Understanding immigration and labor reform laws on the federal and state level: President Obama's immigration proposal and California's change to immigration related laws in 2015

President Obama's announcement of his controversial plan to provide amnesty for illegal immigrants to remain in the country who meet certain requirements raises a few employment and immigration issues for employers. Putting the politics aside, it is a good time for employers to review their obligations under the law to confirm a worker’s eligibility to work, especially given the new laws taking effect in California in 2015. Below are five areas involving federal and state immigration laws and verification requirements California employers need to be aware of going into 2015.

1. The President’s proposal does not change employers’ current obligation to verify employees’ eligibility to work in the United States.

The President’s proposal will take time to implement, and given the change of power in the Senate in the last election, there is a lot of uncertainty about the effect of the President’s proposal. Even with the political uncertainty, the President’s proposal recognizes the need to create a “provisional legal status” for illegal immigrants that may be provided citizenship. The White House’s website states the following:

Undocumented immigrants must come forward and register, submit biometric data, pass criminal background and national security checks, and pay fees and penalties before they will be eligible for a provisional legal status. Agricultural workers and those who entered the United States as children would be eligible for the same program. Individuals must wait until the existing legal immigration backlogs are cleared before getting in line to apply for lawful permanent residency (i.e. a “green card”), and ultimately United States citizenship. Consistent with current law, people with provisional legal status will not be eligible for welfare or other federal benefits, including subsidies or tax credits under the new health care law.

The details of this system still need to be set out and a process put into place. So employers need to continue to follow the current requirements to verify employment eligibility, and it is not likely that any of the requirements under Federal law will change anytime soon.

2. Expect increased enforcement by federal agencies of immigration and labor laws.

President Obama’s proposal also calls for increasing the monitoring and audit of employers to ensure they are complying with the immigration laws. The President’s proposal seeks a new “labor law enforcement fund” to “ensure that industries that employ significant numbers of immigrant workers comply with labor laws.” The White House’s website touts the fact that ICE has increased his audits of employers since January 2009, and has fined more companies than the Bush administration.

Employers need to review their policies to ensure that they comply with federal and California labor laws. In my practice, I have seen an uptick in DOL audits of employers over the last two years. It is important for California employers to understand the different employment law requirements between federal law and California law, and to ensure that they are complying with the law that applies to their particular workforce.

3. In California, employers need to recognize the new California drivers’ licenses being issued on January 1, 2015 to undocumented workers.

Illegal immigrants will be able to obtain a California driver’s license beginning January 1, 2015. AB 60 was passed in 2013 allowing people who cannot prove their eligibility to be in the United States legally the ability to obtain a driver’s license. The California DMV will begin issuing these drivers’ licenses in the beginning of next year. The licenses will be marked with the phrase “federal limits apply” on the front of the license in the same size and color of text as the other text. This statement will be located in the top right corner above the Class designation on the licenses. On the back of the license, it will have the statement that the license is “not valid for official federal purposes.”

The California drivers’ licenses issued under AB 60 are not valid documentation to prove eligibility to work in the United States. It is important for employers to train their personnel who are responsible for verifying documents when completing the Form I-9 to ensure that the documents presented by the worker are valid for I-9 purposes. In addition, it would be a good time for employers to audit their Form I-9 process and document retention policies.

4. It is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers who present licenses obtained through AB60.

A new law passed in 2014, AB 1660, makes it a violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) to discriminate against a worker who presents a driver’s license which was issued to them under AB60 and the individual does not have the legal right to work in the United States. Read this last sentence again and it is not hard to see the rock (federal I-9 obligations) and the hard place (California law) that employers find themselves between. AB 1660 amends FEHA to specify that discrimination on the basis of national origin includes, but is not limited to, discrimination on the basis of possessing a driver’s license issued under this new law. California employers need to be clear on what their obligations are under federal law and carefully navigate these obligations to ensure they do not run afoul of AB 1660 and Vehicle Code section 12801.9.

5. California employers need to treat driver’s license information as confidential employee information.

AB 1660, which amends Vehicle Code section 12801.9, provides that employees’ drivers’ license information obtained by the employer is confidential:

Driver’s license information obtained by an employer shall be treated as private and confidential, is exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1 of the Government Code), and shall not be disclosed to any unauthorized person or used for any purpose other than to establish identity and authorization to drive.

Therefore, employers need to review their record keeping procedures to ensure that any driver’s license information for their employees is keep in a secure manner and limit other employees’ access to the data.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Five issues employers must understand about California's harassment and discrimination laws

1. Automatic liability for a company when harassing or discriminatory conduct is taken by supervisors.
A company is automatically liable for any harassment or discriminatory actions taken by its supervisors. Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), a supervisor is defined as anyone who has the authority to hire, transfer, suspend, layoff, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or the responsibility to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend these actions to the employer.

2. When is a company liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees?
Employers are only liable for harassment in the workplace that it knew about or should have known about, and failed to take corrective action to stop the harassment.

3. Is there personal liability for harassment or discrimination?
There is a difference regarding personal liability for alleged harassment and discrimination.  Employees can be held personally liable for harassment, but there is no personal liability for discrimination.

Any employee working for a company covered by FEHA can be held personally liable for harassment that employee engages in. However, a supervisor who did not engage in harassment and who is aware of harassment taking place but fails stop the harassment, cannot be held personally liable for aiding and abetting the harassment.  However, obviously, this will create liability for the company. 

On the other hand, supervisors are not held personally liable for discrimination or retaliation. This is because the basic job duties of a supervisor could be viewed as discriminatory, acts such as hiring, firing, and setting schedules. Therefore, the courts did not want to impose personal liability on to supervisors for their day-to-day duties. However, it is important to remember that even though the supervisor does not have personal liability for discrimination or retaliation, the employer will always be liable for any proven misconduct.

4. The avoidable consequences doctrine could reduce liability in certain cases.
Under the avoidable consequences doctrine, an employee’s damages can be limited if the employer can show that: (1) it took reasonable step to prevent harassment, (2) the employee unreasonably failed to utilize the procedures put in place by the employer to prevent harassment, and (3) had the employee used the procedure to prevent the harassment some of the damages would have been prevented. Under this defense the employer’s complaint system put in place will be challenged and viewed under high scrutiny.  Therefore it is important for employers to show that employee’s who complained in the past had their complaints properly addressed and there was never any retaliation for making the complaint.  

5. Revise sexual harassment training in 2015 to include discussion about abusive conduct.
Even though workplace bullying is not illegal under California law, a new law going into effect in 2015 amends the law requiring employers with 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to include a discussion about workplace bullying and abusive conduct.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five items employers need to understand about automobile and mileage reimbursement under California law

Expense reimbursement may seem like a small issue in comparison with the other areas of liability facing California employers, but the exposure for not appropriately reimbursing employees can be substantial. In Gattuso v. Harte-Hanks Shoppers, Inc., the California Supreme Court clarified the parameters of mileage reimbursement under California law, as well as the three different methods available for employers to reimburse employees for their mileage reimbursement.  This post discusses five issues employers need to know about automobile and mileage reimbursement under California law.

1. Mileage reimbursement based on IRS mileage rate is presumed to reimburse employee for all actual expenses

The IRS publishes standard mileage rates each year (and sometimes adjusts these rates during the year). The 2014 mileage rate is published on the IRS mileage rate here.

If the employee challenges the amount reimbursed, the employee bears the burden to show how the “amount that the employer has paid is less than the actual expenses that the employee has necessarily incurred for work-required automobile use (as calculated using the actual expense method), the employer must make up the difference.” Gattuso, at 479.

The California Supreme Court also held that the reimbursement rate can be negotiated by parties as long as it fully reimburses the employee, and the amount does not have to be set at the IRS mileage rate. The Court also warned that employee cannot waive the right to be fully reimbursed for their actual expenses:

We agree that, as with other terms and conditions of employment, a mileage rate for automobile expense reimbursement may be a subject of negotiation and agreement between employer and employee. Under section 2804, however, any agreement made by the employee is null and void insofar as it waives the employee’s rights to full expense reimbursement under section 2802.

Gattuso, at 479.


2. Reimbursement Method: Actual Expense Method

In examining the different methods of reimbursement, the Supreme Court held that the actual expense method is the most accurate, but it is also the most burdensome for both the employer and the employee. Gattuso, at 478. Under the actual expense method, the parties calculate the automobile expenses that the employee actually and necessarily incurred and then the employer separately pays the employee that amount. The actual expenses of using an employee’s personal automobile for business purposes include: fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, registration, and depreciation.

3. Reimbursement Method: Mileage Reimbursement Method

The Court recognized that employers may simplify calculating the amount owed to an employee by paying an amount based on a “total mileage driven." Gattuso, at 479.

Under the mileage reimbursement method, the employee only needs to keep a record of the number of miles driven for job duties. The employer then multiplies the miles driven by a predetermined amount that approximates the per-mile cost of owning and operating an automobile. The Court recognized that the mileage rate agreed to between the employer and employee is “merely an approximation of actual expenses” and is less accurate than the actual expense method. It is important to note that while this amount can be negotiated, the employee still is unable to waive their right to reimbursement of their actual costs as mentioned above.

4. Reimbursement Method: Lump Sum Payment

Under the lump sum method, the employee need not submit any information to the employer about work-required miles driven or automobile expenses incurred. The employer merely pays an agreed upon fixed amount for automobile expense reimbursement. Gattuso, at 480. This type of lump sum payment is often labeled as a per diem, car allowance, or gas stipend.

In Gattuso, the Court made it clear that employers paying a lump sum amount have the extra burden of separately identifying and documenting the amounts that represent payment for labor performed and the amounts that represent reimbursement for business expenses.

5. All expenses incurred in an employee’s course and scope of their job must be reimbursed by the employer.

In addition to mileage, employers may also have to reimburse employees for other costs they incurred in driving their personal cars for business. In making the determination about whether an employee’s actions are in the “course and scope” of their job, courts examine whether the expense being sought by the employee is “not so unusual or startling that it would seem unfair to include loss or expense among other costs of the employer’s business.” This is a very fact specific determination that employers need to approach with caution.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five answers to common questions about severance pay and severance agreements

Severance pay is not required under California law. However, employers who have potential disputes with employees that are leaving employment should consider whether offering severance pay in exchange for a signed severance agreement containing a release of claims against the company may be useful in avoiding costly litigation. Here are answers to five common questions about severance:

1. Are employees entitled to severance pay?
No. If an employee is an at-will employee, and either the employer or the employee decides to end the employment relationship, the employer is not required to provide any type of severance to the employee.

2. If severance pay is not required, why would employers offer it?
There are a number of reasons that employers offer severance pay. If the employer’s business has slowed down and it needs to layoff employees, but the employer wants to cushion the effect of the layoff, severance can be offered. Also, if the employer believes that there is a potential dispute between it and an employee, the employer may choose to pay some severance in exchange of a release of claims by the employee in order to avoid any potential litigation.  If done properly, an employee's acceptance of a severance agreement would effectively waive any and all claims that he or she may have against the company.  If there is any potential for a dispute about any issues that arose during employment, entering into a severance agreement could be an effective way to avoid costly and time consuming litigation. 

3. Does the employer have to pay the employee for a release of claims?
If the employer asks the employee to release all claims the employee may have against the company, generally there needs to be some consideration provided to the employee for the release of his or her rights. Consideration is a legal term, and very generally means something of value that each side agrees to exchange (this is a very oversimplified definition). In severance agreements, the consideration is usually, but is not required to be, some form of payment by the employer that is not already legally obligated to be made in exchange for the release of claims (i.e., an agreement not to sue) by the employee.

4. What terms are generally included in a severance agreement?
Here is a list of common terms included in severance agreements:

  • A general release with a Civil Code section 1542 waiver releasing all known and unknown claims.
  • Confidentiality
  • No admission of liability
  • No present or future employment
  • Non-disparagement clause which can also set forth what job reference, if any, will be given to any prospective employers
  • Return of company property and non-solicitation of customers clause

5. Are there any special considerations for employees 40 years old or older that need to be included in a release?
Yes. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) protects individuals 40 years old or older. The OWBPA provides that in order to release a claim for age discrimination must meet certain requirements. Some of these requirements include that the employee is advised to consult with an attorney, the waiver is easily understood, the individual is given at least 21 days to consider the agreement; and the individual is given at least 7 days following the execution of the agreement to revoke the agreement. The 21 day consideration period can be waived by the employee, but the seven day revocation period after the agreement is signed cannot be waived by the employee. Therefore, it is important to consider potentially not paying any money until after the seven day revocation period expires. If the employer is offering the release to a group or class of employees a longer consideration period and other requirements apply. It is highly recommended that employers receive the assistance of counsel to ensure that employees 40 years old or older effectively waive any rights under the OWBPA. For more information, the EEOCs’ website provides a good explanation and some examples.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five things California employers should not forget about meal and rest breaks

Back to some basics with this Friday’s Five. This post revisits some meal and rest break requirements. It has been a couple of years since the California Supreme Court issued it groundbreaking ruling in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court, and it is a good time for employers to audit these policies and practices. Here are five things employers should not forget regarding about meal and rest breaks.

1. Timing of breaks.
Meal Breaks
The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court that employers need to give an employee their first meal break “no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.” Here is a chart to illustrate the Court’s holding:

Rest Breaks
As for of rest breaks, the Court set forth that, “[e]mployees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.” This rule is set forth in this chart:

In regards to when rest breaks should be taken during the shift, the Court held that “the only constraint of timing is that rest breaks must fall in the middle of work periods ‘insofar as practicable.’” The Court stopped short of explaining what qualifies as “insofar as practicable”, and employers should closely analyze whether they may deviate from this general principle.

2. Rule regarding waiver of breaks.
Meal Breaks
Generally meal breaks can only be waived if the employee works less than six hours in a shift. However, as long as employers effectively allow an employee to take a full 30-minute meal break, the employee can voluntarily choose not to take the break and this would not result in a violation. The Supreme Court explained in Brinker (quoting the DLSE’s brief on the subject):
The employer that refuses to relinquish control over employees during an owed meal period violates the duty to provide the meal period and owes compensation [and premium pay] for hours worked. The employer that relinquishes control but nonetheless knows or has reason to know that the employee is performing work during the meal period, has not violated its meal period obligations [and owes no premium pay], but nonetheless owes regular compensation to its employees for time worked.
Rest Breaks
Rest breaks may also be waived by employees, as long as the employer properly authorizes and permits employees to take the full 10-minute rest break at the appropriate times.

3. Timekeeping requirements of meal breaks.
Meal breaks taken by the employees must be recorded by the employer. However, there is no requirement for employers to record 10-mintute rest breaks.

4. Implementing a procedure for employees to notify the company when they could not take a break.
If employers have the proper policy and practices set up for meal and rest breaks, the primary issue then becomes whether the employer knew or should have known that the employee was not taking the meal or rest breaks. Therefore, many allegations that the employer was not providing the required breaks can be defended on the basis that the employer had an effective complaint procedure in place to inform the employer of any potential violation, but failed to inform the employer of these violations.

5. Implementing a policy of paying employees for missed breaks and recording these payments.
Employers should show that in addition to the complaint procedure mentioned above, that the company has a system in place to correct any violations. If during an investigation, the employer confirms that the employee in fact missed the break because of the rush of business or some other factor, the company should pay the employee the one hour “premium pay” penalty at the employee’s regular rate of pay. Also, the company should record these payments made to employees in case it needs to prove later on that it has an effective remedial process in place to address missed breaks.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five ways employers can receive requests for employees' personnel and wage records

Employers can receive requests for employment records of current and former employees though different ways. It is important for employers to first carefully review the request to understand what is being requested. It is important to understand who is making the request? Is the request only seeking a personnel file? Is the request only seeking payroll records? It is possible that a third party, such as a governmental agency or a party in litigation is seeking employment records for an employee. In this case, it is important for the employer to understand its obligations in protecting the privacy interest of the employee in connection with the rights of third parties to obtain these records.

The following are five ways that employers may have to provide copies of employment records or make employment records available for inspection.

1. Request under Labor Code Section 432, which provides employees with a right to receive a copy of any signed document upon request by the employee.

2. Request under Labor Code section 1198.5, which provides for the right of current and former employees to inspect and receive a copy of personnel records.

A few guidelines regarding requests under section 1198.5:

  • Employers must comply no later than 30 days from when the request is received.
  • If employee asks for copy of file, employer may charge actual costs of coping to employee.
  • Employers may take reasonable steps to ensure identity of the current or former employee.
  • Employers may redact the names of any nonsupervisory employees contained in the personnel file.
  • Employees have no right to inspection under this section if lawsuit has already been initiated.
  • Failure to comply with this section can result in a $750 penalty.

3. Request under Labor Code section 226(b), which allows current and former employees to inspect or copy records pertaining to their employment.

A few guidelines regarding requests under section 226(b):

  • Employers can take reasonable steps to ensure the identity of a current or former employees, and that they are actually making the request.
  • Actual costs of reproduction may be charged by the employer.
  • Employers must comply within 21 days of request.
  • Failure to comply with this section can result in a $750 penalty.

4. Public agencies, such as the Department of Labor or California Labor Commissioner, have the right to inspect records and workplaces under limited circumstances.

