Category Archives: Harassment

New Video! How to Prove Harassment at Work

We are excited to release this video on how employees can prove harassment at work. It adds a new dimension to our workplace harassment webpage.

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Should I Go on Stress Leave From Work?

We all want purpose, meaning and joy in our careers. Sadly, for many California workers, this an elusive dream. Sometimes, survival and a better life for the worker’s family is the best that can be hoped for.

But human beings are complex. When their emotional needs are neglected as they struggle to make a living, stress, anxiety and depression can occur. In some cases, people are genetically predisposed to such mental health issues, which can be exacerbated by a toxic work environment.

When mental health problems flare up at work, the employee’s performance can suffer, and they suddenly find themselves under the microscope of indifferent managers, coworkers and clients. When this happens, things tend to get worse.

We regularly get calls from frustrated workers asking whether or not they should go on stress leave. It’s a complicated question that even an attorney can’t answer with a simple yes or no. Fears persist about whether an employee can be fired for taking time off and whether their original position will be waiting for them when they return. Some wonder if stress or depression is reason enough to ask for an extended leave.

This article was written to discuss some of the leave of absence laws surrounding mental health and disability leave as well as the questions an employee should consider before taking leave. If you feel your employer is treating you unlawfully, or has retaliated against you while you were out on protected leave, contact our office to schedule a consultation.

Legal Protections for Workers with Disabilities

Most workers know that California law protects employees with mental disabilities. CA Government Code §12940 states that it is:

“It is an unlawful employment practice… (a) for an employer, because of the… mental disability… of any person… to bar or to discharge the person from employment or from a training program leading to employment, or to bar or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, condition or privileges of employment.”

FEHA § 12940(a)

Simply put, a person who is considered mentally disabled is protected from discrimination or termination (there are exceptions – more on that later). The question that many of our callers have is whether or not stress, anxiety or depression qualifies as a disability. Keep reading.

Does Stress Qualify as a Disability Under California Employment Law?

It’s important to note that state law defines the term mental disability in broad strokes. Mental disabilities can include intellectual disabilities in addition to emotional and mental illness. The common denominator in determining if a disability exists is whether or not the illness “limits a major life activity.” In other words, does it make the achievement of the major life activity difficult?

You should first note that stress created by the boss may not qualify as a disability. A CA court recently held that an employee’s inability to work for a particular supervisor, because of anxiety and stress related to the supervisor’s standard oversight of job performance, is not a disability. However, stress stemming from other conditions may constitute a disability if the underlying cause makes the achievement of a major life activity difficult.

A person with anxiety or depression might have difficulty concentrating on basic tasks, trouble sleeping through the night, or trouble getting up in the morning. This may cause extreme stress in someone’s life. Any of these symptoms, alone or together, have the potential to limit major life activities, including those necessary to maintain a job.

If you’re dealing with unexplained emotional symptoms that are making it difficult to complete tasks at work and do your job effectively, you should see a doctor immediately for an assessment of your symptoms and to determine a course of treatment. It’s important to remember that many employers will require the employee to provide a doctors’ note if he or she intends to take leave.

You should also note that under FEHA’s definition of mental disability, stress caused by sexual disorders, kleptomania, pyromania, compulsive gambling, or psychoactive substance use disorders stemming from the unlawful use of drugs or controlled substances, are specifically excluded. That means they are not protected. 

Stress Leave from Work | Branigan Robertson Employment Lawyer

What Options are Available to Stressed Out Employees?

California Family Rights Act

California Government Code §12945.2(a), also known as the California Family Rights Act, requires employers to allow employees with a serious health condition to take up to 12 work weeks off in any 12-month period as long as the employee has worked 1,250 hours for the employer within the previous 12 months. The law states that when family or medical leave is granted, the company must make a “guarantee of employment in the same or a comparable position upon the termination of the leave.”

We have a detailed page on CFRA here.

 A serious health condition can apply to a mental condition requiring continuing treatment or ongoing supervision by a health care provider.

