Unpaid Internship? Not so Fast!

unpaid internsipIf you have been offered an unpaid internship and are jumping at the chance to get some experience under your belt, you should be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has something to say about it. There are multiple stipulations associated with the ability to legally contract with unpaid interns, and if the company does not meet all of them, they must pay such trainees.

FLSA requirements for an Unpaid Internship

The FLSA criteria are unflinching: All six of the following requirements must be met in order for a company to offer an unpaid internship:

  • The training involved must be comparable to that which would occur in a vocational school. In best-case scenarios, a training program will be developed with specific goals designed to help the intern gain qualifications for real-world work. Although operational tasks and duties might be part of the internship, a classroom and/or educational setting should be a part of the training involved. Ideally, the training would go hand in hand with coursework and credit or certification of some kind.
  • All training should be designed to be for the primary benefit of the intern. Duties should provide necessary and marketable skill development.
  • Interns cannot be used in lieu of regular employees. Rather, they must work under close supervision. Presumably, they would assist regular employees with critical work, but would not be entrusted with the responsibility for such tasks on their own.
  • Employers should derive no particular or specific immediate benefits by having interns on the premises, and, in fact, may actually experience some degree of slow-down in processes or outcomes for a period of time, as employees’ time will be split between training and their regular responsibilities.
  • Interns should have no guarantee of future employment with the company at the end of the internship. A written agreement stating as much should be a part of an internship agreement.
  • Both the intern and the employer must have a common understanding that wages will not be a part of the agreement. A written contract must stipulate that the training will occur with no expectation of or intention to assign wages in exchange for any work done by the intern.

Ultimately, when courts are asked to examine the legality of an unpaid internship, they tend to consider who the primary beneficiary in the arrangement is. If the intern gains substantially from the training experience, it could legally be deemed a trainee experience, and salary is not required. If the employer is the primary beneficiary and gains through the intern’s work product to a substantial degree, the intern must be viewed as an employee, and compensation is required. [Read more…]

Job Interview Questions That are Off-Limits

job interview questions off-limitsDid you know that some job interview questions are none of your new potential employer’s business? With the unemployment rate hovering right around 4% in California, looking for a job is a pretty competitive business. As employers vie to capture the most qualified and able applicants for their companies, they all too frequently delve into interview topics that are, frankly, none of their business. In fact, certain issues are so far out of the realm of acceptable inquiry that they can land the company in court. If you have suffered enquiries that are legally off-limits, a local employment lawyer can assist with next steps.

What Job Interview Questions are Off-Limits?

A number of topics should never be broached during a job interview here in California. Among some of these job interview questions are the following:

  • What is Your Marital Status? How many kids do you have? Potential employers are not allowed to ask about your family status, whether or not you are pregnant or intend to be, or in any other ways fish around into your family status.
  • What year did you graduate from high school? This question gets at a person’s age, which is not allowed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Federal Employment and Housing Act. The only exception is when an employer is confirming that minimum age requirements are being met.
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime? It has been illegal to ask about one’s criminal history since the legislature passed AB 1008 in 2017. The law applies to any company that employs six or more employees. Specifically, employers may not:
    • Ask any questions related to criminal convictions on the application;
    • Put any weight on an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional job offer has been put forward;
    • Consider or share any information discovered during a criminal background check relates to specific criminal activities or convictions.
  • What are you earning at your current job? In 2018, AB 168 became effective, requiring potential employers to steer clear of questions related to an applicant’s previous earnings.  Knowledge of one’s salary history may not be allowed to influence whether or not an applicant is hired or the amount of pay that is offered. The exception to this rule is when the applicant offers unsolicited information related to previous earnings, and other factors are also weighed in determining future salary.
  • Are you a citizen of the United States? Where are you from? Although seemingly innocuous, questions related to one’s background may be a way for an employer to determine an applicant’s culture or national origin. While it is acceptable to ensure that an applicant is legally entitled to work in this county, asking questions that narrow down an applicant’s background is not allowed.

[Read more…]

New Laws Boost  Women in California Workplaces

women in californiaWomen in California in the workplace have been given greater protections and opportunities in 2019 by the California legislature. 2019 brings with it a number of new laws that will impact California businesses and their employees. In particular, female workers have been given greater protections and opportunities by the California legislature. As a worker, if you find that your boss is not willing to comply with the new regulations, getting an experienced and effective labor lawyer on your side can make a significant difference.

