Tag Archives: California

California Employers: Some Important New Laws Effective Jan. 1, 2014

27304u_0California employers should be aware of significant new state laws which take effect on January 1, 2014. These include:

Protected Categories Expanded to Include Military and Veteran Status. – Assembly Bill 556 adds “military and veteran status” to the list of categories protected from employment discrimination.

Prohibition of “Unfair Immigration-Related Practices” – Assembly Bill 263 prohibits employers from engaging in “unfair immigration-related practices,” which could include contacting or threatening to contact immigration authorities, because an employee asserts protected rights under the California Labor Code. Other immigrant protection legislation effective Jan. 1, 2014 includes SB 666 (business license revocation for threatening to report immigration status), and AB 524 (authorizes criminal extortion for threatening to report immigration status).

Domestic Worker Bill of Rights – Assembly Bill 241 creates a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. This provides specific overtime pay for a “domestic work employee who is a personal attendant.” The bill has many specific definitions and exclusions.

Heat Illness Recovery Periods – Senate Bill 435 expands meal and rest break prohibitions to include “recovery” periods necessary to prevent heat illness. Penalty mirrors premium for failing to provide meal or rest breaks (i.e., one additional hour of pay for each workday that meal, rest, heat illness recovery period not provided). Unlike the meal and rest period rules which provide a clear guidance on timing, however, the need for a heat illness recovery period is subjective and determined by the employee. Employers with outdoor workers need to ensure their Heat Illness Prevention programs comply with Cal-OSHA regulations.

Leaves Required for Victims of Certain Crimes – Two important new laws. Senate Bill 288 provides protections for victims of certain crimes (including solicitation for murder and vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated) who take time off from work to appear in court proceedings. SB 400 extends protections for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault or victims of stalking, including time off to appear at legal proceedings and to seek medical/psychological treatment. This law adds a reasonable accommodation requirement—which can include implementation of safety measures—for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Expanded Scope of Whistleblower Protections – California Labor Code Section 1102.5 already provides protections for employees who report violations of federal or state statutes. Senate Bill 496 expands this protection to include suspected violations of a local rule or regulation, and will include reporting violations to “a person with authority over the employee or another employee who has authority to investigate, discover or correct the violation.”


California Employers: Know The Implications of The Minimum Wage Hike

ggyyAs the ink from California Governor Jerry Brown’s pen dries on Assembly Bill No. 10, which will raise the hourly minimum wage in our state to $9.00 effective July 1, 2014 (and again to $10.00 on January 1, 2016), employers need to consider the ramifications of this change beyond the obvious increase in take-home pay of hourly workers.

Here are key areas that will be impacted by the increase:

Salary Basis Test For “White Collar” Exemption – In addition to meeting other criteria to qualify as an exempt employee under one of the “white collar” exemptions (i.e., executive, administrative or professional), exempt employees must earn a salary that is at least twice the minimum wage for full-time employment. This minimum increases in July, 2014 to $37,440, and to $41,600 beginning in January, 2016.

Commissioned Sales Employee Exemption – To qualify for this exemption, employees must earn in excess of 1.5 times the minimum wage for all hours worked. This rate will increase to $13.50/hr on July 1, 2014, and $15.00/hr on January 1, 2016.

Employees Who Furnish Own Tools or Equipment – When employees are required to furnish their own tools or equipment necessary to their performance of the job, they must be paid twice the state minimum wage. This rate will increase to $18.00/hr on July 1, 2014, and $20.00 on January 1, 2016.

Calculation of Overtime, Vacation, Sick Leave, Paid Time Off and Meal and Rest Period Premiums – Employers must adjust how these are calculated to reflect the minimum wage increase.

Employer-Required Split-Shift Premiums – If an employer requires an employee to work a split-shift, the employer must pay the employee a premium, of one hour’s pay at minimum wage, in addition to the employee’s regular earnings paid for that shift. (If hourly wage exceeds state minimum wage, difference may be credited toward split-shift premium.)

Voluntary Crediting Agreements – Employers with written agreements with their employees for crediting meals or lodging expenses against the minimum wage will need to adjust this crediting to reflect the increase.

Posting The New Wage – Employers will be required to conspicuously post the new wage in an area frequented by employees where it may be easily read during the workday.

