The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Pro­­grams (OFCCP) monitors and enforces federal contractors’ compliance with the nation’s employment laws. Think of it as a parallel EEOC, but focused only on federal contractors. In many ways, it’s the most powerful government agency you’ve never heard of.

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Sometimes an employee pro­­moted to management just isn’t ready for new responsibilities. Maybe she’s having a hard time thinking like an exempt employee, longing for the days when she was entitled to breaks and overtime. Fortunately, if you discipline such employees for neglecting their duties, they can’t later claim they actually were hourly employees entitled to overtime.

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Public employees don’t lose all privacy rights just because they work for the government. But that privacy is subject to limitations.

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If you get sued for retaliation by an employee who has previously filed a sexual harassment complaint, a jury will probably be suspicious of any discipline she received after complaining. Unless you can convincingly show the discipline you levied was deserved, a jury will have to decide if it was retaliation or legitimate punishment.

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently confirmed the existence of a “ministerial exception” to the ADA and other federal employment statutes such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The justices held that the Con­sti­tut­­ion’s First Amendment bars em­­ployees in ministerial positions from suing churches and other religious em­­ployers under such laws.

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The EEOC is supposed to engage in a conciliation process before suing employers for alleged employment violations. But sometimes the agency comes out with guns blazing, demanding a huge payment to settle a complaint. Some employers naturally respond negatively—and they may even walk away without further discussions. One employer recently did just that, and then tried to get a federal court to dismiss the EEOC lawsuit.

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If you engage independent contractors, you may include a “choice of law” clause in your contracts, designating which state’s laws will apply should a dispute arise. But that doesn’t mean courts will always agree to the jurisdiction you prefer.

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Where should you focus if an employee is both difficult to get along with and doesn’t perform as well as she should? It’s actually an easy call. Avoid a potentially successful lawsuit by focusing on poor performance rather than demeanor or other subjective problems.

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It used to be that before an em­­ployee or former employee could get into federal court with a ­benefits-denial case, he had to show that he was a “plan participant.” But following a recent 9th Circuit decision, merely claiming to have been a plan participant is enough.

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If you receive an anonymous complaint about a hostile workplace, launch an investigation right away. That way, if an employee later sues, you can easily compare what he said to the investigator with what he remembers now.

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