The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

If you are a public employer, you know how hard it is to punish an employee. Now the California Court of Appeal has made it a little easier by overturning a Civil Service Commission decision that merely slapped a harasser on the wrist. Now it’s clear that government employers have to take serious measures to end harassment in the workplace.

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Judge Charles Hayes of the California Superior Court for the County of San Diego recently denied class certification to a group of taxi drivers who claimed they were improperly classified as independent contractors rather than employees.

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A federal judge recently certified two classes of workers in a suit accusing the law firm Thelen, LLP, of firing them without notice. Also certified were three subclasses of workers alleging that the defunct law firm failed to compensate them for vacation time.

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Employers sometimes can’t get arbitration agreements to stick in California. Now an appellate court has finally upheld such an agreement.

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Many supervisors and managers have yet to learn they shouldn’t make any comments about an employee’s EEOC or other discrimination complaint. Remind supervisors that any comment about employees’ legal claims can be retaliation—and retaliation is much easier to prove than actual discrimination.

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Let your supervisors know they should be careful about handling job reference queries involving poorly performing employees. Ideally, they should refer the inquiry to HR. As the following case shows, it’s best to let the potential new employer reach his or her own conclusions about the worker.

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Whistle-blowing employees almost always expect to experience retaliation. They start looking for it as soon as they file a complaint or bring a safety issue to their employers’ attention. Smart employers anticipate this and make absolutely sure that any discipline, layoff or other adverse employment action is wholly justified before they implement it.

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Employers naturally want to stay out of court. That’s one reason so many organizations have their employees agree to arbitrate claims rather than take them to federal or state court. But if those arbitration agreements aren’t carefully worded, they may be useless.

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As an employer, you aren’t required to absolutely ensure your employees never suffer hurt feelings. That’s impossible. Nevertheless, you are required to stop behavior that could escalate into a hostile environment. Be sure to track how you punish co-workers who get into arguments and use inappropriate language.

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Here’s some encouraging news for employers. Courts are cracking down on employees who file seemingly never-ending successions of lawsuits. They’re dismissing such suits fast. But a court can do so only if you let it know that the former employee has already filed (and lost or won) a previous round of litigation.

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