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No One You Know Should Be Sued For Disability Discrimination

Apr 16, 2021 in

Counseling clients to avoid exposure for disability discrimination can be a prickly business. Consider the following scenario.

Your client operates a small manufacturing concern. Every worker at the widget factory, from the owner to the janitor, takes lunch together at noon, every day. It has been that way every day since your client’s father opened the doors 45 years ago. This is because the factory operates as an assembly line, and it requires everyone’s simultaneous involvement.

One day, an employee, “Sam,” shares that he saw his doctor for vision problems and learned he has Type 2 Diabetes. Your client mutters some sympathetic words (not entirely sure about Diabetes or its different types), and the worker goes on to say that, owing to his Diabetes, he must eat more frequently. He wonders if, perhaps, he could break for lunch at 11 o’clock rather than noon.

Your client knows this is an absurd proposition, given the assembly line. Nonetheless, he says he’ll consider the request and they wander back to the factory floor. A week passes. Two. Sam continues to join everyone for lunch at noon. He does not raise the need to eat early again. However, his diabetic symptoms remind him daily that he needs to break and eat earlier. He gets shaky and light-headed. Not only is he physically uncomfortable, he is growing resentful. Each day that passes is a day closer to when he quits (or is “constructively terminated”) because he needs to eat earlier and your client has forgotten his request.

This describes an actionable case of “disability discrimination” or, at the very least a case of “failure to engage in the interactive process” (yes, that is a separate cause of action). What happens next is anyone’s guess, but it probably doesn’t end well for your client. If he had asked your advice, would you have known what to say? If not, read on.

Duties in this area are triggered when your client learns an employee has a “disability.” California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) defines disability to include a physical or mental disability, or medical condition. While “medical condition” encompasses a limited list of conditions, “physical disability” is read expansively, to include any condition that “limits a major life activity.”

While “mild” conditions, such as a common cold, non-migraine headaches and nonchronic gastrointestinal disorders do not meet the standard, the case law makes clear that FEHA has no durational requirement and even a passing condition may qualify. Employers tempted to define disability too narrowly must know that it has even been found to include uncorrected severe myopia (nearsightedness) and monocular vision.

Back to the widget factory. Sam was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. A disability? Some would argue his condition affects the digestive, hemic and endocrine systems and, because eating is a “major life activity,” Type 2 Diabetes limits a major life activity and thus qualifies as a disability.
Assuming Sam has a disability, this knowledge triggered a duty by your client to “engage in the interactive process” in order to reasonably accommodate Sam if he could perform the essential function of his job with an accommodation.

What does the interactive process look like? It is a “discussion about an applicant’s or employee’s disability — the applicant or employee, health care provider and employer each share information about the nature of the disability and the limitations that may affect his or her ability to perform the essential job duties.”

The best practices for the interactive process include the following:

• Review the accommodation request;
• Obtain written medical release(s) or permission from the employee to obtain records and communicate with providers;
• Request the employee provide documentation from the his/her/their health care or rehabilitation professional regarding the nature of the impairment, its severity, the duration, the activities limited by the impairment(s) and the extent to which the impairment(s) limits the employee’s ability to perform the job’s essential duties/functions.

At the widget factory your client didn’t do any of this. This failure to engage in the process by itself supports an action and damages under FEHA.
Imagine if your client had engaged in the interactive process with Sam. They would have explored whether it was possible to “accommodate” Sam’s disability. The California Government Code and regulations provide guidance on reasonable accommodation. These include:

• Making facilities readily accessible to and usable by disabled individuals (e.g., providing accessible break rooms, restrooms or reserved parking places, etc.);
• Job restructuring;
• Offering modified work schedules;
• Reassigning to a vacant position;
• Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices;
• Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies;
• Providing qualified readers or interpreters;
• Allowing assistive animals on the worksite;
• Altering when and/or how an essential function is performed;
• Modifying supervisory methods;
• Providing additional training;
• Permitting an employee to work from home; and
• Providing paid or unpaid leave for treatment and recovery.

