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The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

Even if a manager says or does something incredibly stupid, you have a chance to fix the situation and avoid losing a sexual harassment lawsuit. That’s true even under Cali­for­nia’s strict rules. Don’t wait to respond to a complaint. When you act, act decisively.

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A pool supply company recently agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the EEOC accusing it of sexual har­ass­ment, retaliation and constructive discharge. Irvine-based Aqua Tri will pay $462,500 to 18 Hispanic workers.

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October legislation clarifying the definition of “gender” in California. The law, AB 887, makes it clear that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and “gender expression” is prohibited.

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The California Labor Commissioner is suing ZipRealty Inc., claiming the company owes unpaid wages to hundreds of real estate agents. The lawsuit is seeking minimum wages in excess of $7.5 million, overtime compensation in the amount of $1.25 million—plus damages and ­penalties of over $9 million.

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Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed bills enacting several new em­­ployment statutes. Each becomes effective Jan. 1, 2012. Here’s how the new laws affect private employers.

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From electronic employment veri­­fication to maternity insurance, Cali­fornia employers have new issues to consider, following recent enactment of these laws:

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Before you ignore an employee who complains he has a hard time walking, consider the consequences of denying a reasonable accommodation. If a jury finds that the employee is disabled, you may be liable. Instead, explore the problem and make simple accommodations if at all possible.

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Good news for public colleges and universities: When staff blow the whistle on alleged wrongdoing and the institution has a sound policy for dealing with such allegations, the employee can’t also take the claim to federal court.

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It’s hard to create binding and en­­forceable arbitration agreements in California. Some courts considering California arbitration agreements have held that actions brought by em­­ployees under the California Private Attor­­ney General Act of 2004 (PAGA) can’t be blocked by arbitration agreements.

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Here’s something to consider if you discover an FMLA leave mistake: Just fix it. If you erroneously imposed some kind of discipline for violating your attendance rules, rescind it. Chances are a court won’t hold your error against you.

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