Cities With Higher Minimum Wage – Certain California cities, including San Francisco and San Jose, may impose a higher minimum wage and/or adjust their minimum wage more frequently. Employers should ensure they comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws.


California Case Clarifies Independent Contractor Classification Criteria

7766Now that I’ve used every word that begins with “C” in the title, here’s the post:

On July 11, 2013, a California appellate court, in Beaumont-Jacques v. Farmers Group Ins., affirmed summary judgment in favor of an insurance company on the question whether a District Manager was properly classified as an independent contractor and not an employee. In so holding, the court provided clarification on the proper analysis for determining this important issue.

Why is this important?

California employers that misclassify workers as independent contractors face potential liability, which can include compensatory damages, stiff penalties and attorney’s fees.

What happened in the Beaumont-Jacques case?

A former District Manager, Erin Beaumont-Jacques, sued Farmers Insurance on various theories all of which hinged on a determination that she was a Farmers Insurance employee. In support of her position, Ms. Beaumont-Jacques pointed out that: (1) she was bound by a contract to only represent Farmers in recruiting and training sales agents; (2) she could train such agents only to sell Farmers’ insurance products; (3) the applicable contract required her to “conform” to Farmers’ “normal business practices” and “goals and objectives”; and (4) Farmers enjoyed the option to terminate her contract without cause.

In affirming the trial court’s granting of a motion for summary judgment brought by Farmers, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District clarified that, even where other factors may suggest an employment relationship, it was sufficient for independent contractor classification that Ms. Beaumont-Jacques “exercised meaningful discretion with reference to her efforts” undertaken on behalf of Farmers. Specifically, the Court said: “While [Farmers] . . . had input over the quality and direction of [her] . . . efforts, they did not have sufficient ‘control over the details’ with respect to those efforts” to render the relationship one of employment rather an independent contractor.

What is the takeaway?

The paramount consideration in determining whether a worker can be properly classified as an independent contractor under California law is whether the worker maintains the right to control the means by which she accomplishes her duties.


California’s FEHA Will Explicitly Cover Religious Dress And Grooming Practices

trfredSome employers struggle with reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious preferences. Effective January 1, 2013, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) definition of “religious creed” will be amended to explicitly include “religious dress practice” and “religious grooming practice.” “Religious dress practice” includes the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, artifacts, and any other item that is part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed, while “religious grooming practice” includes all forms of head, facial and body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed. The terms “religious dress” and “grooming practices” are to be broadly construed.

I hold the (perhaps naive) belief that, when most employers violate prohibitions against religious discrimination, it’s often by accident. So I try to provide examples.  The HR Gazette provides these:

“‘[R]eligious dress’ means virtually any piece of clothing or accessory that signifies or expresses a religious creed or belief.  The most common examples are a hijab (the headscarf worn by Muslim women), the dastar (the turban worn by Sikh males) or a yarmulke (the skullcap worn by Jewish males).  Religious dress could also include jewelry such as a Christian cross, Star of David, or an Ankh.”

“[A]n employer would be required to accommodate an employee’s religious belief by allowing him to wear a beard or long hair in the workplace.  Some religions require men and women to shave their head.”

Here are a couple of ripped-from-the-headlines cases to further illustrate:

1. A certain “preppy” store refused to hire a woman when she appeared for an interview wearing a headscarf, which she wore for religious reasons as a devout Muslim. The employer argued that it had a strict “Look” policy in order to insure a unified “preppy” brand image. The jury awarded the woman $20,000.

2. A fast food chain was sued after terminated a devout Nazirite due to his failure to cut his hair. Nazirites do not cut their hair as a sign of devotion to God. The employee had worked for six years without cutting his hair (in fact, he had not cut his hair since he was 15 years old) before the company tried to enforce its grooming policy that required him to cut his hair. The chain entered into a consent decree whereby it settled the case and agreed to pay the employee $27,000, and also to adopt a formal religious accommodation policy.

Employers subject to FEHA must reasonably accommodate an individual’s religious creed. The amendments provide that an action that segregates or hides an individual, either from other employees or the public, because of that individual’s religious dress or grooming practices is not a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious dress or grooming practices.