But, there are limits to this duty. FEHA does not obligate an employer to choose the best accommodation or the specific accommodation an employee or applicant seeks. They are not required to accommodate a worker’s medical marijuana use. Moreover, they are not required to provide an accommodation that causes the business to suffer “undue hardship,” defined as an action requiring “significant difficulty or expense” when considered in light of at least the following factors:

• Nature and cost of the accommodation weighed against tax credits, deductions or outside funding; and
• Nature, size and resources of business and accommodation’s impact on other employees.

At the widget factory, Sam’s desired accommodation was to break an hour earlier for lunch so that he would not feel shaky from a drop in blood sugar. On its face, this was not unreasonable, particularly given that a “shaky,” “light-headed” factory worker can endanger himself or others. Unfortunately, your client did not give this much thought. He clearly did not engage with Sam to explore potential (alternative) accommodations.

To be clear, it may be that your client cannot accommodate Sam. His proposal to allow him an early break might have proven unreasonable, given how the assembly line operates. If all possible accommodations would cause your client undue prejudice (applying the factors above), then it is unfortunate but Sam will need to find other work. Included in this equation is the principle that employers need not create a new position to accommodate a disabled applicant or employee. Thus, your client need not create a job for Sam in Accounting, where he can break early to eat without disrupting the assembly line. But the interactive process must be thorough and well-documented before this conclusion is reached without exposing your client to possible liability.

This law is nuanced. Unless your client has an experienced human resource professional, it might be a good idea to involve employment counsel, at least at the outset. The concepts and obligations may be unfamiliar, and the stakes are high. At least you can now rest easy knowing that you have some basic understanding of the risks in this area, and you can help your clients avoid disability discrimination liability. (This article originally appeared in the April, 2021 issue of the Santa Barbara Lawyer.)

Tips to Avoid the Pandemic of COVID-Related Employment Lawsuits

Mar 3, 2021 in

Business owners cannot be surprised to learn that there have already been hundreds of lawsuits filed in California decrying employers’ pandemic-related practices. So far, the majority of these cases have focused on two theories: (1) perceived failure to provide a healthy and safe workplace, and (2) failure to reimburse necessary business expenses.

Health & Safety Claims

The California Labor Code provides employees with broad protections against avoidable dangers in the workplace. These include laws requiring employers to provide workers, at a minimum:

  • A place of employment that is safe and healthful. (Cal. Lab. Code §6400)
  • Safety devices and safeguards, as well as adoption of practices, means, methods, operations and processes that are reasonably adequate to render employment in the workplace safe and healthful. (Cal. Lab. Code §6401)
  • An effective written injury prevention program. (Cal. Lab. Code §6401.7)

It is important to know these obligations. Employers should also know that violations of these laws are typically redressed through claims filed under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). PAGA permits an “aggrieved employee” to step into the shoes of the Attorney General and bring a “representative” action to recover civil penalties against employers on behalf of themselves and other “aggrieved employees.” The penalties under PAGA are $100 for each aggrieved employee per pay period for the initial violation and $200 per employee per subsequent violation. This can quickly expand a limited event into a major lawsuit.

The cases alleging COVID-related health and safety violations so far include at least the following assertions:

  • Failure to have a written Illness Prevent Program.
  • Failure to provide washing facilities to maintain cleanliness.
  • Failure to conduct a hazard assessment to determine if COVID-19 is a hazard in the workplace, necessitating Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • Failure to establish infection prevention measures such as encouraging sick employees to stay home, implementing social distancing protocols or establishing procedures to routinely disinfect and clean commonly used surfaces.

Tips to Avoid Health & Safety Claims

Employers can avoid exposure for health and safety claims by:

  • Developing and publishing a written Illness Prevention Program, include COVID-related measures.
  • Implementing COVID-related measures, including social distancing, face coverings, disinfection, pre-shift and visitor temperature checks and symptom screening.
  • Developing and maintaining a clear reporting structure for reports of potential COVID exposure or cases; communicate suspected or confirmed COVID cases to the workforce.

