Best Practices For California Employers

Employee terminations and resignations must be planned for in advance to avoid common pitfalls for California employers.  I’ve recently written about go-to hiring practices for employers, so I thought it would be appropriate to follow that post up with this list of go-to termination practices.  This Friday’s Five focuses on critical management and legal considerations for employers during the separation process:

1. Documentation of the reason for termination

What is the reason for termination? Is there a company policy that was violated? [Note: Is the company policy in writing?  Has it been distributed to the employee?  Is there a signed acknowledgement of the policy in the employee’s file?]  Who was involved in termination decision? Review documentation for termination if “for cause” and ensure this documentation is maintained in personnel file.

2. Final pay and accounting

Employers need to prepare the employee’s final paycheck and ensure that any unused accrued vacation time is also included.

Final wages must be paid within certain time limits, including the following:

  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.

Employers should also review if commissions, bonuses, or expense reimbursement owed to employee?  Obtain all expense reimbursement forms form employee.

Employers with multiple locations need to ensure that the final wages are made available.  The place of the final wage payment for employees who are terminated (or laid off) is the place of termination. The place of final wage payment for employees who quit without giving 72 hours prior notice and who do not request that their final wages be mailed to them at a designated address, is at the office of the employer within the county in which the work was performed. Labor Code Section 208.

 3. Company property and passwords

Obtain all company property from employee and reset passwords.  Also, has employee returned all company provided uniforms?  Have all company keys been returned?  The company should also develop a list of all passwords employee had access to and ensure the passwords are reset.

4. Final notices

Employers need to ensure that all required notices are provided to the employee.  For example, common notices include:

  • Notice to Employee as to Change in Relationship (download here)
  • For your Benefit (Form 2320) (download here)
  • COBRA and Cal-COBRA Notices from insurance provider
  • Notify insurance provider
  • Health Insurance Premium (HIPP) Notice (download here)

5. Retention of employee files

Employers need to take measures to secure and save employee’s file, wage, and time records.  For more information, see my prior post, Five best document storage and retention practices for California employers.

Makeup time is one of the rare occurrences under California law that employees have flexibility to adjust their work schedule to accommodate for important life events that come up from time to time. 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.  This Friday’s Five covers five issues 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.

Happy Friday!

My firm is hosting a seminar for business owners, in-house counsel, human resource professionals, and managers to learn about and how to implement best practices at the start of 2018.  Plus, get to see the newly renovated Proud Bird and enjoy some light food and drinks during the mixer.

Our attorneys will be speaking about:

  • New case law developments facing California employers in 2018
  • Minimum wage increases on state local levels in Southern California and how to plan for the year
  • New hiring prohibitions – employers cannot ask about prior salary and new restrictions on conducting background checks, so what can employers still ask?
  • New immigration requirements facing employers under California’s Immigrant Worker Protection Act
  • New case law developments on the enforceability of arbitration agreements

Space is limited, so register early to reserve your spot.

Thursday, February 15, 2018 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM (presentation); 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM (mixer)

The Proud Bird
11022 Aviation Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90045

Seminar Program: 4:00 – 5:00 pm
Mixer: 5:00 – 6:00 pm

Cost: Free for firm clients/friends of the firm (if you are a subscriber to the blog, the fee will be waived)
No charge for parking.

To register, visit: www.zallerlaw.com/seminar

The hiring process cannot be underestimate, both from a managerial and legal perspective.  This Friday’s Five focuses on critical management and legal considerations for employers during the hiring process:

1. Ignore the applicant’s resume during the interview.

Nolan Bushnell, the inventor of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, and the first person to hire Steve Jobs, provides some great examples of how to conduct an interview to determine if the applicant is a good fit for the company in his book, Finding the Next Steve Jobs.  He recommends asking applicants about their top ten favorite books, listening to how they describe their life (“the passionless tend to be blamers”), and asking questions that have no right answers. This allows the interviewer to understand how the applicant analyzes a problem.  The book is a must read for leaders in companies that require creative thought leaders working in their establishment.

2. Leaders need to be involved in the hiring process.

This is simply something too important for a company to leave to other people.  Sam Altman, of Y Combinator, wrote:

The vast majority of founders don’t spend nearly enough time hiring. After you figure out your vision and get product-market fit, you should probably be spending between a third and a half of your time hiring. It sounds crazy, and there will always be a ton of other work, but it’s the highest-leverage thing you can do, and great companies always, always have great people. You can’t outsource this—you need to be spending time identifying people, getting potential candidates to want to work at your company, and meeting every person that comes to interview. Keith Rabois believes the CEO/founders should interview every candidate until the company is at least 500 employees.

