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Will there be legal issues for employers of fast food protesters in California?

In San Diego this week, as well as in other cities across the nation, a large number of fast food workers hit the streets to protest low wages in the food service industry, further raising awareness about minimum wage and the fact that it may not be sufficient enough to stay above the poverty line in many states.

But while many news outlets are focusing on the fact that several protesters have been arrested because of their demonstrations and the criminal litigation that could soon follow, we wanted to focus on the civil aspect this case present.

As some of our Southern California readers may know, many of the fast food protests have centered around one main issue: the right to unionize. This is a right afforded to workers in the United States by the National Labor Relations Act. Efforts to unionize are protected by the National Labor Relations Board.

Further protections are afforded to workers here in California by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, which protects employees from discrimination or retaliation for engaging in protected activities. This can include attempting to file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner's office.

Would protesting for higher wages be considered a protected activity under current state and federal law? Without the right legal knowledge, this could seem like a very gray area and an employer might terminate or otherwise retaliate against an employee without realizing that they are breaking the law.  Employers dealing with this issue need to move carefully to avoid civil litigation for their actions and should consider the help of an employment law attorney.

With the recentness of this issue, however, our readers will have to wait and see if this becomes the case later on.

Source: NBC 7 News, "10 Arrests as Fast Food Workers Strike in San Diego," R. Stickney, Sept. 4, 2014

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