Avoiding Claims for Failure to Reimburse Business Expenses

The second focus of COVID-related employment lawsuits so far is employers’ obligations, under California Labor Code §2802, to reimburse employees for necessary business expenses they incur. Traditionally, when workers elected to work remotely and from home, costs incidental to this decision have not been subject to the reimbursement requirement. However, where businesses, in response to COVID, have mandated that employees work remotely, this triggers the reimbursement obligation.

To help avoid these claims, employers should keep in mind the following potential costs requiring reimbursement:

  • Use of personal mobile phone for business purposes;
  • Wi-fi internet connectivity;
  • Utility bills; and
  • Purchased furniture to enable working remotely.

Importantly, the duty to reimburse is not unlimited. Employers are only required to reimburse necessary expenses. A top-of-the-line ergonomic desk chair costing several hundred dollars is not necessary. Further, to the extent that an employee had mobile phone and Wi-fi connectivity before COVID, the case law has clarified that employers are only required to reimburse a percentage of existing services that approximates the enhanced use attributable to mandatory remote working.

Best practices dictate that employers should develop and implement a clear written expense reimbursement policy that is communicated to employees in a manner that permits a signed acknowledgment that a worker has received and understands the policy.

Conclusion

Employers with questions about these recommendations should consult their experienced employment counsel. We are here to help you.

Crucial New California Employment Laws for 2021

Jan 20, 2021 in

State and Local Minimum Wage Increases

Statewide, the California minimum wage is at least $14 per hour. Employers with 25 or fewer workers (“small businesses”) must pay at least $13 per hour. Certain cities and/or counties have their own minimum wage laws and the higher wage governs. In Los Angeles city and county, for example, minimum wage is $15 per hour; small businesses pay $14.25 until July 1st, when they, too, must pay $15.00. Bear in mind the state minimum wage impacts the salary threshold for exempt status.

Pay Data Reporting Deadline March 31st

The March 31st deadline for employers with 100 or more employees to meet their pay data reporting obligation under SB 973 is coming fast. These employers will be required on an annual basis to submit information on their employees’ pay data by gender, race and ethnicity to the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

New Law Expands Potential Responsibility For Wage-Hour Judgments

Many businesses fail to appreciate the enormous power the California Labor Commissioner wields to swiftly correct workers’ injustices, real or perceived, while, in some cases bringing a business literally to its knees. It would take a longer writing to describe the anatomy of a wage-hour claim. Suffice it to stay that, the actual claim, taken together with statutory “liquidated” damages, myriad penalties, interest (and attorney’s fees), can turn an innocent mistake into an enormous, if not devastating, financial headache for employers.

Since 2018, business owners, and even employees, can be held personally responsible for unpaid wages. Now, Assembly Bill (AB) 3075, effective January 1, 2021, makes it even easier for workers to enforce judgments for unpaid wages by making certain “successor” businesses responsible for their predecessor’s unpaid wage and hour judgments. The law prevents employers from evading unpaid wage and hour judgments by discontinuing one business, only to form a new business that is substantially similar to the old one. It adds Section 200.3 to the Labor Code and provides that a “successor” to a judgment debtor will be liable for any “wages, damages, and penalties owed to any of the judgment debtor’s former workforce pursuant to a final judgment, after the time to appeal therefrom has expired and for which no appeal therefrom is pending.”

Section 200.3 defines a “successor” to include those that use the same facilities or workforce to offer substantially the same services as the debtor; has substantially the same owners or managers; employs a managing agent who directly controlled the wages, hours, or working conditions of the debtor’s workforce of the judgment debtor; and, operates a business in the same industry as the judgment debtor and the business has an owner, partner, officer, or director who is an immediate family member of any owner, partner, officer, or director of the judgment debtor.

