Harassment and discrimination

California’s state legislature is nearing the end of its term, and employers are beginning to glimpse some of the laws that could apply in 2018.  There are multiple proposed bills that prohibits employers’ ability to rely upon or seek information about applicant’s previous wages to set the employee’s pay.  This Friday’s Five reviews the current law – California’s Fair Pay Act, the proposed bills on disclosure of wages, and San Francisco’s local ordinance that recently passed.

1. Current law – California’s Fair Pay Act (Labor Code section 1197.5)

Existing law generally prohibits an employer from paying an employee at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work for work performance that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility that are performed under similar working conditions.  Effective as of January 1, 2017, AB 1676 amended California’s Fair Pay Act, found in Labor Code section 1197.5, prohibiting employers from relying on an employee’s prior salary, by itself, to justify any disparity in compensation.  It is important to note the bill was modified to take out language that would have prohibited employers from obtaining an applicant’s prior salary.

2. Proposed State Bill – AB 1209 – Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act

This bill has been sent to the Governor’s desk during the week of September 11, 2017 to be signed into law or vetoed.  The bill, if signed by the Governor, would require employers with at least 500 employees to calculate the difference between the wages of male and female exempt employees in California by each job classification or title.  The employer would also have to do the same for all board members who are located in California.  The employer would need to report the difference in pay, which would be published on the Internet by the Secretary of State.  Governor Brown has until October 15, 2017 to sign or veto the bill.

3. Proposed State Bill – AB 168 – Salary Information

This bill prohibits employers from replying upon or seeking salary history from applicants.  In addition, employers would be required to provide the pay scale for a position to an applicant.

4. San Francisco local ordinance: Parity in Pay Ordinance

San Francisco passed a local law that prohibits employers from asking job applicants to disclose their salary history.  It also prohibits employers from considering an applicant’s pay history as a factor in determining the level of pay to offer.  The law is effective July 1, 2018, so San Francisco employers have some time to review hiring practices to comply.

5. Proposed State Bill – AB 46 – Wage Discrimination

This bill amends the California Fair Pay Act to make clear that the law applies to both public and private employers.

In speaking to a few groups of California employers this week, a common question kept coming up about what are the essential Booksemployment policies California employers must have?  While there are more than five, this week’s Friday’s Five starts with what I consider to be critical policies that every California must have in place.

1. At-will policy

Under California law, it is presumed that all employment is terminable at-will. California Labor Code section 2922 provides: “An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other.” The at-will doctrine means that the employment relationship can be terminated by either party at any time, with or without cause, and with or without advanced notice. There are some major exceptions to this rule, but generally California law recognizes that employers and employees may, at any time, and for any legal reason, terminate the employment relationship.

2. Anti-harassment, discrimination and retaliation policy

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Council published new regulations pertaining to anti-discrimination and anti-harassment requirements effective April 1, 2016.  Employers need to review and potentially update their policies in order to meet the new requirements.  The full text of the regulations can be obtained here.

3. Timekeeping policy

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.  Employers should also have a complaint procedure in place and regularly communicate the policy to employees in order to establish an effective way to remedy any issues.

4. Meal and rest break policy

As I’ve written about many times previously, employers must have a compliant meal and rest break policy.  Indeed, given the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Augustus v. ABM Security Services in December 2016, employers should review their rest beak policy to ensure it complies with this ruling.

5. Paid sick leave policy

Many local governments in Southern California have passed laws increasing the minimum wage and amount of paid sick leave that must be provided to employees.  Employers must ensure they are complying with the law that provides the most benefits to employees.  Here is a brief summary of some of the local laws in Southern California:

State/City Minimum Wage Paid Sick Leave
1) California $10/hr January 1, 2016; $10.50 January 1, 2017; $11/hr January 1, 2018; $12/hr January 1, 2019; $13/hr January 1, 2020; $14/hr January 1, 2021; $15/hr January 2022* Current: 3 days or 24 hours
2) Los Angeles – City (click here for more information about Los Angeles City’s minimum wage and paid sick leave laws) July 1, 2016: $10.50/hr; July 1, 2017 $12; July 1, 2018 $13.25; July 1, 2019 $14.25; July 1, 2020 $15.00 * (click here for more information about Los Angeles’s minimum wage ordinance) July 1, 2016: 48 hours*
3) Los Angeles – County (applies to unincorporated cities in LA County) Same as LA City (see above) No specific requirement – state law applies
4) San Diego City July 2016: $10.50 (date not set yet – likely effective in first half of July 2016); January 1, 2017 $11.50; January 1, 2019 $11.82; January 1, 2020 $12.15; January 1, 2021 $12.49; January 1, 2022 $12.84 5 paid sick days
5) Santa Monica (click here for Santa Monica’s website for details of the law) $10.50 July 1, 2016; July 1, 2017 $12.00; July 1, 2018 $13.25; July 1, 2019 $14.25; July 1, 2020 $15.00* January 1, 2017: 32 hours for small businesses, 40 hours for large businesses; January 1, 2018: 40 hours for small business, 72 hours for large businesses*
*Employers with 25 or fewer employees the implementation is delayed one year.

Happy Memorial day weekend!

Happy Friday!  This Friday’s Five covers five areas that employers can start with in conducting an employment practices Checklistsaudit.  Coming up on the mid-point of the year, it is a good time to conduct an employment law practices audit to ensure that policies are compliant, managers are properly trained, and the company is maintaining the required records for the necessary length of time.  Here are five areas to start with in conducting an audit and a few recommended questions for each topic:

1. Hiring Practices

  • Are applications seeking appropriate information?
    • For example: Be careful about local ban the box regulations.
  • Are new hires provided with required policies and notices?
  • Are new hires provided and acknowledge recommended policies?
    • For example: meal period waivers for shifts less than six hours
  • Are hiring managers trained about the correct questions to ask during the interview?
  • Does the company provide new hires (and existing employees) with arbitration agreements with class action waivers?

 2. Records

  • Are employee files maintained confidentially and for at least four years?
  • Are employee time records maintained for at least four years?
  • Are employee schedules maintained for at least four years?
  • Do the managers have set forms for the following:
    • Employee discipline and write-ups
    • Documenting employee tardiness
  • How is the employee documentation provided to Human Resources or the appropriate manager?
  • Who is involved in reviewing disability accommodation requests?
  • How are employee absences documented?

3. Wage and Hour Issues

  • Does the company have its workweeks and paydays established?
  • Are paydays within the applicable time limits after the pay period as required under the law?
  • Are employees provided with compliant itemized wage statements?
  • Are employees provided a writing setting out their accrued paid sick leave each pay period?
  • Are employees properly classified as exempt or nonexempt?
    • For exempt employees, review their duties and salary to ensure they meet the legal requirements to be an exempt employee.
  • Any workers classified as independent contractors, and if so, could they be considered employees?
  • Are nonexempt employees properly compensated for all overtime worked?
  • Is off-the-clock work prohibited?
    • Policy in place?
    • Are managers trained about how to recognize it and what disciplinary actions to take if find employees working off-the-clock?
  • Does the company’s time keeping system round employee’s time?
    • If so, is the rounding policy compliant with the law?
  • Are meal and rest period polices set out in handbook and employees routinely reminded of policies?
    • Does the company pay “premium pay” for missed meal and rest breaks? If so, how is this documented on the employee pay stub?
    • Do employees record meal breaks?
    • Are managers trained on how to administer breaks and what actions to take if employees miss meal or rest breaks?
  • Is vacation properly documented and tracked?
  • Are all deductions from the employee’s pay check legally permitted? (use caution, very few deductions are permitted under CA law)
  • Are employees reimbursed for all business expenses, such as uniforms, work equipment and miles driven for work?

 4.End of Employment Issues

  • Are employees leaving the company provided their final wages, including payment for all accrued and unused vacation time?
  • Does the employer deduct any items from an employee’s final paycheck?
    • If so, are the deductions legally permitted?

5. Anti-harassment, discrimination and retaliation

  • Are supervisors provided with sexual harassment training every two years? (If employer has 50 or more employees, supervisors are legally required to have a two-hour harassment prevention training that complies with AB 1825 and amendments to this law).
  • Are supervisors and managers mentioning the open-door policy of the company to employees at routine meetings with employees? Is this being documented?

