Friday's Five: Five points to understand about California's new requirements for sexual harassment training

AB 2053 was signed into law by Governor Brown, and as of January 1, 2015, employers have to comply with new obligations regarding the sexual harassment training already required for some employers under California law.  Here are five issues employers should understand about AB 2053. 

1. What are employer’s current obligations to have supervisors attend sexual harassment prevention training before AB 2053 was passed?

In California, employers with 50 or more workers must provide at least two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisors. This training must be provided to supervisors within six months of the time they become a supervisor, and then at least once every two years. The training must cover federal and state statutory laws regarding prohibitions against sexual harassment, remedies available to victims, how to prevent and correct sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. This requirement is set forth in California Government Code section 12950.1.

2. What new obligations does AB 2053 add to California’s sexual harassment training requirement?

AB 2053 amends Government Code section 12950.1, and takes effect January 1, 2015. The new law requires employers subject to the sexual harassment training requirement must continue with their obligations under Gov. Code section 12950.1, but to “also include prevention of abusive conduct as a component of the training and education….”

The law defines “abusive conduct” as follows:

For purposes of this section, “abusive conduct” means conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance. A single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.

Therefore, going forward, employers need to provide training that complies with this new requirement. Currently, there are no guidelines specifically setting forth details about how long the training should focus on this “abusive conduct” requirement. Employers are encouraged to take reasonable steps to implement a training that complies with this new requirement (I’m updating my training materials right now). Employers providing training by the end of 2014 should seek a training class that complies with the new requirements immediately.

3. Does it create a new cause of action for “abusive conduct” in the workplace?

No. While it may not good business practices, there is no law in California that makes workplace bullying or “abusive conduct” as defined in AB 2053 illegal. The policy reason behind not making such conduct illegal is that it would be difficult to determine what conduct is simply discipline, counseling, and day-to-day management actions versus actions taken with “malice” by a manager. Making such conduct actionable under the law would, in effect, make the court system the final decision maker in resolving normal day-to-day workplace disputes, which could stress the already overwhelmed court system.

4. If employers have already conducted sexual harassment training within the last few months, do they need to re-train their supervisors on January 1, 2015?

The law is unclear on this issue. I placed a call into Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’ office, author of the bill, and was told by a spokesperson that the law would not require re-training of supervisors any sooner than when the two year deadline required them to receive their next training. However, employers should approach this issue with caution, as the law is not clear on the requirement regarding when supervisors must receive training compliant with this new requirement regarding “abusive conduct.” Also, if employers are conducting training of its supervisors between now and the end of 2014, it goes without saying that the training should cover this new requirement to avoid any issues.

5. Could this amendment eventually lead to a law making “abusive conduct” illegal?

Potentially. Even though there is no legal cause of action for “abusive conduct” as defined in the new law, this type of legislation could be amended to make this conduct illegal in the future.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five things every California employer needs to know about the newly enacted paid sick leave law

On September 10, 2014, the Governor signed into law a bill that requires a minimum of three paid sick days per year for employees. The new law applies to all employers, regardless of size. Here are five essential points employers must understand to begin the process of meeting their obligations under the new law.

1. How much paid sick time must employers provide employees?

Starting on July 1, 2015, any employee who works in California for 30 or more days within a year is entitled to paid sick days. Employees accrue paid sick days at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, beginning at the start of their employment. Employees can use accrued paid sick days beginning on the 90th day of employment.

2. Does this apply to all employers, and when do employers need to comply with this new sick leave requirement?

The law applies to all California employers, regardless of size. It also covers all employees, part-time, full-time, exempt, and non-exempt. Leave may be taken by employees for diagnosis, care, or treatment or preventative care for an employee or an employee’s family member, and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The law takes effect on July 1, 2015. However, it is advisable for employers to start taking action and revising handbooks and leave policies in the beginning of 2015.

Accrued paid sick days carry over to the following year of employment. Employers may limit an employee’s use of paid sick days to 24 hours or three days in each year of employment.

Employers do not have to provide additional accrual or carry over if the full amount of leave is received by the employee under the employer’s leave policy which at least provides for the minimum requirements under the law.