Reminder: Employers with 5+ Employees Required to Provide CFRA Leave

Remember that employers with just five (5) or more employees are now required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave for eligible employees to care for themselves and a wide variety of family members. (Previously, only employers with 50+ employees were covered by CFRA.)

What Employers Should Do Now

  • Ensure you are paying your employees at least the correct minimum wage, which may depend on the city and/or county of your business.
  • Remember that state minimum wage increases also impact the threshold salary requirement for employee exempt status. We can assist with this calculation.
  • Employers new to the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) should ensure their policies and handbook reflect employees’ rights under the Act, and that their HR Department is prepared. We can update your handbook and assist your HR Department.
  • Employers with 100+ employees should begin compiling their pay data as required under Gov’t. Code 12999 for reporting on or before March 31st. We can walk you through this process.

The Law Offices of Alex Craigie helps employers throughout California prevent, address and resolve employment disputes in a logical and cost-effective manner. Reach us at (323) 652-9451, (805) 845-1752 or at [email protected].

California Expands CFRA Leave to Employers with 5+ Employees

Dec 8, 2020 in

On September 17, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill (“SB”) 1383, which expands the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) family and medical leave law. This Bulletin discusses these changes, which take effect January 1, 2021.

Understanding The California Family Rights Act

The California Family Rights Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave for eligible employees to care for themselves and a wide variety of family members. More specifically, under the current CFRA:

  • An eligible employee may take an unpaid leave to bond with an adopted or foster child or to bond with a newborn.
  • An eligible employee may take unpaid leave to care for a parent, registered domestic partner, or child with a serious health condition.
  • CFRA leave may also be taken for the employee’s own serious health condition.
  • Full-time employees may take leave of up to 12 work weeks in a 12-month period. Part-time employees may take leave on a proportional basis.
  • The leave does not need to be taken in one continuous period of time.
  • An employer may require a 30-day advance notice of the need for a CFRA-qualifying leave. When this is not possible due to the unexpected nature of the qualifying event, notice should be given as soon as practicable.
  • The employer may require written communication from the health-care provider of the child, parent, registered domestic partner, or employee with a serious health condition stating the reasons for the leave and the probable duration of the condition. However, the health care provider may not disclose the underlying diagnosis without the consent of the patient.

 What’s New

 Most importantly, SB 1383 expands the range of covered employers under the CFRA to employers with just 5 or more employees. Previously, a covered employer had to have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of the workplace where the leave-seeking employee worked.

The new law also expands the range of family members for whose care CFRA leave may be taken. Effective January 1st, employees may take CFRA leave to care for grandparents, grandchildren and siblings.

If both parents work for the same employer, SB 1383 eliminates the current requirement that the parents split the 12-week leave time. Effective January 1st, each employee-parent will be entitled to his/her own 12-week leave.

Finally, SB 1383 makes it an unlawful employment practice for any employer to refuse to grant a request by an employee to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid protected leave during any 12-month period due to a qualifying exigency related to the covered active duty or call to covered active duty of an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent in the Armed Forces of the United States.

What Employers Should Do Now

With just 24 days before SB 1383 takes effect, employers that were not previously covered under the CFRA should take immediate steps to become familiar with the Act and revise their employee handbook and policies to reflect the change. Employers already covered by CFRA should understand the changes and revise their handbook and policies accordingly.

Employers seeking to better understand this new law should contact their employment law professional.

Calif. Governor Signs Employment Laws Related to COVID-19 Exposure

Sep 21, 2020 in

On September 17, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law two critical pieces of legislation. Assembly Bill (AB) 685, which imposes certain notification obligations on employers when one or more employees test positive for COVID-19, takes effect January 1, 2021. Senate Bill (SB) 1159 expands employees’ rights to workers’ compensation benefits and also imposes a significant new reporting deadline when an employee tests positive for COVID-19. SB 1159 takes effect immediately.

