Age Discrimination in Hiring

I previously wrote about the age discrimination verdict against Staples. Last week, NPR published a story about a study by David Neumark and two other professors of economics at UC Irvine showing that the call-back rate for applicants drop as applicants’ ages increase. Older women witnessed lower call-back rates than older-men and “dropped by around a quarter when you go from the young group to the middle-aged group . . . . And they drop by another quarter when you go from the middle-age group to . . . around age 65.” Section 12940 of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits age discrimination in hiring, selection for training programs leading to employment, and in other terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Additionally, employers must “take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.” Although discriminatory hiring practices are not always blatant, and many job applicants fail to get hired without knowing the true reason why, employers found in violation of the anti-discrimination laws wind up entangled in expensive lawsuits. One such lawsuit was a federal class-action lawsuit against … Continue reading

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What to Do: Employee Leaves With Trade Secrets

Losing an employee, especially a key employee, is difficult for any business. You’ve invested time, know-how, and resources in your employees and they in turn are the lifeblood of your business. Unfortunately, people leave and when they leave, it is usually to work for a competitor or even to start a competing business. If that employee had access to your company’s confidential information such as customer lists, customer preferences, pricing formulas, and any other information that gives you a competitive edge, you want to make sure that the employee can’t take that valuable information to a competitor. How do you protect trade secrets from a competitor when an employee leaves? I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news: If the first time you think about protecting your company’s confidential information is after a key employee leaves, it may be too late. One of the fundamental requirements under California and Federal laws that protect trade secrets is the requirement that you made reasonable efforts to keep that information a secret. Thus, if you haven’t thought about how … Continue reading

In: California Civil Litigation, Contracts, Employment Law, What to Do | Leave a comment

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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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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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

Politics in the Workplace: Navigating the Landmines

This year’s heated election cycle and last week’s shootings have left nerves raw. I see evidence of this on Facebook every day as “Friends” express their anger, fear, and criticism in memes, status updates, and comment wars. With the parallel existence of our virtual and real lives, these same sentiments are just under the surface in conversations at work and will undoubtedly bubble to the surface, if not explode, at work. As an employer, how do you maintain a cordial work environment, ensure that your employees feel safe and are productive, and also protect yourself from a lawsuit? To help navigate through the rest of this year, California employers should be mindful of 3 main principles when it comes to politics in the workplace. Beware of forcing your politics on your employees. Yes, at this point there is no question that corporations have the right to free speech. However, California law prohibits employers from “[c]ontrolling or directing, or tending to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of [their] employees.” (Cal. Lab. Code § 1101.) Additionally, Section 1102 of the Labor … Continue reading

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Overtime Rules for Inside Salesperson Commissions

If your business sells products or services, it is likely that you have at least one inside salesperson who earns commissions on the sales that the inside salesperson makes. If this inside salesperson has the potential to earn a decent amount in commissions, your company may have classified this salesperson as an exempt commissioned employee. This means that you are not paying this person overtime pay for overtime hours worked. If this is the case, you may be incorrectly paying your inside salesperson and exposed to a potential claim for wage theft. Exempt vs Non-Exempt Classification Certain commissioned inside sales employees may be exempt from overtime pay in California if the employee earns more than one-and-a-half times the minimum wage each workweek, and more than half of the employee’s compensation represents commission earnings. (Outside salespeople do not need to meet the minimum salary requirements.) The calculation on the second prong could get complicated where the employee gets a draw on commissions. In addition to the two prongs, in order for an inside salesperson to be exempt from overtime pay, a … Continue reading

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