Founders interviewing employee number 1 to 500 sets to tone for the company in many ways in addition to the value mentioned by Sam. First, meeting all new hires illustrates that the employees are valued. Second, it shows that the founders are approachable and should the employee have any complaints they could discuss the issues with the founders. Granted once the company passes the 50 employee mark, it becomes more difficult to have a personal relationship with everyone in the company, but at least the founders are meeting everyone working at the company. This proves to the employees that they are valued. Usually the company’s open door policy states that if the employee has any complaints, they are free to discuss it with their supervisor, and if appropriate their concerns can be escalated to the founders/CEO. Meeting with employee during the hiring process can give teeth to the open door policy, and promote the practice of speaking with the founders if any employees have concerns about work.

3. Try working with the applicant first.

I don’t care how many interviews someone has conducted, no one can determine if an applicant will be a good fit in a company over an interview at lunch. No matter how good you believe your interview questions are at finding out the applicant’s true values, work ethic, and knowledge base, anyone with an internet can study-up on how to handle almost any type of interview scenario and look amazing during the interview. How does a company get past this problem? Sam Altman again has some great advice and recommends hiring the applicant as an independent contractor and giving her a day or two of work on a noncritical project. I recommend that companies may take it one step further, and depending on the circumstances, it may even be appropriate to hire the applicant as an employee with the idea that they are to only work on one short project during the nights or weekends. There is nothing in the law that prevents a company from hiring employees for a day or two to see how they would work, that is the idea behind at-will employment.

4. Find the applicant’s true ambition.

 Gary Vaynerchuk has a great take on what interviewers should be striving to determine during the interview:

 When I interview you, the main thing I want to know is where you want your career to go. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I want to get into the psychology of what their ambition is. And I spend most of the interview trying to get that person comfortable enough to tell me the truth to that question. Because I don’t care if you want to be the CEO of VaynerMedia, or if you just want to move a couple levels up and have great work life balance. I don’t even care if you want to come work for me for two years, suck up all my IP, and then go somewhere to start your own agency. I really don’t care. Truly. Whatever your agenda is, I’m fine with it. I just want to know what it is, so I can help us get there. You and me.

5. Make a checklist of legal hiring compliance issues.

As always, it is good to periodically review hiring materials, questions and processes to insure compliance with local, city, and state laws, such as:

  • Are applications seeking appropriate information?
  • 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?

California employment law is a mind field that carries huge exposure for employers not proactively monitoring legal developments and potential legal issues.  There are some statements employers in California should never make, and this Friday’s Five reviews misaligned statements that can create significant liability for an employer.

1. My company has employment practices liability insurance, so there cannot be much exposure from employment lawsuits.

In California, it is very common for insurance companies to exclude wage and hour claims from the employment practices liability (EPLI) coverage.  This applies to single plaintiff and class action claims and representative claims under California’s Private Attorney General Act (PAGA).  This is a significant area of potential exposure for employers, and therefore, the costs and benefit analysis of an EPLI policy must take these considerations into account.

Moreover, under California law an insured cannot buy insurance to cover willful acts.  See Insurance Code section 533.  Therefore, if the employment lawsuit alleges willful acts, it is also likely not going to be covered by insurance.

Employers should seek coverage counsel to assist in reviewing the exclusions and limitations of any EPLI policies prior to purchasing in order to completely understand the coverage that is being purchased for the cost of the policy.

2. I’m busy right now, can you tell me about your workplace complaint tomorrow?

California employers have a legal obligation to conduct workplace investigations.  California Government Code section 12940(j) provides that it is “unlawful if the entity, or its agents or supervisors, knows or should have known of this conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.”  The law also provides that employers are liable if they “fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.”  Gov. Code section 12940(k).  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.  Investigations must follow certain parameters in order to be deemed adequate under the law.  Click here for more information about conducting adequate investigations.

3. There is no need for our company to record meal breaks, all of the employees know that they can take breaks whenever they want.

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.  For more information about meal and rest break obligations, see my previous article.

