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The HR Specialist: California Employment Law

The Court of Appeal of California has handed a significant victory to employers that use arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. As long as the underlying terms of the agreement are fair and the arbitration process impartial, the court will send a case to arbitration even if the employee had no choice but to sign the agreement.

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If you must eliminate jobs, make sure you create a clear paper trail explaining why and how you made the decision to terminate a particular individual. That’s especially important if the employee had discrimination charges pending—or a history of filing them.

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When terminating several em­­ployees at the same time, make sure you have carefully documented the reasons. That’s especially important if the employees share common protected characteristics such as age. You want to be prepared for a lawsuit if they decide the real reason they lost their jobs was their protected characteristic.

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The next time you conduct discrimination training, remind supervisors and managers that discriminating against an employee because of a spouse’s protected characteristic is just as illegal as direct discrimination. That’s what one federal agency has learned the hard way.

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Sexual harassment allegations often come down to he said/she said arguments. Without hearing from both sides, there’s no way to figure out what happened. If one of the people involved in the allegations won’t talk, you can discipline him for refusing to co­­operate.

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Good news for public colleges and universities: When staff blow the whistle on alleged wrongdoing and the institution has a sound policy for dealing with such allegations, the employee can’t also take the claim to federal court.

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It’s hard to create binding and en­­forceable arbitration agreements in California. Some courts considering California arbitration agreements have held that actions brought by em­­ployees under the California Private Attor­­ney General Act of 2004 (PAGA) can’t be blocked by arbitration agreements.

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Some disabled employees never tell employers about their con­­ditions—even if their disability could affect performance. And of course you know you shouldn’t treat employees as disabled unless they claim a disability. But what if you fire someone for poor performance?

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Here’s something to consider if you discover an FMLA leave mistake: Just fix it. If you erroneously imposed some kind of discipline for violating your attendance rules, rescind it. Chances are a court won’t hold your error against you.

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When claims involve unpaid overtime or misclassification, attorneys representing employees naturally want to handle the case as a class or collective action. Some employers think that if they include an arbitration agreement in their terms and conditions of em­­ploy­­ment, a wage-and-hour claim has to go to arbi­­tra­­tion as an individual claim. That’s not necessarily true.

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