While the CFRA is a good option for many employees dealing with significant stress, anxiety and depression, employers are not required to pay employees while they are out of work (though employees may be eligible to collect unused vacation hours, or sick pay). Additionally, many employees need more than 12 weeks to fully recover or adjust to life with their mental health issue. Sometimes temporary disability insurance is an option that workers dealing with mental health issues must explore.

Temporary Disability

California’s State Disability Insurance Fund allows eligible employees to collect up to 52 weeks’ worth of paid benefits which are provided based on the employee’s salary. There are many requirements an employee must meet in order to be eligible to collect from the program. These include:

  • Having a physician document your medical condition and certifying your disability.
  • A loss of wages due to your health issue.
  • You must have been paid $300 in wages subject to State Disability contributions during the 12-month base period.

Limits to Disability Protection

While California law does provide powerful protections to those with disabilities, there are limits to these protections. Government Code§12940(a)(1) allows an employer to terminate an employee suffering from a mental disability if the employee is unable to perform the essential duties of the job even with reasonable accommodations.

An employer can also fire a mentally disabled worker if he or she cannot perform the duties in a manner that would not endanger the employee’s health and safety or the health and safety of others even with reasonable accommodations.

As with many areas of the law, this section can be open to some interpretation. For this reason, if you were fired while dealing with a mental health issue or on disability leave, you should contact an employment lawyer to discuss your case.

Before You File for a Leave of Absence

If you’re on the fence about filing for leave, it might help to ask yourself the reason for doing it. Are you simply experiencing the normal stress of dealing with a difficult boss? Or are you struggling to hold your emotional life together hour by hour?

It goes without saying that if you’re dealing with emotional issues that are interfering with your basic life activities, you should do whatever you can to get better. This often starts with following the directions provided by a doctor or mental health specialist.

Contact an Employment Lawyer

As you no doubt already know, the areas of law dealing with mental health and employment can be complex and nuanced. Sometimes it requires help from a qualified attorney to help a worker stand up for their rights. Moreover, if you are dealing with a mental health issue, you should contact a mental health professional and take the steps necessary to get well.

If you feel that your employer has treated you unfairly while you struggle to deal with stress, anxiety or depression, or has unlawfully discriminated against you, contact the office of Branigan Robertson to schedule a consultation.

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New Harassment Video – How Much Are Cases Worth?

I’ve made a detailed video on how hostile work environment and harassment cases are valued. What makes a “big” case big? This video explains how it happens, why it happens, and how much your case might be worth.

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California’s Employment Laws Favor Workers in 2019

The year 2019 is shaping up to be a good year for workers in California. Several laws have gone into effect that benefit workers’ rights. Perhaps spurred on by the frustrations voiced during the MeToo movement, many of these laws strengthen existing laws dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination. Additionally, there is a raise in the minimum wage as well as overtime pay for agricultural workers. 

This article will briefly discuss some of the new changes to California employment law. If you have questions about any of these changes, or you feel you’ve been the target of harassment or some other employment violation, contact our office to schedule a consultation.

New CA Employment Laws 2019 | Branigan Robertson

The Changes, a Brief List

One – Minimum wage increase – This year, the minimum wage in California has been bumped for companies with 25 or more workers from $11 per hour to $12 per hour. Companies with fewer workers will now be required to pay their employees $10.50 per hour.

Two – Criminal History and Employment Applications – A new senate bill clarifies existing law dealing with job applicants who have criminal histories. Under current law, employers are prohibited from basing hiring decisions on a job applicant’s conviction record if that conviction has been sealed, or dismissed. There are exceptions to this law, such as if the applicant would be required to carry a firearm as part of the job.

In some cases, the employer is legally required to inquire about certain criminal histories. The new law limits these inquiries to “particular convictions” as opposed to convictions in general. A particular conviction is defined under the new law as “a conviction for specific criminal conduct or a category of criminal offenses prescribed by any federal law, federal regulation, or state law that contains requirements, exclusions or both, expressly based on that specific criminal conduct or category of criminal offenses.

The purpose of this law is to prevent companies from being overzealous when required to look into an applicant’s past criminal history.  