4. Our company’s handbook is current, it was updated four years ago.

Any California employer can attest, the employment legal landscape changes on a yearly (if not more often basis).  Employers should have someone well versed on employment law reviewing the employee handbook on at least a yearly basis.

5. I’m sure my payroll company is issuing compliant pay stubs.

Employers are cautioned not to rely on their payroll companies for compliant itemized wage statements, as these companies often times do not understand the legal requirements of the Labor Code. Ensuring the required information is properly listed on the itemized wage statements is an item that employers should review at least twice a year for compliance.

Labor Code Section 226(a) requires the following information to be listed on employees’ pay stubs:

  1. Gross wages earned
  2. Total hours worked (not required for salaried exempt employees)
  3. The number of piece-rate units earned and any applicable piece rate if the employee is paid on a piece rate basis
  4. All deductions (all deductions made on written orders of the employee may be aggregated and shown as one item)
  5. Net wages earned
  6. The inclusive dates of the period for which the employee is paid
  7. The name of the employee and the last four digits of his or her social security number or an employee identification number other than a social security number
  8. The name and address of the legal entity that is the employer
  9. All applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period, and the corresponding number of hours worked at each hourly rate by the employee

Here is an example of an itemized wage statement published by the DLSE.

Also, do not forget that under California’s paid sick leave law that went into effect on July 1, 2015 employers have additional reporting information regarding employees’ accrued paid sick leave and usage. Employers must show how many days of sick leave an employee has available on the employee’s pay stub or a document issued the same day as a paycheck.

Companies are ultimately liable for these violations, so it is best to double check your payroll company’s work to ensure compliance.

Plaintiff Ketryn Cornell began working part-time for the Berkeley Tennis Club as a lifeguard and pool manager in 1997, while attending college at UC Berkeley. She was employed as a night manager and continued to work at the Club after graduating from college in 2001.  In 2011, she took on additional duties and began working as a night manager, day manager, and tennis court washer. She received positive reviews, merit bonuses, and raises throughout this period.

The Club employed a new general manager in 2012.  The new manager implemented a uniform policy.  While mandating the staff to wear uniform shirts, the largest sized ordered by the club did not fit Cornell.  Cornell was obese, at five feet, five inches tall, she weighed over 350 pounds.  Cornell explained to the general manager that she needed a bigger size, and he reported that he would work on providing an appropriate uniform.  However, it is unclear if he attempted to find shirt Cornell could fit.  Taking upon herself, Cornell ordered shirts from a specialty shop at her own expense and had them embroidered with the Club logo.

Cornell filed a lawsuit in May 2014, asserting causes of action for various Labor Code violations and the eight causes of action that were at issue on the appeal, which included disability discrimination/failure to accommodate under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), wrongful discharge in violation of public policy based on the disability discrimination, disability harassment under the FEHA, and retaliation under the FEHA.  This Friday’s Five reviews five takeaways for California employers arising from this disability discrimination decision:

1. Obesity can qualify as a physical disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Under FEHA, it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee on the basis of “physical disability.” (Gov. Code, § 12940, subd. (a).)  In addition to making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability, the FEHA makes it unlawful “to fail to make reasonable accommodation for the known physical . . . disability of an . . . employee.” (§ 12940, subd. (m)(1).)  Finally, the FEHA prohibits an employer from harassing an employee “because of . . . physical disability.” (§ 12940, subd. (j)(1).)

The Club moved for summary adjudication of the discrimination/failure to accommodate claim and the harassment claim on the basis that Cornell’s obesity is not a physical disability under FEHA. The Club also argued that even if Cornell has a condition protected by the FEHA, she did not require an accommodation and was not terminated for a discriminatory reason, and the Club’s actions were not severe or pervasive enough to constitute harassment.

Cornell argued that her obesity qualified as an actual physical disability because it is a “physiological disease, disorder, condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss that does both of the following: [¶] (A) Affects one or more of the following body systems: neurological, immunological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory, including speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine. [¶] (B) Limits a major life activity.” (Government Code § 12926, subd. (m)(1).)

