The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

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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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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The downturn has hit California hard. Many stable California employers find themselves for the first time contemplating reductions in force in order to survive. If you’re considering a large-scale layoff, be prepared to familiarize yourself with California’s version of the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.

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Workers who alleged they had to endure marathon schedules while working on reality television shows such as “Trading Spouses” and “The Bachelor” have agreed to settle their lawsuits …

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A forecast by the U.S. Conference of Mayors says the Los Angeles area will suffer some of the largest job losses in the nation in 2009. It’s expected to lose about 164,000 jobs this year …

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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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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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Not every little lost privilege or benefit translates into a winning lawsuit for employees. Minor changes such as temporarily losing the use of a company car aren’t serious enough to constitute an “adverse employment action.”

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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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