California Employment Law Report

California Employment Law Report

The latest litigation trends, court decisions, & issues on California Employment Law

Five negotiation tactics used in mediations that litigants must understand

Suit

Having just attended the Advanced Mediation Conference hosted by the State Bar of California Labor and Employment Law Section, it occurred to me how intimidating a mediation can be for even sophisticated business operators.  I wanted to share five concepts brought up at the conference that I would like all of my clients to understand about the mediation process:

1.     The mediator’s role – making you uncomfortable (but in a good way).

As I wrote in a prior post, a mediator’s only role is to get the case settled.  He or she is not there to be your friend, not to tell you what they feel the case is worth, or to protect your opponent’s position.  Their role is to get a settlement.  Put yourself in the mediator’s shoes, and you have two warring parties who hate each other and believe they will win if their case goes to trial.  How, as a mediator, do you get the parties to move off their respective beliefs?  You must attack both sides’ theory of the case by pointing out the weaknesses of each sides’ positions.  So don’t take the attacks personally, or think that the mediator is only attacking your position.  If the mediator is persuasive about how weak your case is, she is equally persuasive to other side.  Follow the Navy SEALs’ saying “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”  Understand also, that the attacks are not personal, it is not about you as a person, but instead about the facts of the case and weaknesses of the case.  Finally, remember that the more uncomfortable you are, the opposing party in the other room is likewise feeling the same way.

2.     Understand when being cooperative will help you get a better deal.

A party involved in a mediation must understand that there are two parts to a mediation: (1) the process and (2) the content.  The process is how you interact with the other party being negotiating against.  Are you cordial?  Do you make small talk?  The content is the subject being negotiated, such as the dollar amounts.  A party that is cooperative about the process and competitive about the content will do better overall in a mediation than compared to a party that is competitive on both the process and content.  Think about how you interact with someone that is simply being a jerk to you on ever little issue, even issues that do not impact the subject being negotiated.  When dealing with the hyper-competitive negotiator, your guard goes up and the negotiation turns more personal.  This is a bad combination for attempting to reach a reasonable settlement.

3.     If you make a last, best and final offer, make it your last best and final offer.

Parties’ statements made during a mediation must have credibility.  If you make a “last, best and final offer” during a mediation, and the other side rejects the offer, but you continue to negotiate, you have lost credibility with the other party and the mediator.  As a result, even if you continue to negotiate and truly reach your last, best and final offer, the other side (and the mediator) will not believe that is your final number and will continue to push you beyond this number.  There are occasions to make a last, best and final offer, but if you qualify your offer as such, be ready to walk out of the mediation if the offer is rejected.

4.     Bracketing.

Ralph Williams, a mediator with ADR Services, explains bracketing as follows:

Negotiation “bracketing” is the process of making a conditional offer linked to an expected response from the other side.  For example, plaintiff states, “I will demand $500,000 if the defendant offers $200,000.”  Defendant responds by accepting the bracket or proposing a different bracket (Defendant will offer $100,000 if plaintiff demands $400,000) or offering an absolute number.  Plaintiff then replies with one of the same three options.  Using negotiation “bracketing,” the parties send clear signals about their expectations, save time and avoid the stress of the negotiating dance that starts with a $1 million demand and a $10,000 offer.

In addition, brackets are conditional offers.  Therefore, unless the other side accepts the proposed bracket, the party making the offer is not committed to those numbers.  This allows parties to potentially make larger moves without the fear of having those moves held against them later in the mediation or in the case.

The use of bracketing during negotiations can add another layer of complexity to the settlement negotiations.  However, with advice from counsel about how to negotiate using brackets, they are an effective tool in resolving cases.  Understanding the concept of bracketing before a mediation – even at a very basic level – will help save time during a mediation and allow you keep your focus on the negotiation.

5.     Enter the mediation prepared with a bottom walk-away number, but also a number that represents a goal.

It is important to know what your last best and final number is prior to going into the mediation.  Steve Pearl, a mediator with ADR Services (who presented at the conference today), explains:

Experienced negotiators will set not only the walkaway numbers beyond which they will not move, but also goals that are better than those walkaway numbers. Parties who set “shoot for” numbers as their reference points typically do better than those who only formulate walkaway numbers.