In Cassista v. Community Foods, Inc. (1993) 5 Cal.4th 1050 (Cassista), the California Supreme Court held “that weight may qualify as a protected `handicap’ or `disability’ within the meaning of the FEHA if medical evidence demonstrates that it results from a physiological condition affecting one or more of the basic bodily systems and limits a major life activity.” (Id. at p. 1052.) Interpreting the same statutory language as currently found in section 12926, subdivision (m)(1)(A), and relying on federal antidiscrimination law for guidance, the Court concluded that “an individual who asserts a violation of the FEHA on the basis of his or her weight must adduce evidence of a physiological, systemic basis for the condition.” (Cassista, at pp. 1063-1065.)

The court set forth the definition of “physiological”:

Rather, the pertinent question is whether a genetic cause qualifies as a “physiological cause.” “Physiological” means “relating to the functioning of living organisms.” (Oxford English Dict. Online (3d ed. Mar. 2006) [as of Dec. 21, 2017 [physiological].) This term encompasses genetics, and the Club does not argue otherwise. We therefore reject the implication that Cornell cannot establish her claim by proving that her obesity has a genetic cause.

The Court found that Cornell’s testimony that other doctors hand determined that her obesity was caused by genetics, and the fact that those doctors were not deposed, was enough evidence for Cornell to overcome the employer’s motion for summary judgment and proceed to trial on this claim.

2. Even if others were involved in decision to terminate, plaintiff can still maintain a discrimination cause of action if person alleged to have discriminated against plaintiff was involved in the termination decision.

The employer in this case argued that the general manager who was alleged to have discriminated against Cornell was not the only person involved in the decision to terminate her, but that other supervisors were involved, and therefore the decision could not have been discriminatory.  The court rejected this argument in holding:

“[S]howing that a significant participant in an employment decision exhibited discriminatory animus is enough to raise an inference that the employment decision itself was discriminatory, even absent evidence that others in the process harbored such animus.” (DeJung v. Superior Court (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 533, 551.) There is evidence that [General Manager] Headley made several comments suggesting he held a discriminatory animus toward Cornell. Although the extent to which he participated with Gurganus and Miller in the decision to fire Cornell is unclear, there is plenty of evidence that he participated in some way….

3. While sporadic comments are not enough to create a hostile work environment, courts may look to the context of all of the actions taken against the employee in determining if a hostile work environment existed.

The Club argued that even if Cornell is otherwise entitled to protection under the FEHA, summary adjudication of her disability harassment claim was proper because she was not subject to sufficiently severe or pervasive harassment. The appellate court disagreed:

Here, Cornell was able to present enough evidence to at least continue to trial with her harassment cause of action because of the statements made by the General Manager in regards to obtaining a uniform shirt that fit Cornell, the General Manager’s comments about Cornell having weight-loss surgery, and his comments to kitchen staff not to give Cornell extra food because “she doesn’t need it.”  The Court recognized that these types of comments on four occasions do not create a hostile work environment, “Four comments over several months does not establish a pattern of routine harassment creating a hostile work environment, particularly given that the comments were not extreme.”  (“Actionable harassment consists of more than “annoying or `merely offensive’ comments in the workplace,” and it cannot be “occasional, isolated, sporadic, or trivial; rather, the employee must show a concerted pattern of harassment of a repeated, routine, or a generalized nature.” (Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions (2006) 38 Cal.4th 264, 283.)”)

However, the Court found that the employer’s conduct must be viewed in context of the General Manager’s other actions, “including his ordering of shirts that were significantly too small for her and reporting to the Personnel Committee that she was resisting the uniform policy by not wearing appropriate shirts, as well paying her less than another employee and denying her extra hours and internal job openings.”  This evidence was enough to prevent the employer from dismissing Cornell’s harassment claims prior to trial.

4. Requests for reasonable accommodations are protected activities under the law.

In 2015 the Legislature amended section 12940 to add subdivision (m)(2), which now makes it unlawful for an employer to “retaliate or otherwise discriminate against a person for requesting accommodation under this subdivision, regardless of whether the request was granted.” (Stats. 2015, ch. 122, § 2.)

5. Primary takeaway for employers: treat all employees with respect.

While certain conduct that is rude, unfair, and unethical may not raise to the level of being unlawful discrimination, harassment or retaliation under the law, this type of conduct will inevitably lead to higher litigation costs and employee turnover.  I’ve written about how most companies cannot afford to have managers like Steve Jobs, and this case is another example.  While the employer had arguments that the manager’s actions in this case were not illegal under the law, even if the employer prevails at trial in this case, the costs associated with the litigation are substantial.  Unprofessional comments by co-workers, managers and supervisors in the workplace should be stopped by employers, as while sometimes they may not be illegal, it drives litigation from employees who felt that they were not treated fairly.

