Every year in December I get the same wave of client calls.  What can we do to prevent everyone from calling in sick during the holidays?

Why is this such a problem?  It’s not just flu season or hangovers from too many holiday cocktails.  California has mandatory sick leave, many cities have additional requirements, and employees realize that sick days not used will be lost.  So what do they do?  No surprise — they use them!

And employers can’t really prevent them from doing so.  If the employee says s/he is sick (or a family member is sick), you can’t discipline the employee for calling out at the last minute or using the time.  It is essentially statutorily protected; there is certainly risk if you require a doctor’s note for time used within the statutory period.

What can you do?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure employees use up their allotted sick time and aren’t allowed to take unpaid time off in lieu of sick time.  Once statutory sick time is used, you can discipline for taking additional time off (i.e. caveat, beware of ADA and intermittent FMLA/CFRA issues).
  • Take good notes of why someone is calling off. If the time off is for a flat tire, or the DMV, or a sick pet (not an assistance animal), then it isn’t a sick day.
  • If someone has a doctor’s appointment that was pre-scheduled, and just forgot to tell you, you can discipline for not giving proper notice (although be consistent).
  • Consider rewarding employees who don’t use sick leave by paying it out at year-end (although if you are making an exception to your policy, clearly explain it as a one-time issue due to year-end staffing that is not intended to be precedent setting).  Or change your policy to allow unused sick time to roll-over to discourage year-end use.
  • Or, the practical solution, which is ask your employees to tell you when they plan to be sick (if they can), to avoid putting too much pressure on co-workers with last minute call-outs.

Just one more California law issue without a terrific solution.

The trend is to move away from holiday parties.  Some companies are opting for a family picnic in the summer instead, or a party in January after the holiday season is over.  If your company is still planning a holiday party this season, given the heightened attention to harassment issues, here are some tips to consider:

Misletoe

Explain to management that they are “on duty”:

  • They must watch drinking and related behavior
  • Remember professional boundaries
  • No touching (preferably even when dancing)
  • Do not drive employees home after the party
  • Do not “after-party” with staff
  • Use the “mom test” (i.e. if you wouldn’t do/say it to your mom or
    in front of your mom, then don’t do/say it)

Remind employees that you want them to have fun, but:

  • Normal standards of conduct still apply
  • Misconduct at or after the party will lead to disciplinary action
  • Drink responsibly
  • No marijuana (even if legal)
  • Encourage designated drivers (provide a gift) or ride sharing

For everyone:

  • Follow my “one wine, one water” rule (it is hard to get drunk if you drink a full glass or two of water between every alcoholic drink)
  • No dirty dancing
  • No sleep-overs after the party (or couch surfing)
  • And for goodness sake, please don’t hang mistletoe!

It is that time of year.  We continue to wait for the Governor to sign or veto some controversial bills such as:

  • The Stand Act (prohibiting confidentiality in harassment and sexual assault settlements); and
  • AB 3080 (prohibiting mandatory arbitration for new and current employees, but presumably allowing arbitration with an opt out, and prohibiting nondisclosure of harassment issues to protect future employees going forward).

As we wait, there was one bill recently passed that clarifies a few things about California’s salary history ban that is worthy of a quick mention.

As you may recall, effective this year, employers were prohibited from asking an applicant about his/her salary history.  Employers are also required to provide pay scale information to an applicant on the position applied for upon reasonable request.  Recently, some of those terms have been clarified, as follows:

  1. First, an applicant is now defined as an individual seeking employment who is not currently employed with that employer in any capacity or position.  So current employees are not entitled to pay scale information.
  2. Second, a reasonable request, is now defined as a request made after an applicant has completed an initial interview with the employer.  This would prevent someone not qualified for a position from obtaining salary range information about it.
  3. Third, pay scale is defined as a salary or hourly wage range for the position.  Not quite sure what the confusion was there.
  4. Fourth, as most of us already surmised, it is perfectly acceptable to ask an applicant about his/her salary expectations.
  5. And finally, while prior salary cannot justify any disparity in compensation, an employer can consider current salary as a factor to justify a wage differential as long as it is based on:
    • A seniority system;
    • A merit system;
    • A system that measures quality or quantity of production; or
    • A bona fide factor other than sex, race or ethnicity (such as education, training, or experience).

Now if only the legislature would take up some very serious issues facing employers, especially after Dyanmex (and the resulting war against contractor status), such as my personal favorite idea, to create a new category of workers called “dependent contractors”.  Maybe next term.  One can always hope.

ICE workplace audits are on the rise.  And if you didn’t know, the federal government and California are not harmonious in their views on immigration issues.  That means that ICE raids on California employers are likely to continue, especially in target industries such as hospitality, construction, agriculture, tech, and manufacturing.  And if you want to minimize your company’s exposure to massive fines and possible criminal prosecution, this issue should be on your radar.