Please let me know if you have any other items your company considers during review of employment policies – it would be great to update this list to share with readers.  Have a great weekend.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about an employer’s obligations to conduct effective investigations into harassment claims.  I was typing at computerside tracked since that post, and promised to write about how employers should conduct the investigations.  This Friday’s Five lists five action items employers should utilize when conducting harassment investigations:

1. Selecting the investigator

Employers should take time to train an in-house person who can conduct harassment investigations.  This person, usually someone from Human Resources (but it does not need to be) should have additional experience and training about how to investigate these claims.  First, the person needs to be able to conduct appropriate investigations to limit the liability to the company.  Second, the person’s experience and training will likely be closely examined, if not challenged by opposing counsel if the case develops into litigation.  Therefore, someone with experience and who is well credentialed is preferred.

2. Investigation must be free of any appearance of influence or bias

The investigator must not have any personal involvement with any of the parties who are a part of the investigation.  To avoid any appearance of undue influence, the investigator must not be subject to any control or supervisory control from the alleged harasser.  This means that for smaller companies, or in cases where the owner or president of the company is alleged to have harassed someone, it is recommended that an outside third-party that is independent from the company be hired to conduct the investigation.

3. Ask the right questions

The EEOC provides the following examples of questions to ask during a sexual harassment investigation:

Questions to Ask the Complainant:

  • Who, what, when, where, and how: Who committed the alleged harassment? What exactly occurred or was said? When did it occur and is it still ongoing? Where did it occur? How often did it occur? How did it affect you?
  • How did you react? What response did you make when the incident(s) occurred or afterwards?
  • How did the harassment affect you? Has your job been affected in any way?
  • Are there any persons who have relevant information? Was anyone present when the alleged harassment occurred? Did you tell anyone about it? Did anyone see you immediately after episodes of alleged harassment?
  • Did the person who harassed you harass anyone else? Do you know whether anyone complained about harassment by that person?
  • Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation regarding the incident(s)?
  • How would you like to see the situation resolved?
  • Do you know of any other relevant information?

Questions to Ask the Alleged Harasser:

  • What is your response to the allegations?
  • If the harasser claims that the allegations are false, ask why the complainant might lie.
  • Are there any persons who have relevant information?
  • Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation regarding the incident(s)?
  • Do you know of any other relevant information?

Questions to Ask Third Parties:

  • What did you see or hear?
  • When did this occur? Describe the alleged harasser’s behavior toward the complainant and toward others in the workplace.
  • What did the complainant tell you?
  • When did s/he tell you this?
  • Do you know of any other relevant information?
  • Are there other persons who have relevant information?

4. Make credibility assessments

The EEOC again provides some guidance on the factors to use when determining which witnesses are more credible:

  • Inherent plausibility: Is the testimony believable on its face? Does it make sense?
  • Demeanor: Did the person seem to be telling the truth or lying?
  • Motive to falsify: Did the person have a reason to lie?
  • Corroboration: Is there witness testimony (such as testimony by eye-witnesses, people who saw the person soon after the alleged incidents, or people who discussed the incidents with him or her at around the time that they occurred) or physical evidence (such as written documentation) that corroborates the party’s testimony?
  • Past record: Did the alleged harasser have a history of similar behavior in the past?

None of the above factors are determinative as to credibility. For example, the fact that there are no eye-witnesses to the alleged harassment by no means necessarily defeats the complainant’s credibility, since harassment often occurs behind closed doors. Furthermore, the fact that the alleged harasser engaged in similar behavior in the past does not necessarily mean that he or she did so again.

5. Make a final determination

After making credibility determinations and evaluating the facts, management of the company must make a determination about whether or not the harassment occurred.  The parties should be informed of the determination.  Even if the employer determines that harassment did not occur, the EEOC takes the position that the employer should take steps such as preventative training and continued monitoring.  For example, even though the underlying harassment may not have occurred, a supervisor could still be held liable for retaliating against the employee who filed the harassment complaint.  Therefore, it is important for employers to inform the parties involved of the outcome, unacceptable behavior as a result of the determination, and to ensure ongoing compliance with the company’s findings and legal obligations.