AB 685 Notice Requirements

Assembly Bill 685 imposes important notification requirements when employers discover that one or more employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19. More specifically, the new law sets forth the following notice requirements:

Within one (1) business day of a “potential exposure” based on a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a workplace, an employer must:

• Provide written notice to all employees, employers of subcontracted employees and employee representatives, including unions who were at the worksite within the infectious period who may have been exposed o COVID-19.

• Provide written notice to employees and/or their representatives regarding COVID-19-related benefits that employees may receive, including workers’ compensation benefits, COVID leave, paid sick leave and the employer’s anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies.

• Provide notice to employees regard the employer’s disinfection protocols and safety plan.

Written notice under the law may be made by personal delivery, text message and/or email, provided that it can be reasonably anticipated to be received within one (1) business day. It must also be in English and the language understood by the majority of employees.

AB 685 also requires employers who have a sufficient number of COVID-19 positive cases that meet the definition of a COVID-19 outbreak (as defined by the Cal. State Dept. of Health), to report certain information to the employer’s local health agency within forty-eight (48) hours of learning of the outbreak.

The requirements of AB 685 do not apply when the employee(s) who test positive for COVID-19 work remotely. Again, AB 685 takes effect January 1, 2021.

SB 1159 – Disputable Presumption

SB 1159 has two important components related to employees who test positive for COVID-19. First, it creates a “disputable presumption” that an illness or death resulting from COVID-19 arose out of and in the course and scope of employment for workers’ compensation purposes. This presumption covers cases in which the worker tested positive from July 6, 2020 through January 1, 2023. Thereafter, the presumption will no longer apply.

In order for the presumption to apply: (1) the positive test for COVID-19 must occur within 14 days after a day that the employee worked at the employer’s place of employment; (2) the day of work was on or after July 6, 2020; and (3) the positive test must have occurred during a period of an outbreak at the employee’s place of employment.

Important for this presumption, an “outbreak” exists if, within 14 days, one of the following occurs at the place of employment: (1) if the employer has <100 employees at a specific site, 4 employees test positive for COVID-19; (2) if the employer has >100 employees, 4% of the employees test positive for COVID-19; (3) a specific place of employment is ordered to close by a local public health department, the State Dept. of Public Health, Div. of Occupational Safety and Health or a school superintendent due to a risk of infection with COVID-19.

SB 1159 – Reporting Requirements

SB 1159 also creates new reporting requirements. When an employer knows or reasonably should know that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, the employer must report that fact to its workers’ compensation claims administrator within three (3) business days, via email or fax.

The information to be reported includes: (1) that an employee has tested positive (no personally identifiable information regarding the employee, unless he/she asserts the infection is work-related or has filed a claim); (2) the date the employee tested positive; (3) the address of the specific place of work during the 14-day period preceding the positive test; and (4) the highest number of employees who reported to work at the employee’s specific place of employment in the 45-day period preceding the last day the employee worked at each specific place of employment.

What Employers Should Do Now

Employers should immediately become familiar with these new requirements. Employers with any questions about these new laws should contact their employment law professional.

The Law Offices of Alex Craigie helps employers throughout California prevent, address and resolve employment disputes in a logical and cost-effective manner. Reach us at (323) 652-9451, (805) 845-1752 or at [email protected]

Employment Law Attorney Alex Craigie Elected to 2021 Southern California Super Lawyers!

Jul 27, 2020 in

Employment law trial attorney Alex Craigie has been selected to the 2021 Southern California Super Lawyers list, an honor reserved for those lawyers who exhibit excellence in practice. Only 5% of attorneys in Southern California receive this distinction.

In April 2013, the Super Lawyers selection process received a patent (U.S. Pat. No. 8,412,564) from The United States Patent and Trademark Office. This distinction is relevant to both attorneys and consumers, as it further demonstrates credibility as an impartial third-party rating system.

Bar associations and courts across the country have recognized the legitimacy of the Super Lawyers selection process. In July 2008, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the findings of a Special Master, who stated:

“[The Super Lawyers selection process] is a comprehensive, good-faith and detailed attempt to produce a list of lawyers that have attained high peer recognition, meet ethical standards, and have demonstrated some degree of achievement in their field.”