3. Can employers limit the use of paid sick leave or cap the amount of accrual?

Limits on amount of leave used in one year: Employers may limit the use of sick leave at 24 hours or three days of paid sick leave, or equivalent paid leave or paid time off, for each 12 month period based on the employee’s year of employment, a calendar year, or rolling 12-month basis.

Limits on amount used in one day: An employee may determine how much paid sick leave he or she needs to use, but the employer can set a reasonable minimum increment not to exceed two hours that the employee must use each time.

Cap of accrual of total paid leave: In addition, employers can cap the accrual of paid sick leave to 48 hours or 6 days.

Employers may not require that employees obtain a replacement worker to fill their position in order to take the leave. Employees are required to provide reasonable advance notice if the time off is foreseeable, otherwise employees must provide notice of the need for leave as soon as practicable.

4. Does accrued but unused sick leave have to be paid out to an employee upon separation from employment?

No, an employer is not required to provide compensation to an employee for accrued, unused paid sick days upon leaving employment. However, if an employee leaves employment and is rehired by the employer within one year, previously accrued and unused paid sick days must be reinstated. The employee is entitled to the previously accrued and unused paid sick days and to accrue additional paid sick days upon rehiring.

5. What documentation and written requirements does the new law impose on employers?

The law requires that employers provide an employee with written notice setting forth the amount of paid leave available. This information must be included on the employee’s pay stub, or may be provided to the employee in a separate writing given to the employee on the employee’s pay date. In addition, the law amends Section 2810.5 of the Labor Code and adds the following language that must be provided on the employee’s wage notice: “That an employee: may accrue and use sick leave; has a right to request and use accrued paid sick leave; may not be terminated or retaliated against for using or requesting the use of accrued paid sick leave; and has the right to file a complaint against an employer who retaliates.”

In addition, the law requires employers to document and keep records of the hours worked and paid sick days accrued and used by an employee for at least three years. Employees (as well as the Labor Commissioner) have the right to access these records. Failure to keep the required records creates a presumption against the employer that the employee is entitled to the maximum number of hours provided for under the law.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five items to understand about employee personnel files under California law

1. Current and former employees have the right to inspect or copy personnel files.
Under Labor Code section 1198.5 employees have the right to inspect or receive copies of personnel files and records relating to the employee’s performance or grievance concerning the employee. Employers are legally required to maintain personnel files for at least three years after the employee stops working for the employer. However, since the statute of limitations for wage and hour claims can extend back four years, many employers keep the files at least four years.

2. The terms “personnel file” or “personnel records” are not defined in the Labor Code.
Without the terms “personnel records” or “personnel file” ever being defined, there is considerable ambiguity about what documents should be keep in an employee’s personnel file.
While not legally binding on employers, there is some guidance from the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement(“DLSE”) expressing the following view:

Categories of records that are generally considered to be "personnel records" are those that are used or have been used to determine an employee’s qualifications for promotion, additional compensation, or disciplinary action, including termination. The following are some examples of "personnel records" (this list is not all inclusive):

  1. Application for employment
  2. Payroll authorization form
  3. Notices of commendation, warning, discipline, and/or termination
  4. Notices of layoff, leave of absence, and vacation
  5. Notices of wage attachment or garnishment
  6. Education and training notices and records
  7. Performance appraisals/reviews
  8. Attendance records

Employers should also consider placing the following documents in personnel files:

  • Signed arbitration agreements
  • Sexual harassment compliance records for supervisors
  • Sign acknowledgements of policy by employee (for example, confidentiality/proprietary information agreements, meal and rest break acknowledgments, handbook acknowledgments)
  • Wage Theft Protection Act notice
  • If commissioned employee, written commission agreement signed by both the employer and employee beginning January 1, 2013.
  • Warnings and disciplinary action documents.
  • Performance reviews
  • Documents of any grievance concerning the employee
  • Documents pertaining to when the employee was hired
  • Records pertaining to last day of work and documenting reason for departure from employment

3. Personnel records must be made available not less than 30 days from date employer receives a written request to view the file.
The employer may charge the employee for the costs of copying the file, but the charge cannot exceed actual cost of reproduction.