For example, under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Department of Labor (DOL) has certain permissions to investigate and gather date about wages, hours worked, and other working conditions at workplaces. The FLSA also provides the DOL limited permission to enter employers’ premises, review records, and even potentially question employees about employment practices. Upon receiving a request from any public agency, such as the DOL or the California Labor Commissioner, an employer should immediately review what obligations and rights it has in responding to the request.

5. Requests for records through subpoenas.

Employers can also receive subpoenas from third parties seeking employment records. The “custodian of records” is responsible for responding to the requests and producing employment records in certain circumstances. California law requires that a request for a personnel file include a “Notice to Consumer” notifying the employee that such records are being sought, and providing the individual an opportunity to object to the disclosure of the information. If the employee or former employee has not been notified, or objects to the production of the requested records, the employer should not produce the information requested unless and until a court orders otherwise, or the affected employee agrees to the production. If the subpoena seeks the disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, you should contact an attorney to see if the company has an obligation to move to quash the subpoena or seek an appropriate protective order to preserve the confidentiality of the information sought.

Employers should not produce requested documents before they are due and without being satisfied that the proper subpoena procedures and notice requirements, if applicable, have been met. Employers do have a duty to maintain the privacy rights of current and former employees.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

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: 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

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

Friday's Five: Five rules every California employer should know about providing final wages to employees

This Friday's Five is coming out a little late in the day, but as they say, better late....  I've been fielding a lot of questions about final wage payment requirements.  So here are five rules every employer should know about providing final wages to employees:

  1. An employee who is discharged must be paid all of his or her wages, including accrued vacation, immediately at the time of termination.
  2. An employee who gives at least 72 hours prior notice of quitting, and quits on the day given in the notice, must be paid all earned wages, including accrued vacation, at the time of quitting.
  3. An employee who quits without giving 72 hours prior notice must be paid all wages, including accrued vacation, within 72 hours of quitting.
  4. An employee who quits without giving 72-hours’ notice can request their final wage payment be mailed to them. The date of mailing is considered the date of payment for purposes of the requirement to provide payment within 72 hours of the notice of quitting.
  5. Final wage payments for employees who are terminated (or laid off) must be made at the place of termination. For employees who quit without giving 72 hours’ notice and do not request their final wages be mailed to them, is at the office of the employer within the county in which the work was performed.

For any employer who willfully fails to pay any wages due a terminated employee subject the employer to waiting time penalties under Labor Code section 203. Waiting time penalties accrue at an amount equal to the employee's daily rate of pay for each day the wages are not paid, up to a maximum of thirty calendar days.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Complying With California's Minimum Wage Increase

Here is a short video regarding some items California employers should consider about the minimum wage increase taking effect July 1, 2014.

 For more information about the minimum wage increase:

Five issues California employers should review before the minimum wage increases July 1, 2014

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Five Things You Need To Know About Arbitration Agreements After The California's Supreme Court's Ruling In Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC

1. Arbitration Agreements: What Are They?
Employers can agree that they and any employees who enter into an arbitration agreement will resolve their differences before a private arbitrator instead of civil court. There are many different arbitration companies to choose from, but the American Arbitration Association and JAMS are two of the larger ones that are routinely appointed in arbitration agreements. Arbitrators are private companies that usually hire retired judges to resolve disputes in a private setting as opposed to civil court.

2. Are Arbitration Agreements Enforceable in California?
Generally speaking, if the agreement is drafted and implemented properly, it is enforceable. However, arbitration agreements are routinely struck down by courts if they are not properly drafted. For example, recently a California court held in Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, that an arbitration agreement was not enforceable because it required the employee to waive statutory damages and remedies.  In addition, the agreement in that case only allowed the employer to recover its attorney’s fees if successful, not the employee.  The Court held these terms caused

3. Why Would an Employer Implement an Arbitration Agreement?
There are a number of reasons. The arbitration process can proceed more quickly than civil litigation, saving a lot of time and attorney’s fees in the process. For example, often times the discovery process moves more quickly, and if there are any disputes, the parties can raise them with the arbitrator telephonically, instead of the lengthy motion process required to resolve disputes in civil court. The arbitration process is also confidential, so if there are private issues that must be litigated, these issues are not filed in the public records of the courts. The parties also have a say in deciding which arbitrator to use in deciding the case, whereas in civil court the parties are simply assigned a judge without any input into the decision. This is very helpful in employment cases, which often times involve more complex issues, and it is beneficial to the parties to select an arbitrator that has experience in resolving employment cases.

4. Are Class Action Waivers Enforceable In Arbitration Agreements?
Yes. The California Supreme Court ruled in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC that class action waivers can be enforceable, following the standards set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.  However, Plaintiffs continually challenge class action waivers on numerous grounds, and it is critical employers’ agreements are properly drafted and up-to-date. In addition, while courts will uphold class action waivers, the California Supreme Court held that employee may still bring representative actions under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). PAGA claims are limited to specific penalties under the law, and have a much shorter one year statute of limitations compared to potentially a four year statute of limitations for most class actions.

5. Based On the Holding in Iskanian, Should Every Employer Enter Into Arbitration Agreements With Its Employees?
No. The decision to implement an arbitration agreement should be reviewed with an employment lawyer to discuss the positives as well as the negatives of arbitration agreements. As discussed above, there are a lot of benefits of having an arbitration agreement in place, but it does not come without a few drawbacks. The primary drawback is that in California, the employer must pay all of the arbitrator’s fees in employment cases. Arbitration fees can easily be tens of thousands of dollars – a cost that employers do not need to pay in civil cases. In addition, while a class action waiver may be enforceable, employers still face substantial liability under PAGA representative actions, and a strategy in implementing a class action waiver should be thought through with the help of informed counsel.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: Five steps to prevent sexual harassment claims

1. Have a good anti-harassment policy and conduct required training for supervisors.

It is legally required that all California employers provide information to employees regarding harassment. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing provides the following guidelines for employers:

Employers must help ensure a workplace free from sexual harassment by distributing to employees information on sexual harassment. An employer may either distribute a brochure that may be obtained from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or develop an equivalent document, which must meet the following requirements:
• The illegality of sexual harassment
• The definition of sexual harassment under state and federal laws
• A description of sexual harassment, utilizing examples
• The internal complaint process of the employer available to the employee
• The legal remedies and complaint process available through the Department and the Fair Employment and Housing Commission
• Directions on how to contact the Department and the Fair Employment and Housing Commission
• The protection against retaliation for opposing the practices prohibited by law or for filing a complaint with, or otherwise participating in investigative activities conducted by, the Department or the Commission

Also, since 2005, California employers with more than 50 employees must provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to supervisors and managers within six months of hire or promotion, and every two years after that. Completion of the training should be documented in the supervisor’s personnel file.

2. Have a good internal complaint procedure.

Don’t just use some boilerplate in an employee handbook – really think this through. Who should the employees complain to and what different avenues can the company set up to have them complain? This is key in using a defense recognized in California – the avoidable consequences doctrine. This defense was just reaffirmed by a California appellate court and it could limit the damages the plaintiff could receive if they don’t complain under the employer’s complaint procedure.

3. Treat all complaints seriously and perform proper investigations.

It is recommended to have someone who is well-versed in sexual harassment investigations and the law to conduct the investigation. I also recommend that two people be involved in the investigation, this allows one person to ask questions and observe the witnesses’ credibility and the other person to focus on taking notes and documenting the interviews. A good overview of how to conduct an investigation is published at the EEOC’s website here: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/harassment.html.

4. Investigate complaints immediately.

The longer it takes for a company to start an investigation, the more open the company will be to claims that it did not treat complaints of harassment seriously. Also, the sooner you speak with witnesses and obtain statements, the better everyone’s memory of the events will be.

5. Prevent any form of retaliation from occurring.

Even if you conclude that no harassment took place, but the employee is retaliated against by the manager for making a complaint, the employee would still have a retaliation claim.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Friday's Five: The World Cup and makeup time under California law. Five requirements for use of makeup time.

The World Cup is upon us. I have to admit I had yesterday’s opening game between Brazil and Croatia on in the background while I was working. Given that this year’s World Cup is being held in Brazil, there is not much of a difference in time zones for those of us on the west coast, but many games are during work hours. So what are California employers’ options to provide employees with time off during the work day to watch their favorite team play? One is the use of makeup time. This option is a rare occurrence under California law in which employers and employees flexibility to adjust their work schedule to accommodate for important life events that come up from time to time, such as, ahem, the World Cup. Makeup time allows employees to take time off and then make it up later in the same workweek, without triggering the obligation for the employer to pay overtime. Here are five things employers should keep in mind about makeup time:

  1. An employee may work no more than 11 hours on another workday, and not more than 40 hours in the workweek to make up for the time off;
  2. The time missed must be made up within the same workweek;
  3. The employee needs to provide a signed written request to the employer for each occasion that they want to makeup time (and if employers permit makeup time, they should have a carefully drafted policy on makeup time and a system to document employee requests);
  4. Employers cannot solicit or encourage employees to request makeup time, but employers may inform employees of this option; and
  5. Remember, if these requirements are not met, time and a half overtime is due for (1) time over eight hours in one day or (2) over 40 hours in one week or (3) the first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day worked in a single workweek; and double time is due for (1) time over 12 hours in one day and (2) hours worked beyond eight on the seventh consecutive day in a single workweek.

The DLSE provides a good overview of the overtime requirements and calculating overtime payments here.

Just a reminder, USA’s first match is against Ghana, on Monday, June 16 at 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Are you ready for the increase in minimum wage? Join us for a mid-year update on employment and corporate issues.

My firm is conducting a webinar on Thursday June 19, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. for a mid-year update on emerging employment law issues and the newly enacted LLC statute effecting most California Limited Liability Companies. 

For more information and to register, please complete the form below:

 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Five issues California employers should review before the minimum wage increases July 1, 2014

Come July 1, 2014, California’s minimum wage will increase from $8 per hour to $9 per hour for all workers. The minimum wage will increase again to $10 per hour on July 1, 2016. Other than starting to work with their payroll provider to ensure that all hours worked as of July 1 will be paid at the higher rate, here is a list of five other issues California employers should also review in preparation for the wage increase:

1. Review base salary for all exempt employees.
In order to qualify as an exempt employee, which is an employee who is not entitled to receive overtime for work performed over eight hours in one day or 40 hours in one week, the employee must be paid an equivalent of two times minimum wage. Before the minimum wage increase in July 2014, this amount is $33,280 annual salary. When the minimum wage increases to $9 per hour, this amount will increase to $37,440 annual salary, and when the minimum wage increases to $10 per hour, an exempt employee will need to be paid $41,600 annually.  I've discussed this issue in a short video previously, which can be viewed here.  

2. Review compliance with the Wage Theft Protection Act Notice.
Since 2012 every California employer has been required to provide written notices to employees regarding certain information about their jobs, including their wage rate. The good news is that employers will not have to re-issue new wage notices to employees as a result of the increase of minimum wage as long as the new minimum wage rate is shown on the pay stub (itemized wage statement) with the next payment of wages.

3. Review timekeeping system and policies.
With the higher minimum wage rate, there is more potential exposure from wage and hour lawsuits alleging off the clock work or unpaid minimum wage. Companies should remind employees of policies that prohibit off the clock work and about complaint procedures available should anyone ask the employee to work off the clock or the employee not receive all minimum wages.

4. Review classification of independent contractors.
A company that has independent contractors should review the classification to ensure that it can withstand scrutiny from a court, Department of Labor, Labor Commissioner, or the EDD. As employers already face large penalties for misclassifying independent contractors, the potential exposure for unpaid minimum wages as a result of a misclassification will also increase as discussed above.

5. Review wage agreements with employees.
Ensure that all agreements with the employees comply with the law. Under California law, employees cannot agree to work for less than the state minimum wage. This waiver cannot be done through a collective bargaining agreement. All agreements to do so are void under the law.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Five steps companies can take to reduce employment lawsuits

Employers often ask me the question of what steps can they take to stop employment litigation. My response usually begins with a warning that there is nothing an employer can do that will prevent a frivolous lawsuit. Employers can only control their actions and decisions, and by thinking about and reviewing a few simple items at least once a quarter, it can greatly reduce a company’s liability. Here are five steps employer can start with:

1. Implement accurate and easy to use timekeeping system.
California law requires employers to track start and stop times for hourly, non-exempt employees. The law also requires employer to track the start and stop times for the employee’s thirty minute meal periods. The time system needs to be accurate, and the employer needs to be involved in the installation and setup of the system. Do not simply use the default settings for the hardware and software. Understand what the system is tracking and how it is recording the data. Since the statute of limitations for California wage and hour violations can extent back four years, it is recommended that employers take steps to keep these records at least four years.

2. Keep handbook and related policies up to date.
Employers should periodically have their handbooks, operating policies and new hire packets reviewed to ensure they are current. Employers need to remember that a review of policies should extend beyond the handbook, but should also incorporate a review of all other policies, pay practices, and documents that are given to employees when they are hired, during employment, and at termination.

3. Document everything.
I cannot overemphasis the need to document what occurs in the workplace. Most importantly, employers need to document employee performance. It is all too often that a problem employee’s personnel file does not contain any type of documentation about his poor performance. Then, when the employee challenges the employer’s termination decision, it is much harder to prove the business reason behind the decision.

4. Get to know an employment attorney you can run issues by on a day-to-day basis.
You knew this was coming, but regardless of the unashamed self-promotion, employers should have counsel that is well versed in California employment law. California’s employment laws are very nuanced, and an attorney that has experience in this area will save the company not only in legal fees, but also in potential exposure. I have a client that says that when you have a problem with your eyes, you don’t go to you general practitioner. The same applies for advice on California employment issues. It is very unique. In addition, working with an employment lawyer on a routine basis is also a great way to see how he or she works and if the lawyer is compatible with your operations. This is much better to find out early on, instead of discovering that you don’t get along with your counsel in the middle of defending a class action lawsuit.

5. Consider hiring a knowledgeable HR professional.
An experienced HR professional will allow the president or other executives in the company to focus their time and energy in their core roles. In addition, it is helpful from a structural and managerial perspective for the employees in an organization to know exactly who to go to for HR information or complaints. A human resources professional with experience in handling workplace investigations and dealing with employee complaints is very valuable to a company – let’s face it, no matter how well you run your company, there will be complaints. Having a proactive, knowledgeable professional assisting in the process of investigating and resolving the issues is instrumental to a successful company.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Five legally required items often overlooked by California employers

Welcome to Friday's 5, a series of posts each Friday of lists of five items in various aspect of California employment law. I hope to keep it informative and interesting, and provide a checklist of sorts for California employers to review various practices and policies. Starting off, here is a list of five items not to be overlooked by California employers:

1. Wage Theft Protection Act Notices To Employees.
California’s Wage Theft Protection Act of 2011 has required every employer in California to provide written notices to employees beginning in January 1, 2012. The law is set forth in Labor Code section 2810.5, and requires private employers to provide all new non-exempt employees with a written notice that contains certain basic information about their employment. The law also requires employers to notify employees in writing of any changes to the information in the notice within seven calendar days of any changes, unless the changes are reflected on a timely wage statement that complies with Labor code Section 226. Employers do not need to notify employees of any changes if the change is provided in another writing required by law within seven days of the changes. The California Labor Commissioner has published a sample notice template that complies with the requirements of the law, which can be viewed here [PDF]. This is an easy form to complete for non-exempt employees, and should be a mandatory document in every employer’s new hire packet.

2. Written commission statements signed by both the employee and employer.
As of January 1, 2013, when an employee is paid commissions, the employer must provide a written contract setting forth the method the commissions will be computed and paid. The written agreement must be signed by both the employer and employee. Commission wages are “compensation paid to any person for services rendered in the sale of such employer’s property or services and based proportionately upon the amount or value thereof.” Commissions do not include (1) short-term productivity bonuses, (2) temporary, variable incentive payment that increase, but do not decrease, payment under the written contract, and (3) bonus and profit-sharing plans, unless there has been an offer by the employer to pay a fixed percentage of sales or profits as compensation for work to be performed.

3. Pregnancy disability leave policy in employee handbook.
For employers with five or more employees, it is mandatory that they have a pregnancy disability leave (PDL) policy. Moreover, if the employer has an employee handbook, it is required to include information about pregnancy leave in the handbook. For more information about PDL under California law, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing provides a summary of basic requirements here.

4. Harassment prevention training for supervisors every two years.
Since 2005, California employers with more than 50 employees must provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to supervisors and managers within six months of hire or promotion, and every two years after that. Completion of the training should be documented in the supervisor’s personnel file.

5. California employers must pay visiting out-of-state workers according to California overtime rules.
In Sullivan v. Oracle the California Supreme Court has clarified that California's overtime rules apply to anyone performing work within the state, regardless of their state of residency or how long they may be working in California.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Introducing Friday's 5 Best Practices for California Employers

I know, I’m the first one to admit things have been pretty dormant here at the California Employment Law Report. It is actually a good sign of my growing practice, but with the increasing list of employers I’ve been advising, the less time I’ve had to write articles and conduct webinars. This will be changing however.

I’m introducing Friday’s 5 Best Practices. Starting this Friday, I will post an article every Friday with lists of five items that are best practices for California employers that I routinely see in defending employment lawsuits. [I have to admit, I stole this idea from Steven Pressfield. He is the author of the War of Art, and the newly released The Lion's Gate and writes Writing Wednesdays blog post every week documenting how a writer can overcome writer’s block, or as he calls it, the Resistance.]