One of the biggest recent traps of late seems to be the I-9 form.  Under federal law, all employers in the US are required to complete the I-9 in order to verify the identity and employment eligibility of new hires.  Employers are required to have a completed I-9 on file for every employee.  The employee must complete Section 1 of the I-9 at the time of hire (and absolutely not before acceptance of a job offer).  The employer must complete Section 2 of the I-9 within three business days of the hire date.  I-9s must be retained for three years after the date of hire, or one year after the date employment ends, whichever is later.  Failure to abide by these rules can lead to very severe penalties and fines.

When ICE wants to examine your workforce, it provides a Notice of Inspection that gives you just three days to get your I-9s and payroll records ready for review.  Once that happens, it is very hard to fix any problems you may have.  There just isn’t time and ICE has discretion to disregard any remediation efforts after the service of the NOI.

What can be wrong with an I-9 you ask?  Well if our audits of I-9s are indicative, close to 50% if not more, usually have problems, including:

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  • Incomplete, with information, signatures, and dates missing.
  • Incorrect information, such as a document for List B or C in the List A column.
  • Signatures that don’t match the names on the documents.
  • Blank Section 2 with the List A or B and C documents simply attached.
  • Documents that don’t match the names on the form.
  • Older or incorrect versions of the I-9 used.
  • And on and on and on….

The I-9 may look like a simple form, but it is not and can cost the employer significant cash in fines … and possible criminal prosecution!  So if the person completing your new hire paperwork isn’t skilled or trained on how to complete this form, chances are your I-9s are imperfect.  It is not uncommon when we perform I-9 audits to see the same mistake(s) repeated over the course of thousands of I-9s!  That means risk, and these days, big risk.

The other problem is that you can’t just ask specific employees to re-verify their status, for example if there is a rumor that the employee may be undocumented, because that can lead to claims of discrimination.  Remember national origin and citizenship status are protected categories.  So the only way to fix the I-9s is to audit all of them, fix all of the mistakes that you can, and do it before any audit or notice of inspection from a government agency.

Oh, and please do not audit without the attorney-client privilege protection.  The last thing you want are emails indicating that your I-9s are wrong, or your employees are illegal, and you knew about it and didn’t fix it.  Knowingly employing, hiring, or continuing to employ undocumented workers is a crime.  Employers are subject to criminal prosecution—yes, that means possible jail time.

This is budget planning season for many employers.  Our advice is to add an 1-9 audit to your budget for 2019.

Many thanks to Ali Brodie for her assistance with this post!

I was in court last week for a status conference in a wage-and-hour class action, and was talking to my opposing counsel, an active litigator in this arena.  I asked him if the new California Supreme Court case rejecting the de minimis standard was going to be big business for him.

His candid response surprised me, so I thought I’d share it.  He opined that it really isn’t hard to prevent class action lawsuits in California and the de minimis argument really isn’t necessary.  All an employer has to do is:

  • Pay per actual time punches; don’t round at all.
  • Require a 45 minute or one hour meal break; don’t bother with 30 minutes.
  • Provide meal breaks at the 4th hour (always way before the end of the 5th hour worked).
  • Have a fully compliant rest break policy and a strict policy against working off the clock.

To his list I would add:

  • Don’t schedule 6-hour shifts with a 6-hour or less meal wavier; schedule 5 hour shifts or just schedule the meal break.
  • Don’t rely on-duty meal waivers.
  • Update your handbooks every year, it really is cost effective in the long run.
  • Train your managers not to mess things up (even inadvertently), and keep records of that training.

He said that an employer who consistently does all of these things makes taking a class action case very un-interesting for plaintiff’s attorneys like him.

58097900 – class action, 3d rendering, rough street sign collection

Easy enough, right?  Well, it sounds a little bit expensive to me, and it also might create some employee relations issues.  But then again, it might  be worth a try….

Do you want to know the secret of achieving pay equity in the workplace (at least in the long term)?  Well, it is really about the dads. Yes, that’s right.  The more paid time off given to fathers, the more likely it is the a company will achieve long term pay equity.  Why you ask?

Because when time off for babies and kids becomes a parental issue, and not a women’s issue, then women stop being punished (whether directly or indirectly) for taking time off to give birth and raise kids.  And if you are wondering if women really are set back by being pregnant or active parents, then read this recent article in the New York Times.  Women are set back.  Having kids can be a career killer. There is a documented motherhood penalty.

This is why parental leave policies, as opposed to maternity and paternity leave policies, are the wave of the future.  If your business has not revised its time off policies for all parents (whether female/male, gay/straight, birth parent/non-birth parent), then it is time to consider it.  Otherwise, you just could be the next company in the news (and not in a good way).