Women Take the Lead

The Governor signed SB 826, requiring all companies that are publicly traded in California to include women on their boards. The bill specifies that such companies must have at least one female on their boards by the close of 2019, and those with five members are required to have two women by the time 2021 wraps up. Half of directors on six-person boards must be female by that deadline.

Harassment Legislation – Women in California

Governor Brown signed SB 1343 into law, requiring that any business with five or more employees provide training related to sexual harassment – what it is, how to prevent it, and how to report it. Such training must occur before the end of 2019, and is required every couple of years from then on. This will impact a number of small businesses, since mandatory training was previously required only for businesses employing at least 50 workers. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has been directed to created necessary training materials which can be loaned out for training sessions. Employers may choose a number of ways to deliver the training:

  • In small groups;
  • By department;
  • Company-wide;
  • In another format that makes sense.

Additionally, AB1870 extends the time limit victims have to file a charge with DFEH to three years, a substantial increase over the previous limit of one year.  This applies to any harassment related to prohibited conduct against protected classes based on gender, race, culture, age, sexual orientation, or religion.

Confidentiality Restrictions

SB 820 shuts down provisions for confidentiality that have previously been included in settlements in sexual harassment or sexual discrimination cases.  Although discrimination and harassment are not restricted to one gender, women experience the lion’s share of such behavior, and will be the biggest benefactors of the new law. However, it is not retroactive, so only those cases that reach a settlement starting in January of 2019 are required to comply with the new law.

Women in California – Accommodating New Mothers

Another piece of legislation that will impact many women in California on the job is AB 1976.  This law, which aligns with federal regulations, requires businesses to provide an appropriate area that is not a bathroom in which lactating women can be accommodated.   [Read more…]

Should You Sign a Separation Agreement?

separation agreementLet us say that, as you prepare to exit a job, your employer approaches you and asks that you sign a separation agreement before your final departure. Perhaps they have some concerns about the knowledge you have accumulated over time. Maybe you are leaving under unpleasant circumstances, and they fear that you will spread rumors about them, or even file a lawsuit against them. Should you sign the document they have presented to you? A local employment attorney can help you make the right decision for your unique circumstances.

Terms of a Separation Agreement

California law does not require a separation agreement, so when your employer proffers one, chances are it has something of value for both parties that is not required by law. Generally speaking, employers are looking for company secrets to be locked down and may wish to protect themselves from future lawsuits. What might they offer in exchange? The terms of the agreement might include the following:

  • A severance package, which may include wages and/or benefits in a lump sum, for a defined period of time, or in some combination of these;
  • A written plan regarding how and when payouts will occur;
  • Education benefits;
  • Tax and insurance benefits;
  • A non-compete clause that limits your opportunities in the field for a specified period of time;
  • A non-disparagement clause, barring you from saying negative things about the company or your reasons for leaving;
  • A statement agreeing that there was no coercion involved;
  • Clauses related to what will happen to company property that is in your possession, potential for rehire, or other matters of concern.

Unlawful Separation Agreement Requests

While it may be reasonable for an employer to attempt to protect itself from future legal action, California law states that employers can not request that you waive your claim to legal action regarding certain areas, including:

You Have Leverage Over Signing a Separation Agreement

When considering whether or not you want to sign a separation agreement, you need to remember that you do have some leverage here. Clearly, the company is hoping to gain something. Knowing this, do not be afraid to negotiate to get the things that you want. If they are offering a one-month severance package, try pushing it to six weeks. If you really need health insurance, or you would like to keep the company car you have been driving for the past five years, ask; you may get more than you ever imagined. Presumably they are asking you to give up legal rights. What is it worth to them? [Read more…]

Should You Sue Your Employer?

sue your employerShould you sue your employer? Plenty of people dislike their jobs. Sometimes it is because of the work itself, sometimes it is due to personnel issues, and sometimes it is because of a toxic work environment. When does simple disgruntlement become a legitimate reason to sue your employer? Every situation is different, and only an experienced employment attorney can answer that question for you.

