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California company found guilty of worker retaliation

The state labor commissioner determined that a Berkeley parking contractor fired an employee because of verbal complaints about his working conditions, which is not a legal justification for termination. The company was ordered to pay the former employee $1,517.94 for lost wages. This comes after a 2013 ruling from the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement awarded the same employee $3000 for denied rest breaks and unpaid wages. The man also brought a violation of the living-wage ordinance to the city's attention, but the city found that the company did not owe him any wages.

The city sided with the company on both the wage and retaliation issues, and the employee's attorney stated that the city's examination of his termination may have been less extensive than the state's two-day hearing. A memo by the city manager stated that the company fired the employee because they switched his parking structure to an automated system. His separation notice does mention him "voicing his displeasure" about the job.

The man's attorney stated that he contacted her organization after he had already started the process. She also stated that he did much of the work for himself and that a new pilot program by the commissioner to hear more retaliation hearings helped. Many workers cannot manage all the work required for these cases, and as a result they do not pursue them.

When a company fires an employee in retaliation to legal actions or mention of such actions, the employee may be entitled to compensation for lost wages. To try to collect these wages, the employee would file a wrongful termination claim against the company. It is important that the employee collect and provide as much information about the termination as possible to help with the proceedings.

Source: The Daily Californian, "State labor commissioner finds Berkeley contractor guilty of worker retaliation", Melissa Wen, September 25, 2014

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