The appellate court’s decision, Cornell v. Berkeley Tennis Club, can be found here.

California’s Immigrant Worker Protection Act became effective January 1, 2018.  The law, set forth in AB 450, requires, among other items, employers to verify that immigration officials have a judicial warrant or subpoena prior to entering the workplace and for employers to provide notice to employees if there has been a request to review the employer’s immigration documents, such as Form I-9s.  The new law puts employers in a difficult situation of having to comply with federal immigration law obligations on one hand and state law requirements on the other, with large penalties that could result for violations of either law.  This Fox News report sets out the impending conflict between the Federal government and California:

http://insider.foxnews.com/2018/01/19/ice-director-homan-possible-california-immigration-raids-criticism-dianne-feinstein

Now with the fight on immigration issues between the Federal government and California, employers should start reviewing their obligations if Federal immigration officials audit their workplace.  This Friday’s Five discusses five issues employers need to understand about the obligations created by AB 450.

1. Employers may not voluntary consent to an immigration enforcement agent to enter any nonpublic areas of “a place of labor” without a subpoena or judicial warrant.

The new law provides that employers cannot provide voluntary consent to an immigration enforcement agent to “access, review, or obtain the employer’s employee records without a subpoena or judicial warrant.”  This prohibition does not apply to I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form and “other documents for which a Notice of Inspection has been provided to the employer.”

2. Employers must give notice to employees of any immigration review of employment records.

Employers are required to post information about any inspections of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records conducted by an immigration agency within 72 hours of receiving notice of the inspection.  The notice must be posted in the language the employer normally uses to communicate employment-related information to the employee.  In addition, the notice must include the following information:

(A) The name of the immigration agency conducting the inspections of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records.

(B) The date that the employer received notice of the inspection.

(C) The nature of the inspection to the extent known.

(D) A copy of the Notice of Inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms for the inspection to be conducted.

The Labor Commissioner is required to publish a template for employers to use by July 1, 2018.

3. An employer, upon reasonable request, shall provide an “affected employee” a copy of the Notice of Inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms.

An “affected employee” is an employee identified by the immigration agency inspection results to be “an employee who may lack work authorization, or an employee whose work authorization documents have been identified by the immigration agency inspection to have deficiencies.”

The employer is required to provide the affected employee a copy of the written immigration agency notice that provides the results inspection within 72 hours of after receipt of the notice. In addition, the employer shall also provide written notice of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the results of the records investigation.  The notice needs to relate to the affected employee only and shall be delivered by hand at the workplace if possible and, if hand delivery is not possible, by mail and email, if the email address of the employee is known.

4. Except as otherwise required by federal law, employers cannot reverify the employment eligibility of a current employee at a time or in a manner not required by federal law

Violations of this provision can result in civil penalties up to $10,000.  In addition, penalties for failure to provide the notices required under the new law are $2,000 up to $5,000 for a first violation and $5,000 up to $10,000 for each subsequent violation.  The penalties will be recovered by the Labor Commissioner.

5. Start planning now.

Employers should review their current policies and practices to ensure compliance with Federal immigration requirements, including all I-9 requirements.  In addition, employers should train and designate one executive to ensure that the tight notice requirements set forth in the Immigrant Worker Protection Act are met should the Federal government ask to enter the workplace or seek review of employment records.

AB 450 adds Sections 7285.1, 7285.2, and 7285.3 to the Government Code, and to add Sections 90.2 and 1019.2 to the Labor Code.

Effective January 1, 2018 California employers can no longer ask an applicant for employment to disclose information about criminal convictions.  The new law (added as Section 12952 to the Government Code) applies to employers with 5 or more employees.  Once an offer of employment has been made, employers can conduct criminal history background checks, but only when the conviction history has a “direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job,” and requires certain disclosures to the applicant if employment is denied based on the background check.  This Friday’s Five covers five areas of the new law that California employers should be aware of when hiring employees:

1. Employers may not include on any application for employment “any questions that seeks the disclosure of an applicant’s conviction history.”

2. Employers may not inquire into or consider this conviction history of the applicant, including any inquiry about conviction history on any employment application, until after the employer has made a conditional offer of employment to the applicant.

