As the calendar turned from 2020 to 2021, most of California remained under a “stay-at-home” order. For some Bay Area residents, the lifting of lockdown orders may actually exacerbate, rather than reduce, the challenges they face. Many people who were working before the pandemic struck may find themselves forced to remain at home, needing to care for their young children whose daycare remains closed or whose school-aged children remain waiting for their schools to reopen to in-person learning. Be advised that if COVID-19 has forced you to take time away from your job to care for your family, the Fair Employment and Housing Act offers protection against discrimination and/or retaliation related to your taking leave for caretaking activities. If you’ve suffered that kind of harm in your job, you should take immediate action and contact an experienced Oakland employment attorney.
The Families First Act went into effect in April of last year. That law expanded the availability of family and medical leave. Once you return to your job after a period of leave, your employer is forbidden by California law from punishing or taking any kind of adverse employment action against you (like termination, demotion, reduction of hours, reduction of benefits, negative performance assessment, reassignment to a less desirable shift, etc.) because you took that leave.
Say, for example, that you take several weeks of leave to care for your three-year-old child because your child’s previous daycare closed due to COVID-19, and you could not find a new one immediately. Once you returned to work, your coworkers began treating you differently. Three weeks after your return, your supervisor gave you a negative performance review, which you had never before received in your seven years with the company.
You complained to your company’s HR department, but nothing was done. A week after you made that complaint, your supervisor cut your hours by 25%
All of that may make for the factual basis of a potentially successful discrimination and retaliation claim in California. Except for certain very small or very large employers, employers generally are required to provide you with leave when you need to care for your school-aged child whose school is closed (or is offering only remote learning) or your younger child whose provider of childcare is not offering services due to the pandemic.
There may be multiple legal claims available to you
Treating you differently based on having exercised your leave rights arguably amounts to a case of disability discrimination or associational discrimination. Giving you a negative performance review and reducing your hours because you exercised your protected right to object to discrimination is the basis of a potentially viable case of retaliation.
Of course, you have to have more than just proof that you were engaged in a protected activity and that you were the target of an adverse employment action. You have to tie that protected activity to the adverse action in a way that makes it clear that your engagement in the protected activity caused the adverse action. Proof that an adverse action occurred just a short time after you engaged in a protected activity (such as the span of only a few weeks, as was the case in the example above) can often be strong evidence of this required linkage between the protected activity and the adverse action.
Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, times remain very challenging for most Californians. As someone dealing with a job and parenting young children, one thing you shouldn’t have to deal with is discrimination or retaliation for taking leave to care for your children. If that’s happened to you, you have legal options. To get the most out of them, you need a knowledgeable and powerful advocate on your side. Count on the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch to provide that sort of representation. Proudly serving clients from across the East Bay with employment matters, personal injury claims, and other issues, we are eager to get to work for you. To learn more, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.