Three – Settlement Agreements and Sexual Harassment Disclosure– Lawsuit settlement agreements can no longer include provisions that prevent sexual harassment victims from disclosing factual information regarding their experiences.  This means that if an employee settles a lawsuit with a company after experiencing harassment, he or she will be free to testify about this experience. 

While the harassed person will be free to discuss the factual circumstances of the harassment, the actual settlement amount can still be kept secret by a non-disclosure clause. However, the law allows for settlement provisions that shield the identity of the sexually-harassed victim.

Four – Defamation Protection– It used to be that employees who had experienced sexual harassment and reported it could be exposed to a defamation suit. Thanks to Assembly Bill 2770, allegations of sexual harassment based on credible evidence and without malice are protected from such liability.

Five – Mandatory Sexual Harassment Training– While mandatory sexual harassment training has been in effect for years, it’s only applied to companies with 50 or more employees. The updated law has been broadened to include businesses with as few as five employees. Every two years, employees will be required to go through training. This includes one hour for non-supervisory staff, and two hours for supervisors.

Six – Agricultural Workers to Get Overtime – Prior to the passage of this law, agricultural workers were exempt from California’s overtime rules. Assembly bill 1066 will change this in phases over a period of four years. Among the immediate provisions of the law, workers who toil for more than nine and a half hours in one day (or more than 55 hours a week) must be paid time and a half for their overtime work.

By the year 2022, the law will require that agricultural workers putting in more than 12 hours in a day be paid at least double their normal hourly rate.  Additionally, persons working more than eight hours a day (more than 40 hours a week) must be paid time and a half.

Seven – Females on Boards of Directors – California law now requires that publicly-held companies with executive offices in California have at least one female director on the board.

Eight – Breastfeeding at Work – Employers are now required to make reasonable requirements to provide rooms for breastfeeding that aren’t bathrooms. 

Have Questions? – Ask an Employment Attorney

The changes to the laws discussed on this page only scratch the surface. Each law contains nuance, and most workers dealing with a bad employer require the help of a good lawyer to seek justice.

 If you believe your rights as an employee have been violated, it’s recommended you talk to a lawyer sooner than later. California’s statutes of limitation mean that a person filing a claim against an employer is always fighting the clock.

Having a good lawyer on your side might mean the difference between a check or a fair settlement for your pain and suffering. Whether you’ve dealt with wage theft, discrimination, harassment or some other employment related violation, a good lawyer will be indispensable in helping you get your life back on track. Call the office of Branigan Robertson with your questions and find out how we can help.

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Filed under Defamation, Discrimination, Harassment, Settlements, Verdicts, Wage & Hour

When Employers Marginalize Workers and Break the Law

There are many reasons a disenchanted worker will walk into an employment attorney’s office for a consultation. They include religious discrimination, sexual harassment, wage theft, among others.

One common scenario we attorneys see are employees who have become marginalized in the workplace. People don’t come to us because the law was broken. They generally don’t know the law. They come to our office because they were treated like garbage. Marginalization can occur in a number of different forms and include physical isolation from coworkers, lack of recognition for an employee’s achievements, bullying, or a basic lack of respect. And while an employee can be marginalized for many different reasons, not all of them are unlawful.

In its most benign form, employee marginalization can be the result of poor management. As discussed in this Industry Week article, sometimes a manager mistakes a quiet employee for an employee lacking initiative. As a result, the employee isn’t engaged by management, or encouraged to advance within the company. While this type of treatment may be unfair, even wrong, it isn’t necessarily unlawful.

This article was written to discuss the plight of marginalized employees, as well as the legal line an employer walks when marginalizing a worker. If you believe that your employer has violated state or federal law in marginalizing you, contact our office to see how we can help.

Marginalized Worker Employment Law | Branigan Robertson

What is a Marginalized Employee?