However, just like almost every negotiation “rule” there are drawbacks in setting a walk-away numbers.  Pearl explains that sometimes parties may have to shift their reference points to resolve the case.  So, parties should have clear numbers set going into the mediation, but must also have a mechanism to reevaluate these goals if the case will not settle within these predetermined numbers.

Happy Friday.

Five of the most asked questions by California employers

I hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving weekend.  This Friday’s Five is about five common questions I’m receiving from California employers at the close of 2016.

1. Does the legalization of recreational use of marijuana in California with the passage of proposition 64 change employer’s rights to prohibit it in the workplace?

No.  Proposition 64 expressly provides that employers may prohibit marijuana in the workplace, and will not be required to accommodate an employee’s use of marijuana.  This is also consistent with the California Supreme Court’s holding in Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications, Inc.  In that case the court examined the conflict between California’s Compassionate Use Act, (which gives a person who uses marijuana for medical purposes on a physician’s recommendation a defense to certain state criminal charges and permission to possess the drug) and Federal law (which prohibits the drug’s possession, even by medical users).  The court held that the Compassionate Use Act did not intend to address the rights and obligation of employers and employees, and further noted that the possession and use of marijuana could not be a protected activity because it is still illegal under federal law.

2. Does Trump’s win change any laws facing employers in 2017?

While it is hard to predict the effect President-elect Trump will have on California employers, I previously wrote about potential impacts in immigration and E-verify issues, paid family leave, and the expansion of even more additional local laws.

3. When is the new Form I-9 required to be used by employers?

Employers must begin using the new Form I-9 by January 22, 2017.  It is important to note that employees already hired with the older version of the Form I-9 do not have to complete the new version.  More information about the revised Form I-9 can be read here.

4. What new laws in California do employers need to understand for 2017?

New laws that will impact many California employers include:

  • Prohibition on asking or taking into consideration juvenile convictions when hiring
  • Expansion of wage discrimination laws based on gender, race or ethnicity.
  • Employers with 25 or more employees are required to provide written notice to employees about rights provided to domestic violence victims under California law.
  • Employers are prohibited from requiring employees who primarily reside and work in California to agree to adjudicate claims outside of California or apply another state’s laws in arbitration agreements.

My prior post contains more information about the laws facing California employers in 2017.

5. When are you conducting your next webinar?

Join me on December 13, at 11:00 a.m. Pacific time for a webinar: “Employment law update: Essential issues facing California employers in 2017.” (I had to throw this self-promoting question in the line-up.)  You can register for the webinar here.

U.S. Federal Court judge puts DOL overtime rules on hold

Employers across the nation have been preparing to increase salary levels for managers to meet the higher salary level requirements implemented by the Department of Labor earlier this year under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The DOL rules were set to take effect on December 1, 2016, and require that employers must pay employees that qualify to be exempt executive, administrative or professionals (referred to as the “EAP” exemption) a minimum salary level of at least $921 per week or $47,892 annually.  21 states filed a lawsuit to prevent the DOL’s rule to take effect, arguing that in raising the minimum salary level, the DOL exceeded its delegated authority from Congress.  While not issuing a final ruling, the court determined that the plaintiff states have shown a likelihood of success on the merits justifying the preliminary injunction.  The merits of the case and a final determination will be made at a later date.

Therefore, the court issued an injunction preventing the DOL’s overtime rules from taking effect on December 1, 2016.  An issue addressed by the court was whether the injunction applied only to the 21 states involved in this case, or to all states.  The court’s opinion is unambiguous that the scope of the injunction applies to all states and all employers:

A nationwide injunction is proper in this case.  The Final Rule is applicable to all states.  Consequently, the scope of the alleged irreparable injury extends nationwide.  A nationwide injunction protects both employees and employers from being subject to different EAP exemptions based on location.

