The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

Fifteen companies headquartered in California have made the 2009 Fortune magazine “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. Why did so many California companies make the list? Great benefits seem to be the reason.

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A government employee has won a jury trial against Contra Costa County, and the verdict may cost the county more than $1 million.

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California State University Fresno has settled a suit brought by a female former volleyball coach who accused the school of sex discrimination. The settlement was reached 18 months after a California Superior Court jury returned a $5.85 million verdict in the favor of Lindy Vivas …

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The Orange County Register recently agreed to pay $22 million to settle a class action brought by its paper carriers, who claimed the newspaper misclassified them as independent contractors rather than employees. The settlement will bring to an end a two-month trial against the newspaper.

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If you’re serious about wiping out sexual and other forms of harassment in your workplace, consider adopting a zero-tolerance policy for failing to report suspected or known harassment. By readily disciplining those who ignore that rule, you can create a new climate in which employees really believe you take harassment seriously.

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Employees who suspect their employers are trying to get them to leave voluntarily instead of firing them outright sometimes do quit. Then they turn around and sue under the theory of “constructive discharge.” Essentially, they argue their employer made their lives so miserable they had no choice but to resign. Fortunately for employers, courts are fairly strict in how they view constructive discharges.

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When it comes to reducing the time and expense of litigation, be careful what you wish for. Attorneys often advise employers to consider adopting arbitration clauses to settle employment disputes. With arbitration, no jury is involved; the case stays out of court; there’s no bad publicity; and it may be cheaper—or maybe not.

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If, like many employers, you rely on a bonus plan to help retain valued employees and motivate them to work hard, don’t get caught in this common trap: Employees who worked overtime during the bonus-earning period will be entitled to additional overtime pay after they get their bonuses.

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Some employers include a privacy clause in their applications and handbooks that tells employees they can opt out of having their names and addresses released to third parties. However, if a worker who is suing for wage-and-hour violations wants to get his hands on employee names and contact information for the purpose of building a class-action case, those privacy clauses can’t stop it.

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California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employers whose disabled employees ask for accommodations to “engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process with the employee … to determine effective reasonable accommodations.” The key is to act promptly.

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