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Palo Alto Employment Law Blog

What should whistleblowers do after a wrongful termination?

Every year, an unacceptable number of employers fire their employees illegally. There are a number of examples of wrongful discharge, such as someone being fired because of unlawful discrimination. However, in Palo Alto, and across the state of California, whistleblowers who exercise their rights and come forward after dealing with unsafe working conditions or other serious issues may also experience reprisal. For example, they may have to deal with wrongful termination and other forms of retaliation that violate employment law (pay cuts, threats, denial of benefits, etc.).

It is very important for whistleblowers who have been wrongfully discharged to understand their rights and take action immediately. People who are in this position may want to consider talking to a knowledgeable attorney for a better understanding of their legal options and may also want to look into filing a complaint. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration provides helpful information for whistleblowers who decide to file complaints after being illegally fired from their job. According to OSHA, when an employee's contract is terminated because they stood up for their rights granted by the OSH Act, they have to file their complaint no more than 30 days after the purported retaliation, which highlights how essential it is to address wrongful termination right away. After filing a complaint, whistleblowers will be interviewed by OSHA and if the claim is approved, their employers will be asked to give them their job, benefits and earnings back.

What are the steps involved in filing a wage claim?

Whether a business breaks the law due to unlawful child labor, denied breaks or failure to comply with the national minimum wage, it is crucial for those who are dealing with violations of employment law to take action right away. Unfortunately, these types of incidents occur too often in Palo Alto, Santa Clara and across the state of California. For some workers, filing a wage claim may be an excellent way to hold their employer accountable and recover the wages they deserve. If you are thinking about filing a wage claim, it is important to understand what to expect during the process and prepare thoroughly.

The Department of Industrial Relations published a helpful overview of the wage claim process on their site. According to the DIR, employees must first complete DLSE Form 1, which is the initial report. It is imperative for people to complete the form properly in order to prevent any delays. Next, there are additional forms that some workers must fill out depending on their circumstances. For example, someone who worked irregular hours needs to complete DLSE Form 55, while someone with commission claims must fill out DLSE Form 155 and those pursuing vacation wages have to complete the DLSE Vacation Pay Schedule form. Once all forms are completed, employees must submit a copy of various documents along with their forms if they possess them, including time records, pay stubs and paychecks, bounced checks, notices of employment information and collective bargaining agreements. Finally, workers can file their claim by mail or in person by visiting a Division of Labor Standards Enforcement office.

Taking a look at wage claims

Every day, employers across the country violate wage laws. Whether they pay a worker less than minimum wage, take advantage of unlawful child labor or do not recognize certain workplace rights that their employees have (denied breaks, etc.), it is important for employees to take action right away. For some workers in Palo Alto, Santa Clara and other parts of California, filing a wage claim can help them address unfair treatment and recover the compensation they deserve.

According to the State of California Department of Industrial Relations' website, employees and former employees can file individual wage claims to recover unpaid wages (which includes overtime pay, bonuses and commission), final checks that weren't received, unused vacation time that wasn't paid and wages paid from checks that did not have sufficient funds. Other types of damages employees can recover include paycheck deductions that weren't authorized, business expenses that weren't reimbursed and penalties for failure to provide proper rest periods. In order to successfully file wage claims, people will need to make sure that all required forms are properly completed and submitted to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement office along with all the required documents.

Was my at-will employment termination illegal?

Throughout the country, Americans who lose their job may have no idea of what to do next. Unfortunately, when an employee's contract is terminated unexpectedly or an at-will worker loses their job suddenly, their life may be thrown into disarray. For example, those who have been terminated from their place of employment may struggle to pay their bills and be unable to find a new job. Sometimes, employers violate employment law by wrongfully terminating a worker. If you believe that you may be a victim of wrongful termination in Palo Alto, Santa Clara or anywhere else in California, it is important to recognize your rights and take action as soon as possible.

The Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development provides helpful information regarding the wrongful discharge of workers on their website. According to the state of California's Labor Code, when a worker is employed for an unspecified amount of time, the employment is assumed to be at-will, which typically lets employers terminate employees whenever they want to regardless of whether or not they have good cause. However, there are a number of reasons that employers cannot use to terminate an at-will employment relationship. For example, employers cannot discriminate against an at-will employee and fire them because of their race, gender, religious beliefs, national origin or color. Furthermore, employers cannot fire at-will employees because of their participation in union activities or refusal to perform an activity that is against the law.