Now employers that started the process of raising salary levels for managers in order to comply with the DOL’s overtime rules must make a decision to continue with the raises or hold back on any implementation until there is further guidance from the courts.  It is also likely that President-elect Trump’s administration will not look favorably on the DOL’s overtime rules.  This adds further uncertainty about whether the increase in the salary level will ever go into effect once President-elect Trump takes office.

The opinion in State of Nevada, et al v. United States Department of Labor, can be read here.

Employers also need to remember that the minimum salary requirement is only one part of the exemption test, and California employers need to ensure that they are still complying with California’s requirements.

DOL overtime rules changes: five checklist items for CA employers reclassifying employees

The DOL’s change in the federal overtime rules requiring a higher salary threshold ($47,476 paid annually) for employees to qualify as an exempt employee takes effect December 1, 2016.  This Friday’s Five discusses five final checklist items California employers should consider when reclassifying from exempt employees to nonexempt employees.

1. The DOL rule changes are still going into effect December 1, 2016.

This week, a few people asked me if the DOL changes are still going into effect since Donald Trump was elected as president.  Mr. Trump is unable to change the DOL’s rule that requires exempt employees be paid $47,476 in an annual salary until he is inaugurated as president.  Therefore, employers still must comply with this deadline.

2. Notice to Employee may be required.

Section 2810.5 of the California Labor Code requires employers provide notice to employees of their rate(s) of pay, designated pay day, the employer’s intent to claim allowances (meal or lodging allowances) as part of the minimum wage, and the basis of wage payment (whether paying by hour, shift, day, week, piece, etc.), including any applicable rates for overtime.

The law requires that the notice is provided to employees at the time of hiring or within 7 days of a change if the change is not listed on the employee’s pay stub for the following pay period. The notice must be provided in the language the employer normally uses to communicate.

Employers should carefully review the need to provide the notice to employee given any reclassification of employees from exempt to a nonexempt employee.  A template Notice to Employee can be downloaded from the DIR’s website here.

3. Consider how the change will be communicated and documented with employees.

Employers should explain to employees who are being reclassified from exempt to nonexempt about how they will be paid.  The notice should inform workers they will be paid overtime for work over 8 hours in a day and over 40 hours in a week.  The communication should also explain any changes in bonuses (don’t forget that nondiscretionary bonuses must be figured into the employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime purposes) and benefits.  Finally, the communications should set out the different duties the employee may be required to perform given the change in classification.

4. Meal and rest breaks.

In addition to communicating the change in pay to employees, the company should also distribute its meal and rest break policy.  The company should distribute any meal and rest break forms to the employees who are being converted to nonexempt that are normally given to new hires.

5. Off the clock and timekeeping policies.

Finally, employers need to implement compliant timekeeping policies to ensure that all nonexempt employees clock in and out for all work time.  In addition, California requires that employers record when nonexempt take their meal breaks, and any reclassified employees must understand this requirement.  Employers need to be careful about allowing employees who are reclassified as nonexempt to continue to use a company cell phone or laptop, as now any work performed once they leave the office must be compensated.  Employers should consider limiting nonexempt employees’ access to company cell phones, e-mail, and computers to avoid off the clock claims.

Any reclassification and audit regarding the proper classification of employees should be done with caution, as there are many different issues to consider that are outside of the scope of this article.

Form I-9 updated, employers must use by January 22, 2017

USCIS has published a revised Form I-9 that employers can begin to use immediately.  The old Form I-9 that has the revision date of 03/08/13 can be used until January 22, 2017.

USCIS published two versions of the Form I-9 – one form that can be completed on a computer, and another that is the traditional PDF version that can be printed and completed.