This Friday’s article will discuss the 5 legally required items often overlooked by California employers. Should you have any suggestions for any future articles or areas of review for the Friday’s 5, please don’t hesitate to drop me a note.   

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Are electronic signatures valid in the employment setting?

Generally, yes, and surprisingly this is one area that legislation is well ahead of the general adoption of the technical capabilities available in the marketplace. For example, in 1999 the California Legislature enacted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (the “UETA”), Civ. Code, §§ 1633.1 et seq., which provides that when a law requires a record to be in writing or requires a signature, an electronic record or signature satisfies the law. The law requires that any contract entered into between two parties may not be denied legal enforceability simply because of the use of an electronic signature. In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (“ESIGN”), 15 U.S.C. § 7001 et seq., which provides for the enforceability of electronic signatures on the federal level. In addition, most states have also passed their version of the UETA. Taken together, these laws provide authority that electronic signatures are legally binding, just as if the contract was signed in the traditional “wet” manner.

The enforceability of electronic signatures in the employment context was confirmed in recently by a California Federal District Court in Chau v. EMC Corp. (2014). In Chau, the plaintiff sued EMC alleging she was discriminated against because of her pregnancy. The company made a motion to compel arbitration. The plaintiff opposed defendant’s motion to compel arbitration on various grounds, but in particular argued that the arbitration agreement was never signed by the plaintiff. The court rejected plaintiff’s argument, and upheld the electronic signature in this case:

Defendants have also established that Chau signed the Key Employee Agreement, including accepting the arbitration provision. [citations omitted] Chau agreed that “an electronic signature by me (checking Yes) is valid as if I had signed the documents referred to below by hand.” See also Cal. Civ.Code § 1633.2(h) (defining “electronic signature” to include a process [i.e. checking Yes] executed by a person with the intent to sign the electronic record). Accordingly, defendants have established that a valid, signed, arbitration agreement exists between plaintiff and defendants. Neither party disputes that the agreement encompasses the issues in this case.

For the electronic signature to be binding, the ESIGN and UETA require that the signer of the agreement must have intended to sign the agreement, and that the parties consented to complete the agreement electronically. However, as the court in EMC recognized, the laws do not require a traditional signature, but rather “an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with an electronic record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the electronic record.” Therefore, someone can electronically sign a document by checking a box indicating that they are “signing” the document as was done in the EMC case.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Interviewed for KTLA news story about employers' use of social media in the workplace

I was interviewed for a news story that aired on KTLA here in Los Angeles about employer’s use of social media in evaluating applicants and employees. I’ve been writing and speaking about this topic for at least five years now, but given the pervasiveness of social media, the topic is only becoming more relevant with the increased use of social media today.

 Employers need to remember to keep a few items in mind regarding social media and the workplace. California passed a law, Labor Code section 980, effective January 1, 2013 that prohibits employers from “requiring or requesting” employees and applicants to provide their passwords to social media accounts. Can California employers monitor employees' internet usage under new Labor Code section 980?

Also, employers need to be aware of employee’s privacy rights. Can employers use employee's posts to social media as basis for employment decisions or would this violate an employee's right to privacy?

Finally, when a company encourages employees to use social media for work, there are some considerations the employer should take into account regarding the ownership of the social media accounts.

Generally speaking, employers may utilize social networking sites to conduct background checks on employees if:

  1. The employer and/or its agents conduct the background check themselves;
  2. The site is readily accessible to the public;
  3. The employer does not need to create a false alias to access the site;
  4. The employer does not have to provide any false information to gain access to the site; and
  5. The employer does not use the information learned from the site in a discriminatory manner or otherwise prohibited by law.
Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Top Five Items California Employers Need To Know About Tips

1) Who owns a tip?

California law is clear that voluntary tips left for an employee for goods sold or services performed belong to the employee, not the employer. Labor Code section 351 provides, “No Employer or agent shall collect, take or receive any gratuity or a part thereof that is paid, given to, or left for an employee by a patron…. Every gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for.”

2) Is employer mandated tip pooling legal?

Yes. In the seminal 1990 case on tip-pooling, Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, Ltd., the court held that an employer’s practice of tip pooling among employees was not prohibited by section 351 because the employer did not “collect, take, or receive” any part of a gratuity left by a patron, and did not credit tips or deduct tip income from employee wages. The court relied upon the “industry practice” that 15% of the gratuity is tipped out to the busboy and 5% to the bartender, which was “a house rule and is with nearly all Restaurants.” However, owners, managers, or supervisors of the business cannot share in the tip pool.

3) When do tip tips left on credit cards have to be paid, and can a deduction made for processing the credit card transaction?

If a patron leaves a tip on their credit card, the employer may not deduct any credit card processing fees from the tip left for the employee. Moreover, tips left using a credit card must be paid to employees no later than the next regular payday following the date the credit card payment was authorized. See Labor Code § 351.

4) Does California allow an employer to credit a portion of the employee’s tips towards minimum wage?

No. While some states provide the employer with a “tip credit”, California law does not allow this. However, with the recent passage of the increase in California’s minimum wage from $8 per hour to $9 per hour on July 1, 2014, and then to $10 per hour on January 1, 2016, there is more discussion of examining whether a tip credit should be considered in California. However, current law does not allow employers to “credit” an employee’s tips towards the minimum wage requirement for each hour worked.

5) Do tips change an employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime calculations?

No. Because tips are voluntarily left by customers to employees, tips do not increase an employee’s regular rate of pay used to calculate overtime rates.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Can employers use employee's posts to social media as basis for employment decisions or would this violate an employee's right to privacy?

Generally, employees have a privacy expectation in their personnel files, contact information, and work related information. However, this expectation of privacy is not limitless, especially when the employee publically airs his or her work experiences on social media sites for the public to see. Courts have held that employees can waive this right to privacy once they make disclosures in public for everyone else to read via social media networks.

For example, in a case not in the employment context, a California court reviewed the issue of whether an author who posts an article on myspace.com can state a cause of action for invasion of privacy and for intentional infliction of emotional distress against a person who submits that article to a newspaper for republication. The case, Moreno v. Hanford Sentinel, Inc. involved a college student who had moved away from her home town of Coalinga, California. She wrote “An ode to Coalinga” and posted it on her site on MySpace.com. The ode badmouthed her hometown. Six days after publishing it on MySpace, she took the writing off of the site, but the town’s high school principal submitted the writing to the local newspaper for publication. The newspaper republished the ode in the letters to the editor section and listed Moreno’s full name even though she only used her first name on her MySpace page. The ode must have contained some serious dirt on the city, as it resulted in death threats against Moreno’s family, and eventually forced her family to close a 20 year old business and move out of town.

Moreno sued for invasion of her privacy alleging that her post on MySpace was only supposed to be viewed by a few of her friends, and because she removed the post six days after publishing the article. The court rejected Moreno’s theory that the newspaper’s publication violated her right to privacy because her post to MySpace was made virtually to everyone with an Internet connection. The Court reasoned that, “[Moreno’s] affirmative act made her article available to any person with a computer and thus opened it to the public eye. Under these circumstances, no reasonable person would have had an expectation of privacy regarding the published material. As pointed out by appellants, to be a private fact, the expectation of privacy need not be absolute.” Therefore, the court held that “the fact [Moreno] expected a limited audience does not change the above analysis. By posting the article on myspace.com, [Moreno] opened the article to the public at large. Her potential audience was vast.” The court concluded that Moreno therefore could not asserted a cause of action for invasion of her right to privacy against the newspaper.

Even though this case is not involving employment information, a similar analysis would apply to an employee who posts information on social media about workplace issues. Once the employee places the information about his or her work circumstances on social media, this greatly reduces the employee’s privacy in the subject matter. However, an employer should be cautious, and use common sense in responding to such posts. For example, if an employee posts negative information about the company on social media, it would obviously not give the employer a right to disclose the employee’s health information and documents from the employee’s personnel file. Alternatively, if the employee posts about how bad an employer treated him or her, the employer would have the right to publically set the record straight with facts specific to rebut the allegations made by the employee.

Employers should use common sense in responding publically to an employee’s or former employee’s posts on social media and keep any discussions limited to the facts and issues raised by the employee. Furthermore, employers should approach situations with caution when an employee’s posts on social media are password protected and only friends of the employee can view the post. Hacking or gaining access to social media posts under false pretenses is most likely illegal, and would tilt the analysis back into the employee’s favor that the information was not disclosed to everyone and, therefore, would be considered private. In addition, employers may never retaliate against employees for making complaints via the internet or otherwise, and should be careful in making employment decisions based on employees’ complaints about workplace issues even if made on the Internet.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

What other legal issues arise from an increase in California's minimum wage?

With Governor Brown's signing of the bill raising California's minimum wage to $10.00 per hour by January 2016, there are a few new considerations this triggers for California employers.  This quick video discusses the increase in guaranteed salary employers must pay in order to for employees to qualify as exempt. 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Court upholds company's classification of worker as an independent contractor in Beaumont-Jacques v. Farmers Group

The new decision in Beaumont-Jacques v. Farmers Group examines the test in determining a worker’s independent contractor status. In applying the “economic realities” test set forth by the California Supreme Court in S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Dept. of Industrial Relations, the Court focused on whether the worker had “meaningful discretion with reference to her efforts” in making the determination about whether her classification as an independent contractor was proper.

Case Facts
In this case, Plaintiff had an agreement with the company that set forth both parties understood and agreed Plaintiff would be working as an independent contractor. The agreement required Plaintiff to conform to the company’s regulations, operations, and certain standards. The agreement provided that either party could terminate the relationship at-will. Moreover, Plaintiff had “meaningful discretion” by recruiting agents and training them to work for the company. She would determine her own hours, vacation schedule, supervising her own staff, remitting payroll taxes for her own staff, paying her own expenses such as office lease, marketing costs and telephones. She also deducted these costs as a business expense in her personal tax returns and identified herself as self-employed in the returns.

Court’s Analysis
The court stated that the “pivotal inquiry looks at the ‘control of details’ – i.e., whether the [company] has ‘the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired.” As the court noted, however, this does not mean that once the company requires certain standards from the worker that this would automatically make the worker an employee:

The California Supreme Court has declared that “the owner may retain a broad general power of supervision and control as to the results of the work so as to insure satisfactory performance of the independent contract—including the right to inspect [citation], the right to make suggestions or recommendations as to details of the work [citation], the right to prescribe alterations or deviations in the work [citation]—without changing the relationship from that of owner and independent contractor . . . .” (McDonald v. Shell Oil Co. (1955) 44 Cal.2d 785, 790 (McDonald).)

The court explained that the key issue is that the company has the right to “oversee the results, but not the mean, of the work in question” in order for the independent contractor status to be upheld.

Applying this test in this case, the court held that Plaintiff was properly classified as an independent contractor because the Defendant did not control “to any meaningful degree the means by which [Plaintiff] performed and accomplished her duties” even though Plaintiff had to attend meeting with the company and was held accountable to reach very specific objectives. Finally, the court held that the fact that the agreement at issue here which allowed both parties to terminate the relationship upon 30-days’ notice did not support Plaintiff’s assertion she was an employee. Because the relationship could be terminated by either Plaintiff or the company, the court did not provide this issue any weight.

However, even though the court found that the Plaintiff in this case was properly classified as an independent contractor, employers should be careful in making independent contractor classifications. The relatively new Labor Code provisions adopted in 2012 added new penalties for “willful misclassification” of employees as independent contractors which cannot be treated lightly.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

7 Items A Company Needs To Do After Being Sued In A Wage And Hour Class Action

Being named as a defendant in a class action lawsuit can be overwhelming, especially for a quickly growing company. However, with planning, a company can minimize the impact of the litigation on its existing operations and put forth the best defense. Here are seven items a company can do as part of this planning process when it is first notified of an existing lawsuit.

1. Contact employment counsel.
A lawyer who has experience in employment law and class actions should be contacted as soon as possible. There are certain deadlines that begin to run when a lawsuit is filed, and any delay could adversely affect the company’s defense. If the company does not know of an employment lawyer, a good start is to reach out to trusted advisors for recommendations, such as the company’s corporate lawyer or accountant. Wage and hour litigation, especially in California, is very unique and it is recommended that the company utilize a lawyer that has experience in this area.

2. Review allegations with counsel to see if the safe harbor provision of the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) could apply.
With the advice of counsel, there should be a review of the allegations in the complaint, and if the Plaintiff is seeking damages under PAGA, the PAGA notice sent to the Labor Workforce & Development Agency (“LWDA”). PAGA provides the employer a short window of time (33 days from receiving the PAGA notice) to “cure” any alleged violations. If the employer cures the problems within the time period, the Plaintiff cannot recover penalties under PAGA. Whether or not any items need to be cured, and the process for utilizing this safe harbor should be reviewed closely with counsel.

3. Gather time records and personnel files for the Plaintiff.
The personnel file for the named Plaintiff will have to be produced early in the case. In addition, the information in the personnel file will (hopefully) document any performance issues or other possible defenses the company has to the Plaintiff’s allegations. Also, if the company has implemented an arbitration agreement, it will be important to determine if the Plaintiff has signed it and whether or not there is an argument that in signing the agreement the Plaintiff cannot bring a class action.

4. Begin constructing a list of all employees who have worked in similar positions as the Plaintiff during the last four years (which is likely the statute of limitations).
In California, the statute of limitations for most wage and hour class actions is four years from the date the complaint is filed. Therefore, the employees who have worked in the same or similar positions as the Plaintiff will likely be the group of employees the Plaintiff is seeking to represent in the class action. It is important to know how many of these employees there are. For example, if there are too few this could be a defense to class certification.

5. Gather employee handbooks and policies that were in effect during the last four years.
The litigation will likely revolve around what policies the company had in place, and whether the policies were legally compliant. The company’s counsel will have to review these policies and handbooks. It is also likely that the company will have to produce these early in the litigation as well.

6. Review any applicable insurance policies.
The company should review all insurance policies it has to see if any of them could potentially cover the litigation. Most employment practices liability insurance (“EPLI”) policies exclude class action lawsuits from coverage, but there may be coverage for defense costs, or there may be something unique about the litigation facing the company that triggers coverage. It is also important to assess whether the lawsuit needs to be tendered to the insurance company.

7. Develop a plan about how to communicate the existence of the class action with current employees.
Word usually starts to spread quickly among the employees about the existence of the lawsuit. The company, with advice from counsel, should determine whether it wants to be proactive about communicating with the employees about the lawsuit, as well as what can and cannot be said to employees. At the minimum, a person within the company should be designated to handle any questions about the lawsuit. This will ensure a consistent message is used.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

5 compliance issues California employers need to audit at least once a year

Your company has updated its employee handbook, but the work is not over in California. Here are a few reminders of additional steps employers should review after conducting a handbook update and on a periodic basis. Of course this list is not comprehensive, but it comprises of a few items that sometimes take a backseat to the employee handbook update.

1. Ensure wage notice statements are issued and are correct.

Labor Code section 2810.5 requires employers to provide written notice to employees about specific employment items. For example, the law requires that 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 notice must also contain the employer's "doing business as" names, and that it be provided at the time of hiring and within 7 days of a change if the change is not listed on the employee’s pay stub for the following pay period.  The recommended notice published by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement can be downloaded here.  Also the DLSE publishes frequently asked questions that address many issues regarding the notice here

2. Start Using New Form I-9 By May 7, 2013.

By May 7, 2013, employers will be required to use the new I-9 Form. The new Form I-9 can be downloaded from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website here. It would be a good time to review the “Handbook for Employers, Guidance for Completing Form I-9” published by the USCIS.

3. Place all commission agreements in writing.

Beginning January 1, 2013, when an employee is paid commissions, the employer must provide a written contract setting forth the method the commissions will be computed and paid. The written agreement must be signed by both the employer and employee. Commission wages are “compensation paid to any person for services rendered in the sale of such employer’s property or services and based proportionately upon the amount or value thereof.” Commissions do not include (1) short-term productivity bonuses, (2) temporary, variable incentive payment that increase, but do not decrease, payment under the written contract, and (3) bonus and profit-sharing plans, unless there has been an offer by the employer to pay a fixed percentage of sales or profits as compensation for work to be performed.

4. Conduct pay stub audit.

Under Labor Code 226, employers must keep copies of employees’ itemized pay statements for at least three years, at the site of employment or at a central location within the state of California. The law was amended, and as January 1, 2013 it clarifies that the term “copy” means either a duplicate of the statements provided to employees, or a computer generated record that shows all information required under Labor Code 226. In addition, the law sets a new deadline for employers to either provide a copy or permit the employee to inspect the personnel file within 30 days after the employer receives the request.

5. Ensure all personnel records are maintained properly.

When reviewing which records should be maintained in an employee’s personnel file, it is important to keep in mind why an employer would ever have to produce a personnel file – to support its employment based decisions. Therefore, employers should typically maintain personnel files with the following documents: 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, commission agreements signed by both the employer and employee, 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.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Employee's medical marijuana use is not covered by disability laws

An employer is not required to allow employees to use medical marijuana as a reasonable accommodation under California’s Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA). The California Supreme Court held that it is not a violation of California law for an employer to terminate an employee who tests positive for marijuana, even though the employee was prescribed the marijuana for medical purposes under California’ Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

The case, Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications, Inc., addressed 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). Ragingwire terminated plaintiff’s employment based on a positive test for marijuana even through the plaintiff provided a doctor’s note explaining that he was prescribed marijuana to alleviate back pains.