 

A former employee at Uber has made news this week in claiming that she was subjected to sexual question markharassment while working at Uber, and her complaints were not satisfactorily resolved.  I don’t want to get into the judgment of who was possibly right or wrong in this case, but use it as a good opportunity for employers to review the basics of their obligations to investigate when an employee complains.  This Friday’s Five is the first of two posts on employer’s obligations to conduct prompt and effective investigations into harassment complaints.

1. Employers have a duty to conduct investigations.

Employers can be liable under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) if they “fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.”  In addition, Government Code section 12940, subdivision (k), requires employers to take “all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring.”  If the employer fails to take the preventative measures, they can be held liable for the harassment between co-workers.  If the harassment occurs by a manager, the company is strictly liable for the harassment.  If the harassment occurred by a non-management employee, the employer is only liable if it does not take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment once it learns about the harassment.

2. The employer may have to take action before conducting the investigation.

Based on the allegations and the facts of the case, as a precautionary measure, the employer should analyze if any immediate steps needs to be taken.  The EEOC set forth examples of precautionary steps that may be necessary include: “scheduling changes so as to avoid contact between the parties; transferring the alleged harasser; or placing the alleged harasser on non-disciplinary leave with pay pending the conclusion of the investigation.”  However, the employer needs to ensure that the complainant “should not be involuntarily transferred or otherwise burdened, since such measures could constitute unlawful retaliation.”

3. The investigation must be effective.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) maintains that employers must “[f]ully and effectively investigate.  The investigation must be immediate, thorough, objective and complete.  Anyone with information on the matter should be interviewed.  A determination must be made and the results communicated to the complaint, to the alleged harasser, and, as appreciate, to all others directly concerned.”

4. The investigation must be immediate.

How soon the investigation must start depends on the circumstances.  In Van Zant v. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, 80 F.3d 708, 715 (2d Cir. 1996) the employer’s response was held to be prompt where it began investigation on the day that complaint was made, conducted interviews within two days, and fired the harasser within ten days.  In Steiner v. Showboat Operating Co., 25 F.3d 1459, 1464 (9th Cir. 1994), the court held that an employer’s response to complaints were not immediate when it did not seriously investigate or reprimand the supervisor until after plaintiff filed charge with state FEP agency, even though the harasser was eventually discharged.  In Saxton v. AT&T, 10 F.3d 526, 535 (7th Cir 1993) the court found that the investigation was prompt when it started one day after complaint and a detailed report was completed two weeks later.  In Nash v. Electrospace Systems, Inc. 9 F.3d 401, 404 (5th Cir. 1993) the court held that the investigation was prompt when completed within one week.  The court in Juarez v. Ameritech Mobile Communications, Inc., 957 F.2d 317, 319 (7th Cir. 1992) found the investigation was adequate when completed in four days.

5. The investigator must be experienced, unbiased and trusted. 

There is no legal prohibition that internal employees, such as the human resources manager, can conduct investigations into employee’s complaints.  If an internal employee of the company, the investigator does not have to meet any certain training requirements or are they required any particular background.  However, if the case results in litigation, employers should carefully consider who they appoint as the investigator as their background, credentials, and experience will be closely examined in court.

The employee obviously cannot have a conflict of interest or any bias towards the victim or alleged harasser.  Also, the alleged wrongdoer should not have any managerial control over the investigator in the organization.  If the alleged wrongdoer is a high level executive in the organization, then it may be appropriate to hire an outside lawyer versed in conducting harassment investigations to avoid any challenges to the adequacy of the investigation.  The investigator should have some experience in conducting investigations, some background knowledge of the law regarding harassment, understand the appropriate structure of how to conduct the investigation (i.e., who to start with first), and be a person who can communicate well with the parties involved, and if needed can testify confidently to defend the appropriateness of the investigation.

Next week, I will be discussing more of the particulars of how to conduct the investigation, examples of appropriate questions, and how to document the results.