Business legal services in Silicon Valley

6 Ways to Prevent Wrongful Termination Claims

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Sooner or later, every business will have to deal with an employee claiming that they were wrongfully terminated from their job. The reality is that employers usually terminate employees for performance or due to downsizing. Whenever you must make the business decision to terminate an employee, you should be aware that the employee may file a claim or attempt to sue you.

Your company’s termination process, and how it handles employees during the termination process, very often has a direct impact on whether the employee decides to file a wrongful termination claim against your company post termination. Even when you have a clear termination policy and clearly communicate it to employees as they join the company, and follow it as the employee exits the company, a lawsuit may follow.

Here are some best practices to help you avoid wrongful termination litigation

  • Define work performance objectives.

If you make the decision to terminate an employee, it should not be a great surprise for the employee. Document the employee counseling process – from warning, to reprimand, and to suspension. Communicate the progressive disciplinary measures with expectations for improvement to the employee and document this in his or her employee file. Thus, having a system to identify performance objectives, and comparing an employee’s individual performance against those objectives, and then communicating with the employee whether they meet or don’t meet those criteria, makes the actual termination, for performance reasons, simpler and less shocking to the employee.

  • Terminate with compassion.

Even if an employee expects to be terminated from employment because of performance failures, they may still be shocked when terminated and react poorly. A termination from employment is a stressful event. Wherever possible use compassion and empathy to deliver the news while remaining firm that despite everyone’s best efforts, a separation from employment may lead the employee to find a better position elsewhere.

  • Consider liability insurance.

Because employee lawsuits against employers for wrongful termination are common, an employer should consider liability insurance, to help pay for legal fees and any potential claim for damages. Make sure you understand the available insurance options – including what is covered, whether you are permitted to select your own attorney, and whether the claims are paid per claim or per claimant.

  • Comply with all state and federal employment laws, when applicable.

Most employers do not know all the state and federal employment laws applicable to their businesses.  There are several Supreme Court cases and laws implemented during the year.  It is best for business owners to see an Employment Law attorney annually to review their policies and procedures (see below Item 5) and to know the laws applicable to their businesses. 

Make sure your company follows all the rules associated with employment promulgated by the federal Department of Labor and the State of California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency. Posting requirements, payment of severance wages, and responding to unemployment insurance inquiries are very important.

Also, before terminating an employee, consulting with an attorney would be best practice.  Your Business Attorney will review documentation, then help clients through the termination process to minimize claims.

  • Employment handbooks.

Writing down your employment policies and procedures as well as distributing copies of the company’s employment policies and procedures to employees is the foundation of providing a defense to a claim for wrongful termination. Employees should be provided with an employment handbook at the start of their employment and required to sign a receipt indicating that they received the handbook and accept the employment policies contained in the employment handbook.

  • Train your human resources team.

Your human resources personnel should be up to date with all the labor and employment laws in California or wherever else your company maintains employees. Don’t underestimate the power of developing soft skills, like using effective and efficient communications during the onboarding and termination processes.

Develop a termination plan and related employment policies

Avoiding wrongful termination suits and defending against them if they arise are just two realities of employer-employee relationships today. Assure that your company is following all applicable state and federal laws. If you own a small business and seek assistance preparing an employment handbook and related employment policies and procedures, contact Aria Law firm, a Fremont business lawyer for an initial consultation. Counseling clients in Fremont, CA near Newark, Hayward, East Bay, Milpitas, Union City, San Leandro, Gilroy, San Jose, Santa Clara, We look forward to putting our legal experience to work for you.

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Business legal services in Silicon Valley

New Wildfire Smoke Employment Requirements for California Businesses

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On July 29, 2019 California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board issued emergency regulations to protect outdoor workers from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke. The emergency regulations are in response to the wildfires that have plagued the state in the last several years. Employers are now required to monitor levels of smoke at workplaces or worksites and take protective action in response to changed conditions that put worker safety in jeopardy. The new emergency regulations are effective through January 28, 2020, with two potential 90-day extensions, until the permanent rule is effective sometime in 2020.

