The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

Private employers have the right to set their own dress and grooming codes. Within limits, that includes restricting an employee’s facial hair and insisting on a clean-shaven face unless an employee can’t shave because of a documented medical condition or religious requirement.

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Public employees can’t be punished for speaking out on matters of public importance, as long as doing so isn’t an official part of their jobs. Until now, it has been an open question whether a police officer’s complaints about police brutality were protected.

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If the California Department of Indus­­­trial Relations comes after you, don’t expect to get away with anything illegal. The department reports that since January 2013, a joint enforcement task force of state regulatory agencies looking for pay and safety violations has wound up citing 83% of work sites inspected.

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Disabled employees who need time off to deal with a disability and who don’t have FMLA, sick or vacation leave may still be entitled to more time off. That’s because the ADA allows employees to take additional time off as a reasonable accommodation. Be sure your employee handbook accounts for this possibility.

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A California appellate court has invalidated an arbitration agreement on the grounds that it was unconscionable. The court said it was both one-sided and oppressive.

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Don’t hesitate to stop behavior that hasn’t quite risen to the level of full-blown harassment. Do it as soon as you get wind that something is amiss.

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Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law SB 292, a bill that clarifies that an individual filing a sexual harassment complaint under state law need not prove that the sexually harassing conduct was motivated by sexual desire.

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In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a class action against Wal­­mart that included over a million employees who claimed sex discrimination. The court said the ­­employees didn’t have enough in common to band together in one lawsuit (Wal­­mart v. Dukes). Now federal courts are doing the same with much smaller class-action lawsuits—good news for employers.

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Let’s say someone requests a series of leave extensions for medical reasons. You approve them over several months until she’s used up all available accumulated leave—and then approve unpaid extensions in the hope she’ll return soon. At that point, you are free to ask if her doctor can provide a definite return date. If the answer is no, you can safely terminate her.

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A worker who drank himself silly at work, fell and hit his head has lost his workers’ compensation claim.

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