The Supreme Court explained that the employer's decision to terminate plaintiff was not illegal:

Nothing in the text or history of the Compassionate Use Act suggests the voters intended the measure to address the respective rights and duties of employers and employees. Under California law, an employer may require preemployment drug tests and take illegal drug use into consideration in making employment decisions. (Loder v. City of Glendale (1997) 14 Cal.4th 846, 882-883.)

Plaintiff’s position might have merit if the Compassionate Use Act gave marijuana the same status as any legal prescription drug. But the act’s effect is not so broad. No state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law (21 U.S.C. §§ 812, 844(a)), even for medical users (see Gonzales v. Raich, supra, 545 U.S. 1, 26-29; United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, supra, 532 U.S. 483, 491-495). Instead of attempting the impossible, as we shall explain, California’s voters merely exempted medical users and their primary caregivers from criminal liability under two specifically designated state statutes. Nothing in the text or history of the Compassionate Use Act suggests the voters intended the measure to address the respective rights and obligations of employers and employees.

The Court also provided that a reasonable accommodation, as required under California’s FEHA, does not include an employer’s permission to use illegal drugs:

The FEHA does not require employers to accommodate the use of illegal drugs. The point is perhaps too obvious to have generated appellate litigation, but we recognized it implicitly in Loder v. City of Glendale, supra, 14 Cal.4th 846 (Loder). Among the questions before us in Loder was whether an employer could require prospective employees to undergo testing for illegal drugs and alcohol, and whether the employer could have access to the test results, without violating California’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (Civ. Code, § 56 et seq.). We determined that an employer could lawfully do both. In reaching this conclusion, we relied on a regulation adopted under the authority of the FEHA (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7294.0, subd. (d); see Gov. Code, § 12935, subd. (a)) that permits an employer to condition an offer of employment on the results of a medical examination. (Loder, at p. 865; see also id. at pp. 861-862.) We held that such an examination may include drug testing and, in so holding, necessarily recognized that employers may deny employment to persons who test positive for illegal drugs. The employer, we explained, was “seeking information that [was] relevant to its hiring decision and that it legitimately may ascertain.” (Id. at p. 883, fn. 15.) We determined the employer’s interest was legitimate “[i]n light of the well-documented problems that are associated with the abuse of drugs and alcohol by employees — increased absenteeism, diminished productivity, greater health costs, increased safety problems and potential liability to third parties, and more frequent turnover . . . .” (Id. at p. 882, fn. omitted.) We also noted that the plaintiff in that case had “cite[d] no authority indicating that an employer may not reject a job applicant if it lawfully discovers that the applicant currently is using illegal drugs or engaging in excessive consumption of alcohol.” (Id. at p. 883, fn. 15.) The employer’s legitimate concern about the use of illegal drugs also led us in Loder to reject the claim that preemployment drug testing violated job applicants’ state constitutional right to privacy. (Id. at pp. 887-898; see Cal. Const., art. I, § 1.)

(footnote omitted).

The plaintiff also alleged a cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Generally, at-will employees can terminate or be terminated from their job at any time, but an employer cannot terminate an employee for reasons that violate a fundamental public policy of the state. The Court rejected plaintiff’s position that there was a fundamental public policy that permitted him to use medical marijuana and be under its influence while at work. The Court stated, “Nothing in the [Compassionate Use Act’s] text or history indicates the voters intended to articulate any policy concerning marijuana in the employment context, let alone a fundamental public policy requiring employers to accommodate marijuana use by employees."

A further clarification that medical marijuana use is not protected under disability laws came in 2012 from a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that held individuals seeking to stop cities from closing medical marijuana dispensaries under Title II of the ADA were not protected by under the ADA.  The case is James v. City of Costa Mesa, which held that the ADA does not protect against discrimination on the basis of marijuana use, even though permitted under certain circumstances under California law, marijuana use is not authorized by federal law, and therefore is not protected under the ADA. It is therefore likely that a court would also recognize that a patron does not have a right under Title III of the ADA, which applies to public accommodations, to use medical marijuana in public establishments, like restaurants.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Can California employers monitor employees' internet usage under new Labor Code section 980?

California passed a new law taking effect January 1, 2013 that prohibits employers from “requiring or requesting” employees and applicants to provide their passwords to social media accounts. This law was passed after a few cases made the news where employers were actually asking for this information. As I argued before, this law was probably not necessary as California law probably already prohibited this type of conduct to begin with.

However, now that the law is taking effect, there are also new questions that employers are facing under the law. For example, if an employer has the right policies in place that limit an employee’s expectation of privacy, it is pretty well established that the employer may monitor the employee’s internet use and record this. However, under the new law, what if an employee accesses their social media accounts during work? Or on a break? Can employers still monitor employees and record the employee’s login and password information?

I would argue that employers can still monitor employees’ internet use as long as they have made the proper disclosures through a handbook or policies that limit the employees’ expectation of privacy in using the company network or computers. The new law only prohibits employers from requiring employees to divulge their passwords. If the employer notifies the employees that it is recording all activity by the employees on the company network or computers, then the employees have made a voluntary decision to continue to access their account knowing that their employer is monitoring and/or recording the activity. Granted, the law is just going into effect next week, so obviously there is no case law to rely upon in making this argument, so employer will have to wait to see how the law is ultimately interpreted by the courts. 

[image: topgold]

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Zuckerberg's lesson in online privacy - does it exist?

There was a good reminder to everyone over Christmas about online “privacy.” Randi Zuckerberg, the sister of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a picture of her and her family on FB, and it was shared by another person on twitter. The photo was one of the Zuckerberg family using Facebook’s new Poke functionality (which by the way, is a way to send pictures through Facebook that are deleted from the recipient’s machine after a set period of time). A third party posted Randi’s photo online, and Randi’s apparently did not like the fact that the photo was reposted. Randi did not know how the third party got a copy of the picture, but it became apparent that the third party was connect to Randi through a mutual friend and saw the picture posted in her newsfeed. After the issue of how the picture was shared and it was not the result of some underhanded means to gain access to the picture, Randi still commented that people should “always ask permission before posting a friend’s photo publicly.”

I think there is another lesson here that I’ve preached about before: everything you post on the internet is public – even if you think you are only sharing it with your “friends.” However, there is a dichotomy of views that is becoming more apparent. Even though posting items on the internet makes them public to a lot of people to see – maybe even more people than you imagine as Randi’s case shows – there is still an increasing sense that people have a privacy interest in their information posted on the internet. For example, California’s new law (Labor Code section 980) making it illegal in a couple of days for employers to ask applicants or employees for their social media passwords in order to conduct a background check on the applicant/employee. This is also apparent in Randi’s comment that her picture, posted on Facebook and which her “friends” could see, still thought she has some privacy expectation in the photo. Mathew Ingram at Gigaom believes that privacy online is becoming more complicated. I have to agree – with laws being passed like California’s law prohibiting employers from asking for social media passwords, what could be considered private online is becoming more complex.

[image: marsmet481]

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Everything Employers Need To Know About Social Media In the Workplace In 2013

I will be conducting a webinar on January 15, 2013 on legal issues of social media in the workplace. The presentation will cover everything a California employer needs to know about social media in the modern workplace of 2013:

  • Discussion on the new law (Labor Code section 960) that prohibits employers from asking applicants and employees for their social media passwords taking effect on January 1, 2013.
  • How to avoid invading employees’ privacy rights when using social media for background checks.
  • Developments on how the NLRB held that some social media policies restrict an employee’s right to “engage in concerted activities.”
  • How to use the Internet to properly conduct a background check for applicant.
  • Discussion on whether your company needs a social media policy.
  • Evaluating whether an employer may be held liable for failing to use social media and the Internet to conduct a background check.
  • Alternatives to social media policies.

The cost is $150 (this is waived for clients). You may register below, or send me an email if you are a client.

This webinar has been preapproved by HRCI for 1 recertification credit hour. 

"The use of this seal is not an endorsement by the HR Certification Institute of the quality of the program. It means that this program has met the HR Certification Institute's criteria to be pre-approved for recertification credit."

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Surprise - Employers Face New Employee Personnel Records Obligations in 2013, But The Term "Personnel Records" Is Not Defined

California employers face a law (AB 2674) taking effect on January 1, 2013 (click here for a list of other new employment laws effective in 2013), which changes their duties to maintain and provide personnel records to current and former employees.  The law amends Labor Code section 1198.5 pertaining to "personnel records".  When discussing this new law, I am getting the question of what documents should be included in an employee’s personnel file, and what exactly are "personnel records" under this Labor Code provision. To many employers' surprise, although the term “personnel file” or “personnel records” is used throughout the Labor Code, the term is never explicitly defined.

The Labor Code provides some guidance for employers by setting for what employees are not entitled to inspect. Labor Code section 1198.5, which provides the employee with certain rights regarding inspection of “personnel records”, does exclude certain records from this right to inspection. Under this section, employees do not have the right to inspect (1) records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense; (2) letters of reference; (3) ratings, reports, or records that were: obtained prior to the employee’s employment, prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or obtained in connection with a promotional examination.

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’s (“DLSE”) website (caution: at the time of this writing, the DLSE has not updated its website to reflect the new changes in the law):

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

It is important to keep in mind why an employer would ever have to produce a personnel file – to support its employment based decisions. Therefore, employers should typically maintain personnel files with the following documents:

  • 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

Employers typically should not keep the following information in an employee’s personal file:

  • Form I-9s
  • EEOC and DFEH charges of discrimination
  • Workers’ compensation information
  • Private medical information
  • Any information obtained prior to offering the employee a position

Given the ambiguity about the definition of personnel file, employers should take time to consider their operations and industry to develop a system ensures the same documents for each employee are maintained in their personnel files, and what other files need to be established for employees. Also, employers need to design and implement a personnel file retention policy that will maintain the critical documents that would be relevant should the need to defend an employment claim arise. It is important that this process be established in order to survive any potential change in management and/or the human resource functions in the company.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

New Laws Facing California Employers In 2013

There are some significant changes regarding California employers’ duties in 2013. This list is an overview of the major changes that employers should consider and be aware of at the beginning of 2013.  

Employers Cannot Ask Applicants Or Employees For Social Media Passwords – AB 1844
This law created Labor Code section 980, which is effective 1/1/2013. The law prohibits employers from asking employees or applicants for passwords to their social media accounts, accessing their accounts in the presence of the employer, or divulging any personal social media. There are two exceptions to this: (1) if the request is made to a current employee as part of an investigation of allegations of employee misconduct or violation of law, and the request is based upon a reasonable belief that the information is relevant, and (2) to devices issued by the employer.

Commission Agreements Must Be In Writing – AB 1396 and 2675
Beginning 1/1/2013, when an employee is paid commissions, the employer must provide a written contract setting forth the method the commissions will be computed and paid. The written agreement must be signed by both the employer and employee. Commission wages are “compensation paid to any person for services rendered in the sale of such employer’s property or services and based proportionately upon the amount or value thereof.” Commissions do not include (1) short-term productivity bonuses, (2) temporary, variable incentive payment that increase, but do not decrease, payment under the written contract, and (3) bonus and profit-sharing plans, unless there has been an offer by the employer to pay a fixed percentage of sales or profits as compensation for work to be performed.

Breastfeeding is added to definition of “sex” under the Fair Employment and Housing Act - AB 2386
The new law clarifies that the definition of sex under the FEHA includes breastfeeding and any medical conditions relating to breastfeeding. This amendment makes breastfeeding and the related medical conditions, a protected activity and therefore employers cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees on this basis under California law. While the amendment is effective 1/1/13, the law states that the amendment simply is a statement of existing law, and therefore employers should treat this amendment as existing law immediately.

New Religious and Dress Standards – AB 1964
The new law clarifies that religious dress and grooming practices are protected under FEHA. The law explains that “religious dress practice” is “shall be construed broadly to include the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, artifacts, and any other item that is part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.” The law continues in defining religious grooming as: “Religious grooming practice shall be construed broadly to include all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.” The law also states that it is not a reasonable accommodation it the action requires segregation of the individual from the public or other employees.

Changes in Calculating Employees’ Regular Rate of Pay – AB 2103
The new law revises Labor Code 515(d) to clarify that “payment of a fixed salary to a nonexempt employee shall be deemed to provide compensation only for the employee's regular, nonovertime hours, notwithstanding any private agreement to the contrary.” Therefore, overtime must be paid above any nonexempt employee’s agreed upon salary. This law was in response to the court opinion in Arechiga v. Dolores Press. The legislature history described the opinion in Arechiga as follows:

In the Arechiga case, a janitor and his employer agreed that payment of a fixed salary of $880 a week would provide compensation for 66 hours of work each week. The Court of Appeal held that this method of payment comported with California overtime law, and that no additional overtime compensation was owed. The Court rejected the employee's contention that existing Labor Code Section 515(d) prohibits any sort of agreement that would allow a fixed salary to serve as a non-exempt employee’s compensation for anything more than a 40 hour workweek.

New Penalties For Violations On Itemized Wages Statements – SB 1255
The new law provides that employees are deemed to have suffered injury for purposes of assessing penalties pursuant to Labor Code 226(a), if the employer fails to provide accurate and complete information. Furthermore, a violation occurs if the employee cannot easily determine from the wage statement alone the amount of the gross or net wages earned, the deductions the employer made from the gross wages to determine the net wages paid, the name and address of the employer or legal entity employing the employee, and the name and only the last 4 digits of the employee.

New Requirements On Retention And Inspection of Itemized Wage Statements and Personnel Files– AB 2674
Under Labor Code 226, employers must keep copies of employees’ itemized pay statements for at least three years, at the site of employment or at a central location within the state of California. The new law, effective 1/1/13, clarifies that the term “copy” means either a duplicate of the statements provided to employees, or a computer generated record that shows all information required under Labor Code 226. In addition, the law sets a new deadline for employers to either provide a copy or permit the employee to inspect the personnel file within 30 days after the employer receives the request. The employer and employee may only agree to extend this time period out to 35 days. The employer may also redact the names of any non-supervisory employees in the file. It is important to note, this requirement does not change the 21 day time period to produce or make available for inspection an employee’s itemized wage statements under Labor Code 226(c).

Itemized Wage Statements And Wage Theft Notices For Temporary Service Employers – AB 1744
This new law requires temporary service employers to provide wage statements that list the rate of pay and total hours worked for each temporary assignment. A “temporary service employer” is defined in Labor Code 201.3(a)(1) as a company that contracts with customers to supply workers to perform services for the customer. This is effective 7/1/2013. Furthermore, the law requires temporary services employer to provide Wage Theft Notices required under 2810.5 and include additional information regarding the name, the physical address of the main office, the mailing address if different from the physical address of the main office, and the telephone number of the legal entity for whom the employee will perform work, and any other information the Labor Commissioner deems material and necessary. This requirement is effective on 1/1/2013.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Reminder To Carefully Draft Executive Agreements - Faigin v. Signature Group Holdings, Inc.

The judgment against the defendant for $1,347,000 in Faigin v. Signature Group Holdings, Inc. should be a good reminder for companies to have well drafted executive agreements. Faigin worked as General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer for Fremont General, a parent corporation. Defendant had various subsidiary companies that Faigin also worked for during his employment. Faigin entered into an employment contract with Fremont General. The agreement set forth that Faigin would be entitled to certain benefits if he was involved in an “involuntary termination.” If he was involuntarily terminated, as defined in the agreement, the company agreed to pay Faigin a lump sum equal to three years of his base salary.

After entering into the agreement with Fremont General, Faigin was appointed to interim President and Chief Executive Officer of FRC, a subsidiary of Fremont General. A short time after assuming these roles, Faigain was replaced at FRC. Faigin argued that his dismissal from his roles at FRC resulted in an involuntary termination under the term of his employment contract, entitling him to three years of his salary which exceeded $400,000 per year.

At trial, FRC argued that the employment agreement entered into with Fremont General did not apply to the situation arising out of Faigin’s employment with FRC because the agreement was only entered into with Fremont General, not FRC. The trial court agreed, and excluded any evidence of the employment agreement between Faigin and Fremont General. However, Faigin presented evidence that FRC created an implied-in-fact employment contract that he would only be terminated for good cause. As the court noted, an implied-in-fact employment contract can be established by showing the following:

The existence and content of such an agreement are determined from the totality of the circumstances, including the employer’s personnel policies and practices, the employee’s length of service, actions and communications by the employer reflecting assurances of continued employment, and practices in the relevant industry. The question whether such an implied-in-fact agreement exists is a factual question for the trier of fact unless the undisputed facts can support only one reasonable conclusion.

An implied-in-fact agreement to terminate only for good cause cannot arise if there is an express writing to the contrary, such as a written acknowledgement that employment is at will or an at-will provision in a written employment agreement. “There cannot be a valid express contract and an implied contract, each embracing the same subject, but requiring different results. [Citations.]”

