The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

Deputy probation officer Timothy Bentley is suing the Los Angeles County Probation Department, claiming that the county had a “pattern and practice of refusing to pay overtime” to deputy officers in the Suitable Placement Division.

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A Los Angeles Superior Court jury recently awarded $370 million in damages to five former employees who said they were defamed by Georges Marciano, co-founder of fashion company Guess, Inc., and an independent candidate in the 2010 California governor’s race.

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Public employees retain the right to free speech under the First Amendment and can’t be punished for exercising that right. However, the right is limited when the “speech” they’re using is part of their jobs. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has recently concluded that for California police officers, free speech protection may be even more limited.

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The Fair Labor Standards Act says some managers may be held personally liable for unpaid wages, independent of the company’s obligation to pay. Not even a company bankruptcy halts individual liability.

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A federal judge recently refused to certify a class-action suit in which workers at several California refiners sought to jointly sue ConocoPhillips Co. for failing to provide meal periods.

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The Pacific Legal Foundation recently filed a lawsuit alleging that Caltrans’ new contract quota program for minority-owned firms is unconstitutional. The suit, filed on behalf of the San Diego chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, argues that Caltrans did not do enough to show that discrimination was a problem before it implemented the program.

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You know that you have to accommodate disabled applicants and employees under both the ADA and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. When making those accommodations, think of customers, too. The California Supreme Court has ruled that customers who can’t access your public spaces can sue for damages.

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Are you considering ways to weather the current economic storm? Perhaps you can cut some benefits, at least for new hires and maybe for current employees, too. For example, nothing in California law (or federal law, for that matter) requires you to offer vacation time or pay.

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Here’s a good idea if you are reviewing employment agreements that spell out how you pay commissions: Be sure to specify that the end of employment means the end of commissions.

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It can be months or years of administrative hearings to decide how much you are obliged to pay terminated employees. That’s one reason the Court of Appeal of California has begun advocating arbitration as a legal alternative to hearings.

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