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An introduction to wrongful discharge of California employees

At our law firm, we provide advice to a wide variety of Northern California private and public employers about the employee-employer relationship, including under what circumstances it may be illegal under state or federal law to fire someone. It is wise for employers to have some basic understanding of the laws related to wrongful termination as employer-employee relationships begin and evolve.

California appeals court refines applicability of ABC test

A hotly debated legal issue in California is how to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The answer to the question in any given situation determines what responsibilities the hiring entity has toward the worker regarding working conditions, hours, pay, termination, workers' compensation and other perks, benefits and protections.

California is a state known for having strong, specific worker protections, so the correct classification of a worker as either an employee or independent contractor can have significant ramifications for both parties. However, it is more complicated than that because various protections and benefits are grounded in different state and federal laws and regulations.

How to avoid liability when hosting a workplace holiday party

Throwing an annual holiday party can be a good way to boost employee morale and show appreciation for your staff's hard work. However, when poorly planned, it can also put your company at risk for liability.

In today's post, we examine three key areas that, when handled inappropriately, can turn a fun, work-sponsored event into a potential lawsuit.

How to properly address employee complaints

California employers of all sizes may eventually face the difficult duty of handling an employee complaint. Complaints of workplace hazards, discrimination, harassment and other issues warrant a careful response.

Ideally, the employer promptly, thoroughly, and fairly investigates and resolves the employee's complaint, leading to a fair resolution and a content employee. Failure to follow the law and best practices, however, could leave employers at risk for a retaliation lawsuit or further unlawful behavior by its employees.

Abiding by California's paystub regulations

Many sections within California's labor code aim to protect workers and set expectations for employers. Regardless of a business' size, employees have certain rights regarding the payment they receive, including how employers must communicate payment. To properly document wages, employers must provide complete, accurate paystubs each time that the wages are paid.

California expands employer sexual harassment training programs

At Duggan Law Corporation, we provide training services to Northern California employers so that they can comply with state law requirements. The focus is to provide sexual harassment training to supervisors every two years for employers with more than 50 employees or contractors. As we discussed earlier this year, a new 2018 requirement requires this supervisor training to include issues related to gender expression, gender identity and sexual harassment.

On September 30, California Governor Jerry Brown signed S.B. 1343, a bill that will significantly expand employer sexual harassment training requirements in the state. Under the new law, all employers with five or more employees, including temporary and seasonal workers, must comply with new sexual harassment training requirements by January 1, 2020. However, if the employer provides compliant training after January 1, 2019, it does not have to conduct another training to meet the 2020 deadline.

Why employers should consider getting rid of probationary periods

Many companies have historically included language in their new hire contracts and employee handbooks about "probationary periods." This time frame usually spans around 90 days and outlines the employee and employer's right to terminate their employment relationship for any reason during the period.

Employers should consider removing these policies from their paperwork, as the term "probationary period" is a bit of a misnomer. California is an at-will employment state, so the legal right to terminate an employment relationship at any time with or without cause already exists for both parties This right of course excludes terminating the employment relationship for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason. It also excludes terminating the relationship in breach of the terms of a contract, which is further discussed below.

California court says gas-station manager not jointly employed

We recently wrote about a major California Supreme Court case called Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court that on April 30 adopted the new "ABC Test" for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. Dynamex answered this question for purposes of interpreting a state wage order that governs wage-and-hour requirements in the transportation industry.

Wage orders are state Industrial Welfare Commission regulations that apply to employers in specific industries and establish requirements for working conditions, hours and wages for employees.

Disability discrimination: What is a reasonable accommodation?

Both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) require employers to provide reasonable accommodation for job applicants and employees with actual or perceived physical or mental disabilities.

While the ADA applies to all employers at least 15 employees, California's FEHA applies to many more employers, with a lowered threshold of five employees. In addition, the FEHA takes a more expansive view of what constitutes a disability for purposes of providing accommodations.

California Supreme Court: the federal de minimis rule does not apply in California wage cases

May employers ask workers to perform brief, minor tasks while off the clock? This is the central question of Troester v. Starbucks, in which a former Starbucks shift supervisor alleged that the company did not properly compensate him for work he was regularly required to perform after clocking out, including transmitting data to corporate offices, activating the store alarm, turning off lights and locking up, walking other workers to their cars or waiting with them for their rides, and occasionally putting away patio furniture that had been left outside. Starbucks argued that the time spent on remaining closing tasks was too negligible to require tracking and compensation.

A federal district court calculated that the shift supervisor's unpaid labor over 17 months added up to just under 13 hours, worth about $103 under the minimum wage at the time. The court then applied the de minimis doctrine (from de minimis non curat lex, "the law does not concern itself with trifles") in finding in favor of Starbucks. The doctrine has been used by federal courts in other cases involving very small amounts of off-the-clock labor under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

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