Closure: Coming Soon To A Courthouse Near You

wwsseedPerhaps this is unique to California, but I just received another announcement from our attorney service of a courthouse closure. In addition, the notice mentioned yet another court that, although not closing altogether, was being reduced by several newly darkened courtrooms.

As a lawyer who makes his living doing things court-related, I’m both saddened and alarmed to learn that entire courthouses are closing. It’s not that I’m sad or afraid because there are fewer lawsuits being filed (that appears to remain on the rise), but rather that there’s a rapidly shrinking number of venues available to resolve those disputes. It will take longer for cases to get to trial, resulting in fewer trials and less access to justice. It will also make it harder for newer generations of lawyers to get trial experience. (This is obviously a secondary concern, but it is a legitimate concern for many of us.) It’s . . . a . . . disappointing to live in such a perpetually mismanaged state. But I’ve been thinking about ways the judiciary and our profession can cope with this situation and I’ve come up with a couple of ideas.

First, I recently co-authored an article for the ACC Docket which talked about the notion of a “compressed” trial, in which the judge forced the parties to present a case that would normally consume 3 weeks in just 4 days. Much of the article discussed tips and suggestions how to better prepare for this kind of compressed trial format, but I also argued that lawyers and their clients should not just accept such a drastically condensed trial, but actually embrace the concept. After all, if a trial that would normally consume 3 weeks could be reasonably condensed down to 4 days,* that would free up 2 weeks in which two more highly compressed trials could be completed. Imagine completing 3 trials in the time if used to take to do just one.

There was a program introduced in some parts of California for the 1 day jury trial. I don’t know if that was successful or is still being practiced. But that’s not what I’m advocating. If the lawyers can shape a case to be tried in a day or less they will almost always do so on their own. But it takes a pretty heavy-handed judge to force the lawyers and parties to condense a 3 week presentation to something like 4 days. Perhaps more judges should do this. Just a thought.

Another idea involves ADR. If budget cuts are effectively privatizing access to justice in some places, it ought to at least be done right. A major concern centers around the cost of ADR, and I’m not talking about the hourly fees of neutrals. In my experience, the rates of most neutrals are commensurate, or even slightly less, than those of the attorneys appearing before them. But there are costs associated with working with an “institutional” ADR provider that tend to give our clients pause, and with good reason. If law firms are going to be squeezed and forced to do more for less, shouldn’t ADR providers do the same? What about more “solo” ADR providers?

My personal beef with ADR, at least arbitrations, is the inconsistent application of the rules of evidence. Appellate courts keep judges honest, but some arbitrators can and do dispense with evidence rules rather freely, which makes the hearing something of a chaotic free-for-all.

There’s no real silver lining to the issue of darkened courtrooms and closed courthouses. Wherever it occurs, there is reduced access to justice. Perhaps, though, we can collectively brainstorm and come up with constructive ways to manage the problem.

*Whether it was in fact “reasonable” for the judge to compress the trial this aggressively was a subject of some debate, particularly by counsel for the losing side which, fortunately, was not me.


Ok, You’re Limited In California To 7 Hours For Deposition, Now What?

I previously wrote that I disagreed with the proposal to amend the California Code of Civil Procedure to limit depositions to 7 hours.  Well, now we’re stuck with it.*  So, I thought I would explore strategies to deal effectively with this new rule.   I developed these strategies from trying to take effective plaintiff depositions in employment cases pending in Federal District court.  The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have long limited depositions to 7 hours.  (Fortunately, the new California rule has a carve out for depositions in employment cases.)

As I said before, it seems to me that most depositions in most kinds of cases should be reasonably capable of completion in 7 hours or less.  This is probably a radical overgeneralization, but it’s been my experience that most witnesses don’t have more than 7 hours of relevant testimony in them.  For those other cases and witnesses, in which it will be hard to finish in that time, here are 5 strategies that should help: 

1.  Give yourself more time to prepare.  Like everything in litigation, preparation is the key to success.  If you typically spent a day preparing for an all-day deposition without the time limitation, spend a day and a half preparing now.  If you generally eschew using deposition outlines in favor of a “come what may” approach, consider making at least a rough outline of topics you absolutely must cover.  The alternative is to risk running short of time without having covered crucial topics.  The argument against using an outline is that, using an outline causes us not to listen carefully to responses; this can be overcome with effort.

