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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Northern California Employment Law Blog

Workplace dress codes in California can sometimes be unlawful

It probably comes as no surprise that California employers, generally speaking, have the right to create workplace rules and policies that their employees are expected to follow. Employers have leeway to enforce these rules, including firing an employee who breaks them.

These rules often serve good ends and may even be there to prevent things like harassment and discrimination. However, employees in Fresno and the other communities of Central California and Northern California should remember that their employer's rules must be legal.

Can Californians talk about their wages at work?

For many people who go to work in Fresno, California, talking about one's wages is taboo. Even if no one specifically says so, people just seem afraid to talk about how much money they are making or, at best, feel very uncomfortable with the prospect of doing so.

However, under California law, employers are strictly prohibited from preventing employees from discussing their wages. They may not in any way condition an employee's employment on wage confidentiality, and they may not punish or discriminate against an employee who chooses to discuss his or her pay.

Essential job functions in an employment discrimination context

A Northern California resident who has done any sort of job search in recent years has probably noticed that job descriptions include a list of what are called "essential job functions." More than just being a way of describing the job, these essential job functions are important for legal reasons, particularly for California employees who may have a disability.

The reason is that the Americans with Disabilities Act balances the government's strong desire to have workplaces that are free from discrimination based on one's physical or mental limitations against the fact that employers must be able to hire qualified applicants for positions they wish to fill.

California hospital worker wins over $1 million after termination

A California jury validated the claims of a 61-year-old former hospital worker, who at the time of trial was unemployed, that her former employer discriminated against her. The case may turn some heads in the Fresno area because it was not based on race, age or gender per se but instead was based on the fact that the woman lost her job after getting hurt at work. The woman, who had worked for the hospital for almost 25 years, hurt herself while trying to move medical equipment.

As she worked in the radiology department, moving equipment for procedures like CT scans and the like was part of her job. After the injury, though, she was medically restricted from lifting more than 15 pounds or from reaching for high objects with her left arm.

New state law on sexual harassment training coming soon

Under current California law, mid-sized and larger employers with a presence in this state have to provide two hours of training to help supervisors avoid, spot and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The current law requires all people in supervisory or management positions to take this training.

However, according to a summary of a new law, an employer who retains five or more employees must provide this two-hour training to managers. Moreover, all employees must receive at least an hour of training to prevent sexual harassment. The initial training must be done by the end of this year, and new employees must receive it within six months.

Some more subtle forms of pregnancy discrimination

As this blog has discussed on several previous occasions, it is unlawful for a Fresno, California, employer to treat their pregnant employees, or job applicants, differently because they are pregnant. On the grander scale, this means not firing, refusing to hire or disciplining a person because she pregnant. However, there are also some subtler forms of pregnancy discrimination that can injure employees both emotionally and financially.

For instance, an employer cannot hide behind the excuse that while they don't have a personal problem with pregnancy, their customers might have either an implicit or even explicit prejudice against pregnant women. Usually, employers have the right to have employees they think will be appealing to their customer base, but pregnancy is one of those cases in which that right is sharply limited. Even if it is for what seems like a legitimate business reason, an employer cannot re-assign, lay off or otherwise negatively treat a pregnant employee. Likewise, when it comes to leave, medical benefits, and the like, pregnant women must be treated in the same way as any other person suffering under a medical condition not related to pregnancy.

Recent study shows just how bad breastfeeding discrimination is

We’ve discussed frequently how much of a problem pregnancy discrimination continues to be. Some women may lose their jobs or slowly lose more hours because employers cannot seem to handle having a pregnant worker on the staff. Unfortunately, even if you manage to go through the whole process and face no consequences during your trimesters, you may not quite be safe yet.

Breastfeeding is a controversial subject in the workplace as new mothers and employers often argue what privileges should be granted after the baby is born. Some managers try to limit when and where the employee can use the pump, leading to less food for the baby and various medical problems for the mother. The issue is worse than many people realize, as a recent collaborative report showcases what happens to many new mothers when their boss goes against them for breastfeeding.

Mass transit company facing pregnancy discrimination claims

A mass transit company that helps move commuters and others about the eastern part of the Bay Area in California is facing allegations of pregnancy discrimination. In addition to the pregnancy discrimination allegations, the company, AC Transit, is also being accused of not allowing mothers to engage in breastfeeding or breast-pumping, both of which are activities that California law protects.

The pending lawsuit is a class-action case, meaning that several women have come forward or may come forward with related claims against this company. One woman, a member of this class, stated several facts in support of her allegations. She said, for instance, that after her first baby, she was given a dirty closet as her designated location to pump milk for her baby. She said the closet used to be a smoking area for those who drove buses for the company.

For women, California workplaces have room to improve

Although one must applaud those areas in which progress has been made, it seems that the entire country, including California, has room to improve when it comes to women's rights. This is particularly true with regards to women's right to be treated fairly and equally in the workplace.

The good news is that, in California, there is a relatively small gap in the incomes for men and women. Among the states, California is tied for second in the country. However, when it comes to overall work environment, California only ranks 29th, slightly below average, among the states. To come to these results, those conducting the survey considered several factors. In addition to overall differences in income between men and women, for instance, the survey also factored executive opportunities for women as well as the difference between unemployment rates. The survey also considered overall job security and the number of women who own their own businesses.

Number of EEOC sexual harassment claims increases in 2018

In the wake of the ongoing #MeToo movement in California and across the nation, the number of sexual harassment claims submitted to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) during fiscal year 2018 increased sharply over the fiscal year 2017. In 2017, 6,696 claims were filed, while the number was 7,609, or about 1,000 more, in 2018.

Interestingly, the percentage of these claims that were made by males dropped to the lowest point it had been since 2010, that is, to 15.9 percent. Thus, while 2018 was not a high-water mark for sexual harassment claims overall, it does seem that women may have been inspired, at least to some degree, to report sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The number of reports was the highest since 2012.

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