The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

The Superior Super Warehouse chain of grocery stores must pay $79,200 in penalties for allowing teenage employees to operate dangerous equipment. The U.S. Department of Labor cited the chain for violations of the Fair Labor Standard Act’s child labor provisions at 33 stores in Southern California.

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Teen employees are sometimes clueless about what’s appropriate at work. From time to time, their behavior may seem … well … juvenile. Feel free to counsel youthful employees when things need to be brought back into control. And don’t worry. Kids acting their age doesn’t automatically mean you’re liable for sexual harassment.

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One of the biggest shocks employers get when an employee or former employee wins a lawsuit against them is the attorneys’ fee award. Employers typically have to pay the employee’s legal fees and expenses when the employee wins even a modest victory. Those fees can be far greater than the actual lost wages and other damages. Fortunately, the California Supreme Court has stepped in, recently concluding that trial judges have wide discretion to reduce jury awards when the employee’s damages are small but the legal expenses are large in comparison.

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Disabled employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations of their disabilities under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). That includes the obligation to engage in an interactive process to determine what, if any, accommodation is possible. If the process breaks down, employers that acted in good faith won’t be held responsible.

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Generally, public employees are entitled to a hearing before they are terminated. But in some government functions, employees who work at senior levels are deemed to be serving at the pleasure of the head of their agency or unit.

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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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