My colleague Bryan Hawkins recently discussed California’s new paid sick leave law with Colin O’Keefe of LXBN. You can catch the interview on the clip below. As Bryan noted in his original post, California is the second state in the nation (after Connecticut) to enact a state-wide law requiring most employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, marking the latest development in a growing trend that has seen similar paid sick leave laws enacted in other jurisdictions, mostly at the city level.
The California Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc. was simple. When employees must use their personal cell phones for work, California law requires employers to reimburse them, regardless of whether the cell phone plans are for limited or unlimited minutes. This decision, however, could have a wide ranging impact on California employment law.
The plaintiff in Cochran sought to bring a class action lawsuit against his employer based on his employer’s alleged failure to reimburse him and similarly situated employees for use of their personal cell phones for work-related calls. The superior court denied plaintiff’s motion for class certification, finding that the claim was not suitable for class treatment because individual issues predominated. Specifically, the superior court reasoned that the defendant employer’s liability to prospective class members depended on individual factual issues such as whether employees paid for the cell phone plan themselves, whether employees purchased different cell phone plans because of their work cell phone usage, or whether employees suffered any “actionable expenditure or loss,” i.e., loss of cell phone minutes.
On September 10, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1522 (the “Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014”) and made California the second state in the nation (after Connecticut) to enact a state-wide law requiring most California employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. This marks the latest development in a growing trend that has seen similar paid sick leave laws enacted in other jurisdictions in recent years, mostly at the city level, including in Seattle in 2012, in Portland, OR in 2013, and in Eugene, OR in 2014.
Under the California law, most California employees who work 30 or more days within a year will accrue one hour of paid sick leave at their regular rate of pay for every 30 hours worked. The law also imposes new notice and recordkeeping requirements onto California employers.
The law allows employees to carry over accrued paid sick days from one year to the next. Employers, however, are allowed to limit an employee’s use of paid sick days to 24 hours or three days a year and to cap accrued paid sick leave at either 48 hours or 6 days. While an employer is not obligated to pay out accrued but unused paid sick leave at termination, if an employee separates from an employer and is rehired within one year from the date of separation, previously accrued and unused paid sick days must be reinstated. If an employer already has a paid leave policy or paid time off policy, it is not required to provide additional paid sick days under the new law so long as its existing policy satisfies certain requirements, including making available an amount of leave that may be used for the same purposes and under the same conditions as specified in the Act.
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In Taylor Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, the California Supreme Court restricted the ability of a franchisee’s employees to sue the franchisor based on theories of vicarious liability and the theory that the franchisor was an “employer” under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). With this decision, franchisors can breathe a sigh of relief as the Supreme Court’s decision could have opened the flood gates for employment claims brought by employees seeking a recovery from the perceived “deep pocket” franchisor.
The plaintiff in Taylor alleged that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor while employed at a Domino’s Pizza franchise owned and run by a company called Sui Juris. She subsequently filed suit against her supervisor, Sui Juris, and the franchisor, Defendant Domino’s Pizza Franchising, LLC (“Domino’s”). Plaintiff’s claims against Domino’s were premised on the theory that Domino’s was her and her supervisor’s employer.
Last week, the 9th Circuit held in two related cases from California and Oregon that FedEx misclassified approximately 2,600 delivery truck drivers as independent contractors, rather than as employees. The cases—Alexander v. FedEx and Slayman v. FedEx—are an important reminder for employers that reality matters more than labels when it comes to classifying workers.
On that note, the most succinct (and most memorable) summary of the rulings appears in Judge Trott’s short concurrence in Alexander:
“Abraham Lincoln reportedly asked, ‘If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?’ His answer was, ‘Four. Calling a dog’s tail a leg does not make it a leg.’ . . . Labeling the drivers ‘independent contractors’ in FedEx’s Operating Agreement does not conclusively make them so . . . .”
The two cases dealt with virtually identical facts. FedEx’s Operating Agreement (“OA”), which principally governed its business relationships with the 2,300 California drivers and 363 Oregon drivers in each class, contained several generalized clauses that suggested the drivers were independent contractors. For example, the OAs provided that “the manner and means of reaching [the parties’ “mutual business objectives”] are within the discretion of the [driver], and no officer or employee of FedEx . . . shall have the authority to impose any term or condition on the driver . . . which is contrary to this understanding.” The two opinions noted, however, that neither California nor Oregon law views a contract’s description of a worker as an independent contractor as dispositive of the worker’s true status.