4. Employers have the right to redact the names of any other nonsupervisory employee that are listed in the employee’s personnel file before making it available to the employee.

5. Employers may be subject to a $750 penalty for not making requested records available.
The penalty can be assessed by the Labor Commissioner, and the employee could also bring an action to compel production of his or her file and recover attorney’s fees.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Top Five Points To Understand About Mediation

Five items parties need to understand about mediation.

1. Mediation is non-binding.
Mediation is a voluntary process in which litigants (or even parties prior to litigation) agree to use a private third-party to help settle the case. People sometimes confuse mediation with arbitration. Arbitration is when parties agree to use a private third-party to hear their case, much like a judge, to make decisions about the case, and eventually decide the case. Arbitration can be binding on the parties, and the arbitrator actually decides who is right and wrong as a matter of law. On the other hand, a mediator is not deciding any issues about the case, but is simply hearing both sides’ positions, and then works with the parties to see if there is a potential resolution that the parties would both agree to. The mediator has no ability to decide issues of the case, or make any binding rulings about the case. The mediator is only an unbiased third-party attempting to get the parties to consider a possible resolution to the case.

2. Mediation takes place with a private mediator –usually not the court.
The parties voluntarily agree upon the selection of a mediator. Usually the mediator has expertise in the area of the law that the case involves so that he or she can move quicker into the substance of the parties’ disagreement. There are many retired judges or lawyers that work as mediators. Some mediators are active practicing lawyers that also have a mediation service established.
The mediation usually takes place at the mediator’s office. Normally the mediator has the parties in separate rooms, and the mediator walks between the two rooms. There are many mediations where the parties will not see other side the entire day.

3. Negotiations during the mediation are privileged and cannot be used against either party during litigation.
California law prevents any of the negotiations or potential admissions made during mediation from being brought up in court or during litigation. The rationale for this rule is that the courts want people to be able to negotiate during mediation, this involves some give and take. Therefore, in order to assist the mediation process, any of the discussions or negotiations during mediation are prevented from being used against the other party. This allows parties to discuss items more freely during mediation in hopes of having a better chance at resolving the case. However, it should be noted that if a party makes an admission during mediation, the other party can still conduct discovery after the mediation and bring that admission into the case through the standard discovery process. So parties should follow their counsel’s advice about which facts to share during the mediation process. But rest assured, the fact that one party agreed to offer a certain amount to settle the case during mediation, this offer to settle cannot be brought up to the jury later in the case as a way to establish liability.

4. The mediator’s only role is to get the case settled.
The mediator is not there to make friends, tell you if he believes you more than the other side, or made a value judgment about the case or people involved. His or her role is simply to get the case resolved. This usually means that for a successful mediator both sides don’t like the mediator. This is because the mediator was able to move two opponents to agree to a resolution of the case, and to get to this point usually means that both sides are unhappy with the resolution.

5. Even if the case does not settle at mediation, it could still be a successful mediation.
The parties need to understand that mediation is a process and it is hard to settle cases in one day – even a long day - of mediation. Sometimes it is clear during the mediation that the parties cannot settle the case. Sometimes it takes the mediator working with the parities for weeks after the mediation to arrive at a settlement. If the case does not settle, it is also beneficial for the parties that during the course of a mediation to realize that maybe they are still too far apart to agree to a settlement and there needs to be further discovery and motions filed to narrow down the issues that are being litigated.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five areas of liability facing California employers

1. Meal and rest breaks.
If you did not know of this exposure already existed in California, can I recommend some reading here, here and here?

2. Exempt vs. non-exempt classification of employees.
The default under California law is that every employee is entitled to overtime pay at a rate of time and a half or double of the employee’s hourly rate of pay. An employee is not entitled to overtime if the employer meets its burden in establishing that the employees qualifies under one of legally proscribed exempt positions (the positions are called exempt because the employee is exempt from the overtime requirements). Some exempt positions are:

  • Executive
  • Administrative
  • Professional
  • Outside sales
  • Computer professional
  • Commissioned sales

Exempt positions have very nuanced requirements that must be met in order for the employee to properly be considered exempt from the overtime pay requirement. For a company to make a determination of whether an employee is exempt, it must approach this determination carefully, and ensure the employee is pay enough in a salary and performs duties required by the exemption. The company should also consider documenting the specific exemption the employee qualifies for. For a list of the possible exempt positions under California law, the DLSE published one here.