The USCIS hosted a teleconference today that explained some of the updates to the form.  During the teleconference, the following issues were addressed:

  • The USCIS explained that P.O. Boxes are no longer expressly prohibited in section 1 information about the employee.  However, employers cannot use a P.O. Box for their addresses in section 2 of the form.
  • The new form is only required for new hires or for re-verifying employee’s information.  It is not required for current employees who completed the old Form I-9 to complete the revised Form I-9.
  • On the teleconference there were a number of questions about the application of e-signatures when completing the I-9.  During the teleconference, the USCIS deferred answering any specific questions about e-signature options.  However, the Handbook for Employers provides the following:

If you complete Forms I-9 electronically using an electronic signature, your system for capturing electronic signatures must allow signatories to acknowledge that they read the attestation and attach the electronic signature to an electronically completed Form I-9. The system must also:

1.      Affix the electronic signature at the time of the transaction;

2.      Create and preserve a record verifying the identity of the person producing the signature; and

3.      Upon request of the employee, provide a printed confirmation of the transaction to the person providing the signature.

Employers who complete Forms I-9 electronically must attest to the required information in Section 2 of Form I-9.

During the teleconference, it was stressed by USCIS that electronic signatures are acceptable given that the software complies with the USCIS regulations.

  • Do employers have to provide the instructions to the employee when presented the Form I-9?  When on the computer, provide them with internet access so that they can click on the top of the page so that they can review the instructions.  If there is no internet access, you have to provide the instructions to the employee – print or download the instructions for the employee to read the 15 pages of instructions.

Finally, a note of caution for employers who retain copies of Form I-9 documentation.  The Handbook for Employers provides that if an employer chooses to retain copies of an employee’s documents, the employer must do so for all employees, regardless of national origin or citizenship status.  Failure to keep records for all employees could be in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

For more information, employers can visit the USCIS’ website at: https://www.uscis.gov/i-9

Five possible employment law changes under President Trump

Trump

What a week – and here we are at Friday already.  This Friday’s Five focuses on how President Trump could change the employment landscape on the federal and California levels.

1.      Department of Labor’s overtime regulations effective December 1, 2016 are still on course to take effect, but could be changed in 2017.

As I’ve written about previously, the DOL has issued changes to the federal rules raising the salary required for employees to qualify as exempt employees.  The DOL raised the salary required to $47,476 annually for a full time worker, and this change is effective December 1, 2016.  Mr. Trump will obviously be unable to roll back this increase until he is inaugurated as president.  However, there have been discussions that congress and some legal actions could prevent this requirement from taking effect, but prudent employers should continue to proceed to comply with the new requirement on December 1, 2016.  It is likely that this regulation will be carefully reviewed by President Trump, but any changes he potentially could make would likely not be effective until mid or late 2017.

2.      Immigration and E-verify issues.

During the campaign, Trump stated that he would mandate employers use the E-verify program to check on applicants’ right to work within the United States.  The system is available for employers to use currently, but Federal law does not require employers to use the system, and some states require its use.  However, employers in California are not currently required to use E-verify.

3.      Minimum wage.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump supported the idea of raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour.  In July of 2016, Mr. Trump made statements that he supported this increase, and also supported the idea that states could set a higher minimum wage.  Of course, given California’s current minimum wage is set at $10 per hour, an increase on the federal level will probably not impact California employers, as California’s minimum wage is increasing to $10.50 per hour on January 1, 2017, $11 per hour on January 1, 2018, and then $1 per year thereafter until it reaches $15 per hour in January 2022.  These increased are delayed by one year for employers with 25 or fewer employees.

4.      Paid maternity leave.

Mr. Trump’s website proposes that he would support a law providing 6 weeks of paid leave to new mothers before returning to work.  Currently, under the FMLA, employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for the birth of a child and care for a newborn.

5.      Implementation of more local laws expected. 

As we have seen here in California, local cities and counties have taken the minimum wage and paid sick leave issues into their own hands and require employers to comply with more restrictive laws than those passed on the state or federal level.  Just in Southern California for example, there are many different minimum wage and paid sick leave laws that employers need to be aware of and comply with.  This local legislation makes it hard for businesses that have more than one location, as the laws require different policies, notices, pay requirements, and tracking obligations for each location.