Let’s look a hypothetical situation involving marginalization for purposes of illustration:

Picture a customer service representative named Bob, who works at a big box retailer. A friendly person, Bob’s laid-back approach to sales is appreciated by customers. While his individual sales numbers aren’t stellar, the department he works in has experienced a 15 percent boost in sales since his hiring. However, Bob’s supervisor frequently reminds him that the company doesn’t reward employees for ‘assists,’ and frequently demeans him in front of the other sales staff. One of the other sales reps, who’s numbers are slightly better than Bob’s, often gets overwhelming praise in front of staff for his performance.

When Bob complains to a store manager, his supervisor says he’s only trying to “toughen Bob up,” in order to make him better at his job. Unsatisfied with the company’s lack of response to his situation, Bob leaves the big box store for another job.

OK, so Bob has been marginalized, but did the employer break the law? Keep reading to find out.

The Effects of Marginalization on Morale

A person whose work is valued less by an employer while coworkers are praised and encouraged might experience a wide range of emotions, including discouragement, depression or hopelessness. In short, it’s not a good work situation.

The question that one often asks in this situation, is whether or not an employer who marginalizes a worker has violated the law. In Bob’s case, the answer is no. No laws were broken. Not all cases of employee marginalization are unlawful. It may be cruel, bad business, or just plain wrong, but an employee who’s experienced workplace marginalization may not have a strong case against the employer.

But your situation may be different. And this is what you need to pay close attention too. Keep reading to learn a little about what laws were designed to protect marginalized employees.

What the Law Says About Marginalized Workers

Both state and federal laws exist that are designed to protect workers. Even though California is an at-will employment state, which means an employer is usually free to terminate a worker for any reason, the law prohibits termination, discrimination, or marginalization in certain cases.

For instance, the Fair Employment and Housing Act §12940(a), which closely mirrors federal law, states that it is unlawful employment practice:

“For an employer, because of the race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status of any person, to refuse to hire or employ the person, or to refuse to select the person for a training program leading to employment, or to bar or discharge the person for employment or from a training program leading to employment, or to discriminate against the person in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”

So, if we look at the example of our friend Bob from the previous section, an employment attorney would have to consider several factors to determine whether or not he had a strong case. For instance: was Bob’s employer marginalizing him because of his skin color, religious beliefs or sexual orientation? Any of these would be discrimination and we have detailed pages and videos on each.

Was Bob the openly gay employee in his department? Did straight employees receive advancements or bonuses while performing the same duties as Bob? Did Bob’s supervisor make slurs or use sexually inappropriate language when referring to Bob (hostile work environment)?

These and other issues would need to be explored in order to determine whether or not Bob’s marginalization was unlawful.

Whistleblowers Are Also Protected

A whistleblower is an employee who notifies the authorities of workplace violations of law. Under California Labor Code, it is unlawful for a company to retaliate against an employee who has called attention to such violations. Not surprisingly, a common company response to a whistleblower is to isolate and marginalize that employee, perhaps in the hope that the employee will simply quit.

Make no mistake, if a company uses marginalizing tactics to retaliate against an employee because he or she blew the whistle on illegal company activity, the retaliation is unlawful.

Do You Feel You Were Treated Unlawfully by an Employer?

It’s a sad fact of employment. Some companies tend to treat their workers abysmally. This can be for several reasons: misguided attempts to spur production, poor management skills, a lack of regard for workers, or something more nefarious (and unlawful) such as personal prejudice against protected classes.

If you’ve experienced marginalization at work, it could be well worth your time and effort to discuss the specifics of your case with an employment lawyer. While it’s true that many cases of employee marginalization are not unlawful, a good lawyer will be able to look at the facts of the case and decide whether or not legal action should be pursued.

Contacting a Lawyer

A person who successfully pursues a claim against an employer engaged in employee marginalization can potentially benefit financially. In California, marginalized employees may be entitled to:

  • Lost wages
  • Back pay
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages

Employment attorneys representing workers often take cases on a contingency basis. This means the client doesn’t pay up front fees, but rather the attorney is paid with proceeds from the judgment or settlement. If you have questions about any of the topics covered on this page, or other employment law issues, contact our employee rights office to schedule a consultation.