Common Reasons to Sue Your Employer

Suing an employer is a pretty bold move, but all too often it is justified, and is the only way employees can be empowered to regain the dignity, wages, and satisfaction they deserve after mistreatment on the job.  Here are just a few of the most common reasons employees decide to fight back against unscrupulous employers:

  • Firing without giving a reason: Some employers think that just because California is an at-will state, they can terminate anyone without providing an explanation. What they do not realize is that if they fail to explain the motivation behind their decision, the employee may rightfully suspect the termination is based on discrimination, retaliation, or some other unsavory factor. This can land the employer in court pretty quickly.
  • Claiming poor performance when the evidence says otherwise: If an employee has a long track record of satisfactory job performance and things suddenly change due to new management or some other issue, defending the termination will be tricky against a skilled prosecution team.
  • The timing for termination stinks: When an employee files some sort of complaint with HR, Workers’ Compensation, or another work-related entity, and is suddenly on the firing line, it may not be too difficult to connect the dots.
  • Delaying the investigation for a complaint: If the employer drags out an investigation about harassment or some other issue, it can become ammunition in a lawsuit;
  • Ignoring company policies: When policies are on the books, employees can expect their bosses to follow them. If that does not happen, the end result may be a lawsuit.
  • Discrimination: State and federal laws offer protections for employees based on a number of circumstances, including race, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy, and religion. When employers discriminate in the hiring, training, pay, promotion, or termination of individuals based on a protected status, it is simply a lawsuit waiting to happen.
  • Failing to accommodate: In addition to discrimination based on protected status, failing to provide reasonable accommodations is unlawful. Whether in regards to requirements related to attire, schedules, physical surrounding, job requirements, or other simple adjustments, employers must comply with EEOC rules.

[Read more…]

Federal Court Supersedes California Immigration Laws

immigration lawsCalifornia immigration laws. When the Immigrant Worker Protection Act became law in January 2018, many hoped it would keep local immigrants safe from ICE agents and their workplace investigations. The feds have temporarily enjoined a number of the provisions in California’s law, however. So, where do things stand right now? A local labor and employment attorney might be worth consulting.

Assembly Bill 450

California’s bill, alternately referred to as AB 450 and the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, banned employers from cooperating with immigration agents in several ways:

  • Immigration enforcement agents were not be allowed access to areas of the facility that were not open to the public;
  • These agents were not allowed to obtain or view employee records;
  • Agents were unable to re-verify the Employment Eligibility Verification form (Form I-9), without a requirement by federal law.

Immigration Laws – New Federal Push

A new temporary injunction orders the state to stop impeding private business from cooperating with federal investigators looking into illegal immigration. The injunction prevents the state from putting restrictions on when and how employers can cooperate with ICE agents with regard to I-9 issues.

The impetus behind the federal push for relaxing state requirements on employers is based on the perceived “precarious situation” employers have been put in when crushed between state law and federal expectations. The federal intervention is designed to enhance cooperation between federal enforcement officers and business owners.

Additionally, the injunction was meant to address ambiguities within the California immigration laws, which do not provide a definition for who, exactly, is considered an immigration enforcement agent.  That has been problematic for employers who hire foreign nationals through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), since that agency approves applications only in conjunction with the employer’s agreement to cooperate with record-sharing and premises inspections.  Backing out of that promise could lead to a number of problems, including:

  • Reviving particular immigrations cases;
  • Prompting larger investigations;
  • Rescinding the USCIS approval for foreign nationals.

What Parts of California Immigration Laws Still Stand?

According to the federal decision, the notice obligation for California employers remains intact. Employees must be told of I-9 reviews or other inspections related to immigration status within 72 hours of notification from ICE.

Consequences for Employers with Documentation Improprieties

When I-9 forms are not properly completed, employers are subject to fines of up to $2,191 per infraction. Knowingly hiring workers who are not authorized to work in the country can mean a fine of $16,000 per incident. [Read more…]

Thank You California Firefighters for Putting It All on the Line

thank you california firefightersThank you California firefighters. By July 9, 2018, nearly 200,000 acres had been scorched in California wildfires. That is more than double the amount burned in each of the previous five years. Sadly, some parts of California have been so dry this year that they were never removed from drought status from last year. As of July 30, more than 10,000 people have been mandatorily evacuated from Mendocino and Lake Counties. The Ranch Fire along Highway 20 and the River Fire north of Hopland put residents across more than 35 miles at risk. With six out of the previous seven years experiencing severe drought across the state, hot, windy conditions make fighting these fires incredibly difficult and dangerous. It has been undeniably devastating for people who live and work in the area; but what has it been like for firefighters?

