The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

According to a recent report, 286 of Fortune 500 companies provide equal benefits to same-sex couples. What’s more, the better the company performs, the more likely it is to offer benefits that serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers.

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A former lawyer at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP has filed a lawsuit against the law firm for terminating his employment after he wrote a performance evaluation that criticized another associate and partner.

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Here’s an important reminder for small companies and their owners: Don’t think that owners aren’t personally liable for wage-and-hour violations simply because they run their operations through a corporation or limited liability company. As the following case shows, employees can personally sue hands-on owners.

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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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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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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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Tell managers and supervisors not to embellish the reasons for discharging an employee. If they do, they risk the potential for a defamation lawsuit. That may be true even if the former employee is compelled to repeat the allegedly false information.

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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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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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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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