Many employees are afraid of complaining about issues such as overtime, meal and rest breaks. But James isn’t concerned - he also researched the retaliation rules. “When I started working here, it seemed like a great company, but now I’m finding all the dirt and I’m not afraid of complaining about the company’s labor law violations,” says James. “I don’t think I will get fired. Even if they find out I’ve been seeking legal help, I know the law regarding retaliation.”
Under California law, workplace retaliation is unlawful in a number of circumstances. For instance, Tara Zoumer filed a lawsuit after she was fired allegedly because she’d been open with other employees about her belief that the company was in violation of California Labor Laws. Zoumer discussed with coworkers whether they were misclassified and entitled to overtime wages, among other issues.
The risk of retaliation is almost always a concern with workers who raise a legal complaint against their employer. As James knows, retaliation is illegal.
The California Labor Code states the following:
SB 496 declares unlawful any employer’s rule, regulation, or policy that prevents the disclosure of reasonably believed violations of local (in addition to state and federal) laws, rules, or regulations. Under California law, unlawful retaliation includes such things as an employee being subjected to negative treatment in the workplace because he or she engaged in a “protected activity.” Retaliatory treatment ranges from disciplinary action, negative performance reviews, denial of training, denial of promotions, denial of raises and termination.
James works in shipping at a clothing factory. Almost every day he has to wait for FedEx or UPS to arrive after his eight-hour shift. But he never gets overtime pay. “I’m the only person in shipping and the only person who has to wait,” James says. “I have to wait almost 15 minutes until the courier arrives. I close the bay door after they leave, lock the shipping area, and lastly lock the parking lot gate. Only then my job is completed and I clock out. So I am owed about 25 minutes of overtime - for a lot of days.”
James says he clocks in and out with a finger scanner so he believes that the company accountant is making illegal adjustments to his time worked. “I’ve explained to the accounting department why I have to work overtime every day. And I’ve complained about not getting compensated. ‘I’m unaware that you are eligible for overtime,’ she told me. And that’s another violation of the California labor code. I work hourly, I haven’t been misclassified as exempt from overtime. And she knows this.”
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“We also have illegal workers who are fired and hired back under a different identity with a different security card,” James says. “I personally know one guy using his daughter’s ID because she was born here. Other people ask for - and get - a lower check than they are owed one payday and one higher check next payday so they can qualify for low-income housing.”
James is certain that management knows about these illegal activities. And he believes it’s just a matter of time until they either pay employees overtime compensation and stop illegal activities, or they get slapped with a labor lawsuit.