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Right to Work
Is California a Right to Work State? 6 Questions, Answered
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AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger
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Here's everything you need to know about the right-to-work law, at-will employment and these mean in California.

What is right to work?

The right-to-work law, which is also known as the Workplace Freedom or Workplace Choice law, is a law that grants workers the right to choose whether or not they'd like to join a union in their workplace. Likewise, it also makes it optional for workers already in unionized workplaces to pay union dues and other membership fees that are required for union representation (whether they're involved in the union or not).

What is at-will employment?

Every state with the exception of Montana is an at-will employment state. Under the at-will employment policy, either the employer or the employee can terminate employment at any time for any reason (unless it's illegal and proven wrongful termination, which is hard to do) without consequence — unless the employee has a contract or a union agreement that states otherwise.

Is California a right to work state?

In California, there is no right-to-work law. In fact, the 2012 "Paycheck Protection" initiative, Proposition 32, which was quite similar to other right-to-work efforts, was defeated when it was put on the general election ballot. If Proposition 32 had been approved, it would have banned corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates, banned contributions by government contractors to the politicians who control contracts awarded to them and banned automatic deductions by corporations, unions and government of employees’ wages to be used for politics.

Similarly, Proposition 75, which was put on the general election ballot in 2005, and proposition 226, which was on put on the general election ballot in 1998 and similarly sought to enact paycheck protection, were defeated.

Can you be fired for any reason in California?

California is an at-will state, which means that you can be fired for any just reason at any time. Again, proving wrongful termination isn't always an easy feat, but your employer can only fire you for legal reasons.

What are important California labor laws?

Here are three important labor laws in California of which you should be aware.

1. California Fair Employment and Housing Act

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing state laws, such as the Fair Employment and Housing Act, that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of specific categories like gender (and gender expression), sex, sexual orientation, race, age, religion, marital status, ancestry, military and veteran status, disability, medical condition and genetic information. 

The Fair Employment and Housing Act in particular applies to both public and private employers, labor organizations and employment agencies. It says that "it is illegal for employers of five or more employees to discriminate against job applicants and employees because of a protected category, or retaliate against them because they have asserted their rights under the law." It also "prohibits harassment based on a protected category against an employee, an applicant, an unpaid intern or volunteer, or a contractor. Harassment is prohibited in all workplaces, even those with fewer than five employees," according to the DFEH.

2. Workers Compensation Insurance Law

"The workers' compensation system is based on a trade-off between employers and employees," according to the Department of Industrial Relations. "Employees are entitled to receive prompt, effective medical treatment for on-the-job injuries or illnesses no matter who is at fault and, in return, are prevented from suing employers over those injuries. As a result, California employers are required by law to have workers' compensation insurance, even if they have only one employee. And, if your employees get hurt or sick because of work, you are required to pay for workers' compensation benefits. Workers' comp insurance provides basic benefits, including medical care, temporary disability benefits, permanent disability benefits, supplemental job displacement benefits and a return-to-work supplement, and death benefits."

3. California New Parents Leave Law

The California New Parents Leave law "requires employers of 20 or more employees to provide eligible employees job-protected leave for the birth of a child or the placement of a child for adoption or foster care," according to the DFEH. It also says that "employers of five or more employees must provide up to four months disability leave for an employee who is disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition."

What are some resources for California employees?

To learn more about employment laws in California, check out these resources:

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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