Are you filing an employment claim and have concerns? Check out these 4 things to learn about your employment claim, then call our attorneys.
1. Filing a Claim After Quitting Your Job
A lot of employees that we represent throughout the year are employees that have been fired. There’s a smaller subset of employees that we get that quit their jobs, and they wonder what affect quitting their job in California has on any claims they may or may not have. For employees that feel like they’ve been subjected to wage violations, what affect does quitting your job have on your claim? Not much. Any rights that you had as an employee will survive either termination or quitting. If you have a wage claim of some kind – an underpayment of overtime, unpaid wages, meal rest breaks – whether you quit or get fired for any reason, you’re always going to be able to assert your claims.
If you’re an employee that quits and you’ve been subject to what you believe is unlawful conduct – discrimination, harassment, or retaliation – and you quit, that can be a harder question as to whether or not the courts are going to allow you to proceed in court. This has to do with what we in California call ‘constructive discharge.’ Without getting too legal about it, constructive discharge is the court or a jury will determine whether a person in your setting had no other choice but to quit, that a reasonable person in your situation had to quit or else face additional discrimination, harassment or retaliation.
Before anybody quits, I think it’s extremely important that you talk to an attorney. If you’re trying to make a decision as to whether or not you quit, please don’t make that decision based off of something you read on the internet. It’s very important that before you quit your job in California because of retaliation, discrimination, or harassment that you talk to somebody, whether that’s my firm or another one.
2. Settling a Claim Before Trial
At the firm, I think I can divide my clients up into two groups. The first group is ready to go to trial, ready to take time off and try the case. They are ready to tell their story to a jury. The other groups of clients want their story to be heard, but they don’t need for a jury to actually return a decision. What they want to do is make sure that their story is told to the employer, that the record is set straight, and that the employer is held accountable for what happened to them and the damage that was caused. For these clients, they’re happy with telling their story, resolving their case, and settling their case.
The reality is that even for those that are in the first group, they want to try their case, they want their story to be told, but they’re also okay with ultimately resolving the case because a lot of cases do so – not all cases, but a lot of cases do so. The reality is if you bring a lawsuit, a lot of these cases settle, so you don’t have to be committed to actually taking the case all the way to trial. I will say what’s important is for you to make sure that you find a firm that are actually litigators and can actually take the case to trial, so if push comes to shove, the case can be tried.
Of course, that decision as to whether or not we try the case would always be up to the client – is that what they want to do? It’s really important for the other side to know that the case can settle on terms that we are okay with or that the employee has hired a firm that will try the case. That ultimately will drive settlement up. The fear of litigation will ultimately drive the settlements up because the employer wants peace of mind.
3. Recovering Damages
I was talking to a client for whom we’d already filed an action, and we were sitting down, and I was having her go through a lot of questions as to what attorneys would refer to as damages. She asked a question: “Actually, I’ve never thought about it, but what damages am I entitled to as a result of bringing an employment claim in California?” We sat down and I talked to her about how she’s entitled to the damages that determination had on her, and I discussed with her that one of the big damages that we look at is emotional distress.
She had been working for this company for years. She had been working for the company for 17 years, and she had gotten injured and told her employer that she had an upcoming surgery. After 17 years, within four weeks, about two weeks before the surgery, they had written her up three times and then terminated her. I talked to her about the emotional stress of losing a job that she really, really enjoyed. She really enjoyed doing the work that she was doing. Also, in addition to having that loss of actually something that you enjoyed, we talked about the stress of not being able to pay rent on the apartment that she was at.
She talked about the fact that her son was going into junior high football, and that they would have a fundraiser where each family was expected to raise $250 per kid. She talked about the stress of going back to her family and trying to fund-raise that money because she had already gone to her family the month before to pay for rent. We talked about that embarrassment. She talked about waking up at two o’clock in the morning and feeling inadequate as a mom, and being a breadwinner for 17 years and that stress. We talked about the stress of going forward and what kind of stress she will have in looking for a job and the fact that she was on track to actually get a job about a week later, but would be making less, but she was just happy to have a job. That’s all she ever really wanted.
We talked about that stress of not having that kind of money to do small things and that impact. We talked about that emotional stress of losing a job. We also talked about the wages and that she would be entitled to back wages between the termination up through a jury trial, as well as economic damages going forward. She would be making about four dollars less an hour in her job that she’s about to take versus what she used to make. Four dollars an hour, roughly, is $8,000 a year and that’s going to play out for a good number of years as she tries to be compensated and to receive the same compensation that she used to receive.
Those are the two main factors involved: you have emotional stress, both back and front emotional stress, and you have benefits – wage loss, loss of medical benefits – both in the past and going forward. Depending on the employer, you also might be entitled to punitive damages, which is literally a number to punish the employer to say that their behavior was despicable and, as a result of that, they should be punished by having to pay money. Our system isn’t perfect. All we can ask of a jury is that they compensate you for the stress and anxiety of not having a job, and for feeling inadequate and angry. All we can do is ask for money to punish them, to get their attention that something went wrong.
Lastly, we’d also seek attorneys’ fees and costs. If it goes all the way to trial, we ask the court that you, as the injured party, shouldn’t have to pay for the attorneys’ fees and costs. Most of our cases do so. We do try cases, and in those cases that we try we do ask the court that the other side pay attorneys’ fees and costs. Most of our cases settle, and from that we would take our attorneys’ fees from a lump sum. That lump sum is to compensate you for your back wages and your front wages, and for your emotional stress, and for you to hopefully be made whole.
4. Statute of Limitations
I was doing a training seminar about two weeks ago and one of the questions that was asked by an audience member was, “How long do I have to bring an employment claim in California?” I sort of laughed and gave an answer that is typical of an attorney, which was, “Well, it depends.” Some of the statutes are extremely short. Some of the time frames to bring a lawsuit will depend on the type of claim that you’re going to bring. Some require that you do something within six months of termination. Some of the same statutes or very similar statutes will allow a time period greater than that – a year, and arguably up to three years.
As to whether or not you have six months, a year, or three years, depends on the type of claim that you’re bringing and on the type of employer you’re going to sue. Some of the factors involved include the size of the employer. How many employees does it have within a certain geographical area? Is that employer a public entity or a private entity? There’s a lot of questions in determining how long you have to bring an employment claim in California. It’s a very fact-intensive inquiry.
I think it’s important that, regardless of what type of claim you’re going to bring, you reach out to an attorney as soon as you can to make sure that no timelines are being blown. I also think it’s important for you to understand that the statute will change depending on various factors. The sooner that you can bring your claim, the more likely the evidence will be there. Your co-workers are still there, so we can talk to them. Documents are still around and haven’t been destroyed. Again, how long it takes to bring a claim will depend on the type of claim, but sooner is always better.
Are you or a loved one in the process of filing an employment claim in California and have questions about these 4 things to learn about your employment claim? Contact the experienced California employment law attorneys at the Myers Law Group today for a free consultation and case evaluation.
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