(Citations omitted). The court stated that because the employment agreement with Fremont General fixed the term of employment at three years and did not provide that Faigin’s employment was at-will, this written agreement is not inconsistent with the jury’s finding of an implied-in-fact agreement existed.

The case shows how careful employers need to be in drafting executive compensation agreements, and especially if the executive is working for different subsidiaries of a parent company.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Health Care Reform and The Affordable Care Act - Webinar

It is time to start planning for how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare, will effect your business.  Peterson Milaney Associates, will be hosting a webinar on the new law and what employers need to start planning for now.  The webinar is taking place on Monday, December 3, at 10:00 a.m. 

The webinar is free for readers of the blog.  Registration is here

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Can California Labor Code Provisions Apply To Non-resident Employees Working in California?

Given the increasing mobility of the workforce, the issue of which state’s laws apply to a traveling employee is becoming more and more common. In Sullivan v. Oracle Corp., the California Supreme Court held that California-based employers must pay non-resident employees working in California according to the California’s overtime laws. That means that a California employer who has employees travel to California to work must pay the employees according to California’s wage and hour laws – not pursuant to the laws from the state that the employee is from. The Court emphasized California’s strong public policies in place to protect the employees.

This holding was again recognized in See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court. The Court in See’s Candy stated, “We agree with [the Plaintiff] that under Sullivan a California employer generally must pay all employees, including nonresident employees working in California, state overtime wages unless the employee is exempt.” While the issue in See’s Candy was whether an employer’s time-keeping rounding policy complied with California law, the case is a good reminder that the analysis of which state’s employment laws apply to employees is simply more than looking up where the employee live.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

NLRB Issues New Memo On Validity of Social Media Policies

In October 2012 the National Labor Relations Board issued an advice memorandum regarding whether an employer’s social media policy violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). This memorandum is of importance because the NLRB has issued findings recently that employer’s seemingly neutral social media policies violated employees’ rights under the NLRA. Section 7 of the NLRA provides that employees have the right to self-organize, form, join or assist labor organizations, and generally “engage in other concerted activities.” Section 8 of the NLRA makes it unlawful for an employer “to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7.” This prohibits applies to all employers, even if the employees are not unionized.

In the memorandum the NLRB sets forth its two step analysis in determining whether a “work rule” “would reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise of their Section 7 rights.” First, the NLRB examine whether the rule “is clearly unlawful if it explicitly restricts Section 7 protected activities.” Second, the rule is examined to determine if “(1) employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit Section 7 activity; (2) the rule was promulgated in response to union activity; or (3) the rule has been applied to restrict the exercise of Section 7 rights.” While the Board said that a rule “that could conceivably be read to restrict Section 7 activity” would does not automatically violate the NLRA, but if the rule is ambiguous and contains no limiting language or context to clarify that it does not restrict their Section 7 rights would be in violation.

The case at issue in the memorandum involved Cox Communications. The company had a standard social media policy:

Nothing in Cox’s social media policy is designed to interfere with, restrain, or prevent employee communications regarding wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment. Cox Employees have the right to engage in or refrain from such activities. . . .

DO NOT make comments or otherwise communicate about customers, coworkers, supervisors, the Company, or Cox vendors or suppliers in a manner that is vulgar, obscene, threatening, intimidating, harassing, libelous, or discriminatory on the basis of age, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetic information, disability, national origin, ethnicity, citizenship, marital status, or any other legally recognized protected basis under federal, state, or local laws, regulations, or ordinances. Those communications are disrespectful and unprofessional and will not be tolerated by the Company. . .

DO respect the laws regarding copyrights, trademarks, rights of publicity and other third-party rights. To minimize the risk of a copyright violation, you should provide references to the source(s) of information you use and accurately cite copyrighted works you identify in your online communications. Do not infringe on Cox logos, brand names, taglines, slogans, or other trademarks.

An employee was fired for violating this policy by posting an offensive and derogatory comment on his Google+ account via his cell phone. The company suspended the employee and conducted a further investigation, which revealed that the employee made numerous other posts “containing lewd language which disparaged customers.” The company terminated the employee.

Applying the analysis above to Cox Communication’s social media policy, the NLRB found that the policy did not violate the NLRA. The Board said that the examples of egregious conduct listed in Cox Communication’s policy established a context that “clearly would not be reasonably understood to restrict Section 7 activity.” Also, the policy’s savings clause that specifically set forth that it was not designed to violate any communications employees had the legal right to make, also supported the finding that it did not violate Section 7.

The NLRB memorandum can be read here (PDF)

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Court Holds Employers May Chargeback Sales Representatives For Returns

In sales, it is usually the case when the sale is made, but the customer has a set period of time to return the product. This presents an issue for an employer who pays the sales representative a commission. The employer does not want to pay a commission on an item sold that may be returned. On the other hand, the sales representative would like use of the money while waiting to the period of time the customer has to cancel the purchase. Add to the mix California’s very stringent requirements prohibiting chargebacks and protection of employee wages, and the issue becomes very complex. The decision in Deleon v. Verizon Wireless clarified the issue about whether employers may chargeback commissions that have not yet been earned by the sales representative.

The plaintiff, Deleon, worked as a sales representative for Verizon Wireless. He sued Verizon on the basis that its commission plan violated Labor Code section 223 by “secretly pay[ing] a lower wage while purporting to pay the wage designated by statue or by contract.” Verizon contended its chargeback policy did not violate section 223 because: (1) Deleon’s commission payments were advances, not wages; (2) the chargeback policy was set forth in the compensation plans and was not a “secret” underpayment of a lower than agreed-upon wage; and (3) the chargeback provision did not result in a payment of a lower wage than the wage designated in the compensation plans.

In agreeing with Verizon, the court held that while sales commissions are wages, the right to commissions is determined by the “terms of the contract for compensation.” Here, the agreement Verizon had with plaintiff clearly set forth the conditions necessary before a commission was earned. The plan was clear that commissions were only earned if the customer did not discontinue the cell phone service during the applicable chargeback period. The court held that until this chargeback period expired, plaintiff had not made a commission and the amounts provided to plaintiff were only advances. Because Verizon provided plaintiff an advance on the commissions, and if the customer cancelled the service before the chargeback period expired, it was permissible for Verizon to reduce the representative’s next advance as an offset of the cancelled sale.

The take away for employers: commission plans and agreements must be clearly drafted and set forth the conditions that must be met before the commission is earned. It must also set forth that any payments to the sales representative are only advances, not wages, until the sale is final. If the plan is clear, a chargeback against the advances are permissible should the sale not become final with the customer.
 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Why Start-up Managers Cannot Afford To Be Like Steve Jobs

I don’t have any personal knowledge of how Steve Jobs was as a manager, but every account I read of him was that he was demanding and in your face. While this can be an effective management style of some, it does come with some associated costs.

Increased litigation costs
Unless your start-up has a huge backer and litigation budgets are not a concern, being a demanding manager that only says what is exactly on your mind when it comes into your mind may get good results, but it will also invite litigation. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing illegal about being a demanding manager at work, but a lot of people probably don’t understand that. Also, over 20 states have proposed legislation to make bullying in the workplace illegal, but none of these attempts have become law - yet. Plus, even if the employee understands it is not illegal behavior, it creates an environment where the employee wants to get even with a manager or founder for how they were treated. This leads them to talk to a lawyer, which may lead to a lawsuit based on some other ground. Even if a lawsuit filed against a company is frivolous, it will take time and money away from what the company is supposed to be doing. This can cause a huge stress on a start-up company.

Good employees have options
If you treat your superstars badly, they know they will find another comparable job in this economic climate. Jobs and Apple created an environment where only the best work from everyone was tolerated. Jobs said that this helped the company maintain its “A” players because they did not have to be around B or C players. While I can see this rational, unless the company is Apple with an existing reputation, a lot of employees will not put up with an over demanding, unfriendly workplace. And many talented employees left Apple because they did not like Jobs’ style. The loss of good employees (who probably go to work for a competitor) asserts a huge cost on a start-up.

It still comes down to management style choices. But the choice to be like Jobs will have a cost associated with it. And if the company is a start-up, these costs may not be worth the perceived benefits.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Meal and Rest Break Compliance After Brinker v. Superior Court

Have you attended webinars and read new legal updates on the new Brinker decision and still uncertain on how this applies to your company? Realizing that employers need to take a more active step in ensuring they are in compliance with the new decision, I've developed a package that actually assists employers in drafting and implementing a meal and rest break policy tailored to their business:

  • A draft of meal and rest break policy to comply with the standards set forth in Brinker.
  • Video presentation covering overview of Brinker (1 hour) and presentation materials.
  • 1/2 hour consultation for implementing meal and rest break policy tailored to your company.

The California Supreme Court made it clear in its decision that different industries and facts will either prohibit or permit employers from requiring different standards regarding the timing and offering of meal and rest breaks under California law.  General advice from webinars and articles are not sufficient to ensure companies are in compliance with the clarifications set forth in the decision.    The cost of the package is a flat fee of $450. 

More information about the compliance package is listed here

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

When Do Employers Have To Offer Meal And Rest Breaks? Analysis Of Brinker Corp. v. Superior Court

 

It has been a week now since the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. I’ve been getting a lot of questions, and have spoken on the topic a few times, and thought a couple of charts illustrating the Court’s holding would assist in understanding the decision. For a more general discussion of the Brinker decision, please see my previous article. 

 

Meal Periods

The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker that employers need to give an employee their first meal break “no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.” The Court said that contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, there are no additional timing requirements for the meal breaks. 

I’ve created this chart to help illustrate this point:

If an employee begins work at 8:00 a.m., the employee must start his break by 12:59, which is before the end of the 5th hour of work. 

Another issue in the case was Brinker’s policy of “early lunching.” Early lunching is when employers allow the employees to take their meal break within the first hour or two of arriving for work. Once the employee is given this first meal period, then they would continue to work for six, seven, eight, or more hours without an additional meal break. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that this policy violated the law. The Plaintiff argued that the law required employers had a duty to provide meal breaks on a “rolling five” hour basis, or every five hours. 

Here is a chart that provides an example of an early lunching practice:

Before employers begin to employ an early lunching policy, they should do so with caution and some guidance. As Court cautioned employers that: “in the context of an eight-hour shift, ‘[a]s

a general matter,’ one rest break should fall on either side of the meal break. Shorter or longer shifts and other factors that render such scheduling impracticable may alter this general rule.”

Rest Breaks

As for of rest breaks, the Court set forth that, “[e]mployees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.” The Court’s holding can be summarized as follows:

In regards to when during the shift rest breaks should be taken, the Court held that “the only constraint of timing is that rest breaks must fall in the middle of work periods ‘insofar as practicable.’” The Court stopped short of explaining what qualifies as “insofar as practicable”, and employers should closely analyze whether they may deviate from this general principle. 

 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

New NLRB Poster Required For Most Employers By The End of April

There has been a lot of debate and legal action about the NLRB’s new posting requirements. However, as it now appears, most employers (union and non-union) will be required to post a new NLRB poster by April 30, 2012.

For more information about the new poster, visit the NLRB’s website here. Of particular importance is to determine if your company is required to post the poster, and that information can be found here.  Employers can simply print the poster from the NLRB's website. 

There has been a lot of discussion about the legality of this new posting requirement, but I generally agree with Daniel Schwartz of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog that this poster is just another one to put on the wall. Daniel points out that employees are probably more likely to Google some question before they go to the lunch room wall full of notice requirements. Will it really change things much? Probably not given that employees can access all of this information, and more on their smart phone.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Webinar - The Impact of Brinker: Understanding The Supreme Court's Decision On Meal & Rest Breaks

Be among the first in California to understand the complete impact the monumental decision in Brinker v. Superior Court will have on employers. The Court’s decision is expected on April 12, and Anthony Zaller and Daniel Turner will analyze and discuss the impact of the decision. The webinar will explain the decision and what it means for employers and wage and hour class actions, discussing among other items:

  • Can meal periods be offered to employees, or do they need to be ensured?
  • When during the shift can meal and rest periods be taken?
  • What does the Court’s ruling mean for the status of meal and rest break class actions and class certification issues?
  • What is the impact for cases currently being litigated?

The cost is $150 per connection. 

Date: Wednesday, April 18
Time: 10:00 a.m. PST

Click here to register.  Existing clients can email us here to have the fee waived. 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Employers Requiring Employees To Provide Facebook Passwords

There are more reports of employers requiring applicants and employees to provide their passwords to their Facebook pages so that the employers can get a more accurate view of the employee’s character. I wrote about this issue a couple of years ago regarding the City of Bozeman requiring passwords from applicants. Apart from being a bad recruiting move, I believe it could arguably run afoul of California law as well.

Legality aside, employers that require this information will simply not get qualified applicants. I expect that most applicants or employees would simply refuse to provide this information. In addition, only people that don’t use social media much would have no problems with turning over their passwords. But companies need employees who understand social media these days, not someone who lacks initiative and some basic curiosity to at least log on to Facebook to see what the rest of the world is talking about.

In addition, there may be some real challenges against employers in California who require this information. First off, in California, Article I, Section I of the California Constitution guarantees citizens a right of privacy:

All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.

This right to privacy carries over to the workplace, but is even more protected when the employee is conducting personal activities during non-working hours. A person’s privacy expectation in their Facebook posts is very low since it is on the Internet. But one could argue that off-work conduct (which includes Facebook activity) is part of the employee’s privacy right recognized in the California Constitution.

Furthermore, section 96(k) of the Labor Code provides that the California Labor Commissioner may assert on behalf of employees:

Claims for loss of wages as the result of demotion, suspension, or discharge from employment for lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises.

For example, in Barbee v. Household Automotive Finance Corp. (2003), a court provided some guidance about the ramifications of section 96(k). Barbee was dating a subordinate at work, which violated the company’s policy and created a conflict of interest. The company gave Barbee and the employee with whom he was involved the option that one of them had to resign or to end the relationship. Barbee refused to resign, and they did not end the relationship, so the company terminated Barbee. Barbee sued, arguing that the company violated Labor Code section 96(k) in that his employer was regulating his lawful conduct during personal time. The court rejected Barbee’s argument in stating:

We conclude that Labor Code section 96, subdivision (k) does not set forth an independent public policy that provides employees with any substantive rights, but, rather, merely establishes a procedure by which the Labor Commissioner may assert, on behalf of employees, recognized constitutional rights. Therefore, in order to prevail on his wrongful termination claim, Barbee must establish that his employment was terminated because he asserted civil rights guaranteed by
article I of the California Constitution. We conclude that Barbee cannot make this showing and therefore he cannot establish the first necessary element of his wrongful termination claim.

While the court held that the company’s actions in that case did not violate section 96(k), the facts were very favorable to the employer, and there are other arguments available to employees. For example, an employee may also argue violation of Labor Code Section 98.6 which states in part that “no person shall discharge any employee ... because the employee … engaged in any conduct delineated in this chapter, including the conduct described in subdivision (k) of Section 96 ….”
Unfortunately, there are not many reported cases dealing with these issues. However, with the ubiquity of Facebook and other social medial sites, legislatures and courts will undoubtedly need to weight into these issues.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Things You Wanted To Know About Arbitration Agreements In California, But Were Afraid To Ask

 

What is an arbitration agreement?

            Employers can agree that they and any employees who enter into an arbitration agreement will resolve their differences before a private arbitrator instead of civil court. There are many different arbitration companies to choose from, but the American Arbitration Association and JAMS are two of the larger ones that are routinely appointed in arbitration agreements. 

Are they enforceable in California?

            Generally speaking, if the agreement is drafted and implemented properly, they are. However, arbitration agreements are routinely struck down by courts if they are not properly drafted. For example, recently a California court held in Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, that an arbitration agreement was not enforceable because it required the employee to waive statutory damages and remedies and only allowed the employer to recover its attorney’s fees if successful, not the employee. 

Why would an employer want to implement arbitration agreements?

            There are a number of reasons. The arbitration process can proceed more quickly than civil litigation, saving a lot of time and attorney’s fees in the process.  For example, often times the discovery process moves more quickly, and if there are any disputes, the parties can raise them with the arbitrator telephonically, instead of the lengthy motion process required to resolve disputes in civil court. The arbitration process is also confidential, so if there are private issues that must be litigated, these issues are not filed in the public records of the courts. The parties also have a say in deciding which arbitrator to use in deciding the case, whereas in civil court the parties are simply assigned a judge without any input into the decision. This is very helpful in employment cases, which often times involve more complex issues, and it is beneficial to the parties to select an arbitrator that has experience in resolving employment cases.   

Are class action waivers enforceable in arbitration agreements?

            Yes. Two recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp. have established that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable. However, Plaintiffs continually challenge class action waivers on numerous grounds, and it is critical employers’ agreements are properly drafted and up-to-date. 

Should every employer implement arbitration agreements?

            No. The decision to implement an arbitration agreement should be reviewed with an employment lawyer to discuss the positives as well as the negatives of arbitration agreements. As discussed above, there are a lot of benefits of having an arbitration agreement in place, but it does not come without a few drawbacks. The primary drawback is that in California, the employer must pay all of the arbitrator’s fees in employment cases. Arbitration fees can easily be tens of thousands of dollars – a cost that employers do not need to pay in civil cases. However, if the company values the confidentiality and speed of process provided in arbitration, this extra cost may well be worth it.

