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.