Interested in learning more about employment law updates facing California employers?  My firm is hosting a webinar on December 13, 2016, discussing the new laws employers must comply with in 2017 and an update on the litigation front.  Click here to register.

Don’t lose sight of duties required to meet exempt status – Friday’s Five

With attention on the DOL’s salary increase required to meet the white collar exemptions, it is important for employers to remember that this is only one-half of the test to qualify for as an exempt employee.  The law also requires that the employee perform more than 50% of their time performing exempt duties.  For this week’s Friday’s Five, here are five examples of duties that qualify as exempt duties for the administrative exemption (click here for a description of some of the different exemptions that exist):

1.      Insurance claims adjusters

Insurance claim adjusters whose duties include activities such as interviewing insureds, witnesses and physicians; inspecting property damage; reviewing factual information to prepare damage estimates; evaluating and making recommendations regarding coverage of claims; determining liability and total value of a claim; negotiating settlements; and making recommendations regarding litigation.

2.      Financial services industry employees

Employees in the financial services industry whose duties include work such as collecting and analyzing information regarding the customer’s income, assets, investments or debts; determining which financial products best meet the customer’s needs and financial circumstances; advising the customer regarding the advantages and disadvantages of different financial products; and marketing, servicing or promoting the employer’s financial products.

3.      Executive assistants

An executive assistant or administrative assistant to a business owner or senior executive of a large business generally meets the duties requirements for the administrative exemption if such employee, without specific instructions or prescribed procedures, has been delegated authority regarding matters of significance.

4.      Human resource managers

Human resources managers who formulate, interpret or implement employment policies and management consultants who study the operations of a business and propose changes in organization generally meet the duties requirements for the administrative exemption.

5.      Purchasing agents

Purchasing agents with authority to bind the company on significant purchases generally meet the duties requirements for the administrative exemption even if they must consult with top management officials when making a purchase commitment for raw materials in excess of the contemplated plant needs.

6.      (bonus) Property managers

In McKee v. CBF Corp. C.A. 5 (Tex) the court held that under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), that a “property manager” was an exempt employee under the administrative exception when her duties including overseeing the employer’s properties, ensuring they were properly maintained.  She also supervised five maintenance employees, approving their schedules and vacation time.  In addition, the property manager had employees reporting to her, as managers would generate a list of issues to be addressed on a daily basis.  She would decide which of these issues would be handled by outside contractors and tasking her employees to individual assignments.

Employers must be careful about this analysis, as California law can differ from federal law.  Therefore, experienced counsel should be consulted when conducting an audit regarding whether an employee is properly classified as an exempt employee.

Five new laws facing California employers in 2017

This Friday’s five summarizes five new laws that were just approved by the Governor last week, and California employers need to heed going into 2017:

1. AB 1843 – Juvenile Criminal History

The new law prohibits employers from asking or taking into consideration juvenile convictions.

The law states, “employers [are prohibited] from asking an applicant for employment to disclose, or from utilizing as a factor in determining any condition of employment, information concerning or related to an arrest, detention, processing, diversion, supervision, adjudication, or court disposition that occurred while the person was subject to the process and jurisdiction of juvenile court law.”  Effective January 1, 2017

2. AB 1676 – Wage Discrimination

Existing law generally prohibits an employer from paying an employee at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work for work performance that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility that are performed under similar working conditions.  This law now establishes that an employee’s prior salary cannot, by itself, justify any disparity in compensation.  It is important to note the bill was modified to take out language that would have prohibited employers from obtaining an applicant’s prior salary.

3. AB 1063 – Wage Differential – Fair Pay Act Expanded to Protect Race and Ethnicity

Current law prohibits an employer from paying any of its employees at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex for substantially similar work.  This law expands the prohibition of a wage differential based on an employee’s race or ethnicity for substantially similar work.

4. SB 1001– Immigration Documents

This law prohibits employers from doing any of the following:

  1. Request more or different documents than are required under Federal law.
  2. Refuse to honor documents tendered that on their face reasonably appear to be genuine.
  3. Refuse to honor documents or work authorization based upon the specific status or term of status that accompanies the authorization to work.
  4. Attempt to reinvestigate or reverify an incumbent employee’s authorization to work using an unfair immigration-related practice.

