Beware of Paying Employees a Fixed Daily Rate

The restaurant industry is often the target of wage and hour lawsuits, particularly, ethnic restaurants, which find themselves on the defense side of a wage claim or lawsuit filed by a server or cook who was recently terminated.  For ease of administration, many smaller restaurant owners and their staff agree on wages in the form of a fixed daily rate that is paid regardless of the number of hours the employee works. Unfortunately, many of these restaurant owners believe that because there’s an agreement between them and the employee and because a close personal relationship that this type of arrangement is fine.  However, this mistaken understanding will cost many hard-working small business owners tens of thousands of dollars if not ultimately force them to close down the business.  Here is information that could keep you and your restaurant business out of trouble. Can I pay employees a flat daily rate instead of hourly? Technically, yes because neither federal nor California law requires that you pay employees on an hourly or any other basis.  BUT paying employees a flat daily rate regardless … Continue reading

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California Minimum Wage Increase 2017

The new year brings many things and one of those is a new minimum wage. Effective January 1, 2017, new minimum wage requirements go into effect at the local and state level. The minimum wage is the lowest rate per hour that an employer may pay a non-exempt employee.   However, since the salary test for exempt employees requires that they make at least twice the minimum wage for full-time employment, changes in the minimum wage will affect the minimum salary that you pay your exempt employees as well. Determining what you need to pay workers depends on: How many employees you have; and Where they work. If there is a conflict between the state, county, and/or local minimum wage rate, follow the stricter standard (i.e. the one that is most beneficial to employees). Below is a non-exhaustive chart of the effective minimum wage rates effective as of the date of this post. Location Employers with 26 or More Employees Employers with 25 or Less Employees State of California $10.50 $10.00 City of Los Angeles $10.50 (until July 1, 2017) $10.00 … Continue reading

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What Lawsuits and Disneyland Have In Common: The Emotional Costs of a Lawsuit

Whether you came to the decision to look for an attorney because you’ve been served with a lawsuit and have no choice but to defend yourself, or if you have reached an impasse in a dispute and have no choice but to say “see you in court,” what happens after this point is likely a mystery for you. If that’s the case, this is what a lawsuit looks like. But there’s also an emotional part of a lawsuit. Therefore, in addition to the obvious considerations of finding a capable attorney that you like and trust and the financial costs, you should also prepare for the emotional costs of a lawsuit. Since Disneyland’s just up the freeway, I’ll liken it to a day at Disneyland. It’s a Long Process If you’re traveling into town specifically to visit Disneyland with the kids, you expect to get there when the park opens, stay for the parade and fireworks, and even until the park closes. You may expect to do that for 3 days in a row. Why? The Lines are Long If Disneyland … Continue reading

In: Anatomy of a Lawsuit, California Civil Litigation, Hiring a Lawyer, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do I Need a Written Contract?

You may have been in the situation where you had an agreement with someone else to do something. It may have been a family member, a friend, a customer, or a service provider. You or the other person didn’t want to go through the formal process of putting it in writing because you have a close relationship, don’t want to offend the other person, or don’t want them to think you don’t trust them. Then something goes wrong. You discuss it with the other person and now there’s a dispute as to what you both actually agreed to, or you never talked about what you two would do if x, y, z happens. Do you have a breach of contract claim? Maybe. In this scenario, your first and most difficult hurdle in prevailing in a breach of contract lawsuit is the lack of a written contract. There are multiple reasons why you would want a written contract. Here are a few: It gives clarity regarding each person’s rights and duties. The process of creating a contract forces the parties to … Continue reading

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Help! What Are My (Immediate) Defenses to a Federal Trade Secret Claim?

[Originally published without image as Help! What Are My (Immediate) Defenses to a Federal Trade Secret Claim?, by Lily Li and Andrea Paris, in Orange County Lawyer Magazine, September 2016, Vol. 58 No.9 on page 52.] The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA), signed into law by President Obama on May 11, 2016 creates a new federal cause of action for trade secret theft. Not only does the DTSA open the doors of the U.S. district courts to trade secret plaintiffs, it weaponizes complaints. Now, upon a showing of immediate and irreparable injury, plaintiffs in trade secret cases can request extraordinary relief: court-ordered seizure of the misappropriated trade secrets without notice to the defendant. This relief is above and beyond what is provided for by the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA), the trade secret law adopted by most states, including California, and copies many of the civil seizure remedies previously available to copyright, trademark, and patent plaintiffs for infringing and counterfeit goods. This extraordinary relief comes with several safeguards. Defendants, faced with the prospect of a U.S. Marshal knocking on (or down) … Continue reading

