What to Know

What are my rights at work?

Under California's Equal Pay Act, employers are required to give equal pay to employees who perform equal work, without regard to a worker's sex, race, or ethnicity. Equal work refers to “substantially similar work,” when looking at the combination of skill, effort, and responsibility involved. Employers also cannot prohibit workers from discussing their own wages, discussing the wages of others, of from asking about other's wages. Employers are also barred from using person's prior salary as an excuse to justify a different wage because of their sex, race or ethnicity.

Employers may not refuse to interview or hire a job applicant, or treat an employee unfairly once hired or when terminated, because of discrimination based on their race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, medical condition, age, pregnancy status, mental or physical disability, marital status, national origin or other illegal reason. California's Fair Chance Act also bars employers with five or more employees from asking job applicants about their conviction history before making them a job offer.

In California, hourly employees have a right to overtime wages, typically after eight hours worked in a day or after 40 hours in a week, as well as a right to double-time wages after twelve hours worked in a single day, and after the first eight hours worked on the seventh day in a workweek. Also, employers are not allowed to force, intimidate or even allow their hourly employees into working off the clock- otherwise known as working without pay. For instance, your manager tells you "You need to be here fifteen minutes early to set up before you clock-in", or says "We can't afford overtime, so you need to clock-out now, but have to stay and finish what you're working on." Your employer may not allow you to work off the clock for any reason, and must pay you for every hour you work.

In California, an employer may not retaliate against an employee who engages in a protected activity. For example, opposing racial discrimination, resisting sexual advances, reporting sexual harassment, intervening to stop it from happening to a co-worker, refusing an employer's request to do something illegal, discussing your wages with your co-workers or managers, asking about the wages of other employees, or filing a complaint with the Labor Commissioner to collect unpaid wages. Some examples of retaliation include firing, demotion, reassignment to a less desirable position, a transfer to a remote location, cutting their hours, giving an undeserved poor performance review, spreading false rumors about them, or making verbal or physical threats, when done in response to engaging in a protected activity.

Hourly employees have the right to 10-minute paid, uninterrupted rest breaks, or must be paid an extra hour of wages at the employee's regular rate of pay (also known as a premium wage). Uninterrupted means that the time you're on break you can do as you please. Examples of rest break violations include company policies (written or not) that require you to clock-out and clock-in in for your break, that forbid you from leaving the office or job site, that require you take your break in a specific location, that require you to keep your cell-phone on, your manager telling you to take less than 10 minutes, or your manager or co-workers asking you to perform job related tasks or answer job related questions during your break. Company policies that there are no rest breaks (written or not) are also illegal. For example, a supervisor tells you "we don't take breaks here" or "we just work straight through until we finish the job, then go home."

Job applicants must be hired - and employees treated during their employment, according to their abilities, not their age. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the US Age Discrimination in Employment act of 1967 and other laws protect workers 40 or older. These protections bar certain practices or questions at any stage of employment beginning as early as when the job is advertised or during the recruiting process, and once hired, an employer may not fire, demote, promote (or refuse to promote) protected workers because of their age. Look out for job ads seeking "younger" workers, or recruiters and hiring managers failing to fairly consider or interview older candidates, or routinely failing to promote otherwise qualified and deserving workers over 40. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act prohibits discrimination against older workers in all employee benefits in most situations.

Hourly employees have the right to on time, 30-minute uninterrupted meal periods. Meal periods are unpaid, but you must be able to take them on time, which typically means before the start of the 5th hour of your shift. Where your shift is over 10 hours, you are entitled to a second meal period before the start of the 10th hour. There are certain exceptions. Just as with rest breaks, your time is your own during your meal period, to do with as you choose and go where you want (so long as you're back to work by the end of your meal period.) Under certain circumstances, employees are allowed to waive their meal-period, but this must be done in writing and revocable at anytime. Employers are not allowed to coerce or intimidate an employee into signing a meal period agreement, or retaliate, punish or terminate them for refusing to do so. If this is happening to you, we can help.

Being at work can be challenging enough without co-workers, supervisors or company policies turning your workplace into a hostile work environment, which occurs when you suffer unwelcome conduct or behavior so severe or pervasive that it prevents you from doing your job. Some examples include when you - or your co-workers, are subjected to verbal or non-verbal aggression or anger, unwelcome sexual comments or touching, commenting about or mocking your age, slurs based on your race, color, ethnicity or national origin, making fun of your physical or mental disability, being threatened with unjustified firing, demotion, pay cuts, threats of abuse, or demands for sexual favors.

Written by Zachary J. Sempers,
Employment lawyer,
Los Angeles, California

Last updated on July 8, 2022.