Arlene works at Cajun Country, a restaurant in Tarzana that specializes in New Orleans-style cooking. For fifteen years, Arlene has worked as hostess at the restaurant, and as a Louisiana girl born and raised, she loves her work and her customers. Recently, Arlene has celebrated her sixtieth birthday, and while her fellow employees celebrated with a surprise party, her boss was not as thrilled. Bill calls Arlene into his office and explains that her age might be catching up to her. She’s not as quick to lead customers to their tables and isn’t as spirited as she once was. Ideally, he says, a hostess should be young and energetic. He tells her that he’s going to have to reduce her wages since she can no longer meet the standards of the position. Arlene is shocked. She feels that this treatment is unfair and looks up how to find an employment lawyer. After a little Google searching for a work lawyer, Arlene finds an employment lawyer in Tarzana who can help her file a lawsuit against her employer for age discrimination.
What Are Employment Lawyers?
Often referred to as work lawyers, employment lawyers are attorneys who specialize in employment law and represent workers in all positions across many industries. In California, employment lawyers understand workers’ rights according to the state’s labor laws and can help wronged employees sue and seek damages for improper or unlawful treatment at a workplace.
So, what does an employment lawyer do for a client?
First, they may review a client’s employment contract. An employment contract, often signed at the start of a job, is often full of complex legal jargon that is hard to understand. By finding an employment attorney, an employee can better understand what is written in their employment contract and how it relates to California labor laws. An employment attorney can help a client by identifying any part of the contract that may have a negative on the employee. They can also make recommended changes and instruct a client on how best to approach their boss about the subject.
An employment contract often contains information related to:
- Pay – what the employee’s salary is and how it is paid
- Overtime pay – what the company’s rules are regarding paying overtime
- Medical leave – how much paid or unpaid leave is allotted to an injured or ill employee
- Allowances – withholding tax exemptions
- Vacation time – how much, if any, PTO an employee receives and how it is accrued
- Working hours – how long an employee works in a day
- Contract duration – how long employment is expected to last (i.e. six months, one year)
- Job description – what the employee’s job duties are
Employment lawyers can also offer legal counsel in the event of a complex situation arising at a workplace. Before an employee files a complaint or joins a class-action suit, they should first consult with a lawyer to discuss the matter in detail. Especially if an employee is a whistleblower, exposing a company’s illegal conduct, it is important that he or she consult an attorney before taking any action. Whistleblowers might find themselves in a situation where they have incriminating evidence, and in order to expose it, have to risk breaching their contract. To prevent blowback or retaliation against the employee, it is best for he or she to have a lawyer to advise them.
There are different workplace situations that could require the advice of an employment attorney:
Example: Ronald works at a factory. His boss knows that the work environment does not meet safety standards, but to cut costs, he does not make the necessary changes. Ronald is injured at work, and he sues his boss for endangerment.
- Workplace discrimination
Example: Chantel works at a real estate office. Her boss makes a comment about how women make bad realtors and follows it up with misogynistic reasoning. Chantel sues her employer for gender-based discrimination.
Example: Bobby works at a thinktank. His boss often makes demeaning comments to him, calling him stupid or over-criticizing his work. Bobby sues his boss for bullying.
- Unpaid wages
Example: Darla has just quit her job at a fast-food restaurant. She has three days of unused vacation time and expects to be paid for these earned days in her final paycheck. When she is denied payment for these unused PTO days, she sues her employer for unpaid wages.
Example: Yoni works at a construction site. When he accidentally drops an expensive sheet of glass, his boss marches over and punches him in the face. Yoni sues his boss for assault.
- Damage to personal property at a workplace
Example: Vince works at a financial investment firm. When his boss loses a lot of money in a deal that Vince set up, he comes over to Vince’s desk, picks up his personal phone, and smashes the screen. He refuses to compensate Vince for the damage. Vince sues his boss for damage to personal property.
Employment lawyers often manage discrimination claims, which are common employment complaints. Discrimination might include bias against:
- Sexual harassment
- Wrongful termination
To return to our opening example, Arlene is a victim of age discrimination, because her boss is mistreating her based on age. He is illegally docking her wages and making disparaging comments about her age. She therefore has a strong case against him should she wish to file a complaint.
Let’s look at another example:
Keith works as a personal trainer at a gym in Hawthorne. For a while now, Keith’s employer has been openly making disparaging comments about African Americans. Keith is Black and finds the comments offensive. He also believes his boss treats him differently than the other employees based on his race. The problem is constant and getting worse. Keith is now uncomfortable in his place of work. He files a lawsuit against his employer for racial discrimination.
An employment lawyer can help an individual determine if their civil rights have been violated in the workplace and if it is possible to recover damages in a court of law.