California Employers’ Top Employment Law Mistakes

The California Chamber of Commerce recently came out with an informational bulletin describing the top things employers do to get sued. SONY DSC

Employment attorneys in Orange County know that there are of course situations in which employment law violations stem not from maliciousness or greed, but rather from a misunderstanding or misapplication of the law. It doesn’t make it any more acceptable to the employee who has been wronged. However, perhaps incorporating a greater amount of education might serve to reduce the number of employees who are improperly denied overtime, base wages and breaks.

In identifying the most common employer wage and hour law offenses, the chamber starts with the classification of workers. Employers may surmise that workers would prefer a constant salary. By labeling a worker exempt, an employer can avoid having to pay overtime and can avoid having to offer certain meal and res breaks.

The problem, of course, is that neither job title or simply paying someone a salary automatically makes them exempt. Under both state and federal laws, the definition of who is exempt and who is not is very specific. In some cases, employers have tried to designate worker as “nonexempt salaried.” However, no such status exists under the law. An employee has to be paid for all hours worked during the pay period – including time-and-a-half for overtime.

Another classification problem is that of the independent contractor. Even if both parties agree to an independent contractor status, it doesn’t necessarily make it so. Bear in mind that independent contractors don’t have the same kind of access as employees to workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance, family leave benefits or state disability insurance. Plus, there are all kinds of tax implications for both categories. Here again, the definition of who is an independent contractor and who is an employee is spelled out under state law.

With regard to meal breaks, employers have to be careful when they are offered. Some may believe they are doing workers a favor by allowing them to take lunches whenever employees want. Under the law, early lunches might be permitted, but a 30-minute meal break has to be offered no later than the end of the employees’ fifth hour of work. If the employer doesn’t do this, the worker may be entitled to an extra full hour of pay for the day.

A big issue at many workplaces is that of discrimination and harassment. Even if the company owners or administrators aren’t engaging in these practices, they may be liable for the actions of management, especially if they did not provide proper training beforehand or if they do not appropriately respond to complaints of such treatment. The law assumes that as soon as a supervisor is aware of an issue, the company is aware of it. Making sure supervisors know how to handle such situations is important.

Companies can also go wrong if they attempt to implement certain illegal policies such as “use it or lose it” vacation accrual or withholding employee paychecks if he or she is terminated. Such actions are not only against the law, they may be accompanied by hefty fines if the company is found in violation.

And finally, companies need to know that in California, they are not allowed to force employees to sign a non-compete agreement. There are only a few exceptions, but for the most part, the law views such action as an infringement on the worker’s right to work and earn a living.

It’s worth noting that ignorance of the law does not justify the action, which of course makes education all the more important.

Costa Mesa employment lawsuits can be filed with the help of the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.

Additional Resources:

The top 10 Things Employers Do To Get Sued, June 11, 2013, California Chamber of Commerce

More Blog Entries:

California Disability Discrimination Alleged at Agricultural Employer, Oct. 6, 2013, Orange County Employment Lawyer Blog

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