“Suffice to say, the selection procedures employed by [Super Lawyers] are very sophisticated, comprehensive and complex.”

Should Employers Provide or Pay For Face Masks?

Apr 8, 2020 in

I believe the answer is YES. Cities and Counties throughout California are increasingly ordering or recommending the use of non-medical masks or “cloth face coverings” to help stem the spread of COVID-19. This triggers two obligations. First, Cal/OSHA requires California employers to provide employees with all necessary safety equipment. Second, federal and state laws require employers to reimburse employees for all reasonably incurred business expenses. Whether an employer provides the protective gear or employees procure them independently but seek reimbursement, employers should be prepared to shoulder this responsibility.

What Employers Need to Know About the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Mar 19, 2020 in

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Importantly, the FFCRA is actually two separate acts, each of which imposes different employer obligations: the Emergency Paid Leave Act (E-Paid Leave Act) and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (E-FMLA). This Bulletin discusses these Acts, which take effect 15 days after the law is enacted.

The E-Paid Leave Act

The E-Paid Leave Act requires private employers who employ fewer than 500 employees, as well as government employers, to provide paid sick leave to employees who cannot work (or telework) for one of the following reasons:

  1. The employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
  3. The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
  5. The employee is caring for a son or daughter because the child’s school or place of care has been closed or the child’s childcare is unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions;
  6. The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of HHS in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor.

The leave under the E-Paid Leave Act must be available to all employees and is in addition to leave already available under state and/or local laws. Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave. Part-time employees are entitled to paid leave equal to the average hours he/she works over a two-week period. There is no carryover from year to year and, once the employee returns to work, the employer is not required to provide any further paid sick leave under the E-Paid Leave Act.

The rate of pay depends on the reasons for leave from among the list above. If leave is for self-care (reasons 1, 2 or 3 above), the employee receives the higher of (1) the employee’s regular rate of pay, (2) the federal minimum wage, or (3) the local minimum wage. If time off is to care for a sick family member or a child who is not in school (reasons 4, 5 or 6), he/she receives two-thirds of their regular rate of pay.

There is a cap on E-Paid Leave Act amounts. For leave under reasons 1-3, the cap is $511 per day, up to an aggregate of $5,110. For leave under reasons 4-6, the daily cap is $200, up to an aggregate of $2,000.

Employers will be required to post an approved notice regarding the E-Paid Leave Act. To help employers cope with the financial burden of this additional leave, there are tax credits. The details of these credits are beyond the scope of this Bulletin and employers are encouraged to consult with their accounting professional to fully understand and take advantage of all available tax credits.

The E-FMLA Act

The E-FMLA Act expands the protections of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to add Public Health Emergency Leave. Many smaller employers, with fewer than 50 employees, may be unfamiliar with the FMLA.

The E-FMLA Act expands coverage to include all employers with less than 500 employees, and is available to any employee who has been employed with the employer for at least 30 days. Unlike the ordinary FMLA, however, the E-FMLA is only available if an employee is unable to work (or telework) due to a need for leave to care for the employee’s child who is under 18 years of age because he child’s school or place of care has been closed or his or her childcare provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency.

The first 10 days of E-FMLA leave is unpaid, but an employee may elect or an employer may require the employer to substitute available vacation or paid sick leave (including E-Paid Leave Act pay) for the unpaid portion of E-FMLA leave. After 10 days, employers must pay at least two-thirds of an employee’s regular rate of pay for the number of hours the employee would otherwise be scheduled to work. For employees who have fluctuating working hours on a weekly basis, an employer is allowed to take an average over a six-month period. There are caps: paid E-FMLA leave may not exceed $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate.

The standard FMLA job restoration requirements apply to employers with 25 or more employees. Under certain circumstances, the job restoration requirements will not apply to employers with fewer than 25 employees.

