The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

California law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees who are hurt at work. For example, if an employer requires those hurt at work to use vacation time for medical appointments while other employees can take sick leave, that would be illegal discrimination.

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You may be liable for wage-and-hour violations involving people you don’t ordinarily think of as actual employees. That’s because California uses a long list of factors to consider when deciding whether someone is an employee. One of those factors: Who provides the individual’s paycheck and makes tax deductions? Another factor: Who gives directions to the worker?

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Offering an employee a severance payment in exchange for releasing any legal claims won’t be used against you. Courts want to encourage dispute settlement—and if severance offers could be used against employers later in court, cases would rarely be settled.

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Employees who sue for discrimination have to come up with some evidence before the case can advance beyond the initial stages—and before it gets progressively more expensive for employers paying the legal bill. Employers that fight back right away with statistics showing there was no discrimination can save big bucks in the long run.

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Lawry’s Restaurants recently agreed to settle a gender discrimination class action alleging that the chain hired only women for its food server positions. The EEOC filed the suit after Lawry’s Las Vegas restaurant refused to accept a male busboy’s application for an opening as a food server.

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On Nov. 23, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement issued an opinion letter stating that employers may deduct vacation and sick leave banks for exempt employees’ partial-day absences of fewer than four hours without risking their exempt status.

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Puma North America has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that it failed to pay on time about $350,000 to hundreds of employees. Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank conditionally certified the class to include the company’s hourly, nonexempt retail store employees who received late paychecks between 2004 and 2008.

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If you’ve ever been involved in litigation, you know that lawsuits can be complicated and costly affairs. Your case undoubtedly pales in comparison to one about to be resolved in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. About the best that can be said for the case, involving an alleged stock-options backdating scheme at semiconductor maker Broadcom Corp., is that the lawyers will be well paid.

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Under the ADA, employers aren’t allowed to subject employees to medical tests unless they can prove that the examinations are job-related and consistent with business necessity. However, they can ask employees to perform agility tests. The line between the two is difficult to find. But get it wrong, and you may have an ADA discrimination case on your hands.

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With Republican Scott Brown’s stunning victory in a January special election, Democrats lost their filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate. That shift has cast doubt on organized labor’s top legislative priority—the so-called Employee Free Choice Act. So is this the end of the EFCA? Probably yes—at least as it’s currently written, but it’s too soon to celebrate.

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