The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

Here’s some good news for employers that use arbitration agreements: A California appellate court has ruled that when only part of an arbitration agreement turns out to be invalid because it is “unconscionable,” the rest of the agreement remains intact if the invalid section can easily be removed.

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In California, you can’t terminate employees for coming forward to press for enforcement of wage-and-hour claims, even if it turns out the claims were unfounded. That’s because California law strongly supports employee rights to get all the pay they’re entitled to, and efforts to punish employees who are wrong would chill efforts to challenge their employers’ pay policies.

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Don’t, under any circumstances, use co-worker resentment over disability accommodations as a reason to transfer or terminate the disabled employee. If you’re intent on getting rid of a disabled employee, you’d better have a better reason than that.

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Thanks to a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, employers no longer face the prospect of jury trials to resolve ADA retaliation claims. That’s a big victory, since juries are notorious for returning large awards against employers. Plus, the decision makes it clear that punitive damages are not available for retaliation, either.

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California employers don’t have many options for preventing employees from competing once they move on to another employer. For example, noncompete agreements are illegal here. The courts also look askance at other attempts to restrain competition and prevent former employees from practicing their professions even if such restrictions are temporary.

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The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has long been seen as the most liberal federal appeals court—and very employee-friendly. Could that slowly be changing? The court sided with employers in this recent Employee Retirement Income Security Act case.

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Failing to comply with a new law could wind up costing some employers lots of money—if they’re self-insured or pay deductibles on Employment Practices Liability Insurance coverage. As of Jan. 1, entities that pay Medicare-eligible individuals to resolve claims involving medical expenses must report those payments to Medicare. The penalty for noncompliance: $1,000 per day.

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The Oakland City Council has tentatively approved a proposed settlement of a wage-and-hour lawsuit claiming city police officers were not correctly paid overtime and were not paid for off-the-clock work.

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A teacher employed by the government has a First Amendment right to speak as she wishes during instructional time, and her employer must have a sound educational reason for punishing such speech.

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Here’s an important lesson for employers: Judges don’t want to hear any excuses from employers that fail to pay back wages when ordered to do so. In fact, they’re perfectly willing to throw you in the slammer if you do. Example: Recently, the owners of a cleaning service were jailed when they didn’t make court-ordered payments of back wages owed to 385 workers.

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