3. Employers can only research certain areas of an applicant’s background after a conditional offer has been made.

Employers may not “consider, distribute, or disseminate information” relating to any of the following areas when conducting a conviction history background check:

(A) Arrest not followed by conviction, except in some limited circumstances set forth in Labor Code section 432.7.

(B) Referral to or participation in a pretrial or posttrial diversion program.

(C) Convictions that have been sealed, dismissed, expunged, or statutorily eradicated pursuant to law.

4. If an employer intends to deny employment based on the applicant’s conviction history, it must make an “individualized assessment” if the conviction history “has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job.

In making his determination, the employer shall consider all of the following:

(i) The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct.

(ii) The time that has passed since the offense or conduct and completion of the sentence.

(iii) The nature of the job held or sought.

The employer is not required to record these results of this individualized assessment in writing. However, employers that are governed by local city and county background checks must be careful to follow those requirements as well.  For example, Los Angeles’ ordinance requires that employers provide this assessment in writing to applicants. 

5. If the employer preliminary disqualifies the applicant based on a conviction history, the employer is required to provide written notice to the applicant.

The notice must contain all of the following items:

(A) Notice of the disqualifying conviction or convictions that are the basis for the preliminary decision to rescind the offer.

(B) A copy of the conviction history report, if any.

(C) An explanation of the applicant’s right to respond to the notice of the employer’s preliminary decision before that decision becomes final and the deadline by which to respond. The explanation shall inform the applicant that the response may include submission of evidence challenging the accuracy of the conviction history report that is the basis for rescinding the offer, evidence of rehabilitation or mitigating circumstances, or both.

The applicant then has five business days to respond to the notice before the employer makes a final decision.  If the employee responds within this time limit, and states that they dispute the accuracy of the conviction history report and is in the process of obtaining evidence to support their position, the applicant will have an extra five business days to respond.  The employer must consider the information provided by the applicant before making a final decision.

If the employer makes a final decision denying the applicant employment solely or in part because of the applicant’s conviction history, the employer is required to provide a second written notice to the applicant containing the following:

(A) The final denial or disqualification. The employer may, but is not required to, justify or explain the employer’s reasoning for making the final denial or disqualification.

(B) Any existing procedure the employer has for the applicant to challenge the decision or request reconsideration.

(C) The right to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

In addition to this new law, California employers need to be sure they are in compliance with the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA) when conducting any background checks.

California’s state minimum wage increased for California’s employers on January 1, 2018.  California’s minimum wage law provides for two different rates based on the size of the employer, and the minimum wage increases are reflected in this chart:

Date Minimum Wage for Employers with 25 Employees or Less Minimum Wage for Employers with 26 Employees or More
January 1, 2017 $10.00/hour $10.50/hour
January 1, 2018 $10.50/hour $11.00/hour
January 1, 2019 $11.00/hour $12.00/hour
January 1, 2020 $12.00/hour $13.00/hour
January 1, 2021 $13.00/hour $14.00/hour
January 1, 2022 $14.00/hour $15.00/hour
January 1, 2023 $15.00/hour

 

Once the rate reaches $15 per hour, it will be adjusted annually based on inflation.  Here are five potential pitfalls California employers need to be careful to avoid with the increase in the state minimum wage.

Pitfall #1: Who is considered an employee?

California’s Department of Industrial Relations website provides the following explanation:

Labor Code section 1182.12 defines “employer” as: “any person who directly or indirectly, or through an agent or any other person, employs or exercises control over the wages, hours, or working conditions of any person [and] includes the state, political subdivisions of the state, and municipalities.”

Any individual performing any kind of compensable work for the employer who is not a bona fide independent contractor would be considered and counted as an employee, including salaried executives, part-time workers, minors, and new hires.

The DIR admits that California’s minimum wage statute does not specify how employers should count employees to determine if they have more or less than 26 employees.  For example, the law does not provide a time period that employers could use to calculate the average number of employees in determining whether or not they meet the 26 employee threshold.  Therefore, employers should be very conservative in making this calculations, and if there is any doubt or the calculation is close, employers should consider paying the higher minimum wage rate rather than risk an audit or costly lawsuit over the difference in rates.

Pitfall #2: The salary level to qualify as an exempt employee increases based on the state minimum wage.

