Government Employee Rights in California Employment Law

Video Transcript

Do you work for the government? If you do special rules apply to you, and it’s important to know and understand the special rules that apply to you as a government employee because it’s going to affect the decisions you make about whether or not to pursue your employer for a violation of your workplace rights. Today in this video we’re going to give a very brief overview for government employees about some of the unique obstacles you have laying in front of you, and how you can get past these obstacles to arrive have money damages in court for any violation of your workplace rights. So let’s jump right in.

Government Tort Claims Act

First of all when we’re talking about government employees were talking about employees that work for either the federal government, state government, county, or city government. If you work for a government entity there are going to be special rules that apply. One of those very special rules is known as the Government Tort Claims Act. You may be saying, “I don’t have a tort, I was sexually harassed or wrongfully terminated, I wasn’t in a car crash. I don’t have a breach of contract.” It actually doesn’t matter, don’t let the name fool you. The Government Tort Claims Act is essentially what you must do before you may sue the government for any alleged violation of the law.

There are some exceptions in the law for when you must not… must not… follow the Government Tort Claims Act.  That includes things like race discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation for reporting race discrimination or sexual harassment; those kinds of things protected by the Fair Employment & Housing Act. But there are many things that occur in the workplace that are not included in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. And if you are, for instance, a workplace whistleblower that worked for the government then you must comply with the government Tort Claims Act. Thats for all governmental entities in the state of California. If you work for the Federal Government, there is a is a federal law equivalent, and I suggest you check out some of the other videos online regarding what to do if you are a federal employee and you believe your rights have been violated. The focus of this video is on state government workers, so that would include the state of California, any of our County’s, any of our cities.

Let’s talk about what makes you different as a government employee. Well, primarily what makes you different is additional obstacles and barriers in front of government employees. Now, don’t worry, because the law also puts additional remedies and protections for government employees. In one of her other videos about wrongful termination, we talk about employees being “at-will” employees. For more information, obviously go to that video. Government employees are not usually “at-will” employees. If you work for the government, if you work for the state, you own your job. Which means that there are greater protections for you as a government employee; but then there are also going to be some consequences, a bargaining if you will, a this for that exchange. You got more protections but it comes at a cost.

But first, let’s talk about the protections you have. If you work for the government you likely either are in a union or there are strong workplace policies and rules that can be followed if something bad happens to you at work and you decide you want to fight it. Well here’s the thing, if you want to fight your dispute with a government in a court of law, you need to be careful how much of those internal processes you actually use. You also need to be careful because the law generally says if you want to see the government in California, and you want to do it in a court of law, you need to move within 6 months of the bad thing happening to you, you must take action to make sure that your legal claims are protected. Folks, it’s not easy to be a government employee. And if you are a government employee chances are you are going to need an attorney to help you make sense of whether or not your claims have been properly exhausted, that means preserved, so that you can go to court.

Administrative Processes

One of the special hurdles for a government employee is that there is an administrative process that you can go through in order to challenge any workplace “bad thing,” a “bad thing” being a termination, suspension, a demotion, a failure to promote, a dock in your pay. If you’re going to challenge these bad things in court you must first used the internal remedies and processes of the employer. Here’s the rub, you can use it, but you can’t use it too much. I know that sounds kind of silly, and certainly the decision must be made with a practicing attorney who understands these concepts. For instance, if you are a state worker and you go all the way through your State Personnel Board hearing and the administrative law judge finds you really were a poor performer you will not be able to come into court and claim that you were the victim of racism because they claimed you were a poor performer. You already litigated that and lost by going through the State Personnel Board hearing process. So you need to be very careful about the consequences that may be stuck to you if you go through the State Personnel Board process, Skelly Hearing process, or Union arbitration process and there is a finding of fact. That finding a fact can follow you if you try to sue your employer for a violation of the law.

And this is why it is very important as a government worker carefully consider how far you push your administrative process. For instance if you’re in a union and you work for the government, the union will sometimes take your demotion, suspension, or termination to an arbitration that’s to find out if your termination violated the collective bargaining agreement that your union has with your employer. But if you’re also claiming it was because of retaliation, you may be finding out at the end of that process that you can not bring a lawsuit for retaliation because your Union arbitration already resulted in a finding that you deserved to be terminated. I know, this is scary stuff. You think you may have the legal issue and you don’t know what to do. The most important thing that you can do as a government employee is to realize that the clock is ticking; tick-tock tick-tock.

Monetary Damages for Government Employees

Now lets also look at the kinds of damages that are available to government workers. Government workers have a little bit less available to them in terms of the remedies. Like private workers there will be money for economic damages; this is for money for money lost. There will be money for emotional distress; these are things like pain, suffering, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, any kind of mental anguish that comes from the illegal workplace conduct.

But a big difference for government workers is that there is no punitive damages or a government employee against the government. The public policy in the state of California is the Government does not need to be taught a lesson because it is the government. You don’t have to like it folks, it is what it is. There is a possibility of punitive damages against the individual government actors who may have violated your rights. But this is very difficult to prove, and generally you don’t want to focus on the individuals punitive damages because that has a tendency to make the ultimate recovery a little smaller. So before seeking punitive damages from an individual on a government case, definitely consult with an attorney about whether or not that’s the right move for you.

I hope you found this video for government workers helpful please click on this or any other videos if you ever need more information.

Here is a link to the Bohm Law Group in the news for suing Government Entities: Sacramento Bee on Sexual Harassment.

Appearance by Lawrance Bohm. Contact the Bohm Law Group if you need a consultation.


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