Practical Tips for Employees in California
When things get rough at work, it’s time to get busy, figure out your options, and start planning your actions. In the words of American author James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
It’s time to think about a plan if you are still working and:
- You are being harassed on the job
- You are not being paid what you are owed
- You are being discriminated or retaliated against
- You are being written up or set up for discharge
It’s also time to think about a plan if your employment has ended and:
- You were discharged without good cause
- You were not paid what you were owed
- You were harassed, discriminated or retaliated against
- You think your former employer may be badmouthing you
Phil Horowitz’s office, looking out to the San Francisco Bay
These are common examples of times when employees should figure out their options and come up with a plan. If something at work seems wrong, and it matters to you, it is time to determine your options.
Phil Horowitz on the stairs leading up to Harvey Milk Photo Studio
If things are wrong enough at work, you should think about all of your options, even if, in the end, you end up deciding to lie low and document what is happening in a log, or looking for new work elsewhere.
Everyone’s situation is different. The options mentioned here are only that: ideas to consider. To find out about your legal rights, you should get confidential advice from a lawyer who is experienced in representing employees.
You Are Being Written Up or Set Up for Discharge
Sometimes employers write up employees because they have already decided they want to fire them, and they want to come up with some likely-sounding reason. Some employers who do this work their way up from “counseling” to “written warning” to “performance improvement plan.”
If you think this is happening to you, here are some early steps you can take, usually without alerting your employer and risking retaliation:
- Bring home your performance evaluations and any documentation counseling, praising or disciplining you.
- Save copies at work of e-mails and other work documents showing you do your work well (do not bring home documents that belong to your employer).
- Write a fact log to use to get legal advice if you end up needing it, writing “Attorney-Client Communication” at the beginning (and keeping it confidential).
- Make sure you have home or cell phone numbers and personal e-mail addresses of sympathetic co-workers.
- Do not audio or video record conversations without everyone’s permission.
- Don’t give your employer anything to use as an excuse to say you’re doing a bad job (dot your i’s and cross your t’s for every job duty you’re given, if you can).
- Get advice from a lawyer with experience representing workers.
Here are some more options you can consider:
- Write calm, factual and detailed responses to unfounded attacks on your performance, attaching any documents that support you (maybe with a lawyer or spouse lending a second set of eyes).
- Look for allies in management or human resources (but be realistic about the risk of backlash).
- If the problem is a particular supervisor, try transferring.
- Look for a new job elsewhere (it’s easier to find a new job when you are employed).
- Negotiate a departure with severance pay.
- File a formal complaint with an outside government agency.
- Get an experienced employment lawyer to contact your employer.
If you have a union or work for the government, you may have more options, but deadlines to act can be very short. If you have a union, contact your union right away. If you work for the government, find out about civil service regulations or other protections right away.
There are lots of legal deadlines, including what the law calls “statutes of limitation.” Some deadlines for bringing employment claims in California are one year, but deadlines for filing union grievances and civil service claims can be much shorter. If you think you might consider bringing a legal claim, find out the deadlines right away from an experienced employment lawyer.