California has created additional protections for unpaid interns and created additional requirements for sexual harassment prevention training.  In addition, California has mandated a new requirement for most employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave.  This new sick-leave requirement will go into effect next summer on July 1, 2015. For a more detailed description of these changes, click here to review the Act Now Advisory written by our colleagues Jennifer L. Nutter and Marisa Ratinoff.

 

In this month’s Take 5 newsletter, I discuss how California is unique for making numerous types of protected leaves of absence available to employees.  All of these options can add up to a lot of protected leave.

Following is from the introduction:

National employers often find it challenging to navigate the employment laws of the various states in which they do business. In most cases, the easiest solution may be to adopt national policies that follow federal law. This process will not work, however, for employers that do business in California, where state protections are often more expansive and provide greater employee rights than their federal law equivalents. This is particularly true in the leave of absence arena. California is unique in that it makes numerous types of protected leaves of absence available to employees. The cumulative impact of administering all of the available leaves in California can be quite burdensome and lead to a perfect storm in which an employee may continue to be on a protected leave of absence for more than one year. Here’s why …

The full issue is here.

By Marisa S. Ratinoff and Amy Messigian

In a matter of first impression, the California Court of Appeal held last month that an employee who exhausts all permissible leave under the Pregnancy Disability Leave (“PDL”) provisions of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and is terminated by her employer may nevertheless state a cause of action for discrimination.

In Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc., the plaintiff, a former employee of Swissport, alleged that she was diagnosed with a high risk pregnancy requiring bed rest in February 2009 and was due to give birth in October 2009. The plaintiff alleges that she made Swissport aware of her condition and need to remain on bed rest until after the birth of her child. However, with three months remaining in her pregnancy, the plaintiff was terminated by Swissport in July 2009 after exhausting her 4-month PDL entitlement as well as her accrued vacation. The plaintiff alleges that she would have been able to return to work shortly after October 2009 and that her employer never engaged in the interactive process in order to identify available accommodations, such as the extended leave of absence she had requested.

At the trial court level, Swissport challenged the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiff had exhausted her PDL entitlement and that no further leave was required. The trial court agreed and the plaintiff appealed. Reversing the decision, the Court of Appeal stated that an employee’s entitlements under PDL are supplemental to the general non-discrimination provisions of FEHA.

While an employer must provide 4 months of PDL to an employee disabled by pregnancy without regard to the hardship to the employer, its duty continues after PDL has been exhausted to engage in the interactive process with the employee to determine whether it may accommodate the disability. Continuing the leave of absence may be a possible accommodation if it will not be an undue hardship to the employer.

This case presents a cautionary tale to employers who base termination decisions simply on the exhaustion of a guaranteed leave entitlement under state or federal law. In all cases, where an employee exhausts their guaranteed leave entitlement but seeks to continue his or her leave of absence due to disability, employers should consider whether an extended leave of absence may be accommodated. If it will be difficult to accommodate an extended absence in the employee’s current position, an employer may also consider transferring the employee to a comparable vacant position and continuing his or her leave of absence from that position. Discussing available options with counsel is highly recommended.

By: Marisa S. Ratinoff and Amy B. Messigian

Exempt or non-exempt: That is the question.  One of the most difficult areas in wage and hour law for retailers is properly classifying their managerial employees for purposes of determining if overtime need be paid or meal and rest breaks provided.  Long has been the rule that the actual duties the employee performs will determine if he or she is misclassified.  While this is often frustrating to retailers, whose assessment of an individual’s job duties may be a judgment call as to whether they meet or do not meet the specific requirements of an exemption, the fact that an individual analysis is required may prevent class certification.

The California Court of Appeal just affirmed a trial court’s denial of class certification for Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s managers and assistant managers, holding too many individualized issues existed for the misclassification claims to be resolved on a class wide basis.  While the employees’ job descriptions may provide a uniform basis for class-wide resolution, the required assessment of each manager’s or assistant manager’s actual job duties did not.

Accurate job descriptions are critical but equally as important, and what often gets neglected, is understanding the duties the employee actually performs.  The employee’s actual duties will determine the outcome of a single plaintiff’s misclassification claim and provide a defense to class-wide misclassification claims.