Have you uprooted your life to take a job in California, only to arrive and find that not all is as you were promised? You could get protection from loss of income and living expenses while you rush to find a new job. This is all due to one of California’s labor laws.
California’s Section 970 is a law that protects employees from misrepresentations regarding the nature of work. It got a lot of attention earlier this year when a worker who packed up and moved to San Francisco after being promised a long-term position where he’d help the business grow. After agreeing to the title of lead project manager and agreeing this was a long-term position helping to expand the company, the worker moved across the country.
Five months later, he was laid off. He’d relocated his entire family on a job that was supposed to be long-term. While California employment is at-will, meaning companies can fire or lay off workers without reason, he sued for violations of Section 970.
Imagine you’re offered an office job for $60,000 a year and moving fees are covered by the computer. You have emails proving this was the offer. You move from your current city to the new one and start your job. On the first day, you’re told the real salary is $50,000 and that the $60,000 included the estimate for yearly benefits. If you knew the pay was $50,000 a year, you would never have taken the job. That’s a violation of Section 970.
Why Does Section 970 Exist?
California Labor Code § 970 was enacted back in 1937. It originated as protection for migrant workers. By 1928, migrant workers tended to get paid about $2.50 per day. The growers paid labor contractors to find able-bodied workers for the fields, and those labor contractors were getting paid $3.75 per man, per day. Those labor contractors would say whatever it took to get workers to show up for the jobs, thus ensuring the labor contractors made their $1.25 per day/per worker profit.
By the 1930s, labor contractors had stretched their advertising reach across the nation, targeting workers in states affected by the Dust Bowl. Workers flocked to the state expecting plenty of work at decent wages, only to find the fields were overrun with workers. The workers who could find a job were paid miserably low wages and often faced horrible housing in rundown shacks or shanty towns.
Wages also declined. Workers who were getting paid 30 cents per 38-pound basket of peas were only getting 25 cents per 38 pounds a year later. It was situations like those that helped change the laws and lead to Section 970 of the California Labor Code.
The goal of the new labor code was to protect the migrants from false promises. Due to the way the law is written, however, it applies to any employment field. It doesn’t just cover migrant or seasonal workers.
Suppose you’re a hotel manager and are offered a job helping open a new location in California. You put your house on the market, move to California, and learn the hotel has been on the market for months. There’s a new buyer who is turning the hotel into an office building. You no longer have a job. You should file a complaint. You’re not a migrant worker, but the law still applies to you.
What’s Needed to Win a Section 970 Claim?
You’re pretty sure you have a claim, but what can you do to win your case? There are several things you can do, and one of the easiest is to find a California employment law expert.
Before you move and take a job, it’s important to get a signed contract. What if you haven’t though? What if you have phone call agreements and emails, but nothing was signed? You’re handed the contract on your first day and told to sign it, and that’s when you discovered that you were lied to.
The key to proving a Section 970 complaint is to show beyond doubt that the company misrepresented its employment claims when it made them, which caused them to move from one place to another or from one state to another. Those misrepresentations include:
- The kind of work to be performed and job duties you’re told
- The amount of time the work is going to last
- The compensation promised for the work you’re meant to perform
- The work conditions, including cleanliness and housing conditions
- Information on pending strikes, labor disputes, or lockouts
Gather any paperwork you have received during the application and interview process. This can include notes you took while you were on the phone, messages or emails you received, and the job listing. Write out as much detail as you can regarding the conversations you had in person or over the phone. Print out copies of phone statements or online records that show how long you were on the phone or in video chats with the company. The more information you can provide in your claim, the better your odds of a successful outcome.
The fines and penalties for violations of Section 970 in California are not high. It’s a misdemeanor with fines ranging from $50 to $1,000 or a maximum prison term of six months. But, the aggrieved party is eligible for double damages in civil court. What does that mean for you? You could get double damages for things like the income you’ve lost, moving expenses, and even the money you’ve had to spend on another move if you can’t find work in your new area. Note that there is a three-year statute of limitations so you cannot delay.
Don’t give up hope. It doesn’t hurt to talk to a California employment law attorney. You may not believe you have a case, but don’t discount the possibility. It never hurts to try especially when you’ve uprooted your life, your partner’s life, your children’s lives, etc. Consultations with attorneys are free and help you understand your rights and obligations. If you have a case, you’ll have a knowledgeable attorney helping you along the way.
Talk to an attorney who specializes in employment law and find out what your rights are. Shegerian Conniff provides free consultations and can help you better understand Section 970 and what you can use to prove you were lied to. Arrange a free consultation online or by phone.