How HR Screws Employees Out of Money, Employment Rights & their Jobs

This video is about the four most common tricks that HR uses to cheat their employees.

“Human Resources is there to help the employees, right?” Nope. That is not true and it’s one of the biggest misconceptions in the employment world. HR is at your company to do one thing, protect the company when the human assets (i.e. employees) become a threat.

This is Mr. Robertson’s latest YouTube video about HR, and giving employees information that can help them navigate the complicated world of work. If something strange is happening to you at work, we recommend that you watch all of our videos about HR before you go to complain. Unfortunately, when some employees complain to HR incorrectly, they paint a big target on their back. Here are links to the other videos on HR:

We hope these are helpful.

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Toxic Work Environment

There are a lot of challenges in the modern world that are far beyond our control: soaring medical costs, a revolving door of financial crises, a job market squeezed by supply chain issues.  Life is hard enough without having to worry about dealing with a toxic work environment. While there’s a lot about our jobs we can’t control, thankfully, California law provides employees with some tools for dealing with toxic work environments. These tools might not always provide a quick fix, but California employees don’t have to take toxic harassment lying down.

This article will discuss some of the legal protections for California employees, and some options workers have when they lose their job due to toxic harassment at work. If you have lost your job, give Branigan Robertson’s office a call. Mr. Robertson will review your case in order to determine if he can help you pursue a claim. He does not charge a fee for the consultation.

Is a toxic work environment illegal? Watch this video by Branigan Robertson to find out.

Toxic Harassment Defined

Our office gets thousands of calls a year from employees who have been mistreated by their bosses and coworkers. Not surprisingly, many of these callers are frustrated and angry. During the consultation they use phrases like ‘toxic work environment’ or ‘hostile workplace’, often without knowing what these phrases really mean.  It’s important for California employees to understand the difference between what amounts to a violation of law, and what simply amounts to bad behavior—especially if they intend to pursue a case in court.

In California, attorneys such as Mr. Robertson generally rely on the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which is contained in the government code. This law mirrors federal law but has a few extra teeth. 

Section 12940 states that it is a violation of law to discriminate against an employee based on several characteristics including: gender, sexuality, race, medical condition, military status, national origin, gender identity, age (over 40), and several other characteristics.

The phrase ‘toxic harassment’ does not actually appear in the law. It’s possible the phrase is a variation of the phrase ‘hostile work environment’, which is frequently used by judges in harassment cases. Over the years, courts have determined that workplace harassment rises to the level of a hostile work environment when the harassment is so pervasive or severe that it ‘alters the conditions of employment.’

Whether or not an employee has experienced severe and pervasive harassment is one of the crucial questions attorneys like Mr. Robertson must consider before taking on a case.

The Difference Between Unfair Treatment & Illegal Treatment

My coworker has been harassing me for months. Do I have a case?

Every day our office fields calls from employees describing some variation of this scenario.

Sometimes the answer is “Yes.” Often, the answer is “No.” The reason for this is that most of the folks who call our office simply don’t have enough evidence to prove that the bad behavior they’re experiencing is tied to their inclusion in a protected class. Rather, the employee is being treated poorly because their coworker or boss is simply a jerk. Maybe someday California will outlaw jerk bosses, but for now, employees have no such luck.

What are the protected classes? The California Legislature has created eighteen categories:

  1. Race,
  2. Religion (religious creed),
  3. Color, 
  4. National origin, 
  5. Ancestry, 
  6. Physical disability, 
  7. Mental disability, 
  8. Medical condition, 
  9. Genetic information, 
  10. Marital status, 
  11. Sex (also includes pregnancy and related medical conditions), 
  12. Gender,
  13. Gender identity, 
  14. Gender expression, 
  15. Age (if over 40 years old), 
  16. Sexual orientation,  
  17. Military, and 
  18. Veteran status.
This video dives deep in to the law on toxic work environments.

Hostile Work Environment Cases in the Courts

recent case illustrating an example of  a hostile work environment involved an African American phlebotomist who filed a claim against UCLA Health. The plaintiff claimed that coworkers used offensive Spanish language terms in front of her used to describe black people.  Additionally, one employee was claimed to have used blatantly racist terms (including the N-word) when referring to the plaintiff. The plaintiff was ultimately fired. She sued under FEHA. Though her original judgment was reduced slightly on appeal, a Santa Monica jury initially awarded her $1.5 million.

In a case from the 1980s, a jury awarded a woman who worked for AT&T more than $3 million for the harassment she suffered under a male boss. In that case, the boss was transferred to the location where the plaintiff worked and immediately began flirting with her. One night he insisted she join him at dinner. Fearing she couldn’t refuse; the woman joined her boss at dinner where she was presented with flowers. Her boss discussed his unsatisfactory sex life, and at one point reached over to play with the woman’s earring. The woman reported the incident to her direct supervisor, but nothing was done about it. In the ensuing weeks and months, the woman saw her job duties taken away from her one by one until she had nothing left to do.  A jury agreed that the harassment she suffered rose to a level severe enough to alter the work environment.