 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Stephen Colbert Provides Reminder That Family Medical Leave Is Not A Laughing Matter

It may come as a surprise, but Stephen Colbert is human, and like the rest of us, has a mother. He has taken a leave of absence from his show to apparently spend time with his ailing mother. An article I read recently notes how Colbert’s leave could trigger family medical leave. I thought the article does fine explaining family and medical leave, but given Colbert’s importance to The Colbert Report, it is also a good reminder about a narrow exemption to an employee’s reinstatement rights if they are a “key employee.”

Basic Medical Leave Rights
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) both provide employees the opportunity to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain “qualified” events. Employers with 50 or more employees (part-time employees are counted to make this determination) are covered by the FMLA and CFRA. Employees who have worked for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours in the immediately preceding 12 months are covered by the laws. However, employers do not need to provide the leave if the employee works at a location with fewer than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

“Key Employee” Exception
If the employee is covered by the FMLA or CFRA the employee is entitled to return to his or her former position, or a position that is equivalent to the previous position held with equivalent benefits, pay, and conditions of employment. The small exception to this is for “key employees.” A key employee is defined as a salaried employee who is the highest paid 10% of employees within a 75-mile radius. If the key employee’s reinstatement would cause “substantial and grievous economic injury” to the employer, then the key employee may be denied reinstatement. However, when the employee takes the leave of absence, the employer must provide notice to the employee that he or she is a “key employee” and explain their reinstatement rights. If the employer fails to do so at the time the employee goes on the leave of absence, it loses the ability to deny reinstatement to the employee under the “key employee” exception.

No need to worry about Colbert though. It is being reported that Colbert will be returning to our televisions tonight.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

New Law Effective 2012 Restricts Employers Ability To Conduct Employee Credit Checks

California’s new labor code provision severely restricts an employer’s ability to conduct credit checks on employees. Labor Code 1024.5, which took effect on January 1, 2012, only allows employers to conduct credit checks for employees who meet one of the following categories:

    • A managerial position.

    • A position in the state Department of Justice.

    • That of a sworn peace officer or other law enforcement position.

    • A position for which the information contained in the report is required by law to be disclosed or obtained.

    • A position that involves regular access, for any purpose other than the routine solicitation and processing of credit card applications in a retail establishment, to all of the following types of information of any one person: (A) Bank or credit card account information. (B) Social security number. (C) Date of birth.

    • A position in which the person is, or would be, any of the following: (A) A named signatory on the bank or credit card account of the employer. (B) Authorized to transfer money on behalf of the employer. (C) Authorized to enter into financial contracts on behalf of the employer.

    • A position that involves access to confidential or proprietary information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, process or trade secret that (i) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who may obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information, and (ii) is the subject of an effort that is reasonable under the circumstances to maintain secrecy of the information.

    • A position that involves regular access to cash totaling ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or more of the employer, a customer, or client, during the workday.

A “managerial position” is defined as an employee who qualifies for the executive exemption set forth in the Industrial Welfare Commission’s Wage Orders. The test of who qualifies as an exempt executive is very detailed, and it is determined by the amount of pay and actual duties the employee performs. So employers need to approach this prong with caution and obtain guidance to ensure the employee actually qualifies as an exempt executive.

The new law also added the requirement under California Civil Code section 1785.20.5 that employers must notify the employee in writing of the basis in Labor Code section 1024.5 as set forth above that applies to permit the employer to perform the credit check. The new law does not change the other obligations already in effect that employers had to comply with prior to conduct a credit check. These obligations include informing the employee in writing that a credit check would be performed, the source of the credit check, and that the employee may receive a free copy of the credit check. Finally, if an adverse employment action is taken by the employer based on the report, the employee must be notified of the name and address of the reporting agency making the report.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

2012 Wage and Reimbursement Rates For California Employers

 

2012 Requirement

Source

 

California Minimum Wage

 

 

$8.00 per hour (unchanged from previous years)

 

California’s Industrial Welfare Commission

 

San Francisco Minimum Wage

 

 

$10.24 per hour

 

City of San Francisco

Computer Professional Exempt Salary Rate

 

 

 

$38.89 or annual salary of not less than $81,026.25 for full-time employment, and paid not less than $6,752.19 per month

 

 

Division of Labor Statistics and Research

 

Hourly Physicians Exempt Hourly Rate

 

 

$70.86 per hour

 

Division of Labor Statistics and Research

 

IRS Mileage Rate

 

 

 

55.5 cents per mile for business miles driven

 

 

Internal Revenue Service

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Template To Comply With Wage Theft Protection Act of 2011 Notice Requirement To All Hires Beginning in 2012 Published By Labor Commissioner

Today the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) published a template that employers can use in order to comply with the new notice requirements set forth in Labor Code section 2810.5. A Word version can be downloaded here and a PDF version can be downloaded here.

All California employers are required to provide a notice to all employees hired beginning on January 1, 2012 that complies with the requirements of section 2810.5. The new law required the Labor Commissioner to publish a template for employers to use in order to comply with the new law. For more information regarding the notice, and the new law, see my previous post.

I’ve only had a chance to do a quick review of the template, but one area of new information that the DLSE is apparently requiring on the notice is whether the “employment agreement” is oral or written in the wage information section of the template. The new Labor Code section 2810.5 did not require this to be on the notice to the employee, but the law does provide that there may be “[o]ther information added by the Labor Commissioner as material and necessary.” I am wondering if the fact that all employers are required to provide this information on the form necessary means that the “employment agreement” is therefore always going to be written.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Can Employees Agree To Waive Berman Hearings In Arbitration Agreements?

I’ve recently written a series of posts regarding the Berman hearing process available for employees to resolve wage disputes before the Labor Commissioner. See previous posts: Overview Of Berman Hearings Before The Labor Commissioner and How To Prepare For a Berman Hearing. But can an employer have an employee sign an arbitration agreement in which the employee agrees to waive any rights to a Berman hearing, and all claims against the employer must proceed directly to arbitration? A good question, to which there is not currently an answer. The issue is currently under review by the California Supreme Court in the case Sonic-Calabasas A, Inc. v. Moreno

This also leads to the issue of why might an employer want to have all claims proceed directly to arbitration, and skip-over the Berman hearing. As the California Supreme Court stated in its initial review of the Sonic-Calabasas case in early 2011, the Berman hearing provides the employee a number of benefits:

These provisions include the Labor Commissioner's representation in the superior court of employees unable to afford counsel, the requirement that the employer post an undertaking in the amount of the award, and a one-way attorney fee provision that requires an employer that is unsuccessful in the appeal to pay the employee's attorney fees.

It is an interesting background on how the Sonic-Calabasas case proceeded through the Courts. The California Supreme Court has already ruled on the Sonic-Calabasas case in the early part of 2011. At that time, the Court held that a waiver of the Berman hearing process in the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and contrary to public policy, and was not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Therefore, the California Supreme Court ruled that this waiver of the Berman hearing process was not an enforceable provision of the arbitration agreement. However, shortly after this ruling, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, a separate case out of California in which the US Supreme Court held that the FAA preempted California law and found that a class action waiver provision in arbitration agreements can be enforceable. For more information on AT&T Mobility you can listen to my podcast on the case here. The employer in Sonic-Calabasas A v. Moreno filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court to review the California Supreme Court’s ruling invalidating the Berman hearing waiver in the arbitration agreement. The US Supreme Court granted review, but recently sent the case back to the California Supreme Court to review the case again and to apply the standards set forth in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. So, we are waiting for the California Supreme Court to review the issue once again to have a definitive answer to the question.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

All California Employers Have New Employee Notice Requirements Beginning January 1, 2012

The new law affecting every employer in California is the Wage Theft Protection Act of 2011. It takes effect on January 1, 2012 and adds additional notice and record keeping requirements that employers must comply with. The new law added Labor Code section 2810.5, which requires private employers to provide all new employees with a written notice that contains certain information.

The new law requires private employers to provide all newly-hired, non-overtime-exempt employees with a disclosure containing the following information:

(a) The job rate or rates of pay and whether it pays by the hour, shift, day, week, salary, piece, commission, or otherwise, including any rates for overtime.
(b) Any allowances claimed as part of the minimum wage, such as for uniforms, meals, and lodging.
(c) The employer's regular payday, subject to the Labor Code.
(d) The employer's name, including any “doing business as” names used.
(e) The address of the employer's main office or principal place of business, and its mailing address, if different.
(f) The employer's telephone number.
(g) The name, address, and telephone number of the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
(h) Other information added by the Labor Commissioner as material and necessary.

The new law also requires employers to notify employees in writing of any changes to the information in the notice within seven calendar days of any changes, unless the changes are reflected on a timely wage statement that complies with Labor code Section 226. Employers also do not need to notify employees of any changes if the change is provided in another writing required by law within seven days of the changes.

The new law requires the Labor Commissioner to publish a template for employers to follow in order to comply with the law. The Labor Commissioner’s website states it is “anticipated” and the template will be published in mid-December. However, as of the publishing of this post, the Labor Commissioner has not yet published the template.

There is no prescribed requirement in the law about how long this notice should be retained, but as wage and hour violations contain a four year statute of limitations, these notices should be retained in the employee’s personnel file for four years. It is also important to note that the new law does not apply to exempt employees. However, if there is ever a challenge to the employee’s classification as exempt and they are found to be non-exempt, this provision could result in increased penalties. Therefore, it may be wise to complete this form for exempt employees just as a safety precaution.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Employees Forfeit $34.3 Billion In Unused Vacation Time - Except In California

All too common is the assumption that because a company’s policies comply with Federal law, and perhaps other states’ laws, the policy should be fine under California law. This wrong assumption is clearly illustrated by a recent study by Expedia that estimates employees forfeit $34.3 billion in unused vacation time across the U.S. From what I’ve read, I do not see any adjustment in the study for the fact that such use-it-or-lose-it vacation policies are illegal under California law.

California law is clear that while paid vacations are not required, if a California employer provides for paid vacations, these benefits are considered wages and are earned by the employee on a pro rata basis for each day of work. Moreover, because vacation is a form of deferred wages and vests as it is earned, vacation wages cannot be forfeited – so no "use-it-or-lose-it" policies. An employer can place a reasonable cap on vacation benefits that prevents an employee from earning vacation over a certain amount of hours, and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has opined that a cap that allows at least nine months for the employee to use the vacation after the vacation was earned is a reasonable cap. See DSLE Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual section 15.1.4.1. Moreover, Labor Code section 227.3 requires that when an employment relationship ends all vacation earned but not yet taken by the employee must be paid at the time of termination.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Webinar: New Laws Facing California Employers In 2012

 

Governor Brown signed a number of new employment laws that take effect in January 2012.  During this webinar, we will cover the new obligations facing employers under these recently enacted employment laws as well as the proper steps employers should take to comply with them.  The discussion will also cover the recent oral argument in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court and what steps employers should take while waiting for the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Other topics will include:

  • New laws effective January 2012, including:
    • Statute increasing the penalties for employers who misclassify independent contractors
    • What the Wage Theft Protection Act of 2011 means for employers
    • Gender identity and expression
    • Prohibiting e-verify requirements under the Employment Acceleration Act of 2011.
    • New requirement to provide health benefits during pregnancy disability leave
  • Review of new developments that took place in 2011:
    • Development of case law upholding class action waivers in arbitration agreements
    • Payment requirements for non-resident employees working in California

The cost is $150 per connection (no fee for existing clients).  Click here for more information and to register. 

 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

World's Best Policy To Minimize Employment Litigation

It is not often that the California Employment Law Report can opine outside of the boundaries of the state of California, but I am going out on a limb on this one. I came across what I would recommend to every employer as a way to reduce litigation. In the book, End Malaria, a new book published by the Domino Project, the chapter, Three Words From Ann Landers, written by Scott Stratten of UnMarketing, has the following recommendation:

Take these three words that Ann Landers recommended as a test and try them with your team for one day (I dare you):

Good.True.Helpful.

If what you’re about to say or email to someone doesn’t meet two out of those three criteria, reword it or don’t say it at all.

Instead of saying “Late again, eh?” you can say “Mike, you’re a valuable member of this team, and when you’re late it hold up everyone’s progress. What can I do to help you?

Scott says that people using his recommendation don’t even need to use all three criteria – just two. Companies spend so much time thinking about what type of messages they send their customers through marketing and sales campaigns, but do they spend even 10% of that effort into thinking about how to communicate with its own employees? Give it a try, and I bet the payoff will show up in higher employee retention, higher morale, and less lawsuits.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Is The Jury Still Out On Social Media Background Checks?

Mat Honan at Gizmodo wrote recently about a new company that helps employers search applicant’s “internet background” to assist in the hiring process. As Mat rightly points out, much of the concern over this “new technology” is overblown, and as he puts it, "[e]mployers would have to be stupid not to Google job candidates."  As I have pointed out before, much of the unduly concern is that lawyers don’t understand the technology, and therefore if they don’t understand it, their client’s use of the technology can only lead to bad things.

I think Guy Kawasaki had a great perspective on this issue when I recently interviewed him. He said he would be worried about a job applicant who did not have a Facebook page: what is wrong with this person? Is he anti-social? Is he not with the times or just simply does not understand simple technology? As Mat points out as well, with some common sense a job applicant can easily manage the results of an online search by being careful about which information he or she provides to the employer. For example, an internet search for the job applicant’s private email address might turn up more personal information than if the applicant has a separate email they only use for work purposes and lists on their c.v.

From the employer’s perspective I don’t think the analysis changes much for searching employees background on the Internet:

Generally, under Federal law, employers may utilize social networking sites to conduct background checks on employees if:

  1. The employer and/or its agents conduct the background check themselves;
  2. The site is readily accessible to the public;
  3. The employer does not need to create a false alias to access the site;
  4. The employer does not have to provide any false information to gain access to the site; and
  5. The employer does not use the information learned from the site in a discriminatory manner or otherwise prohibited by law.
Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

UFC's Social Networking Policy - Something All Employers Should Consider

I like the UFC’s approach to social media – reward its fighters with bonuses (totaling $240,000 per year) for having the most twitter followers and the most creative tweets. Is this a model a lot of employers could use in their workplace? Absolutely. Unless you find yourself with the few who are still wondering what Twitter is, it is obvious that social networking is here to stay and companies need to figure out a way to make it a productive part of their business. The model also gives the right message to employees – that they are responsible individuals who will use social media appropriately to help the company build its brand. This is a much better approach than telling employees about they cannot do with social media, which is what most companies’ policies do. By warning employees about all of the negative implications for them in using social media, it stifles potential branding opportunities that could exist for the company. And it is already stating the obvious.

If I were running a company, I would want my employees actively using their personal social media accounts to promote specials and new products. It is great that there are tools now available to track the success rate and to give incentives to employees who generate the most buzz. I can already hear other lawyers out there grumbling that this is a bad way to go, and that the company could find itself facing a lot of liability for what employees say on social networks. Every time an employee answers the phone they could create liability for a company, but companies still trust their employees to talk with vendors and customers. The game has changed, time to start communicating with customers where they are listening, and don’t let your policies hinder this.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Reader Question - Workplace Relationships

Q:  Is it "Illegal" to work with a relative as your co-worker or supervisor, or is it left up to the facility/business to make rules regarding how/who they hire as their employees?

There is nothing in California law that prohibits family members from working together. However, many companies institute non-fraternization or anti-nepotism policies as a safety measure to prevent work-place disputes that boil over from non-work relationships as well as to avoid claims of sexual harassment or discrimination. In fact, it is advisable for companies to have such policies.

One of the most problematic areas that arises is when two employees are dating, but the relationship goes sour. As you can imagine, this creates an awkward working environment that will take away from the employees’ productivity, in addition to exposing the company to a sexual harassment claim if one of the employees continues to pursue the other while at work. Also, if the relationship was between a supervisor and a subordinate, the company faces liability if the supervisor favors the person he/she is having the relationship with over other employees when making decisions about bonuses or promotions.

To avoid this problem, many companies have policies in place the either prohibit relationships at work, or some companies require the employees to disclose the relationship. Then the company can work with the employees to see if moving one or both employees to different divisions and/or locations within the company could prevent any potential problems should the relationship not workout in the future. Employers have to walk a fine-line however, because employees have an expectation of privacy about their personal lives while away from work, so employers cannot have too evasive policies. It is best to have a knowledge CA employment lawyer review the policy in advance.
 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Does the California Labor Code Apply to Summer Interns?

With the summer shortly upon us, employers will no doubt be faced with students looking for internship opportunities.  Employers need to be very careful in characterizing students as interns, and not paying them minimum wage and following California's other numerous Labor Code provisions that protect employees.  

In April 2010, the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) issued an opinion letter setting for the analysis it would conduct in making a determination regarding whether an intern is properly classified.  In its opinion letter, the DLSE set forth that it would examine the following factors:

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation o the employer’s facilities, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees or students;
  3. The trainees or students do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observations;
  4. The employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of trainees or students, and on occasion the employer’s operations may be actually impeded;
  5. The trainees or students are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
  6. The employer and the trainees or students understand that the trainees or students are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

While these factors are a fairly loose test, an intern attempting to challenge the classification as an intern would probably have at least a few good facts to support their position. This is why California employers need to approach the intern classification with caution.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

What Labor Code requirements can employees waive?

