Beware! Don’t overreact to pay complaints — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

In California, you can’t terminate employees for coming forward to press for enforcement of wage-and-hour claims, even if it turns out the claims were unfounded.

That’s because California law strongly supports employee rights to get all the pay they’re entitled to, and efforts to punish employees who are wrong would chill efforts to challenge their employers’ pay policies.

Recent case: Manuel Barbosa worked as an assembly line supervisor. When Barbosa’s employer changed the payroll system, Barbosa and several other employees thought they were missing a few overtime hours.

Barbosa complained to his supervisor and she told him to tell payroll that he and the other employees he supervised were owed pay for two overtime hours.

It turned out that Barbosa was wrong. The company checked its electronic records, which showed that employees had been paid for all time worked. Then Barbosa was called into a meeting and terminated for making a false claim for overtime.

Barbosa sued, arguing that it was against public policy to terminate an employee who makes a good-faith claim for wages due.

The Court of Appeal of California agreed. It said punishing Barbosa and others like him would chill efforts to enforce California’s wage-and-hour laws. (Barbosa v. Impco Technologies, No. G041070, California Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate Division, 2009)

Final note: There’s a huge difference between a fraudulent wage claim and one made in good faith, as in this case. Had the employer taken the time to fully investigate, it probably would have discovered that Barbosa was sincere and not trying to pull a fast one. Barbosa was merely trying to make sure his subordinates were appropriately paid. By firing him, the employer looked vindictive and unreasonable.

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