Hazards for California Firefighters

The men and women who fight these enormous fires are heroes in everybody’s eyes. The perils they confront as they protect Californians are many:

  • Thick smoke;
  • Winds that lead fires to change directions without warning;
  • Narrow roads that make traveling difficult;
  • Falling branches and exploding trees;
  • Fallen trees blocking roads;
  • Fatigue from working long hours;
  • Fallen power lines posing dangers to firefighters;
  • Dehydration;
  • Heat Stress as a result of vigorous manual labor, heavy gear, poor acclimatization to severe heat, and personal risk factors.

Work Schedules for California Firefighters

When situations are urgent, firefighters are often required to work long hours. In the case of these devastating wildfires, many of these heroes are unable to spend any time with their families and friends for days and weeks at a time. They grab sleep when at the brink of exhaustion, only to go back out to continue the demanding work again until communities are safe. While the fire season was once limited to the summer months, these days, California has deadly wildfires year-round. In the past six years, at least one wildfire has been burning during every single month of the year. While firefighters used to have the cooler months to refresh and regroup, the extended heat and drought have vaporized those opportunities.  

Injuries and Death a Constant Concern for California Firefighters

Firefighters put their lives at risk every time they confront a blaze. Consider these daunting statistics from 2016:

  • Over 60,000 serious injuries were incurred by individuals fighting fires;
  • Over half of the injuries involved respiratory problems;
  • There were 69 firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty;

As of July 30, 2018, 59 firefighters have died on the job. A study of firefighter deaths indicates that firefighter fatalities for those involved in wildfires has increased by 26% in recent years. The primary causes of death between 2007-2016 include:

  • Vehicle accidents;
  • Aircraft accidents;
  • Heart attacks;
  • Entrapments;
  • Falling rocks and trees.

[Read more…]

When Employers Claim Employees are Independent Contractors

independent contractorsFor some companies, labeling employees as independent contractors has not turned out to be such a great money-saving idea after all. Some companies will do anything to save themselves a buck, even if it harms workers and violates state and/or federal law. This appears to have been the case for CMI Transportation, K&R Transportation California, and Cal Cartage Transportation Express, all subsidiaries of NFI Industries,

Claims in the Case

According to court documents regarding these port-trucking companies,workers were classified as independent contractors, and were then hired to get products transported. This saved the companies a boatload of money, but how?  

The Cost of Doing Business

The Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that wages account for roughly 70% of employee compensation, while benefits take up the additional 30%. So, if employers can avoid benefits that are mandated by law, such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and Medicare, they can really make out well. Additionally, they never have to go to the bargaining table to discuss issues like vacation pay, sick pay, pensions, paid leave, and the like.

Employees or Independent Contractors?

With the huge savings associated with hiring independent contractors, why does every business not label workers that way? The fact is that making such determinations is not a matter of personal choice. There are legal questions to consider. Answering yes to one or more of these questions likely means workers are employees, deserving of all benefits the law dictates:

  • Is the business reliant on the work in order to do business? Someone who lays carpet in a department store is not essential to daily business operations, whereas clerks and warehouse workers are.
  • Is termination without cause a right of the employer? If so, the worker is not an independent contractor who can only be terminated only if the terms of the contract are violated.
  • Is the worker considered to be semi-skilled or unskilled? If so, they are the target audience for protections by the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.
  • Did the employer train the worker? Independent contractors usually provide a service for which they are already certified.
  • Is the worker expected to provide his or her own supplies for the job? Employers do not generally provide tools and such to independent contractors.

Independent Contractors and the Consequences of Misclassification

In California, there is a big price to pay when employers intentionally misclassify their workers. In one case, a judgment for $13 million was won when janitors were misclassified as independent contractors by a couple of companies. What will happen in the trucking lawsuit remains to be seen. [Read more…]

How to Avoid an Employee Lawsuit as an Employer

employee lawsuitThe last thing you need as an employer is an employee lawsuit. Running a business is not easy. It requires an assortment of skills that include business savvy, financial prowess, organizational mastery, and schmoozing finesse to deal with customers, competitors, and employees. In the event that you wind up battling an employee lawsuit, consulting with an experienced employment attorney is your best bet.

Employee Lawsuit – Why do Employees Sue?