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Pretext and Age Discrimination

A California Court of Appeal recently upheld an award of $16 million against Staples for age discrimination in a case called Nickel v. Staples. The majority of that award ($13 million to be exact) was in the form of punitive damages, which are meant to punish the defendant for its wrongful conduct. I found the court’s analysis in this case particularly interesting because many employers have a false sense of security that terminating older employees because they generally have higher salaries and cost the company more is a legitimate business decision. However, it’s evidence of that reasoning that justified the large punitive damages award. Workers Who Are Over 40 Years Old Protected from Discrimination Employers with over 5 employees are subject to the Fair Employment and Housing Act’s (“FEHA”) anti-discrimination laws. Government Code Section 12940(a) makes it a wrongful employment practice to discriminate against someone in the terms and conditions of their employment because they are over 40 years old. An easy rule of thumb for employers to remember is: whenever age the motivating factor for an employment decision, you … Continue reading

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Arbitration Agreement: Do I Want It?

You probably signed an arbitration agreement at your last doctor’s visit, when you signed up for your gym or yoga studio membership, or when you signed a listing agreement with your realtor. The ubiquity of these agreements makes it especially important for us to understand them as consumers, business owners, employers, and employees. What is an arbitration agreement? Arbitration is one of the alternative means of resolving disputes (alternative to filing a lawsuit that is). Thus, an arbitration agreement is an agreement to take disputes out of the court system to be decided by a private arbitrator (or a panel of arbitrators) usually following a different set of procedural rules than the court. People and companies choose to arbitrate for various reasons. The process is generally more streamlined and allows for a quicker resolution of disputes. It is often times cheaper than litigating in court, and the proceedings are typically not part of the public record. Lastly, the conventional wisdom is that you reduce the risk of a run-away-jury. Do you want to arbitrate? Whether agreeing to arbitrate potential disputes … Continue reading

In: California Civil Litigation, Contracts | Leave a comment

What to do Before You Sign a Contract

Congratulations! You made a deal, reached an agreement, or resolved a dispute and now you’re ready to sign a contract to make it all official.  If this contract is important enough to you, pause for a minute, read it carefully, and ask an attorney to review it. Why? There are 2 reasons: Whoever drafts the contract will include terms and provisions that are in their favor. They have no obligation, duty, or interest (generally) in watching out for your interest. But your lawyer does. Every time I review a contract and explain the various clauses to my clients, there are a few clauses that my clients did not understand or was against their interest and invariably had to be negotiated and revised. You may have an engineering degree from MIT and be the smartest person in the room but unless you’ve seen the same clauses day in and day out and have seen their implications in the litigation context, you may not have an accurate understanding of the contract. Contract pitfalls to look out for. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. … Continue reading

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Support Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation

New regulations related to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) went into effect on April 1, 2016. Among the various additions, which touch on a broad range of discrimination issues in employment, is a discussion about support animals as a reasonable accommodation in the workplace. As a servant to my 3 dogs and lawyer who has worked on dog bite cases, this was of particular interest to me. The new regulations specifically discuss assistive and support animals in the area of disability accommodation and provides that an assistive animal, including support animals, may constitute a reasonable accommodation in certain circumstances. What is an “Assistive Animal”? According to the new regulations, an “assistive animal” is defined as an animal that is necessary as a reasonable accommodation. These include: guide dogs for the visually impaired, signal dogs for the hearing impaired, and trained service dogs that meet the requirements of the Civil Code related to training and licensing. Additionally, a “support dog” or other animal that provides emotional, cognitive, or other similar support to a person with a disability, including, but … Continue reading

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Disability Accommodation

Here’s a common situation, an employee calls in sick and a couple of days later you receive a doctor’s note taking the employee off work for 2 weeks.  If you are an employer with 5 or more employees in California, you are subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).  If you have 15 or more employees, you are also subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  Both laws require employers to find a reasonable accommodation for an employee who suffers a physical or mental disability so that the employee could return to work.  California employers have the added duty to engage in the interactive process in good faith.  The interactive process is simply engaging the employee in a dialogue to understand their restrictions and available accommodations. Why does it matter? From a management perspective, truly engaging in the interactive process and making the appropriate efforts to accommodate a disabled employee shows all your workers that they are valued beyond being merely disposable workers.  From a legal/monetary standpoint, doing it right will prevent … Continue reading

In: California Leave Law, Employment Law | Leave a comment