Affected Employers

For the most part, workplaces at which the air quality index reaches a certain level are required to comply with these emergency regulations. Employers must monitor air quality, and when it reaches or is expected to reach a dangerous level, reduce their employee’s exposure to smoke. Affected industries include agriculture and construction; occupations like delivery, maintenance, and landscaping workers; and even retail locations, like restaurants and banks, where outside doors are opened throughout the day by patrons. There are exempt employees, such as firefighters fighting a wildfire and workers inside buildings or vehicles with mechanical ventilation, for example.

Communication and Training Requirements

Employers are required to update, communicate, and train employees about wildfire smoke and these health and safety regulations. Employers should consult with an employment lawyer to update workplace policies and employment handbooks to reflect these new regulations.

Next Steps

California businesses must comply with these new health and safety regulations. The first step, however, is to investigate if your business is required to comply with these rules. To learn if your business is exempt from the new regulations, contact an employment law attorney. Secondly, employers will need to create policies and procedures to satisfy the planning, education, and training components of the regulations.

Wildfires are disruptive to employers and employees alike. Like other natural disasters, you must anticipate your wildfire response to maximize employee safety while minimizing disruption or intervention into the work of your organization.

Employers should meet with an employment lawyer at least once a year regarding new laws or changes to regulations that might impact their business. Employment handbooks should be reviewed annually, and updated at a minimum every three years. It is important to keep current and comply with federal, state, and local labor and employment laws to protect your company and employees. If you are a business in Fremont, Newark, Hayward, East Bay, Milpitas, Union City, San Leandro, Gilroy, San Jose, or Santa Clara, California, consult legal counsel today to learn how to bring your business in compliance with the new emergency regulations to protect employees from wildfire smoke.

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Business legal services in Silicon Valley

Navigating California’s Work Breaks and Overtime Laws

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California’s work breaks and overtime laws regularly confuse companies that do business in California. Understanding your obligations to provide rest and meal periods to employees is critical to the operation of any size business. A mistake, however innocent or inadvertent, results in costly penalties at rates much higher than any wages that may be due. The crux of the problem involves understanding which employees must be relieved of all their duties prior to a work break and what that entails, and which employees are entitled to overtime compensation for working in excess of 40 hours in a work week.

When companies encounter these issues they are immediately blindsided by numerous laws, case law, and regulations in the area of labor and employment law. If your business has inadvertently misclassified a worker as an independent contractor instead of an employee or an hourly worker as a salary worker, you could find yourself owing these employees hundreds of hours of unpaid wages. 

Rest and Meal Breaks

California law requires employers to provide a paid 10-minute rest break to it employees, relieving them of all their work-related duties, when they work for more than 3 1/2 hours.  This break should be as far as practical in the middle of a worker’s shift, not at the beginning or end of the work period.  The assignment of the slightest task during an employee rest period is not permitted. The break itself must be paid and the employer is not required to record the rest period.

The same is true for meal breaks — no employer may interrupt a worker’s meal period by requiring them to perform a task. This 30-minute meal period every five hours does not have to be paid, should fall in the middle of the worker’s shift, and must be recorded.

In Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., the California Supreme Court issued a ruling holding an employer responsible to pay wages to security guards when they were required keep their pagers and radio phones on during rest and meal breaks. The court awarded the employees close to $90 million in statutory damages, interest, and penalties.

Overtime Laws

California’s overtime laws mandate that any hourly worker who works more than eight hours a day or more than 40 hours in a work week receives overtime compensation for the extra hours. That means that the employee shall not be employed more than eight hours in any workday or more than 40 hours in any work week unless he or she receives one and one-half times his or her regular rate of pay for all hours worked over the threshold.

If you are a business in the East Bay Area including Fremont, Newark, Hayward, Milpitas, Union City, San Leandro, Gilroy, San Jose or Santa Clara looking for guidance on overtime and rest and meal break laws and regulations, seek legal advice and counsel from a California business lawyer today.

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