It may come as a surprise to many employers that employees cannot waive, or enter into contracts contrary to many of California’s Labor Code requirements. The rationale for this is pretty basic: if employees could waive the rights given to them under the Labor Code, every employer would simply require the employee to waive the rights on the first day of work, rendering the Labor Code meaningless.

A general rule for Courts is found in Civil Code section 3513, which provides: “Any one may waive the advantage of a law intended solely for his benefit. But a law established for a public reason cannot be contravened by a private agreement.” California courts have found that many of the Labor Code provisions are for the public good, and therefore cannot be waived by an employee.  

Labor Code Provisions An Employee Cannot Waive:

  • Minimum Wage & Overtime

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:

Notwithstanding any agreement to work for a lesser wage, any employee receiving less than the legal minimum wage or the legal overtime compensation applicable to the employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance of the full amount of this minimum wage or overtime compensation, including interest thereon, reasonable attorney’s fees, and costs of suit.

In Gentry v. Superior Court, the Supreme Court further 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.’”

  • 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….”

Labor Code Provisions An Employee May Be Able To Waive:

While it is unclear, the following items could possibly be waived by an employee. However, these areas are very unsettled, and employers should approach with caution when seeking waivers from employees on these issues.

  • Meal Breaks

The California Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case Brinker v. Superior Court, that should address, among other issues, the standard regarding how employers need to provide meals breaks. At issue is whether employers need to simply “provide” employees with meal breaks, or on the other hand, “ensure” that employees take meal breaks. If the Supreme Court rules that employers only need to provide meal breaks, then if the employee chooses not to take the meal break, then arguably there would be no violation. The Supreme Court will hopefully issue a ruling on this case in 2010.

  • Waiver To Participate In A Class Action

Given the increase in wage and hour class actions, employers began seeking agreements from their employees that if a dispute would arise about any wage and hour issue, the employee would agree to only seek remedies on an individual basis, not through a class action. The California Supreme Court reviewed the issue if an employee could enter into such an agreement and found that, “at least in some cases, the prohibition of classwide relief would undermine the vindication of the employees’ unwaivable statutory rights and would pose a serious obstacle to the enforcement of the state’s overtime laws.” The Court therefore set out a number of factors that a trial court must look at to determine whether the class action waiver is enforceable or not. As of February 2010, there has not been a class action waiver that has been upheld by an appellate court in California. So while there is the possibility of enforcing such waivers, this possibility is very slight.
 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

HR professionals note to employment lawyers: stop working off of fear

The HR blog Fistfull of Talent raises a concern I think a lot of HR professionals feel. See article “Hey Employment Law ‘Experts’, You’re Killing My Profession.” Kris Dunn expresses the all too common sentiment that employment lawyers are not advising their clients – but are rather scaring them into inaction. Kris uses the example of advice some lawyers are providing about whether or not companies should use social networking sites and Google to conduct background checks on job applicants. Taking the conservative approach, many lawyers, as Kris notes, advise against using these new technologies out of concern that it could create potential discrimination claims. (Side note to Kris – I warned awhile ago that companies should be using the Internet to conduct background checks.)

Kris’ analysis is right on for a number of reasons. First, lawyers are trained to point out the risks of any situation to properly advise their clients. Second, lawyers are notoriously behind the technology curve. Most do not know what “new” technologies are being used or how to use them, and this creates concern as anyone is scared about what they do not know about.

Employment lawyers need to take heed of this critique. HR professionals have jobs to perform and companies to run. They need legal advice that helps them perform their jobs better – not scare them into failing to change and keeping up with the times.

Employment lawyers need to recognize that change entails risk. However, companies always have to change, and lawyers need to help companies navigate this risk, not prevent them from doing anything new.

Note to HR professionals

As you know, the HR profession is changing a lot given today’s new technologies. New issues are creating a lot of uncertainty. Issues such as how to use social networking sites to conduct background checks, monitoring employee’s internet use, and determining "hours worked" when employees always have a smart device on them.

When looking for legal advice about these issues, you need to be certain that your lawyer is familiar and up-to-date with the technology available. Does the lawyer who you are seeking legal advice from have a Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn account? Do they use an iPhone or Blackberry? If the answer to these questions are ‘no’ – don't be surprised if their advice is to avoid these “new” technologies.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

10 common California employment law mistakes by start-up companies

Start-up companies are usually saving every penny and operating on small margins. Simply the cost of defending an employment lawsuit could bring the entire venture into jeopardy. Here is a list of ten common California employment law mistakes made by start-ups:

  1. Assuming everyone can be paid a salary, and not paying overtime for hours over 8 in one day or 40 in one week. For a company to not pay overtime, it has the burden of proof to establish that the employee meets an exemption to California’s overtime laws. The exemptions are based on the amount of pay the employee receives and the duties the employee performs.
  2. Not researching particular laws that apply to the industry or city. For example, businesses in San Francisco have to provide for paid sick leave.
  3. Not having a meal and rest break policy. It goes without saying, every company in California needs a meal and rest break policy – and evidence that this policy is regularly communicated to employees.
  4. Not recording meal breaks. Employers are required to not only provide meal breaks, but also keep records of when the employee started and stopped the meal break.
  5. Not paying accrued vacation when employment is severed. Accrued and unused vacation is considered wages under California law, and needs to be paid out at the end of employment regardless of whether the employee is fired or quits.
  6. Overestimating the enforceability of covenants not to compete. Nine times out of ten, covenants not to compete are unenforceable in California.
  7. Underestimating the importance of an employee handbook.
  8. Assuming any worker can be classified as an independent contractor. Just like exempt employees, employers will bear the burden of proof when it comes to classifying independent contractors. Generally, the test is how much control the employer has over the worker.
  9. Withholding the money necessary to hire an HR manager knowledgeable with California law.
  10. Not reimbursing employees for business related expenses, such as travel expenses. Under Labor Code section 2802, employers are required to repay employees who pay for business related items out of their own pocket.
Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

California Supreme Court holds employees' privacy rights not invaded by video surveillance

Plaintiffs Hernandez and Lopez were employed by Hillsides Children Center, Inc., which provided services to children with special needs and who were abused. Hillsides discovered that someone was accessing pornographic websites on a computer located in the Plaintiffs’ office late in the evening. 

The employer, citing its mission to protect abused children and to protect itself from any legal liability, installed a video camera in Plaintiffs’ office to identify the perpetrator. Because the websites were only being access at night, the video camera did not record any of Plaintiffs’ activities during the day, and was only turned on at night. The perpetrator was not caught.  But Plaintiffs’ discovered the video camera in the office, and filed this lawsuit for violation of their privacy rights.

The California Supreme Court noted that to succeed on their privacy claims, Plaintiffs would need to prove that:

  1. The plaintiff must possess a legally protected privacy interest,
  2. The plaintiff’s expectations of privacy must be reasonable, and
  3. The plaintiff must show that the intrusion is so serious in nature, scope, and actual or potential impact as to constitute an egregious breach of social norms.

The Court noted that Plaintiffs were able to establish violation of the first two elements in this case– that the employer intentionally intruded into the Plaintiffs’ office in which they had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Offensiveness of the employer’s action

However, the Court held that Plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proof for the third element. First, the Court held that the degree and setting of the intrusion into Plaintiffs’ privacy was not very high. The Court noted that the “place, time, and scope” of defendant’s surveillance was not highly offensive. Second, the Court looked at the employers motive and justifications for conducting the surveillance – which had no element of being improper in this case. Given nature Hillsides’ business of helping abused children, it was taking proper action to prevent any possible harm to them. Given these factors, the Court found that the Plaintiffs could not, as a matter of law, prove that a reasonable person would find the intrusion into their privacy offensive.

Take away for employers

  • Do not assume that you have the right to monitor employees during working hours. As the case establishes, employees still have reasonable expectations of privacy at work.
  • Do not assume a computer monitoring policy applies to video and audio surveillance. The employer in this case tried to argue that the computer monitoring policy diminished Plaintiffs’ expectation of privacy at work, but the Court disagreed because the policy never mentioned the possibility that employees could be videotaped at work.

The case, Hernandez v. Hillsides, Inc. can be read here (PDF).
 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Massachusetts Employee Seeks Refuge From Noncompetition Agreement In California

The case of David Donatelli is a good reminder to employers how important choice of law provisions can be in noncompetition agreements. The Trade Secrets and Noncompete Blog recently chronicled a fight between EMC Corp (based in Massachusetts) and Hewlett Packard Co. (based in California) over the enforceability of a noncompetition agreement with a former high level EMC employee.

California courts have clearly established that noncompetition agreements are very difficult to enforce under California law, as explained further below. Therefore, once Donatelli left employment with EMC, the company raced to file a lawsuit against the former employee to prevent him from working with HP in Massachusetts. HP also raced to file a lawsuit in California barring EMC from enforcing the noncompetition agreement.

The Massachusetts court ruled first, finding that the agreement was enforceable under Massachusetts law, and that California law does cannot affect the court’s ruling. The court allowed Donatelli to present evidence establishing that his duties and job at HP did not directly compete with his former position at EMC. The court allowed Donatelli to work for HP in California given the fact that he proved there is minimal overlap between his new HP position and his former position at EMC.

Noncompetition Agreements In California

In California, noncompetition agreements are governed by Business & Professions Code section 16600, which states: “Except as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.” The statute permits noncompetition agreements in the context of sale or dissolution of corporations (§ 16601), partnerships (§ 16602), and limited liability corporations (§ 16602.5).

Under the common law, as still recognized by many states today, contractual restraints on the practice of a profession, business, or trade, were considered valid, as long as they were reasonably imposed.

In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled on the enforceability of noncompetition agreements under California in Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP. Arthur Andersen argued that California courts have held that section 16600 embrace the rule of reasonableness in evaluating competitive restraints.

The Court disagreed with Arthur Andersen, and noted:

We conclude that Andersen’s noncompetition agreement was invalid. As the Court of Appeal observed, “The first challenged clause prohibited Edwards, for an 18-month period, from performing professional services of the type he had provided while at Andersen, for any client on whose account he had worked during 18 months prior to his termination. The second challenged clause prohibited Edwards, for a year after termination, from ‘soliciting,’ defined by the agreement as providing professional services to any client of Andersen’s Los Angeles office.” The agreement restricted Edwards from performing work for Andersen’s Los Angeles clients and therefore restricted his ability to practice his accounting profession.

The Court found that this agreement was invalid because it restrained Edwards’ ability to practice his profession.

However, Arthur Andersen argued that section 16600 has a “narrow-restraint” exception and that its agreement with Edwards survives under this exception. Andersen pointed out that a federal court in International Business Machines Corp. v. Bajorek (9th Cir. 1999) upheld an agreement mandating that an employee forfeits stock options if employed by a competitor within six months of leaving employment. Andersen also noted that a Ninth Circuit federal court in General Commercial Packaging v. TPS Package (9th Cir. 1997) held that a contractual provision barring one party from courting a specific customer was not an illegal restraint of trade prohibited by section 16600, because it did not “entirely preclude[]” the party from pursuing its trade or business.

In refusing to accept the “narrow-restraint” exception for noncompetition agreements in California, the Court stated:

Contrary to Andersen’s belief, however, California courts have not embraced the Ninth Circuit’s narrow-restraint exception. Indeed, no reported California state court decision has endorsed the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning, and we are of the view that California courts “have been clear in their expression that section 16600 represents a strong public policy of the state which should not be diluted by judicial fiat.” [citation] Section 16600 is unambiguous, and if the Legislature intended the statute to apply only to restraints that were unreasonable or overbroad, it could have included language to that effect. We reject Andersen’s contention that we should adopt a narrow-restraint exception to section 16600 and leave it to the Legislature, if it chooses, either to relax the statutory restrictions or adopt additional exceptions to the prohibition-against-restraint rule under section 16600.

The Court’s ruling basically eliminated the validity of non-competition agreements under California that are not expressly provided for in Section 16600.

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Employee's Personal Data On Company Computers And Devices

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about how employees are surprised after being given notice that they have been laid-off that they cannot retrieve personal (and business related) information from their computers. The author notes that with advances in technology that often times blur the boundaries between work and personal pursuits, many employees are hit really hard when they cannot retrieve their personal contacts from their work PDA or computer:

As layoffs sweep across industries, employees' personal information is winding up in the dustbin, as well. Most workers know better than to store personal files on their office computer. But employees who spend the majority of their time at the office often treat the company PC as their personal gadget, filling it with music, photos, personal contacts -- even using the computer's calendar to track a child's soccer schedule. That makes it all the more distressing when a newly laid-off worker learns that his digital belongings are company property.

The author correctly notes that what information is the employee’s as opposed to the employers is probably going to be set forth in and governed by the employer’s policies. Often times these policies will be provided to the employee when he or she first starts:

Employees worried about their job security should review the forms they signed when they were hired. They should look at the company's electronic communications policy, employee guidelines and non-compete agreements to make sure they understand everything properly. When employees sign these agreements, they should also make copies to save at home, too, Ms. Yancey says. Those that break these agreements risk being fired or sued by their employer, she adds.

It is important to note that in California, it is extremely difficult for employers to enforce non-competition agreements due to a California Supreme Court ruling in Edwards v. Arthur Andersen last year. California employers can still protect company information through other means, such as establishing that the information is a trade secret, or is proprietary information.

Steps California Employers Should Take To Avoid Litigation Over Electronic Data

  • California employers need to establish a clear policy that establishes that the employee does not have any privacy expectation in any data stored on company owned computers or devises.
  • The policy should establish that all aspects of an employee’s use of company equipment can be monitored.
  • Employers need to have the employees sign an acknowledgment of electronic data and monitoring policy.
  • The employer should remind employees of the electronic data policy at least every year.
  • If employers do have trade secrets, they need to maintain strict protocols to ensure that only employees with a “need to know” have access to the information and take steps to ensure that the information is protected.
  • If an employee who has been laid off requests personal information from his or her computer such as family pictures, an employer’s accommodation of this request will be somewhat of a step towards minimizing the employee’s ill-will towards the company (and less likely to pursue litigation against the company).
     
Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Managing Conflict In The Workplace

I completed two seminars (one for California and the other nationwide) last week for BLR on conflict management in the workplace, and I thought it would be a good time share a few additional thoughts on the topic. I’ve encountered a lot of skepticism about this topic – especially from other lawyers – that it is a “touchy feely” topic. I am not claiming a manager can learn everything she needs to know about the topic in one seminar, but it is clearly a skill that supervisors and managers need to develop to be successful. If there was not conflict in the workplace, or if it was simple to deal with, managers would be out of a job. Thankfully for managers, this skill is not easily learned, and takes years of experience to develop. Here are a few tips to assist in the process.

Don’t avoid or ignore workplace conflicts.

Letting conflict fester will lead to litigation. If managers get involved in workplace conflicts early and often, it is more likely that the situation will be dealt with before a party thinks their rights have been violated and they need a lawyer.

Have a discussion with both workers involved in the conflict together.

Lay a few ground rules for the discussion:

  • Everyone will be heard (the supervisor will have to enforce this rule)
  • One speaker and one conversation at a time
  • Challenges are acceptable, must be respectful
  • Focus on issue (project, assignment, task at hand, etc.)
  • The workers can only use “I” statements NOT “YOU” statements (Example: “I received the information too late to include in my report.” Not: “You got it to me too late.”)
  • No personal attacks – criticism must be of acts, not the other person (Example: “That project is a waste of company time.” Not: “You are wasting my time.”)
  • Set clear guidelines on what is expected of the workers on a going forward basis (It is recommended to document these steps.)

Know when conflict crosses the line to create legal liability.

Managers should always be thinking about whether the conflict crosses the line from simple workplace disputes or personality conflicts into actionable harassment, discrimination or retaliation.

Provide reprimands the right way.

Managers should think through how to approach an employee when giving them a warning, either verbal or written. Here are a few suggestions:

  • The warnings should not be administered in front of other employees.
  • The manager should think through how the discussion will go, and possible responses to different reactions from the employee.
  • Set out the clear expectation of what the employee needs to do to correct the problem.
  • Document the warnings – even verbal warnings to employees. If the warning is a written warning, have the employee sign the warning.  If they refuse to sign it, record on the document that the employee refused to sign.
Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

DOL Webinar On Employers' Obligations Under New COBRA Requirements

The DOL is offering a couple of webcasts to discuss employers’ and third parties’ obligations under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). ARRA provides for COBRA premium reductions and additional election opportunities for continuation coverage. The webcasts are an effort to assist employers in complying with the new requirements.

The presentation available from the DOL's site is about 2 hours long. I have not yet listened to the webcast, so I cannot recommend whether or not it is informative, but the price is right - free. Below are the PowerPoint slides used during the presentation:

COBRA Provisions Under Arra Anyone interested in listening to the webcast presented on March 24, 2009 can click here. The registration is fairly simple, but you will need RealPlayer on your computer (click here to download a free version).