2.  Don’t be wed to a chronological or other artificial order of topics–get what you absolutely need first.  Speaking personally, I generally have an order I use over and over in taking depositions.  It is one that follows logically from how I see the case.  This can be a problem, though, when time is limited.  Then I have to prioritize based on order of importance, rather than imposing a chronological or other more familiar order of topics.  If, for example, there’s an especially important affirmative defense available, I reorder my examination in order to cover what I need to invoke that defense at the beginning, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense.  (This has the collateral benefit of “throwing off” opposing counsel who expected you to begin at the beginning.  It’s fun to see them look confused.) 

3.  Make a record that will support a motion for more time, if that becomes necessary.  You may need more than 7 hours regardless how you prepare and how smoothly the depo goes.  If this is the case, begin early creating a solid record to support judicial relief from the limit.   The new section, CCP 2025.209(a) includes this language: “The court shall allow additional time, beyond any limits imposed by this section, if needed to fairly examine the deponent or if the deponent, another person, or any other circumstance impedes or delays the examination.”  There’s a lot of room here.  Either “witness XYZ cannot be ‘fairly examine[d]‘ in 7 hours because . . ., ” or “as demonstrated in the transcript of the first session of her deposition, XYZ [or her lawyer] impeded and delayed the examination by . . . ”   Videotape of the depo may help illustrate evasive responses, long delays or lengthy, meritless or talking objections.  In one case, we relied heavily on the videographer’s time-keeping records to show long delays.

4.  Resist the tendency to fight opposing counsel on the record.  As a reminder, taking a deposition need not be a contact sport.  This is especially true if you’re trying to get useful testimony and don’t have enough time.  Unreasonable objections or instructions not to respond should basically be ignored until after the deposition, when it’s time to “meet and confer” prior to filing a motion to compel responses to questions and/or a motion for more time.  Focus, don’t get distracted! 

5.  Go off the record whenever there’s going to be “dead air.”  If you hand a witness a document that will take a few minutes (or more) to read, go off the record while the witness reads it.  The same is true if you need to re-group or review your notes or a document between questions.  Just take a break. 

I hope these help.  Good luck.

Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. 2025.290 becomes effective Jan. 1, 2013.


Should California Limit Length of Depositions?

California Assembly Bill 1875 would limit the deposition time to 7  hours, thus mirroring the Federal Rule.  There is currently no limitation at all for cases pending in California state court.  Is the proposed 7 hour limit a good idea? 

My experience tells me that most depositions in many kinds of cases can (and definitely should) be completed in less than 7 hours.  That said, I’ve had the issue repeatedly arise in employment discrimination and sexual harassment cases in which the plaintiff’s deposition cannot reasonably be completed in 7  hours.  In fact, the plaintiff’s deposition in a sexual harassment case involving multiple instances of conduct allegedly occurring over the course of 3 years could not be reasonably completed in less than 20 hours.

The good news with this California legislation is that it would exempt cases involving employment issues or which are deemed complex.  It would provide the parties a choice to opt-out by stipulation.  Expert depositions would also be exempt from the limitation. 

The stated purpose of the bill is to prevent attorneys from deliberately using the deposition to harass a party or witness or needlessly increasing the litigation costs of a case.  I’m not so sure.  While I’ve felt that some attorneys could be more organized with their examination and sometimes they seem to dwell on areas that ultimately bear no fruit, it is important that examiners not feel unduly rushed or constricted.  I could probably count on one finger or less the number of times I’ve honestly felt that an examiner was dragging out a deposition for a purpose other than legitimate fact gathering.  As far as harassment goes, I bet most people find the entire deposition process to be an exercise in harassment.  A lawyer intent upon harassing a deponent can do so as easily in 7 hours as 10, so is the law necessary?

On balance, I think members of the bar should think and act like professionals.  We should not engage in harassing behavior.  Nor should we drag out the length of a deposition unnecessarily.  If somebody gets out of line, there are remedies available, including a protective order and/or sanctions.  But I’d like to think we can govern ourselves without the need to be overregulated.  So let us decide for ourselves how long it takes to complete a deposition.

Oh, and please don’t ask after the first hour how long I think I’ll take for my examination.  That is just soooo annoying.


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