From the employer’s perspective, the only way to truly “win” an employment case is to avoid it in the first place. We litigators love the thrill of gettting a judge, arbitrator, or jury to decide in our client’s favor. But it can be awfully expensive to get to that point. So without further ado, here are ten commandments for avoiding employment litigation in California.
I. Thou shalt pay employees for all hours worked and provide them their breaks. It’s hard to think of a large employer in California that hasn’t spent gobs of time and money litigating this issue.
II. Thou shalt not treat nonexempt employees as exempt. This is another wage and hour issue that has given rise to thousands of class action claims.
III. Thou shalt not treat employees as independent contractors. Multiple government agencies are reviewing this issue in an effort to collect unpaid taxes.
IV. Thou shalt engage disabled employees in the interactive process. This is one of the hot areas in employment litigation. Failure to comply is, by itself, a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act.
V. Thou shalt pay attention to the unique legal requirements of the localities thou operates in. Following federal law isn’t enough. Even following California law isn’t enough if you’re operating in a locality, like San Francisco, with its own requirements.
VI. Thou shalt train thy managers to comply with applicable laws. Having the best policies in the world won’t protect a company if its managers don’t know how to implement them or whom to turn to with issues. This is especially true for harassment training (which is mandatory in California for employers with 50 or more employees).
VII. Thou shalt properly document the steps thou takes. I completed an arbitration last week that, because an issue went up on appeal, took place four years after the decisions in question. Notes of key conversations are critical in these situations.
VIII. Thou shalt require employees to waive class actions and arbitrate disputes. The law is now clear in California that, with an appropriate arbitration agreement, you can require employees to waive their right to class-wide relief. There are still open issues regarding collective actions under California’s Private Attorney Generals Act, but protection against class actions can still be of great value.
IX. Thou shalt provide employees an up-to-date employee handbook.
X. Thou shalt stay up to date regarding ever-changing legal requirements. One way to do that is to subscribe to this blog.
Another way to avoid litigation is to consult an employment lawyer (like me or my colleagues) before making decisions that may result in litigation. It’s frustrating to see companies spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars litigating issues that could have been avoided with a phone call. So next time you confront these issues, make the call!