The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

As part of a wider crackdown on companies that violate worker protection laws, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. filed a lawsuit alleging that a Los Angeles car wash, Auto Spa Express, failed to pay minimum wage and overtime to its employees and denied them workers’ compensation benefits.

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The California Department of Parks and Recreation recently settled a sexual harassment lawsuit brought in August of 2008 by a park ranger who argued that she was harassed and experienced gender and sexual-orientation discrimination during the six years she worked at San Onofre and San Clemente State Beaches.

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Three trial court orders have called for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to end three-days-per-month furloughs of state workers who are not paid with general-fund money. Schwarzenegger implemented the furloughs last year as one way to handle the state’s ongoing budget crisis.

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If you have gone without a formal system for promoting from within—no posting open positions or a casual application process—just because you’re a small employer, watch out! You must still make sure you track the decision-making that goes into each promotion. If a disappointed employee sues, you must be able to explain why some employees were promoted over others.

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Under California’s wage-and-hour laws, employees must be completely relieved of their duties during rest periods and meal breaks. Employers can’t count downtime during work hours as rest and meal time.

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Here’s some good news for employers that use arbitration agreements: A California appellate court has ruled that when only part of an arbitration agreement turns out to be invalid because it is “unconscionable,” the rest of the agreement remains intact if the invalid section can easily be removed.

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In California, you can’t terminate employees for coming forward to press for enforcement of wage-and-hour claims, even if it turns out the claims were unfounded. That’s because California law strongly supports employee rights to get all the pay they’re entitled to, and efforts to punish employees who are wrong would chill efforts to challenge their employers’ pay policies.

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Don’t, under any circumstances, use co-worker resentment over disability accommodations as a reason to transfer or terminate the disabled employee. If you’re intent on getting rid of a disabled employee, you’d better have a better reason than that.

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Thanks to a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, employers no longer face the prospect of jury trials to resolve ADA retaliation claims. That’s a big victory, since juries are notorious for returning large awards against employers. Plus, the decision makes it clear that punitive damages are not available for retaliation, either.

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California employers don’t have many options for preventing employees from competing once they move on to another employer. For example, noncompete agreements are illegal here. The courts also look askance at other attempts to restrain competition and prevent former employees from practicing their professions even if such restrictions are temporary.

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