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The Psychology of Sexual Harassment – It’s About Power

Ask any employment lawyer to speak about the sexual harassment cases they handle, and chances are good they’ll tell you most claims are filed by women against men. But if you’re the type of person who prefers the rigor of numbers and not mere anecdotal evidence, the statistics also show what most of us know already—women are all too commonly the targets of sexual harassment. While this is an unfortunate fact, and a sad reflection on our society at large, it also overshadows the issue of men, who sometimes also, experience sexual abuse.

A USA Today article published December 18, which looked at the issue of why men don’t file sexual harassment claims, cited federal statistics showing that slightly more than 16 percent of sexual harassment claims were filed by men. The overwhelming majority of claims, more than 80 percent, are filed by women. The reasons for this could be analyzed endlessly by social psychologists and other experts, but there are basic factors that offer some explanation.

The Psychology of Sexual Harassment

You’ve probably heard it said before that sexual harassment and assault has less to do with the act of sex and more with power. A quick look at the distribution of gender and power in the workplace might give some insight to one of the driving forces behind sexual harassment.

Speaking to USA Today about this issue, Abigail Saguy, a professor of sociology and gender studies at UCLA explained, “One of the reasons it is men who harass women, and sometimes other men, is that this is about power and overwhelmingly (workplace) upper management is male, so the positions of power are disproportionately occupied by men and the bottom is disproportionately occupied by women.”

When it comes to the type of person that harasses others, psychologist Ellen Hendriksen examined several years of research on the issue and pointed out several traits common in harassers. These include: Moral disengagement, working in a male-dominated field, hostile attitudes toward women, and a cluster of psychological characteristics known as the “dark triad.”

These involve an individual who is limited in his capacity for empathy and holds a strong need for the admiration of others. As Hendriksen point out in her article, when these traits combine in a person “you essentially get a gleeful enthusiasm for exploitation, deception, and manipulation combined with a callous blindness to the feelings of others, all tied together with a bow of grandiosity.” She adds, “In other words, a perfect recipe for sexual harassment.”

To learn more about a hostile work environment, as compared to sexual harassment, click on the appropriate link.

Women Are Frequent Targets, But Men Can Suffer as Well

While it’s a sad commentary on the state of our society that so many women are forced to file claims against their male coworkers, another unfortunate facet to the issue is that the men who genuinely deal with harassment of their own are often overlooked.  In many cases, a man who is harassed, be it by a female or male coworker, will just endure the behavior rather than report it. An employment attorney interviewed by USA Today pointed to the male ego as a possible hindrance to more men filing harassment claims.

“Pride gets in the way,” the attorney said. “Most good plaintiffs’ attorneys who handle discrimination and harassment claims take on female to male harassment and the same laws apply. It’s just a matter of whether the men who are victims want to come forward.”

Whatever Your Situation, Harassment is Wrong, Fight Back

Regardless of whether you are a man or woman, if you’ve experienced harassment, you have the right to file a claim against your harasser. This is best done with the aid and guidance of a qualified employment attorney. Harassment can include a wide range of behaviors including unwanted: comments, sexual advances, jokes, epithets, as well as comments about a person’s pregnancy status, sexual identity or orientation. Requests for sexual favors in return for career advancement also falls under the state’s harassment laws and is known as quid pro quo harassment.

In addition to protecting employees from these behaviors, state and federal laws also protect workers who speak out against harassment and standup for fellow employees. In other words, it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who blows the whistle on sexual harassment in the workplace. Retaliation can include demotion, suspension, termination or other punishments.

Those who file claims against harassers might be eligible to recover lost wages, back pay, pain and suffering damages, and in some cases, punitive damages.

If you’ve experienced harassment, or retaliation stemming from harassment, contact a qualified employment attorney to help you explore your options. It could be well worth your time and effort to fight back. If you are looking for a page on marginalization of employees, read this post.

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New Sexual Harassment Whiteboard Video

Branigan just finished filming a whiteboard video on unlawful sexual harassment at work. This video explains the basics of California’s sexual harassment laws. For more information, click the link to travel to our main sexual harassment page.

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January 26, 2017 · 9:43 am