Here are some other related links employers may find helpful:

Fact Sheet on Premium Reduction Under ARRA
http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/newsroom/fsCOBRApremiumreduction.html

Model Notices
http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/COBRAmodelnotice.html

Department of Labor (DOL) FAQs on Premium Reduction Under ARRA
http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq-cobra-premiumreductionER.html

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) FAQs on Premium Reduction Under ARRA
http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=204708,00.html

Form 941
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f941.pdf

Form 941 Instructions
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i941.pdf

DOL COBRA Web page
www.dol.gov/COBRA

IRS COBRA Web page
http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=204505,00.html
 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Severance Agreements In California - Items To Consider

What does the agreement have to be titled?

I was recently asked if the severance agreement needs to have a specific title in order to be valid. The title does not have to contain specific words, and are usually titled "general release" or "severance agreement." The title, unless it is clearly erroneous or confusing, does not change the type of agreement or the rights the parties are agreement to release. The key here is what the parties are actually releasing in the terms of the document. 

What claims can the parties agree to release?

Release of Unknown Claims

The idea of the severance agreement is to buy some certainty that there will be no litigation following the employee’s separation from the company. The employee (and employer for that matter) can waive all known claims. However, in California, for any party to release unknown claims, the agreement needs to be clear and advise the party that they are releasing unknown claims. Ideally, the agreement should set forth section 1542 of the Civil Code, which states:

A general release does not extend to claims which the creditor does not know or suspect to exist in his or her favor at the time of executing the release, which if known by him or her must have materially affected his or her settlement with the debtor.

Release of Age Claims For Older Workers (over 40 years old)

The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) provides workers over 40 years old with additional rights. The OWBPA places additional requirements on employers asking “old” employees to waive their potential claims the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Here is a summary of the requirements employers need to meet:

  • The agreement must be written in a manner that the employee can understand.
  • The waiver specifically refers to the employee’s claims or rights under the ADEA.
  • The employee cannot waive claims that have not yet arisen
  • There must be consideration (the employer must give value to the employee which was not already owed to the employee - this has to be present in every severance agreement, not just those releasing age claims)
  • The employee is advised to consult with an attorney
  • The employee is given at least 21 days to consider the agreement (the employer may have to offer up to 45 days – the employer should check with counsel to see if this is necessary); and
  • The agreement may be revoked up to 7 days after it is executed.

Other Provisions To Consider For Severance Agreements

An employer should also consider if the agreement needs to address other issues, such as:

  • Is the release mutual (i.e., the employer and employee are both releasing all claims against each other)?
  • Should there be a non-competition/trade secrets provision?
  • Is the agreement confidential? If so, is there a liquidated damages provision where the parties agree to a certain monetary amount the breaching party will pay?
  • Will the employer provide a reference statement? If so, the language of the statement should be set forth in the agreement.
  • Should there be an arbitration provision to deal with any issues that arise from the severance agreement?
  • Should the employer include a choice of law clause in the agreement that determines which state law will be controlling in the case of a dispute?


 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Time Off Work For Jury Duty

As long as employers are given reasonable advance notice, employees are entitled to take time off to serve as a juror or as a witness if subpoenaed to appear at trial. Employers may not discriminate or otherwise punish an employee for taking time off to serve as a juror or a witness.

Pay During Jury Duty:

Unless a union agreement or contract provides otherwise, you are not required to pay non-exempt employees for time not worked due to jury service. However, due to the prohibition against discrimination against employees who are subpoenaed or called for jury service, employers should have a jury duty policy that is consistent with other policies for taking time off due to non-personal, non-voluntary reasons. In the case of an exempt employee, the employer must continue to pay the full weekly salary unless the jury service prevents the exempt employee from performing any work for a full week.

Many employers voluntarily pay full or half wages for a specified period of time, such as a maximum of two weeks, to employees who are selected to sit on a jury in an effort to raise the quality of juries by expanding the pool of people who are able to serve. As with all policies, whether employers choose to provide paid or unpaid leave, it is important to have a clear policy that is uniformly enforced.
 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Employers Beware: Costs Related To Employee Uniforms

Question: May I require my employees to wear a particular uniform?

California law allows employers to require employees to wear particular types of clothing or uniforms to work. If an employer requires non-exempt employees to wear a uniform, the employer must pay for and maintain it for the employee. What constitutes a "uniform" is not always clear.

According to the California Labor Commissioner, the term "uniform" includes any apparel and/or accessories of distinctive design or color. An employer may prescribe the weight, color, quality, texture, style, form, and make of a "uniform" required to be worn by employees. When an employer simply requires employees to wear "basic wardrobe items which are usual and generally usable in the occupation," the clothing is not a uniform. For example, specifying that employees wear white shirts, dark pants, and black shoes and belts, all of unspecified design, does not constitute a "uniform." The employer is not required to pay for that clothing or its maintenance. If the required clothing can double as street clothes, it is probably not a "uniform."

Some safety equipment or protective apparel must be worn by employees as a matter of law. Proper safety equipment such as goggles, gloves or other accessories or apparel must always be provided by the employer if they are required by a regulation of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.

How is maintenance of a uniform handled?

In addition to the cost of the uniform, the employer must provide non-exempt employees with reasonable maintenance of the uniforms. The employee can either maintain the uniform itself, or pay the employee a weekly maintenance allowance of an hour's pay at minimum wage, provided that an hour's pay is a reasonable estimate of the time necessary to maintain uniform properly. It is reasonable to require employees to maintain uniforms requiring minimal care, such as washing and tumble drying, without reimbursement; however, special care, such as ironing, dry cleaning or separate laundering because of heavy soiling or special color, must be reimbursed to non-exempt employees.  Click here to read a Department of Labor opinion letter about when employers should bear the costs to maintain uniforms under the FLSA.  California's DLSE also has an opinion letter on the topic, which is very similar to the DOL's opinion. 

Employers need to remember that they can never impose a financial burden on employees, with respect to purchasing or maintaining clothing that reduces the employees' wage rate below the minimum wage.

Other Concerns:

Employers must also be careful to pay employees for all time worked.  If putting on a uniform (or other equipment) takes a long time, it could be considered time worked, and therefore must be paid.  For more information, a DLSE opinion letters can be read here, here, and here

 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Google Latitude In The Workplace

Google Latitude, a new Google application allows users to track the physical location of other people through a mobile phone or computer. While the GPS tracking technology is nothing new, the amazing aspect of this is how inexpensive tracking technology has become. Many employers have already implemented GPS tracking, but now with Google’s basically free service many more employers will look to this technology to help manage their workforce. However, there are already concerns about individual privacy rights being voiced about this technology, and employers should be aware of employee’s privacy rights before using this technology.

First off, in California, Article I, Section I of the California Constitution guarantees citizens a right of privacy:

All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.

This right to privacy carries over to the workplace. Furthermore, section 96(k) of the Labor Code provides that the California Labor Commissioner may assert on behalf of employees:

Claims for loss of wages as the result of demotion, suspension, or discharge from employment for lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises.

In Barbee v. Household Automotive Finance Corp. (2003), a court provided some guidance about the ramifications of section 96(k). Barbee was dating a subordinate at work, which violated the company’s policy and created a conflict of interest. The company gave Barbee and the employee with whom he was involved the option that one of them had to resign or to end the relationship. Barbee refused to resign, and they did not end the relationship, so the company terminated Barbee. Barbee sued, arguing that the company violated Labor Code section 96(k) in that his employer was regulating his lawful conduct during personal time. The court rejected Barbee’s argument in stating:

We conclude that Labor Code section 96, subdivision (k) does not set forth an independent public policy that provides employees with any substantive rights, but, rather, merely establishes a procedure by which the Labor Commissioner may assert, on behalf of employees, recognized constitutional rights. Therefore, in order to prevail on his wrongful termination claim, Barbee must establish that his employment was terminated because he asserted civil rights guaranteed by article I of the California Constitution. We conclude that Barbee cannot make this showing and therefore he cannot establish the first necessary element of his wrongful termination claim.

While the court held that the company’s actions in that case did not violate section 96(k), the facts were very favorable to the employer that are not applicable when dealing with privacy rights and GPS tracking.  Also and there are other arguments available to employees. For example, an employee may also argue violation of Labor Code Section 98.6 which states in part that “no person shall discharge any employee ... because the employee … engaged in any conduct delineated in this chapter, including the conduct described in subdivision (k) of Section 96 ….”

Therefore, there are a few minimum steps employers should take when using tracking technology in the workplace:

  1. Develop a policy about how the company will use GPS tracking in the workplace.
  2. Disclose the policy in writing to the employees.
  3. Pay for the device or software that is required for the tracking (requiring employees to pay for business expenses violates Labor Code section 2802).
  4. Allow the employee to turn the GPS device off when not working during the day, such as during lunch breaks, on personal time, or after they have left for the day.
     
Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Basic Law On Tip Pools

California law treats “tips” (defined as any discretionary gratuity left by a customer for a server) as a strange kind of compensation -- which may belong to the employee who initially received the tip, other employees involved or, for certain purposes, even the employer itself. Given the confused property rights involved, businesses are often unsure how tips should be handled.

The Legal Status of Tips.
The Labor Code states unequivocally that “Every gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees for whom it was paid, given or left for.” (Lab. Code § 350). Yet, California courts have also reached the seemingly contradictory conclusion that employers may lawfully require that this “sole property” of the employee must be shared with other employees. Moreover, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and state and federal tax withholding rules treat tips not as direct payments from customers to servers, but rather as a form of “wages” paid by the employer.

California restaurateurs are currently experiencing a wave of class action lawsuits seeking damages for illegal “tip pooling.” These lawsuits usually allege that the employer has violated the law by permitting ineligible employees to participate in the tip pool. According to these lawsuits, employees are ineligible for tip pooling where they were either not directly involved in providing any service to the customer who left the tip or they are “agents” of the employer.

Labor Commissioner’s Position On Tip Pooling.
According to the most recent non-binding opinion letter issued by the California Labor Commissioner on the subject, a tip pooling arrangement is permissible so long as it is a “fair and equitable” system that has “a correlation with prevailing industry practice.” (September 8, 2005 Op. Letter of Donna M. Dell). But the Labor Commissioner further opines that any tip-pooling policy must also comply with the following requirements:

  1. The tip pool should include only “those employees who contribute in the chain of the service bargained by the patron;” and
  2. The tip pool should exclude any supervisory employee “with the authority to hire or discharge any employee or supervise, direct, or control the acts of employees.”

Although not legally controlling authority, the Labor Commissioner opinion constitutes good advice for any employer seeking to avoid lawsuits. For the California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement position on tip pooling, visit their website here.

Avoiding Liability From Tip Pooling Lawsuits.
Employers can take steps to prevent and/or minimize liability for tip pooling claims. Here are a few items that employers can consider in order to minimize the liability regarding tip pooling.

  • Employers should consider implementing a policy stating that all tips are the sole property of the waiters, and employees are free to enter into any voluntary tip pooling arrangements with co-workers on their own.
  • Employers should consider notifying patrons on the menu or on the receipt that any tip left may be distributed according to a tip pooling arrangement, unless the patron affirmatively indicates that his or her tip should only go to one person.
  • Regardless of the employer’s policy on tip pooling, the employer should implement and enforce a policy that the employer’s supervisory employees are always prohibited from sharing in tip pools. For purposes of this policy the operative definition of a supervisor is any “person other than the employer having the authority to hire or discharge any employee or supervise, direct, or control the acts of the employee.”

As a general caveat, however, each case has unique facts and may present issues not addressed in this article. As a result, employers should seek competent legal advice before implementing a new policy regarding tip pooling policies.

 

 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Costly Mistake of Misclassifying Independent Contractors

Many California companies have recently been sued and had an assessment issued against them by the California Employment Development Department (“EDD”) for unpaid payroll taxes because the company allegedly misclassified its California workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

If a company improperly classifies a worker as an independent contractor, it may face liability from an assessment from the EDD for unpaid unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and employment taxes. In addition to the EDD assessment, the misclassified workers could also allege that they are owed unpaid overtime going back four years in addition to seeking reimbursement and for businesses expenses and penalties in violation of Labor Code section 2802.

For guidance on whether employers have properly classified its workers as independent contractors, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) provides an explanation of the “economic realities” test. The DLSE maintains that the most indicative fact determinative of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor depends on whether the person to whom service is rendered (the employer or principal) has control or the right to control the worker both as to the work done and the manner and means in which it is performed. The DLSE also sets forth the other factors that are considered when determining an employee’s status:

  1. Whether the person performing services is engaged in an occupation or business distinct from that of the principal;
  2. Whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal or alleged employer;
  3. Whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place for the person doing the work;
  4. The alleged employee’s investment in the equipment or materials required by his or her task or his or her employment of helpers;
  5. Whether the service rendered requires a special skill;
  6. The kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision;
  7. The alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his or her managerial skill;
  8. The length of time for which the services are to be performed;
  9. The degree of permanence of the working relationship;
  10. The method of payment, whether by time or by the job; and
  11. Whether or not the parties believe they are creating an employer-employee relationship may have some bearing on the question, but is not determinative since this is a question of law based on objective tests.

The DLSE’s full explanation of this topic can be found here. The DLSE’s information provides a great starting point for employers to audit their classifications of employees, but each case may present different facts, and the economic realities test may change depending on the jurisdiction and whether state or federal law is at issue.
 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn

Noncompetition Agreements In California Are Narrowly Construed

In Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP (link to PDF), the California Supreme Court ruled on the following issues: (1) To what extent does Business and Professions Code section 16600 prohibit employee noncompetition agreements; and (2) is a contract provision requiring an employee to release “any and all” claims unlawful because it encompasses nonwaivable statutory protections, such as the employee indemnity protection of Labor Code section 2802?

Noncompetition Agreements
Noncompetition agreements are governed by Business & Professions Code section 16600, which states: “Except as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.” The statute permits noncompetition agreements in the context of sale or dissolution of corporations (§ 16601), partnerships (§ 16602), and limited liability corporations (§ 16602.5).

Under the common law, as still recognized by many states today, contractual restraints on the practice of a profession, business, or trade, were considered valid, as long as they were reasonably imposed. Andersen argued that California courts have held that section 16600 embrace the rule of reasonableness in evaluating competitive restraints.

The Court disagreed with Andersen, and noted:

We conclude that Andersen’s noncompetition agreement was invalid. As the Court of Appeal observed, “The first challenged clause prohibited Edwards, for an 18-month period, from performing professional services of the type he had provided while at Andersen, for any client on whose account he had worked during 18 months prior to his termination. The second challenged clause prohibited Edwards, for a year after termination, from ‘soliciting,’ defined by the agreement as providing professional services to any client of Andersen’s Los Angeles office.” The agreement restricted Edwards from performing work for Andersen’s Los Angeles clients and therefore restricted his ability to practice his accounting profession.

The Court found that this agreement was invalid because it restrained Edwards’ ability to practice his profession.

However, Andersen argued that section 16600 has a “narrow-restraint” exception and that its agreement with Edwards survives under this exception. Andersen pointed out that a federal court in International Business Machines Corp. v. Bajorek (9th Cir. 1999) upheld an agreement mandating that an employee forfeits stock options if employed by a competitor within six months of leaving employment. Andersen also noted that another Ninth Circuit federal court in General Commercial Packaging v. TPS Package (9th Cir. 1997) held that a contractual provision barring one party from courting a specific customer was not an illegal restraint of trade prohibited by section 16600, because it did not “entirely preclude[]” the party from pursuing its trade or business.

In refusing to accept the “narrow-restraint” exception for noncompetition agreements in California, the Court stated:

Contrary to Andersen’s belief, however, California courts have not embraced the Ninth Circuit’s narrow-restraint exception. Indeed, no reported California state court decision has endorsed the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning, and we are of the view that California courts “have been clear in their expression that section 16600 represents a strong public policy of the state which should not be diluted by judicial fiat.” [citation] Section 16600 is unambiguous, and if the Legislature intended the statute to apply only to restraints that were unreasonable or overbroad, it could have included language to that effect. We reject Andersen’s contention that we should adopt a narrow-restraint exception to section 16600 and leave it to the Legislature, if it chooses, either to relax the statutory restrictions or adopt additional exceptions to the prohibition-against-restraint rule under section 16600.

The Court’s ruling basically eliminates the validity of non-competition agreements under California that are not expressly provided for in Section 16600.

Contract Provision Releasing “Any and All” Claims
The second issues in the case was whether Andersen's condition of Edwards’s obtaining employment that Edwards execute an agreement releasing Andersen from, among other things, “any and all” claims, including “claims that in any way arise from or out of, are based upon or relate to [Edwards’s] employment by, association with or compensation from” Andersen.

Edwards argued that Labor Code section 2804 voids any agreement to waive the protections of Labor Code section 2802 (which provides that employers must reimburse employees for all business related expenses that the employee incurs) as against public policy.

The Court noted that Labor Code section 2804 has been interpreted to apply to Labor Code section 2802, making all contracts that waive an employee’s right to reimbursement null and void. Therefore an employee’s right to be reimbursed for business expenses provided under Labor Code section 2802 are nonwaivable, and any contract that does purport to waive an employee’s right would be contrary to the law. Edwards maintained, therefore, the agreement was an independent wrongful act that would support another claim he was alleged for intentional interference with prospective advantage.

The Court disagreed with Edwards, and concluded that a contract provision releasing “any and all” claims does not encompass nonwaivable statutory protections, such as the employee indemnity protection of Labor Code section 2802. Therefore, such agreements are still valid and enforceable under the law.
 

Tweet Like Email LinkedIn