How to Decide if its Time to Call an Attorney

There are some simple things to ask yourself if you believe you are in a toxic or hostile work environment:

  • Are you experiencing harassment because you are a member of a protected class (i.e., race, religion, gender, sexuality, sexual identity, skin color, military status, age, or other)?
  • Is the harassment verbal (racial epithets, unwanted sexual comments, racist or sexual jokes, intimidating or threatening statements, slurs etc.)?
  • Is the harassment physical (unwanted touching, blocking your path, physical intimidation, other physical interference with your normal work duties etc.)?
  • Is the harassment nonverbal (leering, intimidating stares, vulgar or intimidating gestures)?
  • Have you been terminated or otherwise retaliated against after complaining about harassment?

If you answered yes to the above, or a combination of the above, it might be time to have your situation reviewed by an experienced attorney.

What if You Haven’t Been Terminated Yet?

Generally, attorneys like Mr. Robertson don’t pursue a lawsuit until a termination has occurred. Obviously, this is little comfort to those who are in the middle of being harassed. If you find yourself in a toxic work environment, there are still steps you can take to protect yourself — even if you haven’t been terminated. 

You should consider writing a brief complaint to HR (or the appropriate office authority) about the offensive behavior. If you are terminated after writing such a complaint, you will have a stronger claim should you decide to go to court.  For more information on how to complain to HR the right way, check out this YouTube video Mr. Robertson made.

Call Our Office for a Free Consultation

If you believe you are experiencing toxic harassment at work, call the office of Branigan Robertson to schedule a consultation. While Mr. Robertson doesn’t offer free employment advice, there is no fee to review your case. If he believes he can help, he will generally take your case on a contingency basis. This means you don’t pay out of pocket, but rather pay with a portion of your settlement or judgment.

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What Should You Do if You Get Injured at Work? – Pt. 4

This video is about what employees should do if they get injured on the job. How do you protect yourself from the consequences of a workplace injury. Should you report it? Should you file a workers compensation claim? Should you request a reasonable accommodation? Mr. Robertson answers all of these questions.

Unsafe Work Places that Lead to Injuries

As you all know, people get hurt on the job. Usually this is due to an unsafe work environment or condition that has been neglected for a long time. If you find yourself injured from something at work, what should you do about it? You should watch the following videos as this is Part 4 of a four-part series that Mr. Robertson made on workplace safety.

Once Mr. Robertson finishes filming each video, he will come back to this post and insert a link so you can easily jump to the video that is most helpful for you. But you should watch them in order as each one lays a foundation that is key to understanding the next one.

We hope you find this information useful!

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How to Get a $1,000,000 Settlement – Video

In this vide Mr. Robertson demystifies seven figure settlements. How do lawyers get them for clients? What goes into getting them? Mr. Robertson analyzes the seven major factors that go into getting big-money settlements for clients.

How to Get a Seven-Figure Settlement

Have you ever wondered how people get millions of dollars in a settlement from their lawsuit? This video breaks down the seven major factors that contribute to settlements that size and larger. Mr. Robertson discusses the hard work that is required and the risks that you and the attorney must take. So, if you’ve ever wanted to peek behind the legal curtain, watch this video.

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Retaliation for Reporting an Unsafe Work Environment – Pt. 3

This post discusses what employees should do if they are being retaliated against for complaining about a safety issue at work. It also describes how much safety lawsuits like this can be worth in Court. Attorney Branigan Robertson carefully analyzes the anti-retaliation laws that protect workers and explains what retaliation looks like in the real world.

Retaliation for Safety Violations is a Big Problem

Unfortunately, if you get hurt on the job, you create a big problem for the company. And the sad reality is, some companies choose to treat their employees like replaceable widgets and they will not tolerate when one tries to stand up for safety. Retaliation because of safety concerns is a big problem in California, and Mr. Robertson wants people to know their rights and when they should call a lawyer.

This is Part 3 of a four part series that Mr. Robertson is making on workplace safety.

Once Mr. Robertson finishes filming each video, he will come back to this post and insert a link so you can easily jump to the video that is most helpful for you. But you should watch them in order as each one lays a foundation that is key to understanding the next one.

We hope you find this information useful!

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How to Report Safety Violations – Pt. 2

This post details how employees should report safety issues and violations at work. This is the next installment in our video series called “Employee Safety at Work.” In this post and video, Branigan Robertson describes the correct way to report safety violations to bosses, HR, and OSHA.

Blowing the Whistle on Workplace Safety

If you are smart, you probably already know that reporting a safety issue is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of dilemma. If you report the safety violation, chances are your company is going to be upset and might retaliate against you. But if you don’t report the unsafe situation, chances are the company will blame and scapegoat you if someone gets hurt because you knew about the situation and didn’t report it.

This is Part 2 of a four part series that Mr. Robertson is making on workplace safety.

Once Mr. Robertson finishes filming each video, he will come back to this post and insert a link so you can easily jump to the video that is most helpful for you. But you should watch them in order as each one lays a foundation that is key to understanding the next one.