For any violations, workers may file a complaint with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement and can recover penalties up to $10,000.  The law is effective January 1, 2017

5.  AB 2337– Notice: Domestic Violence Protection

Employers with 25 or more employees must provide employees written notice about their rights under the domestic violence protections under California law.  The Labor Commissioner must develop a noticed employers can use by July 1, 2017.  Employers do not have to provide the notice until the Labor Commissioner posts the notice.

(Bonus – It is California, and I could not limit the list to only five) SB 1241 – Arbitration Agreements Venue and Choice of Law

This law restricts employers from requiring employees who primarily reside and work in California to adjudicate claims outside of California when the claim arose in California, or deprive employees of California law with respect of claims arising in California.  Employers should carefully review their arbitration agreements with California employees to ensure that the agreement does not have a choice of law provision that applies another state’s law to the agreement or require any claims be adjudicated outside of California.  The effective date for the law is January 1, 2017.

Friday’s Five: End of September employment law wrap-up

This Friday’s Five is a bit of everything: news, new California employment laws, and reminders about October 1 deadlines for the City of San Diego:

 1. House moves to delay DOL overtime rule implementation.

There is a great article by Lisa Jennings from Nation’s Restaurant News summarizing the House’s move to delay the overtime rule implementation, which is set to go into place on December 1, 2016.  The White House has already threatened to veto the bill if it makes it to the President’s desk.  For more information about the DOL overtime rules, visit my posts here.

2.  San Diego employers need to ensure they are in compliance with the October 1, 2016 deadline.

The City of San Diego’s new paid sick leave law (and its “implementing ordinance”) requires employers to provide written notice to employees about the paid sick leave law by October 1, 2016 (yes – that is tomorrow).  The Implementing Ordinance requires that every employer must also provide each employee at the time of hire, or by October 1, 2016, whichever is later, written notice of the employer’s legal name and any fictitious business names, address, and telephone number and the employer’s requirements under the law.  The notice must also include information on how the employer satisfies the requirements of the law, including the employer’s method of earned sick leave accrual.  The notice must be provided to employees in English and in each employee’s primary language, if it is a language if it is spoken by at least five percent of the employees at the employer’s workplace.  Employers may provide this notice through an accessible electronic communication in lieu of a paper notice.  The City published a form notice to comply with these requirements, which can be downloaded here.

3.  Governor signs law making it illegal for out-of-state employers to have their disputes heard outside of California.

Governor Brown signed S.B 1241 into law that restricts employers from requiring employees who primarily reside and work in California to adjudicate claims outside of California when the claim arose in California, or deprive employees of California law with respect of claims arising in California.

Employers should carefully review their arbitration agreements with California employees to ensure that the agreement does not have a choice of law provision that applies another state’s law to the agreement or require any claims be adjudicated outside of California.  The effective date for the law is January 1, 2017.

4.  New CA law prohibits employers from asking about juvenile convictions.

A.B. 1843, signed into the law by Governor Brown on September 27, 2016 prohibits employers from asking or taking into consideration juvenile convictions.  The law states, “employers [are prohibited] from asking an applicant for employment to disclose, or from utilizing as a factor in determining any condition of employment, information concerning or related to an arrest, detention, processing, diversion, supervision, adjudication, or court disposition that occurred while the person was subject to the process and jurisdiction of juvenile court law.”

5. NCAA and Pac-12 sued by former USC football player for unpaid wages.

An interesting class action lawsuit was filed by a former USC football player claiming that the NCAA and Pac-12 violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and California law by not paying football players minimum wage or overtime.  This is a different twist to the often debated issue of whether college athletes should be allowed to accept endorsement money.  It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit develops: on one side there is an argument that as the college sports programs have turned into huge profit generating centers sports, not academics could be seen as the primary focus for these athletes, but on the other hand the players are still students and many school programs do not generate huge revenues for the schools.

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