Cantankerous employees beware! Being a jerk is not a disability and, at least according to the Ninth Circuit in Weaving v. City of Hillsboro, blaming bad behavior on a physical or mental impairment does not guarantee protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").
Matthew Weaving was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, but stopped exhibiting symptoms at the age of 12 and was taken off of his ADHD medication. His interpersonal problems continued through adolescence and into adulthood. Weaving pursued a career as a police officer and eventually joined the Hillsboro (Oregon) Police Department in 2006. His relationship with subordinates and peers was strained. Co-workers complained that he often was demeaning and derogatory. Following a subordinate’s complaint about Weaving in 2009, the Police Department placed him on leave pending investigation.
While on leave, Weaving decided that some of his interpersonal difficulties might have been due to ADHD so he sought a mental health evaluation. The psychologist concluded that Weaving had adult ADHD and sent a letter to the police department explaining his diagnosis. The next day, Weaving sent a letter informing his employer about the diagnosis and requesting “all reasonable accommodations.”
A few weeks later, the police department concluded its investigation, finding that Weaving had created and fostered a “hostile work environment for his subordinates and peers,” noting that they described him as “tyrannical, unapproachable, non-communicative, belittling, demeaning, threatening, intimidating, arrogant and vindictive.” Following a fitness for duty examination in which two doctors found Weaving fit for duty despite his ADHD diagnosis, the police department terminated Weaving’s employment.
This month the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division III issued a ruling in Becker v. Community Health Systems, Inc. that expands protections in a wrongful termination action based on violation of a public policy.
In Becker, the Plaintiff, a former chief financial officer for Community Health Systems, Inc. (“CHS”), alleged that while CHS initially represented that it would have a $4 million operating loss, Becker calculated a projected $12 million operating loss in 2012. When CHS requested Becker revise his projection prior to submitting it to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), Becker refused. CHS placed Becker on a performance improvement plan and conditioned his continued employment on revising the loss projection. Becker documented his concern with the CHS calculation and advised the company that unless it remedied its misconduct he would be forced to resign. CHS accepted Becker’s notice as a resignation.
Becker sued in superior court for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy (he also filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration). After the trial court denied CHS’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under CR 12(b)(6), CHS sought discretionary review with the Court of Appeals.
In an ever expanding arc of decisions that extends the NLRA’s protections to a wide range of employee conduct – both on-and off-duty, and in union and non-union settings alike – the NLRB last week decided that merely clicking on Facebook’s “Like” Button was concerted, protected activity. Triple Play Sports Bar, 361 NLRB No. 31 (August 22, 2014).
Triple Play Sports Bar is a non-union employer whose owners had a little difficulty preparing annual payroll tax calculations, and as a result, employees owed state income tax in arrears. One of the employees – not happy at the prospect of back taxes – posted on her Facebook “Status Update,”
Maybe someone should do the owners of Triple Play a favor and buy it from them. They can’t even do the tax paperwork correctly‼! Now I OWE money … Wtf‼!
Other employees chimed in with comments of their own (“[the owner] f***** up the paperwork…as per usual”; “[the owner is] such a shady little man. He prolly [sic] pocketed it all from our paychecks…”; “Such an a******”), as did a couple of the Sport’s Bar’s customers. But one employee simply pressed the “Like” button and made no other comments. Company owners terminated the employees for defamation and disloyalty.
The Washington courts are strict in their interpretation of the classification of individuals as employees versus independent contractors, resulting in many an employer discovering that an “independent contractor” is instead an employee. But the Washington Court of Appeals’ recent ruling in Currier v. Northland Services, Inc., confirms that even those individuals who qualify as bona fide independent contractors will be deemed subject to the full protections of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), including protection from retaliation.
In Currier, the plaintiff, who worked as an independent contractor truck driver for NSI, overheard another independent contractor make a racist “joke” to a Latino driver. Currier reported the incident to NSI’s quality assurance manager, who informed the dispatchers of Currier’s complaint. Two days later, the dispatchers terminated Currier’s contract, citing “customer service issues” and informing Currier that they had spoken with the other truck drivers and “they had decided that the joke was funny.”