3. Off the clock work.
Employees must be paid for all hours that the employee is subject to the employer’s control. Generally, if the employer knows or has reason to believe that an employee is working, that work must be paid for. To prevent off the clock claims, employers should develop clear policies on time keeping and prohibiting off the clock work, as well as having a well thought out complaint mechanism for employees to utilize. A complaint procedure is a good defense for claims of off the clock work made after the fact.

4. Proper calculation of overtime.
Generally, employers must pay one and one-half times the employee's regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of eight hours up to and including 12 hours in any workday, and for the first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek. In addition, employer must pay double the employee's regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 12 hours in any workday and for all hours worked in excess of eight on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.

In addition, the “regular rate of pay” include not only the employee’s hourly rate, but also the amount of piecework earnings and commissions earned by the employee. These additional earning must be calculated into employee’s regular rate of pay. The employee’s time and a half or double time overtime must be calculated on this higher regular rate.

5. Independent contractor misclassification.
As I’ve written about previously, the classification of whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee is a multifactor test. Failure to conduct this analysis properly can expose employer to substantial civil penalties.
 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: More than five required items that should be included in a new hire packet

Here is a list of some of the required notices employers must provide to new employees in California. Sometimes I have a hard time coming up with five rules or items for the Friday’s Five list, but not this time – I blew through five items (it is California after all): 

Document Title

Link to Document

Notice to Employee (Wage Theft Prevention Act) (for non-exempt employees)

Download here

I-9 – Employment Eligibility Verification

Download here

Right to Workers’ Compensation Benefits pamphlet

Download here

State Disability Insurance Provisions pamphlet - DE 2515

Download here

Paid Family Leave pamphlet - DE 2511

Download here

Sexual Harassment pamphlet

Download here

New Health Insurance Marketplace Coverage Options Form

Form for employers with health insurance plans - download here

Form for employer without health insurance plans - download here

Other documents I often recommend that employers have in their new hire packets are:

·   Commission Agreement (if applicable)

·   Meal and Rest Break Acknowledgment of employer’s policy

·   Employee Handbook and Acknowledgment

 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

San Diego City Council moves closer to raising minimum wage and mandating paid sick leave for San Diego employers

The San Diego City Council approved an ordinance that increases the minimum wage required to be paid to workers within the city to $11.50 per hour by 2017. In addition the ordinance calls for the minimum wage to automatically increase every year after 2018 by indexing the minimum wage to inflation. Currently California's minimum wage is set at $9.00 per hour, which increased from $8.00 per hour in July 2014

San Diego Proposed Minimum Wage Increases

Current Minimum Wage

$9.00 per hour

January 1, 2015

$9.75 per hour

January 1, 2016

$10.50 per hour

January 1, 2017

$11.50 per hour

January 1, 2018

Minimum wage will increase each year measured in the increase of the Consumer Price Index.

The ordinance also requires employers to provide up to five days of paid sick leave. If enacted, the sick leave requirement will begin in April 1, 2015 and provides employees with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Leave must be carried over from year to year, but employers may cap the use of the sick leave to 40 hours of paid leave within a benefit year. The ordinance also provides that:

-          For employees that are not covered by the overtime requirements of California law, it will be presumed that they work 40 hours a week. If an employee works less than 40 hours they will only accrue sick leave based on their actual hours worked.

-          Employers may set a reasonable minimum increment for use of sick leave, but this minimum may not exceed two hours.

-          If an employee separates employment, but returns to work within six months, all previously unused sick leave will be reinstated to the employee. 

-          If an employee uses sick leave for more than three consecutive work days, the employer may require “reasonable” documentation from a licensed heath care provider justifying the leave. 

Currently the ordinance is before San Diego’s Mayor, Kevin Faulconer, who has stated he will veto the measure. However, the ordinance was passed by a super-majority that can override the Mayor’s veto, possibly forcing the issue to a referendum. If this occurs, the City Council will have the option to either rescind the legislation, or submit the matter to the voters of San Diego.

