The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

In a case that illustrates why you should review all your employment decisions for potential hidden bias, a California appeals court has ruled that employees can use other employees to testify that they, too, were discriminated against in the same way.

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Employees who blow the whistle on their employers’ alleged illegal actions are protected from retaliation. But that protection has important limits. One of those is that the retaliation must take place while the employee is still working for the employer.

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California finished better than just three states in the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council’s (SBEC) Business Tax Index for 2009. The only ones ranking lower than California: Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.

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You probably know that employers can and are sometimes held liable if their employees harm customers. That’s especially true if they knew or should have known that the employee might be dangerous. But your potential liability—if you negligently hired an employee in the first place—doesn’t go on indefinitely.

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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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