Employers need to review the base salary for all exempt employees to ensure the employees meet the salary required to be exempt.  To be exempt from the requirement of having to pay overtime to the employee, the employee must perform specified duties in a particular manner and be paid “a monthly salary equivalent to no less than two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment.” (Lab. Code, § 515, subd. (a).)  For more information about the salary basis test for exempt employees, see my previous article here.

With the increase in the state minimum wage in 2018, the equivalent of two times the minimum wage of $10.50 per hour for small employers equals $43,680 per year, and two times the minimum of $11.00 per hour for large employers equals $45,760 per year to qualify for the white collar exemptions.

It is important to note that the salary basis test is set according to the California state minimum wage, not the applicable minimum wage that may apply in the various local city and counties in California.

Pitfall #3: Which minimum wage rate applies if the number of employees raises and falls below 26 employees throughout the year? 

The California Department of Industrial Relations provides that: “An employer with 26 or more employees at any time during a pay period should apply the large-employer minimum wage to all employees for that pay period.”  It is important to note that the DIR’s opinion is not binding on a court of law, but it can be instructive of the position the state would take in its own enforcement actions.

Changing the rate of pay for each pay period raises another pitfall about the notice employers are required to provide employees before changing their rate of pay (see pitfall #4 below).

Likewise, employers with exempt employees who are earning at or near the two times salary basis required to qualify as an exempt employee (see pitfall item #3 above), and whose number of employees may increase during the year to 26 or more employees, need to be careful about the salary amounts being paid to employees.  If there is a chance that the employer’s workforce could increase to 26 or more employees, the employer should take a conservative approach and pay the higher salary amounts required for employees to meet applicable exemptions.

Pitfall #4:  Employers are required to update the notice to employees setting forth the employee’s rate of pay. 

California employers are required to provide non-exempt employees with certain information upon hire as required by the Wage Theft Protection Act.  The law became effective in 2012 and is codified at Labor Code section 2810.5.  Many employers use the Labor Commissioner’s template to meet this notice requirement.

However, employers who pre-populate the form will need to revise the forms to ensure that the wage rates comply with the increased minim wage rate in 2018.  Likewise, it is a good practice to review the notices mid-way through the year to ensure compliance with  the various local cities and counties (such as Los Angeles and Santa Monica) that typically increase their minimum wage rates in July each year.

Employers are not required to re-issue the Notice to Employee to existing employees with updated wage information as long as new increased rate is show on the employee’s pay stub with the next payment of wages.  The DIR publishes a great FAQ on the law here that employers should review.

Pitfall #5: Employers still need to comply with local city or county minimum wage requirements if those laws provide a higher minimum wage rate. 

Employers need to review any applicable local city or county laws that may provide for a higher minimum wage than the state minimum wage requirement.  Employers must comply with the highest minimum wage rate applicable to their workforce.  It is also important to review the local minimum wage ordinances as many ordinances differ in how to determine if the employer is small or large, and usually contain their own notice requirements.  A list of the various local minimum wage ordinances across the United States is published by UC Berkley Labor Center.

Happy New Year.  I started the Friday’s Five articles in the summer of 2014, and the interest in the articles has been more than I expected.  I appreciate everyone who has read them and provided comments and feedback. If you have any topics you would like me to address, please let me know. With that said, here is a list of five resolutions for California employers in 2018:

1. Relax – Still need to make sure your employees are taking their meal and rest breaks.

2. Train – All supervisors must be trained to comply with California’s required sexual harassment prevention training for employers with 50 or more employees.

Since 2015 the training must discuss bullying in the workplace to be legally compliant, and as of January 1, 2018, the training also needs to cover harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

3. Read – Update employment handbook policies on a yearly basis.

2018 has a few new laws that should be addressed the employee handbook and new hire packets.

4. Run – Sorry, no play on words with this one, you just need to get outside and run a bit.

5. Organize – and keep employment files, time records and wage information for at least the length of any applicable statute of limitations.

Employers should review their systems to ensure there is a process in place on how to organize and maintain employment information for the required time periods, it is required under the law and can help defend the company should litigation ensue.

A final more bonus resolution:
Learn – more by attending my webinars on California employment laws to stay up to date.

In the next month, I will be hosting a seminar on the new laws facing employers in 2018 and what steps should be taken to comply. The date is still to be determined, but drop me an email if you are interested and I make sure you are notified once we set the date and location.

Wishing you the best in 2018!