The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

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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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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Terminating a pregnant employee because she has minor medical restrictions can be very expensive. The move may mean you have to make the employee financially whole—plus pay a large punitive damage award and attorneys’ fees. Here’s the best way to handle temporary medical restrictions associated with pregnancy:

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Employees who believe their employers may be forcing them to participate in a tip pool and may be diverting part of the tips to owners or managers who aren’t entitled to them may or may not have a right to sue on their own behalf.

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Sometimes, employees who want to sue their employers don’t have the cash for up-front fees lawyers demand. If the employee has little money, she may ask the court to find free legal representation. But that will work only if she’s already looked hard for an attorney herself—and the EEOC or another agency has concluded her case has merit.

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If a defendant pleads nolo contendere, the criminal court system treats that as a conviction, even though a nolo contendere plea means the person neither contests the charges nor admits they are true. But then there’s the quirky realm of school employment, in which a wrinkle in the legislation governing who may work at schools means a no-contest plea isn’t necessarily a conviction.

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Sometimes, an employee is so disruptive that it doesn’t matter how well she is performing her job. Constant arguments, tension and other elements of a personality conflict can poison the work environment and drag down other employees’ performance. She’s got to go!

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A former lawyer at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP has filed a lawsuit against the law firm for terminating his employment after he wrote a performance evaluation that criticized another associate and partner.

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For several years, California courts have confused employers whose employees receive tips from customers. The question: What sort of tip pools can employers mandate? Iit wasn’t clear whether bartenders and others who don’t directly approach diners could share in the tips. Now, the answer is in from the Court of Appeal of California.

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Remind managers not to punish or otherwise retaliate against employees who report suspected drug use by fellow employees. Such tip-offs may constitute protected activity, and retaliation may lead to a lawsuit.

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