We hope you find this information useful!

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The Laws of Workplace Safety – Pt. 1

This page details the California laws that keep employees safe at work. If you want to know the basics regarding Cal-OSHA regulations that apply to your job, this post will give you the details that you are looking for. The above video was created by California employment lawyer, Branigan Robertson. You can watch it on this page, or click here to view it on YouTube.

This is Part 1 of a four-part series that Mr. Robertson made on workplace safety.

Once Mr. Robertson finishes filming each video, he will come back to this post and insert a link so you can jump to the video that is most helpful for you. But you should watch them in order as each one lays a foundation that is key to understanding the next one.

We Will Answer the Following Questions:

These videos are made to answer the seven most common questions lawyers get about workplace safety, including the following:

  1. What laws protect the safety of workers?
  2. What are your rights if your employer is breaking OSHA’s laws?
  3. How should you report unsafe conditions?
  4. Who do you report to: HR, your boss, or OSHA?
  5. How much money can you win if you get fired for reporting safety violations?
  6. What happens if you get hurt on the job?
  7. How do you get compensated for the time off work following an injury?

Stay tuned for more information!

Workplace Safety, The Big Picture

In the early days of the American workplace there were precious few laws in place to protect the health and safety of employees. If an employee died in a workplace accident, the employer simply hired a replacement worker and moved on. Thankfully, things are different today. In 1970 the Federal Government passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which established workplace protections for employees nationwide. States like California added additional safety regulations to the federal regulations (hence Cal-OSHA). The basic directives underpinning OSHA are known as the General Duties. These include:

  1. Every employer is legally required to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious harm to its employees.
  2. Every employer is legally obligated to comply with OSHA safety standards set forth by the Secretary of Labor (29USC §59(a)).

Cal-OSHA General Duties take things further and provide more specific protections for California employees. These duties include the following:

  1. Every employer is obligated to furnish safe & healthful employment to its workers.
  2. Employers must do everything reasonably necessary to protect the life, safety, and health of employees.
  3. Employers shall use safety devices and use methods reasonably adequate to render employment safe.

Employers are not allowed to require an employee to go to an unsafe workplace (CA Labor Code §§6400-6404).

What Types of Safety Is Covered

OSHA regulations primarily seek to prevent physical workplace injuries. OSHA does not seek to directly regulate psychological safety stemming from bullying and harassment.  There will be more discussion on psychological safety later in this series, but you can view Branigan’s video on on workplace bullying and harassment if you feel this might address your issue more specifically.

OSHA does regulate issues related to physical workplace violence. Employees who experience or are aware of occurrences of workplace violence should notify their employer about potential physical violence.

Safety for All Industries

OSHA regulations were designed to cover all industries—from small startups space to sprawling factories. And whether you work at a desk or operate a milling machine, your employer must provide some basic safety considerations. These include:

  • Disaster planning (alarm systems, escape routes, emergency procedure, etc.)
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Ergonomic equipment
  • Hazardous substance disclosure 
  • Maintaining a smoke free environment (no tobacco products)Heat mitigation (we get a lot of calls about office heat issues)

Safety for Specific Industries & Activities

OSHA provides regulations for a vast range of specific industries. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to publish the complete list in this post—it could cover a novel sized tome. Suffice it to say OSHA has rules for just about any industry or activity you can imagine. If you work in an industry where you think safety violations might be occurring, you can always spend a little time reviewing information on your specific industry on OSHA’s website. Activities and equipment effected by OSHA regulations include: 

  • Ladders
  • Stairways
  • Power tools
  • Forklifts
  • Sanitation
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • Toxic substance handling and disposal (lead, asbestos, chemicals, aerosols, etc.)
  • Ventilation
  • Textiles
  • WoodworkingMany others

What Are Your Rights in an Unsafe Environment?

This series on workplace safety will get deeper into employee rights in subsequent videos and blog posts. But employees have the right to the following:

  • To refuse to do unsafe work. This right exists if two conditions are met. First, the work being requested would violate OSHA regulation (such as the General Duties). Secondly, the violation would create a real hazard to you or your coworkers.
  • To report violations to the proper authority without fear of retaliation.
  • To receive written information on hazards at the workplace.

When the Employer Doesn’t Follow the General Duties

Our office fields thousands of calls every year from folks who believe their employers are violating safety laws. These callers are eager to get justice, and they are eager to sue. In some cases, they let their emotions get the better of them and end up making a bad situation worse.  We must explain that there are a few things that must happen before a lawsuit can be considered—and a single safety violation often isn’t enough. It’s important that you continue watching this video series to get a broader picture of what it takes to hold an unsafe employer accountable.

When to Call an Attorney

If you believe that your employer has violated Cal-OSHA regulations, or if you have been terminated after reporting safety violations, call our office. Branigan does not charge for the consultation process. If he determines that you have a case worth pursuing, he generally represents clients on a contingency basis.  This means the client pays for his services from a portion of the settlement or judgment at the conclusion of the case. 

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