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California Labor Law Challenges, And Solutions

Apr 18, 2008
Being an employer is a daunting task. Hundreds of employment regulations, insurance guidelines, Senate bills and Federal Acts (such as FMLA, FLSA, HIPAA, TEFRA and FEHA, to name a few) distract business owners from focusing on their core operations and profitability. In particular, California employers need to be aware that California Labor Law differs from federal law in significant ways that can make life even more difficult, if not downright treacherous, for businesses with limited human resources expertise.

Although the Fair Labor Standards Act sets a minimum standard of protection for employees working in the USA, individual states are permitted to extend the Act to provide a higher degree of protection to employees in that state. California has taken full advantage of that facility, and there are many aspects of this act that California has applied more liberally than practically any other state.

Take overtime law for example. California law requires an employer to pay an employee overtime after 8 hours work in one day at 1.5 times the normal rate, and after 12 hours work in any one day at twice the standard rate. However, this does not apply to 'exempt' employees, such as those involved in managerial or intellectual work. Federal law only requires time and a half to be paid for any time worked over 40 hours in a week.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) differs profoundly from the federal law, particularly in employment discrimination law where it is much wider reaching and more rigorous than federal law. A case in point occurred recently, where an employee of a prestigious California hotel filed a discrimination lawsuit against his employer on the basis of sex, and also for retaliation, in violation of the FEHA.

The act forbids discrimination against an employee on the basis of sex, race, color, age, religion and other grounds, and illegalizes retaliation by the employer against an employee carrying out a 'protected' activity such as filing a charge of discrimination. There are a number of defined protected activities, and this act is likely beyond the capability of the average human resources department of most companies to handle. This is the sort of case best passed on to a human resources (HR) consulting firm.

The case, Jones v. The Lodge at Torrey Pines Partnership, had originally been heard in front of a jury, and debated whether or not an individual could be held personally responsible for proceedings relating to retaliation against an employee. The jury decided for the plaintiff and awarded compensation against the Lodge and the supervisor accused of the retaliation. However, their verdict was overruled by the judge who stated that there was insufficient evidence to prove the case against the supervisor that an adverse reaction had been carried out for reasons of discrimination or retaliation for the sexual orientation of the plaintiff.

The judge stated that individuals (the supervisor) cannot be held liable for retaliation in the same way that they can be for harassment. The case went to the Court of Appeal, which disagreed with the judge, and stated that individuals can be held responsible for retaliation. The case ultimately reached the California Supreme Court which disagreed, stating that the individual cannot be held responsible..

What chance does company human resource personnel have in correctly interpreting law if even the law courts disagree? It is next to impossible for a company in California to apply company policy when the law itself is so difficult to interpret that judges, Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court disagree. The labor laws of California are too difficult to understand for a company to rely on non-specialized personnel to manage their labor relations policies. The consequences of getting it wrong could be catastrophic. Many employers are feeling frustrated with this lack of clarity and constant risk of violating the law, and are turning to experts in the Human Resources Outsourcing industry for help.

While many businesses employ highly educated staff, most do not have the experience to understand the finer points of law. It is not just the understanding that matters here, it is knowing the right course of action to take in such circumstances. Perhaps things could have been done differently in the Jones v. The Lodge case to prevent it from reaching court, or perhaps the supervisor could have been better trained by the company.

Whatever the answer, you are more likely to come to the right solution with the help of professionals who manage these complex issues on a daily basis. California labor law is sufficiently complex for your company to turn to the professionalism and expertise of a Human Resources Outsourcing firm to keep you out of trouble. HR outsourcing is not as expensive as you might believe, especially when you consider the alternative.

Suggested resource:

California labor law is very complex, and ignorance can cost you plenty. If you are considering HR outsourcing and want to reduce your California employment risks, check out www.cpehr.com for a free HR analysis. It costs nothing to investigate.
About the Author
Ari Rosenstein is the Director of Marketing of CPEhr. Founded in 1982, CPEhr is one of the largest, privately operated California Human Resources Outsourcing and professional employer organization firms in the state. Services offered include HR administration, labor law compliance, training, employee benefits, safety, insurance and payroll.
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