When can I fire an employee?

In most states, including California, an employer can terminate the employment relationship “at-will” as long as the employer has not modified the at-will relationship through its policies, practices or other express or implied contractual limitations and the termination is not in violation of any other federal or state law.

Am I required to grant a leave of absence to an employee?

If you have 50 or more employees you must comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act. These laws generally allow for leaves of up to 12 weeks for eligible employees during which the employer must continue to pay health benefits premiums normally paid by the employer. If you have 5 or more employees you must comply with California Pregnancy Disability provisions of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which allows women disabled by pregnancy up to 4 months’ leave.

Do my employees have to take meal breaks?

Under the Industrial Welfare Commission orders – covering various industries and occupations – employees who are not exempt must have a meal break of at least 30 minutes for every 5-hour work period, except that if a 6-hour work period will complete the day’s work the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and employee. A second meal period is required when there is a 10-hour work period, which may be waived by mutual consent if the total hours worked is no more than 12. In certain instances employees may have an “on duty” paid meal period

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome advances or other verbal or physical conduct that is tied to a job benefit or working condition or results in a significant change in employment status; or other conduct that is based on or because of sex/gender that creates a hostile or offensive work environment or that substantially interferes with an employee’s job performance.

On what basis is employment discrimination prohibited?

Federal and/or California laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religious creed, sex (including gender), age, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer; genetic characteristics), marital status, sexual orientation, pregnancy or military/veteran status. Additionally, a number of statutes prohibit discriminating against an employee for availing himself of rights under various other statutes, e.g., workers’ compensation, family leave, engaging in union activity, etc.

When must I pay an employee for vacation time?

There is no legal obligation for an employer to grant paid vacation. However, if the employer has a policy or agreement that provides for paid vacation for employees, in California an employer cannot require an employee to “use it or lose it.” This means that once an employee has accrued vacation time it is vested and cannot be taken away. The employee must be paid for those days if not used prior to termination. The employer can defer accrual of vacation during an initial period of employment and can “cap” further accruals once a specified amount has been accumulated.

These materials have been prepared for educational and informational purposes only. They are not legal advice or legal opinions on any specific matters. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship between Employer’s Legal Advisor, Inc. and you. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

Last revised: January, 2009