What is HIPAA?

For many in Santa Clara, one of the primary benefits that they enjoy as part of their jobs is health insurance. Through their employers’ group health plans, they often have access to discounted monthly premiums and special employee discounted care for themselves and their families. Yet what happens if and when employment agreements come to an end, or an employee’s hours are cut to the point of no longer qualifying for benefits? Does their access to affordable health insurance coverage immediately end?  

The Federal COBRA and Cal-COBRA programs allow access to the same group health plan for a period of up to 36 months to those who qualify. Once that period ends, plan participants may still qualify for continued coverage under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Child labor in the United States

When the issue of child labor is brought up, most Palo Alto residents would probably assume it’s in reference to third world countries. Yet what many may fail to realize is that the United States has a thriving child labor market in which millions of youth participate in.

Very strict federal and state standards are in place to help youths find age-appropriate employment and to ensure that that they are not treated unfairly. According to the site YouthRules!, kids under the age of 14 may deliver newspapers, babysit, or work for companies owned by their parents. Between the ages of 14 and 16, youths are allowed to work in any of the following jobs:

  •          Retail
  •          Delivery (only by foot, bike, or public transportation)
  •          Lifeguard
  •          Tutor
  •          Food service
  •          Landscaping (clean-up only)

Points to ponder when considering stock options

Here at the offices of Kastner Kim LLP, we’re often approached by Santa Clara residents asking for advice on their pending employment contracts. Many, particularly those entering non-executive level positions, are surprised at being offered stock options as part of their proposed compensation. Yet they shouldn’t be; research shared by GlobalEquity.org shows that close to 80 percent of the value of option grants is typically extended to nonexecutives. Thus, it truly does pay for everyone to know the value of stock options as part of a salary.

For starters, one should always take close look at the amount of equity being offered. It’s important to remember that should the company open up another round financing or choose to issue more shares, one’s ownership stake gets diluted. This may be somewhat offset if share prices go up. Still, one seriously considering stock options may want to try and negotiate a larger share early, even if it means a greater reduction in cash salary.

Non-compete agreements and consideration

A common component of many compensatory agreements signed by executives in San Jose and throughout the rest of the corporate world is a non-compete agreement. When inviting new employees into their organizations, companies and corporations share in-depth knowledge of their assets and resources, as well as their policies and procedures in order to assist those individuals in their job performance. In cases where those incoming individuals sign non-compete agreements, the expectation is that they then won’t use that knowledge to gain an advantage over their former companies after having ended their employment.

However, to be enforceable, a non-compete agreement has to have some element of consideration. TheFreeDictionary.com defines the legal principle of consideration as “something of value given by both parties to a contract that induces them to enter into the agreement to exchange mutual performances.” The issue of valid consideration in relation to a non-compete agreement typically only arises if the agreement is signed after one enters the employ of a company.

ERISA and divorce

Many people are interested in knowing their employment law protections regarding health insurance and employment benefits in the event of losing their job. Having an understanding of federal ERISA guidelines is recommended for all California workers so that they can address legal concerns if and when they arise. It is also advised that people be aware of when and how pension plans and other benefits can be impacted by divorce proceedings.

According to 401khelpcenter.com, guidelines outlined by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 mandate that a spouse is automatically entitled to 50 percent of retirement savings earned by a account beneficiary who dies. Therefore, a spouse may receive half of all beneficiary assets unless he or she signs a spousal waiver and another party is identified as the new beneficiary. Given that ERISA extends such legal protections to spouses, complications and disputes can arise in cases involving divorce. For instance, failing to make the proper arrangements at the time of divorce can result in key employee benefits not being distributed appropriately later on.

LA-based class-action suit alleges pay disparities

Los Angeles, like other major cities across the state and country, maintains ordinances for wage standards. Beyond that, California recognizes and enforces federal laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act. That does not necessarily mean, however, that each and every employer abides by local, state and federal employment guidelines. Workers with one catering company in LA are fighting for the rights of employees by pursuing a class-action lawsuit against their employer.

Despite the fact that the catering company employees are not union members, they are being represented by a union in their class-action lawsuit against their employer, who reportedly maintains accounts worth millions of dollars. More than 300 employees are reportedly earning less than $15 in combined benefits and wages, which is allegedly less than what they should be paid under the Los Angeles living-wage ordinance. The employer argues, however, that most company employees receive benefits ranging from free meals to vacation pay. They also claim that the average worker makes $12 per hour.

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