There are hundreds of thousands of laws that govern the employer-employee relationship in California. The government does not keep a running tally of the total number of laws, however, the California Labor Code currently reaches section number 9,104. Even this number is misleading because sections are many times numbered sequentially to the tenth decimal (i.e. Labor Code section 98.1, 98.2, 98.3, 98.4, etc.) Similarly most individual sections contain multiple subsections (i.e. Labor Code section 98(a), 98(b), 98(c), etc.) Thus, the total number of laws within the Labor Code is many times greater than the highest section number.
Nor are California’s employment laws found exclusively within the Labor Code. For instance, California’s most robust employment law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act, is found in the California Government Code beginning at section 12,940. Hundreds of additional employment laws applying to school employees are found in California’s Education Code, and even California’s Unemployment Insurance Code, governing unemployment benefits, reaches section number 18,012.
Furthermore, California’s 29 legal codes contain only those laws enacted by the Legislature. Many thousands of additional employment laws are found within the California Code of Regulations; i.e. rules that are authored by bureaucrats to implement or clarify those laws authored by the elected legislature. On top of it all, there are thousands of additional federal employment laws and regulations that apply to California employees.
With hundreds of thousands of employment laws on the books many are simply forgotten about and remain obscure.
The Right to Wear Pants:
Government Code Section 12947.5 reads, “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to refuse to permit an employee to wear pants on account of the sex of the employee.” (Gov’t Code § 19247.5(a).) Employers are allowed to enforce uniform, grooming, and appearance standards, however, female employees cannot be required to wear skirts or dresses and must be permitted to wear pants. The law contains an exception for Hollywood, “Nothing in this section shall prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to wear a costume while that employee is portraying a specific character or dramatic role.” (Gov’t. Code § 12947.5(c).)
There are several major but infrequently litigated laws that protect an employee’s right to engage in political activity. (Lab. Code §§ 1101-1102.)
In 1937, California passed a law stating that an employer may not forbid employees from participating in politics or becoming political candidates. (Lab Code § 1101(a).) Nor may employers “control or direct” the political activities or affiliations of employees. (Labor Code § 1011(b).) Notably, these laws also prohibit an employer from “tending to control or direct” the employee’s political activities, meaning that the employer cannot even indirectly interfere with the employee’s political beliefs. (Labor Code § 1011(b).) Employers cannot terminate an employee for being for or against President Trump, President Obama, the NRA, the ACLU, nor any other politician or political cause deemed unacceptable by the employer or the employer’s customers or clients.
Lawful Conduct During Non-Work Hours:
An employer is broadly forbidden from demoting, suspending, or discharging an employee as a result of the employee’s lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the workplace. (Lab. Code § 96(k).) In other words, an employer cannot terminate an employee simply because the employer dislikes the employee’s hobbies, lifestyle, or any other activities that occur outside of work and are entirely legal, even if deemed controversial or unpopular by the community at-large; (e.g. chewing tobacco, African big game hunting, or spanking one’s own children.)
This particular law is infrequently litigated and it remains unclear if only the California Labor Commissioner has the power to sue employers for violating it. Furthermore, an employer may still terminate an employee for lawful off-work activity, “if it is in direct conflict with the essential enterprise-related interests of the employer and where breach of that contract would actually constitute a material and substantial disruption of the employer’s operation.” (Lab. Code § 98.6(c)(2)(A).)
Workplace Rights for Veterans
The laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of an employee’s veteran or military status are just as strong as those laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of the employee’s race, gender, religion, or disability. (Gov’t Code § 12940(a).) This means that employers cannot refuse to hire, terminate, or otherwise discriminate against an employee because they are a veteran, because they participated in a war, or because the employee has a family member in the military.
Similarly, California has a host of protected leave laws that apply to members of the military and military families. This includes the right of a military spouse to take a ten-day leave of absence to visit their spouse on leave from a military deployment. (Cal. Military & Vet. Code § 395.10.)
California’s Secret Labor Day:
Everyone knows that Labor Day falls on the first Monday in September. Unbeknownst to many, California recognizes Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28th, California’s secret Labor Day. (Lab. Code § 29.5 [“The Governor shall annually issue a proclamation declaring April 28 as Workers’ Memorial Day in remembrance of the courage and integrity of American workers, and recommending that the day be observed in an appropriate manner.”]
Turn Down that AC!
California has a variety of laws intended to protect workers from heat exposure with the object of preventing heat stroke. However,the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) goes so far as to recommend, but not require, that office temperatures be kept between 68-76 degrees. (OSHA Technical Manual, Sec. III Chp. 2 V(A)(4).) The laws regulating workplace temperature are more stringent in the agricultural, construction, and landscaping industries.
There are hundreds of thousands of employment laws that apply to the California employer-employee relationship. Don’t take the law into your own hands. Contact the Law Office of Brian Mathias.