At Minnis & Smallets it’s our mission to help employees understand the important rights that are guaranteed to workers by California and federal employment laws.
Employment law is the collective name given to the statutes, ordinances, regulations, administrative rules, and court decisions that govern relationships between employers and employees. Employment law overlaps with labor law, which traditionally refers to legal matters relating to labor unions, collective bargaining, and the rights of employees to work together to improve working conditions.
Federal laws passed by Congress and state laws passed by the California legislature are the primary sources of employment law in the San Francisco Bay Area. Within the City of San Francisco, certain City ordinances (including San Francisco’s minimum wage and paid sick leave ordinances) are also important sources of employment law.
Regulations that implement and interpret state and federal laws are made by state and federal agencies. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor are key federal agencies responsible for enacting regulations that implement federal discrimination laws and wage and hour laws.
In California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is charged with overseeing state laws that prohibit employment discrimination and workplace harassment. Laws that protect the right to take leaves are also administered by the DFEH. The state’s Department of Industrial Relations, including the Department of Labor Standard Enforcement (DLSE), administers California’s wage and hour laws as well as state whistleblower protections.
Federal and state courts interpret the laws in light of their language and purpose and determine how the laws apply in particular factual situations. Judicial decisions are therefore an important part of employment law that San Francisco employment attorneys must consider when advising a client.
During the nineteenth century, sweatshops and child labor were a cause of growing worker unrest. Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle called attention to harsh working conditions and the exploitation of employees in the meatpacking industry, but legislation that responded to public outrage generally focused on unsanitary practices in the food industry rather than workers’ rights.
Dissatisfaction with deplorable and unsafe working conditions nevertheless led to the formation of the U.S. Department of Labor in 1913. For the next two decades, the department was relatively powerless, given Supreme Court decisions that struck down attempts to regulate the relationships between private employers and workers.
While a few states enacted laws regulating child labor, many American businesses continued to use child labor because children did what they were told, worked for low pay, and did not try to unionize. Federal attempts to regulate child labor generally failed until 1938, when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
In addition to regulating child labor, the FLSA provided most workers with the protection of a minimum wage and overtime pay. President Franklin Roosevelt’s clash with the Supreme Court set the stage for the Court’s recognition that federal regulation of the employment relationship does not per se violate the Constitution.
While the first labor union was founded in 1886, unions were fiercely (and sometimes violently) resisted by corporations. The passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 protected the right of workers to form and join unions. The law helped unions grow, but union membership peaked in the 1970s.
Only about 11% of employees today belong to unions. For that and other reasons, employment lawyers in San Francisco and elsewhere generally rely on employment laws, rather than labor laws that govern collective bargaining, to protect the rights of employees and to ensure workplace fairness.
In California, employment is generally “at will.” An employee whose job is not protected by an employment contract – either written, verbal, or implied-in-fact, a labor union collective bargaining agreement, or a civil service law is employed at will. An at will employee can be fired at any time for any reason or no reason, so long as the reason that motivates the termination does not violate a statute, an administrative rule, or a public policy. Thus, exceptions to at will rule include the following.
Discrimination laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of membership in a protected class, such as sex, race, disability, and age. They also prohibit workplace harassment based on protected class membership like sex, sexual orientation, or race.
Leave laws give employees the right to take an unpaid absence from work for their serious health conditions and those of spouses, children, and parents. These laws also permit leave for child bonding after birth or adoption and for pregnancy-related disabilities.
Wrongful discharge laws refer to a collection of laws, rules, and court decisions that protect at-will employees for terminations that violate the public policy of the State of California. Firing an employee for reporting an employer’s misconduct (whistleblowing) or for refusing to carry out an illegal act are examples of wrongful discharge.
Wage and hour laws ensure that non-exempt employees receive a minimum wage, extra compensation for working overtime, and (in California) meal breaks and rest periods. Certain categories of salaried employees and commissioned salespersons are exempt from those protections, as are independent contractors.
An employment attorney in San Francisco generally helps clients with employment-related legal issues. Employment attorneys in some law firms focus primarily or exclusively on representing businesses.
The employment lawyers at San Francisco’s Minnis & Smallets represent employees. Protecting the rights of employees, and helping our clients navigate difficult employment issues, is our first priority.
As San Francisco employment lawyers we pride ourselves on being a premier law firm in the Bay Area, employing some of the best and most recognized employment attorneys in San Francisco and San Jose, dedicated to protecting the rights of employees. We help employees resolve the following problems.
Employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, gender identity, gender expression, disability, age, religion, or membership in another protected class. Acts of discrimination include:
Leave violations including:
Wrongful discharge including termination of employment due to:
Unpaid wages including:
Employment contract issues, including:
We also represent employees who experience retaliation for exercising their right to complain about, or seek remedies for, any of the statutory violations described above.
Navigating around the legal roadblocks that stand in the way of successful employment law claims can be difficult. Some claims must be filed fairly quickly while a longer time limit applies to other claims. Some claims must be filed with an administrative agency before they can be filed in court.
Some claims should be filed under state law while others arise under federal law. When there is a choice of laws, it is important to select the law that is most favorable to the claim that the employee wants to raise.
In some cases, it may be possible to work with the employer’s attorney to attempt a resolution of a problem before filing a legal claim. In other cases, a claim can be filed as soon the employer violates the law.
Our employment attorneys in San Francisco and San Jose can help avoid roadblocks to success and, through their experience handling similar cases, position the employee toward obtaining the best outcome based on the employee’s needs, whether that is through settlement, litigation, or trial.
Employees who need an employment lawyer should choose a firm that has earned a strong reputation for protecting the rights of employees. Look for attorneys who are dedicated to representing employees in the area of employment law, who are knowledgeable about the law, who have been acknowledged by their peers, and who have experience bringing employment claims in a variety of courts and administrative agencies.
Professional recognition is also the sign of a quality law firm. For the past several years our attorneys have been recognized by Super Lawyers for their leading position in the representation of employees in the field of employment law. Minnis & Smallets has also earned the respect of judges and other lawyers. Most importantly, we are proud of the referrals we receive from satisfied clients who recommend our services to friends and family.
The best way to choose an employment attorney is to meet with one and decide whether you feel comfortable with the lawyer’s ability to represent you. Make an appointment with one of the San Francisco employment lawyers at Minnis & Smallets by calling 1-415-551-0885. You can also inquire about our services by submitting our online contact form.