Oh, and by the way, having a policy is one thing.  But actually encouraging dads to use it is (instead of punishing them for it, whether overtly or covertly) is another critical step.

Happy father lying on sofa holding baby girl and playingIn honor of Father’s Day (albeit a week late), let’s hear it for the dads! Especially if it ultimately helps the moms get paid the same as those dads!

To keep employers guessing, not only does the state minimum wage increase every year, but many cities do as well. Currently, California’s minimum wage is $11 per hour (or $10.50 for employers with up to 25 employees).

Red balloons on blue sky spelling "Guess"While state minimum wage goes up in January, some cities like to keep things complicated by increasing their minimum wage as of July 1st.  One such city is Santa Monica, where the minimum wage goes up to $13.25 on July 1st.  The $13.25 rate also applies to Los Angeles as of July 1st for employers with 25 or more employees; those with under 25 employees must pay $12.00.

To keep things really confusing, certain hotel workers in Santa Monica and Los Angeles get even higher rates; on July 1st hotel workers in those cities get an increase to $16.10 per hour.

Yes, California likes to keep employers guessing.  Thankfully you have this blog to keep the guesswork out of your wage and hour compliance.

 

It happens more often than you think.  An employee in good standing is “outed” as being listed on a sex offender registry.  His/her coworkers are up in arms.  Now what?  Can he/she be fired?

Given California’s relatively new “ban the box” law, employers are limited in how they can use criminal history in employment decisions.  For current employees, once a conviction is uncovered, you can’t automatically fire someone for it.  Rather, employers must make an individualized assessment to determine if the conviction has a direct and adverse relationship with the actual job.  To do so, employers must consider:

  • The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct;
  • The time that has passed since the offense or conduct and the completion of the sentence; and
  • The nature of the job held or sought.

This also means the employer must talk to the employee and get his/her side of the story.

For example, if the offense was 20 years ago, and the employee is long-tenured without any formal discipline as to any inappropriate conduct (such as harassment), a termination would not be justified in most workplaces.  However, if the workplace involves children, or law enforcement, or positions that require certain licenses, then that is a different story.

There are other avenues to address the situation, such as lying on an employment application.  An employer with a well-worded employment application, where the conviction was omitted at the time of hire, could justify termination (especially if others have also been terminated for material misrepresentations on the application).  In addition, dishonesty (or lack of candor) in the investigation process once commenced can also justify termination.

While many coworkers might not want to work with known sex offenders, the flipside is that there are over 100,000 registered sex offenders in California.  And the trend in California is to give more rights to those who want to work, not less.  And yes, that applies to sex offenders.

Spring is here! And for those of us in sunny Southern California that means it is music festival season. First up is Coachella and then Stagecoach, with more to follow until October. Days and nights filled with music, food, beer, cocktails, and of course, legal recreational marijuana.

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I recently had a terrific question from an employer who is sending a group of employees to staff a food booth at Coachella, and is providing group accommodations for them all. Can we implement some sort of wavier they asked? Great question, right?

While an employer cannot ask an employee to waive all rights arising from offsite work, an employer certainly can (and should) clarify expectations. Some suggested topics for offsite expectations include:

  • Clarification that all company policies apply to offsite work and time spent in provided accommodations.
  • That means no alcohol or drugs while on duty or while in provided accommodations.
  • Violations of those policies (including harassment policy), will lead to discipline up to and including termination.
  • Managers are responsible for setting the example.
  • What they do off duty still applies (i.e. manager can still harass when not working).
  • Include a number to call or steps to take if someone feels uncomfortable in shared accommodations or witnesses a policy violation.
  • Set up clear protocols for how non-exempt employees should log time worked, including meal and rest breaks and travel time.

Having all employees sign off on expectations before going offsite, and taking steps to address any problems quickly and effectively, should help to limit bad behavior, and hopefully liability, even at Coachella.

I am both proud and excited to be featured in two new training videos for workplace supervisors and human resources representatives handling California-specific and federal wage and hour issues.

Developed and produced by Kantola Productions, “California Wage and Hour Laws: What You Need to Know” is designed to help companies train their supervisors and human resources representatives to become better, more legally compliant managers.  The video consists of modules that break down the complex requirements regarding a variety of wage and hour matters including:

  • Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Employees
  • Employee vs. Independent Contractor
  • Overtime
  • Meal & Rest Breaks
  • Hours Worked

There is also a federal version of the video.

Both videos are available for purchase in several formats:  DVD, online training for up to 25 viewers, or instant streaming for a single user.  To receive a 20% discount, Fox Rothschild clients and their contacts can enter Fox20 in the “catalog code” box when filling out the online purchase form.

Take a look at a clip from the video below.  Enjoy!