The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

Employees who blow the whistle on their employers’ alleged illegal actions are protected from retaliation. But that protection has important limits. One of those is that the retaliation must take place while the employee is still working for the employer.

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In a case that illustrates why you should review all your employment decisions for potential hidden bias, a California appeals court has ruled that employees can use other employees to testify that they, too, were discriminated against in the same way.

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On March 6, the state announced that, with the enactment of the 2009 state budget, mandatory furloughs previously imposed on state employees will change to floating furlough days.

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A federal jury has awarded $2.3 million to a Los Angeles police officer who claimed that male officers sexually harassed her. Melissa Borck, who remains an officer, sued the city for violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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A California Court of Appeal has reversed a ruling against grocery store workers represented by the United Food and Commercial workers who were locked out during a 4½-month labor dispute in 2003 and 2004. The dispute stemmed from an effort by approximately 8,000 workers at Albertsons and Ralphs grocery stores to obtain unemployment benefits for the time they were locked out.

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The California Media Workers Guild has announced that its members voted to accept concessionary amendments to their collective-bargaining contract with the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Here’s some encouraging news for employers. Courts are cracking down on employees who file seemingly never-ending successions of lawsuits. They’re dismissing such suits fast. But a court can do so only if you let it know that the former employee has already filed (and lost or won) a previous round of litigation.

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Many supervisors and managers have yet to learn they shouldn’t make any comments about an employee’s EEOC or other discrimination complaint. Remind supervisors that any comment about employees’ legal claims can be retaliation—and retaliation is much easier to prove than actual discrimination.

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As an employer, you aren’t required to absolutely ensure your employees never suffer hurt feelings. That’s impossible. Nevertheless, you are required to stop behavior that could escalate into a hostile environment. Be sure to track how you punish co-workers who get into arguments and use inappropriate language.

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Employers naturally want to stay out of court. That’s one reason so many organizations have their employees agree to arbitrate claims rather than take them to federal or state court. But if those arbitration agreements aren’t carefully worded, they may be useless.

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