Special Rules for Public Employees and Union Jobs

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

Do you work for the government?

Different rules may apply to your employment. California government employers, like the State, the County, the City, and Districts, generally have better protections for their employees than private employers. The City of San Diego has an extensive paid paternal leave policy, which can be taken in addition to bonding leave. But it is not a guarantee that these are actually enforced. Parents working for the federal government sadly have some of the worst protections in the country. Because every governmental entity has its own rules, it is impossible for me to give you a clear rundown.

If there is no charter, collective bargaining agreement, or other specific rules which govern your particular public employer, you will generally have at least the same rights as an employee who works for a private employers with 5 or more employees.

The great thing with government employees is that there is usually a system in place. There is often a physical office you can go to ask questions and a person designated to handle these requests. The downside, in my experience, is that these processes are slow and not always efficient. Often the leave requests overwhelm the administrators, and then mistakes are made or a backlog is causing hardship on the employees.

If you have specific questions for the administrator about your rights, ask them to point you to the specific rule which applies to your situation. If they point you to a California law, a charter rule, or a collective bargaining agreement, it's probably solid. If they point you to a policy, it may or may not be in line with California law. If it's not making sense to you, it may be because the administrator doesn't understand. Don't give up until you are fully confident that you are receiving what you're owed.

If you do work for the government and you have been wronged, you need to act quickly because you have generally less time to enforce your rights. Click here to contact me.

Do you work for a private or public employer with a union?

If you have a union, you usually have some true labor activists on your side. Most government employers have unions. Some private employers have unions. I'm a big supporter of unions as they do a damn good job advocating for their members' rights, like health care benefits, retirement benefits, overtime pay, seniority rights, for-cause terminations, etc.

Unions are a great way to keep the bargaining power between big employers and the employees equal. But I do need to caution you about unions. I have seen unions waive certain rights on behalf of their members to receive these benefits. When unions advocate for these rights, there is a process of bargaining with the employer which ends in a compromise.

In terms of maternity leave rights, the biggest impact unions make is whether the different leaves will overlap, or if they will be stacked. This can work out great, or not so great at all. Every union job will have different rules. You will need to ask your union representative to show you your rights in the collective bargaining agreement.

Let's talk about union representatives and grievances. My husband used to work as a union rep so I know the inner workings of labor unions well. Most union reps are not legally trained yet they are enforcing massively complex rules and regulations. I find it at the same time extremely admirable but also a little reckless. Many terminations are grieved through the union, but the union reps are not trained to look out for wrongful terminations.

They know the union rules, but not necessarily employment law. I have seen union reps inadvertently destroy their members' civil rights cases. In one of my cases our client was fired after 30 years at a major grocery store for eating a popsicle. A popsicle! His union rep advised him to beg for forgiveness.

When we looked at the case, it was clear that the real reason he was fired was because of his age and medical condition, and they were just waiting for the next little thing to let him go, so they could hire a younger worker who was at 100%. But he had already asked for forgiveness for eating the popsicle, based on his union rep's advice. That was bad advice. He probably had the best intentions, but he's just not legally trained.

We would have told him to push back and say, "You're really firing me because of my age and medical condition, this popsicle idea is such bogus, you're obviously trying to find something to cover up this wrongful termination. Why don't you tell me who is replacing me? I'm sure it's some 22-year old dude with no physical restrictions who rides a scooter to work."

Generally, you want to enforce union-specific rules through the union, like seniority issues or priority of assignments. But please don't grieve your civil rights like discrimination, harassment, retaliation and termination. Unions often have thousands of members, they are just not equipped for individual claims of this level of importance.

If you have a union, you can still pursue your own civil case, and in my experience you will be entitled to a lot more remedies than through a grievance. If you feel like your union is not representing your interests, please contact me so we can discuss if I can help you.

DISCLAIMER - This blog is for educational purposes and to give general information and a general understanding of the laws relating to California employment law. It is not intended to provide specific legal advice, nor should you use it for that purpose. By using this blog you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Mamattorney or Gruenberg Law and you should not use this blog as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. We don't know anything about your particular situation, and the law has many exceptions. If you have a dispute with your employer, you need to consult with an employment lawyer.