary history is publicly available.
- COVID-related protections. Grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, and delivery services must implement COVID-19 safety measures. There is also an ordinance that protects employees of all businesses from discrimination based on COVID-19 status.
- Fair chance. Employers with more than four employees must follow certain rules about applicant and employee arrest and conviction records.
- Health care security. A business that employs 20 or more employees (or a non-profit with 50 or more employees) must provide a certain level of health care for employees who work 8 or more hours per week in San Francisco
- Family-friendly workplace. Employers with 20 or more employees are required by ordinance to consider an employee’s request for flexible or predictable work arrangements to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities
- Paid parental leave. Businesses with 20 or more employees must provide up to eight weeks of additional compensation to employees who receive California Paid Family Leave benefits
- Retail employee rights. Companies with 40 or more retail establishments worldwide and more than 29 employees in San Francisco (including janitorial and security contractors) must follow some specific legal guidelines that regulate part-time workers’ hours, retention, and treatment.
As a worker, you have these specific rights. It does not matter where you were born, if you have work papers, or if you are paid in cash. These laws apply and were enacted to protect San Francisco workers. In addition to the ordinances above, there are additional protections and ordinances for people who work for businesses that contract with or lease from the City of San Francisco.
In addition to San Francisco’s own ordinances, the State of California also has laws that govern wages and breaks. According to the California Department of Industrial Relations Labor Enforcement Task Force brochure, once you are hired, you have specific rights related to breaks, minimum wage and overtime, unemployment and disability benefits, a safe work environment, and whistleblower protections.
Wrongful termination and retaliation in California
In the context of retaliation, wrongful termination occurs when an employee is terminated because they report an unlawful behavior of a coworker, manager, owner, or other company representatives. All too often, a termination happens as retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, reporting discrimination, or even testifying in a harassment or discrimination investigation.
It’s illegal for your employer to fire you or retaliate against you for filing a complaint. Your right to file a formal complaint about harassment or discrimination is protected by federal law. Employees have a right to:
- Refuse a task that requires them to participate in discriminatory behavior
- Resist or report unwanted sexual harassment
- Inquire about the pay of other workers to determine if there have been pay discrimination
- Participate in investigations and lawsuits related to discrimination complaints
- Ask for accommodations for disabilities or religious practices
- Speak directly with a supervisor or manager about discrimination or harassment
Other kinds of retaliation may not be so obvious. For example, after an employee files a complaint, their supervisors may:
- Provide bad performance evaluations and/or deny that employee promotion or raises even though earlier evaluations were positive
- Exclude the employee from mission-critical projects, meetings, or activities
- Bully or verbally abuse the employee
- Pretextually reprimand the employee for “offenses” that are behaviors regularly performed by other coworkers
If you experience any of these issues, it is important to call an experienced attorney.
We Take Pride in Representing Plaintiffs in Employment Law Cases
Scott R. Herndon is a plaintiff’s lawyer. He has years of experience as a practicing attorney and, at Stanford University, taught some of the brightest minds in Silicon Valley. At the Law Office of Scott R. Herndon you will find skilled and intelligent advocates who understand the complexities of the contemporary workplace. We will review your circumstances in a free consultation and realistically evaluate your claim. Whether we help negotiate improved severance agreements, file claims with the EEOC or appropriate California agencies or bring a lawsuit for damages, our office will fully apprise you of your options so that your dignity and career are protected. Contact us today at (415) 360-5477.