As with the E-Paid Sick Leave Act, there are tax credits available to offset expenditures by employers to comply with the E-FMLA. Again, the mechanics of these credits are beyond the scope of this Bulletin and employers should seek advice from their accounting professional to understand and take full advantage of the tax credits.

Exemptions to E-Paid Sick Leave Act and E-FMLA

Employers of health care providers and emergency responders are exempt from E-Paid Sick Leave requirements. Such businesses, as well as businesses with under 50 employees may be entitled to an exemption if the leave requirement would jeopardize the business as an ongoing concern. However, this is contingent on whether the Secretary of Labor grants such exemptions, which is currently unknown. Act or the E-FMLA.

What Employers Should Do Now

Employers should act immediately to conform their policies and practices to the myriad requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Employers with questions about this new law should contact their employment law professional.

Alex Craigie Named 2020 SuperLawyer

Feb 13, 2020 in

Alex Craigie has been named a Southern California Super Lawyer in the area of Employment Litigation: Defense. Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. This selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. The final published list represents no more than 5 percent of the lawyers in the state.

New California Law Prohibits Mandatory Arbitration for Employment Claims

Nov 1, 2019 in

On October 10, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill (AB 51) intended to prohibit employers from requiring employees to sign agreements that they will submit claims arising from their employment to binding arbitration (as opposed to resolution of the dispute in the civil court system, by judge or jury). The law takes effect January 1, 2020. The new law, if ultimately enforced, has important implications for any employer that requires employees to sign arbitration agreements.

What the Law Says

Assembly Bill 51 adds Section 432.6 to the California Labor Code. While it was packaged as a “sexual harassment” bill, AB 51 covers virtually any claim arising from the employment relationship (excluding workers’ compensation claims, which are not arbitrable in any event). The new law:

  • Prohibits any person (including employers) from requiring, as a condition of employment or employment-related benefits, that employees “waive any right, forum, or procedure” for violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) or the California Labor Code.
  • Prohibits employers from including arbitration agreements/clauses that provide an “opt-out” clause, requiring an employee to affirmatively opt-out of mandatory arbitration.
  • Creates a new private right of action (aka “claim”) against any employer that violates the new law. In addition to injunctive relief, the law permits a prevailing employee to recover her attorney’s fees.
  • Does not apply to any agreement entered into before January 1, 2020.
  • Is not intended to invalidate an agreement otherwise enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).
  • Does not apply to post-dispute settlement or severance agreements.

Why the New Law Might Ultimately Be Held Unenforceable

Most experts expect to see legal challenges to the new law, primarily on the grounds that it conflicts and is preempted by the FAA, which dates from 1925 and exists to further arbitration in cases involving interstate commerce. Individual state laws that “stand[] as an obstacle to” arbitration have been repeatedly struck down by the United States Supreme Court as preempted by the FAA. Whether the new law will survive these challenges is presently unclear.

What Employers Should Do

Given the uncertainty surrounding AB 51, it is important that employers who currently (or intend to) require workers to sign arbitration agreements take steps before the end of 2019 to ensure compliance if the law is ultimately enforced. No employer should want to be a “test case.”

Because the law specifically excludes FAA-governed agreements, certain employers (depending on industry) may still be able to require employees to sign an agreement to submit employment disputes to arbitration under the FAA (stating the basis for FAA jurisdiction).

Alternatively, employers could continue to include arbitration provisions, but exclude administrative charges that employees may file with the DFEH, EEOC, NLRB, DOL or the California Labor Commissioner from arbitration. Unfortunately, these exceptions would essentially remove the protections afforded by arbitration in the first place.

As the law in this area remains fluid, employers should not hesitate to consult with their qualified employment law professionals to ensure they remain compliant with all state and federal employment laws, including AB 51.

The Law Offices of Alex Craigie helps employers throughout California prevent, address and resolve employment disputes in a logical and cost-effective manner. Reach us at (323) 652-9451, (805) 845-1752 or at [email protected].

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