The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

Sometimes, an employee is so disruptive that it doesn’t matter how well she is performing her job. Constant arguments, tension and other elements of a personality conflict can poison the work environment and drag down other employees’ performance. She’s got to go!

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If a defendant pleads nolo contendere, the criminal court system treats that as a conviction, even though a nolo contendere plea means the person neither contests the charges nor admits they are true. But then there’s the quirky realm of school employment, in which a wrinkle in the legislation governing who may work at schools means a no-contest plea isn’t necessarily a conviction.

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For several years, California courts have confused employers whose employees receive tips from customers. The question: What sort of tip pools can employers mandate? Iit wasn’t clear whether bartenders and others who don’t directly approach diners could share in the tips. Now, the answer is in from the Court of Appeal of California.

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Sometimes, employees who want to sue their employers don’t have the cash for up-front fees lawyers demand. If the employee has little money, she may ask the court to find free legal representation. But that will work only if she’s already looked hard for an attorney herself—and the EEOC or another agency has concluded her case has merit.

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The nonprofit California HealthCare Foundation (CHF) has concluded that California’s minimum nurse-to-patient requirement has had little direct effect on the quality of care. The goal of the minimum staffing ratios, implemented in 2004, was the improvement of patient outcomes.

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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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Former employees and their lawyers are always looking for ways to maximize what they can get from former employers. One way is to add a wrongful discharge claim if an employee is fired after he or she complains about workplace safety. These cases can get quite expensive, as the following case shows.

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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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