California employers can be forgiven for feeling like they have a giant target on their backs. Here are three reasons why:
- Employment claims are easy to file, but hard to get rid of. The major barrier to filing a lawsuit is convincing one of the 170,000 active members of the California bar to take the case. But once it’s filed, you can’t get the case dismissed on the pleadings if the complaint states a claim under any possible legal theory. Employers can seek summary judgment, but they must first give the plaintiff an adequate chance to conduct discovery and then (in state court) give it 75 days’ notice. Even then, many judges are reluctant to grant summary judgment because they know they can be reversed.
- The employee’s claims are often presumed to be valid. As for the substantive law, several presumptions operate against employers. Employees categorized as exempt are presumed to be nonexempt. Independent contractors are presumed to be employees. Wage and hour requirements and discrimination laws are liberally construed with an eye toward protecting employees. This does not make for an even playing field.
- A successful plaintiff can recover attorneys’ fees far more easily than a successful defendant. If the employee wins on a wage claim or a discrimination claim, the employer almost always has to pay the employee’s attorneys’ fees. If the employer wins, the bar is set so high for recovering fees that it’s all but unattainable.
That’s why the best way for an employer to win an employment dispute is to avoid it in the first place. As I’ve said before, prevention is key.