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San Diego Employment Law Attorney Blog

Representing victims of pregnancy discrimination

A previous post on this blog discussed the rights pregnant women have at the workplace. Unfortunately, despite the fact that employers really should no better, many companies in San Diego and throughout California still choose to put profit over doing the right thing and therefore may be reluctant to give pregnant women the rights they have under federal law and the laws of California. In really bad cases, they may even fire or other mistreat a pregnant employee.

When this happens, the woman may not know where to turn or what to do, particularly since getting ready for and then having a child is stressful on many levels. Our law office is a good place for such people to turn in their time of need, particularly when it is a matter of protecting one's livelihood.

Pregnant employees have rights under the law

Although San Diego residents might think that employers would know that they could get in to a lot of trouble for discriminating against a woman because she is expecting or has recently had a child, pregnancy discrimination has been a persistent problem both in California and in other parts of the country.

The problem was pervasive enough for the federal government to pass a separate law specifically prohibiting the practice of pregnancy discrimination. Under this law, an employer cannot refuse to hire, fire or otherwise take an adverse action against a woman simply because she is pregnant or has recently given birth to a child. The law also prohibits discrimination against a woman who suffers a pregnancy-related medical complication.

Overview of the state of covenants not to compete in California

Unlike many if not most states, California law strictly prohibits employers, even those headquartered out of state, from requiring their employees to sign covenants not to compete. California courts will not enforce such provisions written into employment contracts or severance agreements, no matter how reasonable the provisions might seem to be.

California's ban on these provisions is quite broad and covers a lot of tricks that employers often use to get around signing a non-competition agreement. For example, courts in California will not allow an employer to get around the prohibition by specifying in an employment contract that the employee agrees to use some other state's laws when interpreting the agreement. Other well-worded contracts, such as those that specify the employee is "voluntarily" signing the non-competition agreement, are also likely to be rejected.

Who qualifies as a 'whistleblower' in California?

A previous post here discussed our law firm's efforts to protect "whistleblower" employees in private California businesses. While the post applauded the bravery of workers who come forward and report their employer's violations of the law, it might be worth clarifying further who qualifies as a whistleblower under California law.

An employee cannot expect that every concern reported will make that employee a whistleblower subject to legal protection from getting fired or otherwise treated badly at work. For example, employees are not whistleblowers if they report on the personal indiscretions of a boss, such as a tendency to drive too fast or drink too much, assuming those do not directly affect the operating of the business.

Protecting an employee's right to do the right thing

California and the federal government have all kinds of laws telling companies in San Diego and throughout the state what they can and cannot do. These laws are usually there to protect the public, individual employees and other people who either count on that company or, at least, expect a certain standard of behavior.

These laws, however, do little to no good in stopping businesses from committing abuses if no one is willing to come forward and report violations. Usually, the best people to report a company's legal violations are the company's own employees. However, they face a difficult decision to do so, since a report could spell the end of their career.

Overview of employment contract disputes

Many employees in the San Diego area may be under a contract which they signed directly with their employer, that is, not as part of a collective bargaining agreement through a union. These contracts, if reasonably well drafted, should spell out all of the important terms of employment, such as how much a person will get paid, by when and for what work.

Sometimes, employment disputes emerge because of the terms of the contract. For example, an employee may feel that he or she was terminated in violation of the terms of the contract. Sometimes, termination is not at issue, but the employee and employer may disagree about what the contract requires in terms of compensation. Employers, on the other hand, may allege a former employee broke a confidentiality agreement or an agreement not to work for a competitor.

What a terminated worker should look for in a severance package

California is an employment-at-will, state like most of her sister states. Many workers in San Diego who are employed via private businesses may not have an employment contract. Even those who do will likely sign an agreement with a clause providing that the employer may terminate the employee at any time and for any reason, the contract notwithstanding.

However, because even at-will employees have certain rights and benefits available to them under California law, employers who are letting an employee go will often offer them some sort of severance package, or payments and other benefits in exchange for certain waivers and promises from the employee.

Famous San Diego research center accused of sex discrimination

A third professor at the Salk Institute, a research facility in the San Diego area known for attracting top scientists and making breakthrough discoveries in the life sciences, has accused the Institute of discrimination based on sex, joining two other colleagues who have also recently alleged sex discrimination at work.

The basic premise of all three lawsuits is that it is very difficult for women biologists, despite having superior credentials, to advance in the organization, and those relatively few women who do make it to "full professor" are not treated fairly, being passed over for leadership posts, pay raises and other benefits that men allegedly could get more easily.

Representing federal employees in merit disputes

One of the great benefits most federal employees enjoy which many other workers in San Diego do not is a right to be heard before the Federal Merit Systems Protection Board if they get terminated or suspended long term, more than two weeks, for performance-related issues or "for cause" because of some improper or prohibited behavior.

Although the Board can in some cases hear discrimination claims as well, it is important to remember that one need not have a claim of discrimination in order to take his or her termination to the Board for review. The agencies of the federal government have to follow strict rules and regulations when they hire or fire, and the Board is there to make sure that the agencies actually follow these rules.

Special employee rights of federal workers

Just about any California employee working in the San Diego area has basic civil rights. Among these basic rights includes the right to medical leave, an environment free of unlawful discrimination and the prompt and accurate payment of wages, including overtime when an employee qualifies.

However, many of the residents of San Diego are also employees of the federal government, especially given the large military presence in this town. Although they might not realize it or appreciate it fully, federal employees actually have some special, additional employee rights and safeguards that offer protection to them, even beyond that which other employees enjoy.