There are all kinds of reasons for an employee lawsuit. Employees will definitely take to the courts to deal with their grievances.  Here are some of the employee lawsuit biggies with suggestions on how to avoid these issues:

  • Employees feel they have been mistreated: When human dignity is secondary to the company’s bottom line, workers feel it. Whether they are still employed, demoted, or no longer with the company, if people believe they are or were disposable, it hurts. This is likely the number one reason individuals seek retribution against an employer – because they believe their efforts on behalf of the company went unrecognized and underappreciated.
  • To avoid this pitfall: Treat employees respectfully. Make sure managers get the message that people matter, and build recognition into the culture of the workplace.
  • Employees are disciplined, demoted or fired for engaging in a protected activity: Oftentimes employers may feel uncomfortable with, say, union participation. Or perhaps an employee has reported discriminatory behavior in the workplace. If negative consequences follow this kind of protected activity, it is unlawful, and could result in a lawsuit.
  • To avoid this pitfall: Make sure HR documents issues with employees so there is a clear paper trail leading up to job actions. Additionally, stay up to date on the laws regarding employee rights, and make timely responses to employee concerns regarding discrimination.
  • Employees working under the direction of a bad manager: When a manager lacks the leadership skills and the ability to represent the values of the company adequately, no matter how wonderful the mission statement is, it could be trouble. One harasser, one cheater, one cruel manager, and the company is at risk.
  • To avoid this pitfall: Train managers well, and perform regular evaluations to ensure they are working within the law and treating employees properly.
  • Employees see unfair application of rules: Employee A is written up for excessive tardiness, but Employee B gets away with it on a regular basis. It irks everyone to see that type of thing, especially if it looks like the uneven enforcement is related to race, gender, or other protected status. When employees can prove unequal treatment occurred, it can be expensive for employers.
  • To avoid this pitfall: Have clear rules and expectations, and specific policies in place to intervene when there is a problem.

[Read more…]

Limiting Political Discussions in the Workplace

political discussionsLimiting political discussions in the workplace? It seems that everyone has an opinion on the current state of affairs in Washington, not to mention right here in California. Employers and employees alike may be experiencing some discomfort as the temperature rises in some of these discussions, and one might wonder if limits on speech in the workplace are a reasonable, desirable, or even legal option.

Political Discussions and the First Amendment

Censorship of free speech is against the law, right? Well, not necessarily. Constitutionalists generally agree that the first amendment applies to government censorship. That means that a company is entirely within its rights to limit, or even banish political discussions in the workplace entirely. The rationale behind such regulations generally relates to productivity and efficiency. While state and federal laws guarantee employees protection from discrimination based on political affiliation, employers may sanction or even fire an employee who disrupts the workplace, lacks efficiency, or engages in practices that create a conflict of interest with the company. That being said, California Labor Code prohibits policies that direct or control employees’ political activities.

Wearing Political Buttons at Work

Again, employers have the right to dictate the dress code in the workplace, which means policies that ban political buttons, t-shirts, and so forth are allowable. Of course, an employer cannot pick and choose, allowing some political views to be put on display and disallowing others.

On the other hand, the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) expressly allows for the right of employees to wear items associated with their labor union in the workplace. Although unions are somewhat political organizations, union members may wear union-sponsored buttons or other apparel that send political messages.

Political Discussions During Lunch?

You would think that during your lunch hour in the break room, you could say whatever you would like, but you would be wrong. Employers are tasked with making sure employees in protected categories do not feel disaffected. If an employee were to state, for example, that it is a good thing Hilary Clinton was not elected because she is a woman, it could mean trouble. Why?  Because the comment centers on a protected factor – gender. Women who hear the comment could take offense or feel alienated due to gender discrimination. Employers would be wise to have strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies in place and to quickly investigate complaints and rectify situations that cause discomfort among workers.

Are Off-Duty Political Activities Protected?

In California, employers may not intimidate or prohibit workers from engaging in legal political activities, including managing a campaign or running for office. [Read more…]

Disclaimer

The information on this website should not be considered to be legal advice, nor construed to be the formation of any manner of attorney client relationship. Prior to taking any form of legal action, please consult with an attorney experienced in the appropriate area of law germane to your situation. Case results and testimonials presented on www.californialaborandemploymentlaw.net or any of its related websites are germane to the facts present for each individual case and is not a promise of similar outcomes for any other cases. This website is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the State of California.