Executive Summary: A California Appeal Court has held that employees are only required to show that they were required to use their personal cell phone for work-related calls to be entitled to reimbursement under California Labor Code § 2802. In reaching this conclusion, the appeal court held that it does not matter whether the phone bill is paid by a third person or not paid at all. See Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service (Aug. 12, 2014).
Articles Discussing General Workplace Issues in California.
A lawsuit against a trucking company for allegedly misclassifying drivers as independent contractors under California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) was not preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (“FAAAA”), the California Supreme Court has ruled unanimously. P. ex rel. Harris v. Pac Anchor Transp., Inc., No. S194388 (Cal. July 28, 2014). The Court found the lawsuit did not relate to the company’s “price, route or service,” the concerns of the federal law. Therefore, the Court allowed the State of California’s lawsuit for unfair competition arising from the company’s alleged violations of California’s labor and insurance laws to proceed.
A California appellate court recently issued a warning to employees who try to negotiate settlements with their employers by making veiled threats to report an employer’s real or imagined criminal activity. In Stenehjem v. Sareen, No. H038342 (Cal. Ct. App. June 13, 2014), the court held that an employee’s pre-litigation settlement demand was extortionate where the employee threatened to expose criminal activity by filing a qui tam action under the federal False Claims Act unless the employer tendered payment. This is an encouraging legal development for employers, and may signal an increasing willingness of the courts to curtail over-the-top pre-litigation settlement practices.
On June 10, 2014, the trial court judge in Vergara v. State of California issued a decision striking down as unconstitutional five provisions of the California Education Code regarding public school teacher tenure procedures.1 The plaintiffs, nine California public school students, argued that the five challenged statutes violate their fundamental rights to an equal education by adversely affecting the quality of the education they receive from the state.
As the days grow warmer, California employers with outdoor places of employment should think about compliance with California’s Heat Illness Prevention Regulations (Cal. Code of Regs. tit. 8, § 3395). To comply with the regulations, California employers should take four essential steps:
The California Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in an appeal brought by a former employee who claims the lower courts incorrectly determined that his disability discrimination claim was barred because he misappropriated someone else’s Social Security number to apply for the job.
On March 7, 2014, in Troester v. Starbucks Corporation, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California applied the de minimis doctrine and granted summary judgment to the employer in a putative class action seeking allegedly unpaid minimum and overtime wages, along with derivative penalties, for time spent after the plaintiff clocked out for the day.
A California Court of Appeal has ruled that a medical staffing company was not vicariously liable for its medical assistant who poisoned a coworker while on assignment at a hospital. Montague et al. v. AMN Healthcare, Inc., No. D063385 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 21, 2014). The Court found the medical assistant’s “highly unusual and startling” actions occurred outside the scope of her employment and affirmed summary judgment in favor of the staffing company.
Finding an employee’s lawsuit under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) was “without merit[,] frivolous and vexatious,” the California Court of Appeal has affirmed an award of attorneys’ fees in the amount of $100,000 in favor of the employer. Robert v. Stanford Univ., No. H037514 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 25, 2014). The Court further ruled that the trial court was not required to issue a separate written opinion to support its ruling.
So far, as the second year of a two-year California legislative session, 2014 has been more noteworthy for what hasn’t happened, than for what has. The Legislature made no attempts to override any of the Governor’s 2013 end-of-session vetoes. Rather, legislators have re-introduced bills to try again to pass them and get the Governor’s signature, or to tweak previous unsuccessful proposals in an effort to win the Governor’s approval.
Employers with operations in California should ensure their policies and practices are in compliance with the state’s new employment laws going into effect on January 1, 2014. The new laws will affect the day-to-day operations of many businesses.
The California Legislature concluded its 2013 regular session on September 12 with a flourish, sending a total this year of 896 bills to Governor Jerry Brown for approval (of 2,256 introduced). By the signing deadline last Sunday evening, Governor Brown had signed 800 bills into law, and vetoed 96 (11%).
The Court of Appeal for California’s Fourth Appellate District recently confirmed that the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA), a broad statute intended to be the last word in trade secret misappropriation cases, does not preclude separate but related common law claims, so long as these claims are not based entirely on the trade secret misappropriation. The ruling echoes similar decisions from other California appellate districts and is helpful to businesses seeking to protect against unfair competition.
Protection from discrimination and retaliation has been extended to employees who are victims of stalking under an amendment to the California Labor Code, Sections 230 and 230.1. The prior version of the law covered only victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The amended law prohibits employers from discharging, discriminating against, or retaliating against employees who need to take time off from work to address issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It also prohibits discrimination and retaliation based on the employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking and requires employers to provide certain accommodations for the safety of such victims. The law becomes effective on January 1, 2014.
On the heels of the U.S. Department of Labor’s expansion of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime rules to home care workers, California home care agencies will face another challenge with the recent passage of the Home Care Services Consumer Protection Act (AB 1217). This law provides for the licensure and regulation of home care organizations and registration of home care aides. It takes effect on January 1, 2015 and will be administered by California’s Department of Social Services.