 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five California Labor Code provisions employees cannot waive

Here is a list of five rights provided to employees under the California Labor Code that the employee may not waive by agreement with an employer.

1. Minimum wage
Labor Code Section 1194 provides a private right of action to enforce violations of minimum wage and overtime laws. That statute clearly voids any agreement between an employer and employee to work for less than minimum wage or not to receive overtime.

2. Overtime
In Gentry v. Superior Court, the Supreme Court explained:

[Labor Code] Section 510 provides that nonexempt employees will be paid one and one-half their wages for hours worked in excess of eight per day and 40 per week and twice their wages for work in excess of 12 hours a day or eight hours on the seventh day of work. Section 1194 provides a private right of action to enforce violations of minimum wage and overtime laws.

By its terms, the rights to the legal minimum wage and legal overtime compensation conferred by the statute are unwaivable. “Labor Code section 1194 confirms ‘a clear public policy . . . that is specifically directed at the enforcement of California’s minimum wage and overtime laws for the benefit of workers.’"

3. Expense reimbursement
Labor Code section 2802 requires employers to reimburse its employees for “necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee” while performing his or her job duties. Labor Code section 2804, clearly provides that an employee cannot waive this right to be reimbursed for or liable for the cost of doing business. Section 2804 provides, “Any contract or agreement, express or implied, made by any employee to waive the benefits of this article or any part thereof, is null and void….”

4. Right to participate in PAGA representative actions
The California Supreme Court recently clarified that employees may not waive their right to bring a representative action under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) (even though the Court held that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable). The Court held in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation that, “we conclude that an arbitration agreement requiring an employee as a condition of employment to give up the right to bring representative PAGA actions in any forum is contrary to public policy.”

5. Right to receive undisputed wages
Under Labor Code section 206.5 employers and employees may not enter into agreements that waive the employee’s right to receive wages that are undisputed. Labor Code section 206.5 also provides that an employer may not require “as a condition of being paid, to execute a statement of the hours he or she worked during a pay period which the employer knows to be false.”

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five legal pitfalls startup companies cannot make

1. Classifying all employees as independent contractors
To qualify as an independent contractor, the employer has the burden of proof to establish that the worker is actually an independent contractor and not an employee. I’ve discussed the parameter of this “economic realities” test here.  In addition to owing unpaid minimum wages and potential unpaid overtime, the employer also faces steep penalties for misclassifying independent contractors.

2. Treating all employees as exempt employees and not paying overtime.
An employee cannot agree to work without being paid overtime unless they qualify as an exempt employee. To qualify as an exempt employee, generally, the employee must perform certain duties, and must be paid a certain threshold in wages (usually at least two times the equivalent pay of minimum wage based on a 40 hour week).  

3. Not having a handbook and written policies.
Even if startup companies have no money, the Labor Code still applies. They still have to pay more than minimum wage, provide and record meal and rest breaks, issue wage notices to new employees, and otherwise comply with California law. A handbook, new hire packet, and standardized set of written policies is a good place to start.

4. Not providing clear offer letter with at-will provisions and clear understanding of who owns social media accounts and passwords.
Companies should providing a writing setting forth the employee’s compensation, stock option rights, at-will status, as well as who owns the rights to social media accounts and the passwords to access the accounts. Much better to have this set out early in order to avoid costly litigation and disruption in your business later.

5. Not having the right employment law counsel.
Startup owners should have a relationship with an attorney that actually practices California employment law. Have an agreement with them that for basic quick questions there will be little if no charge. I often tell my clients that if it takes a quick phone call to review a decision about an employment issue, there will be no charge. Of course this has to be within reason, as your lawyer sells his or her time to make a living.  So to make this easier on your lawyer, do the work before you call, and just double check that the decision you have made, or the letter you drafted is good-to-go. Otherwise, calling your lawyer and asking him to draft the letter will take him time (usually more time that the client could have done it in) and will increase the cost of legal services.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Procedures to follow in investigating sexual harassment claims