Firing an "At-Will" Employee

Gina Madsen is one of the really bright small business attorneys in Nevada.  She recently asked me to write an article on a ‘real-life’ situation – and I chose the concept of firing an at-will employee.

Even though most states abide by at-will concepts (you can fire an employee at any time for any reason – other than a few exceptions), there are many compliance and management principles that should be followed.

Here’s the blog on her great website – http://www.madsenlawoffice.com/

Overtime Gets A Little More Complicated in California

An employee makes a false claim for overtime. He says it’s a mistake, but you believe otherwise, so you fire him.

That’s OK, right?

Uh..not so fast. A new court decision, Barbosa v. Impco Technologies, makes that a wrongful termination.

Here’s the recap and implications from Christopher W. Olmsted of Barker Olmsted & Barnier.

California Alternative Workweek Schedules

One of the best ways of improving morale without costs is to consider Alternative Workweek schedules.  Up until January 1, it has been most difficult to implement.  However, California law regarding alternative workweek schedules have been eased somewhat as a result of AB 5.

Alternative workweek schedules allow non-exempt employees in a “work unit” to work in excess of 8 hours per day without incurring overtime. (California law includes a daily overtime requirement.) Generally, an employer may propose AWS work schedules of up to ten hours per day (12 for healthcare workers). Hours in excess of 10 per day, or 40 per week are overtime. Typically employers propose schedules consisting of four ten hour days or a “9/80” schedule. Special procedures describe advance disclosure and a secret ballot election prior to implementation of the AWS.

The AWS can apply to a “work unit” within a company, rather than to all employees. Previously, the Labor Code did not define “work unit,” although state regulations included a definition. The new law defines a work unit as “a division, a department, a job classification, a shift, a separate physical location, or a recognized subdivision thereof.” The amendment also clarifies that even a single employee may qualify as a work unit as long as his job function meets the definition.

In setting up an AWS, an employer may propose a single work schedule, or it may propose a menu of work schedule options for workers to select. Can the “menu” include a traditional 5 day week for those employees who do not want to work longer days? The amended law clarifies that the menu options may indeed include a regular schedule of five eight-hour days in a workweek. Consequently, employees who do not wish to work an AWS schedule may still vote in favor of the AWS by choosing to work the regular 8 hour day. This change greatly increases the odds of achieving the 2/3 employee supporting vote need to implement an AWS.

Additionally, the new law specifies how often employees may move from one schedule option to another on the menu. For example, if an employee opts to work four 10 hour days, how frequently can he opt to go back to regular 8 hour days? As amended, Labor Code § 511 allows employees to move from one schedule option to another on a weekly basis.

Independent Contractor or Employee? Better Be Sure, And Fast!

Many employers incorrectly classify an employee as an independent contractor.  Some employers do it intentionally (to avoid workers’ compensation and payroll taxes); but most are unaware of what the difference in classification actually is.

If you use Independent Contractors (also known as 1099’s), you better audit all of them at once.  The IRS is about to launch comprehensive audits of 6,000 businesses.  The focus is – you guessed it – properly classifying employees.

Please take a moment to review the criteria the IRS uses to determine whether a person should be classified as an employee or Independent Contractor.  It’s about control.  I’ve had clients insist a person is classified as a 1099 simply because that person requested classification that way! (That’s wrong as well, by the way).

Get a qualified consultant or employment attorney to audit your practices and procedures as soon as possible.

Courtesy Baker Hostetler

Managing Social Media in the Workplace

The impact of social media in the workplace is growing.  Time is being wasted, employees are ‘friending’ each other and liability for these issues is a litigation attorney’s dream come true.

RSJ/Swenson has prepared a special report on Managing Social Media in the Workplace, based on Eric Swenson’s recent presentation at the CalCPA Employment Practices Conference.  You can download the report here.

And bosses & managers: Don’t “friend” your employees!

Nevada Wage & Hour Lawsuits

We’ve been warning employers for several months that wage & hour compliance issues will result in numerous lawsuits this year – especially in Nevada.

It’s starting to happen.

Wells Fargo & AutoZone have been sued (class-action status is currently pending) for mis-classifying employees.

With Wells Fargo, business banking specialists were allegedly mis-classified as exempt (from overtime, meal and rest breaks) when they were required to be ‘on-call’ on certain evenings.

In AutoZone’s case, Assistant Managers were not compensated for working overtime (this is a case very reminiscent of the Long’s Drugstore case in 2004).

The federal government is taking Wage & Hour violations seriously: Labor Secretary Hilda Solis recently announced plans to add 250 field investigators, increasing staff by 33%. The DOL believes 7 out of 10 businesses are not in compliance with Wage & Hour laws.

Garry Mathiason of Littler recently wrote:

No employment-law trend is more certain, universal or important than the total wage-and-hour compliance initiative and stopping the epidemic of wage-and-hour class-action (lawsuits)…

More ominous and prescient are these words from Mathiason (and, I believe, completely true):

With thousands of plaintiffs’ attorneys examining every aspect of the payroll process, employers must expect maximum scrutiny…”Every employee who is terminated or demoted, or who experiences an unpleasant workplace event, is encouraged by Internet and television advertising to seek the advice of counsel. In almost every intake interview, the attorney’s questioning turns to wage-and-hour issues in an attempt to find additional claims. Inspired by the prospect of turning a small individual claim into a multimillion-dollar class-action, the organization’s wage-and-hour compliance goes under the microscope.”

Thanks to Las Vegas Sun.

Krispy Kreme Fined for hiring illegal workers

If Krispy Kreme didn’t have enough problems already – here comes news they’ve been fined by the EEOC for hiring illegal (undocumented) workers in their Cincinnati factory. The fine amounts to $40,000.

What is remarkable about this fine is how easily it could have been prevented. The paperwork is easy – you just download an I-9 form off the internet. If there is any doubt about the documentation a candidate provides, just login to e-verify that’s provided by the Department of Homeland Security. That would have been much cheaper than $40,000 and the embarassment caused by the resulting publicity.

And in case you think it might not happen to you – ICE has announced audits of 652 other businesses in the coming months (and we’re sure there are more to follow!). The Obama administration has changed the focus from illegal employees to the employers that employ them.

References, Linkedin, and Common Sense

Just after posting my opinion on job references comes more comments. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, a job applicant was frustrated because potential employers wanted a minimum of three job references, but her prior employers had a policy of not providing such references.

Elizabeth Garone provided good advice, suggesting that supervisors no longer with the same company might be willing to be references (and because they’re no longer with the company, may be more willing to talk to a prospective employer).

Again, if I’m leaning towards hiring a candidate, I’m not going to spend time calling references – more often than not, the reference can’t give me any good information and the candidate is only going to list references that show that person in the best possible light! It’s not worth my time! I can do criminal investigations, skills testing and personality/instinct testing that will more properly predict success than a reference check.

Now, many attornies are warning employers about the hidden dangers of LinkedIn. Specifically, attorneys are advising employers to be wary of giving glowing remarks about employees on the site because the employers risk having the recommendations used against them in a discrimination or harassment suit.

Do References Matter?

You’re about to make a job offer to a candidate. Should you call his or her references?

Some people say yes, others say no. I’m in the latter category.

First, unless the candidate is a complete moron, they’re not going to give you names of people who provide a negative reference. And most previous employers are understandably nervous about providing any information on a former employee.

Some of our clients like to verify the candidates dates of employment or compensation. Fine – ask the candidate for a copy of their most recent W-2 form or paycheck stub. Other than that, calling references is a lot of time for a very little reward.

Following standard procedures, you can require a background check, drug testing or even skills testing to verify information and make sure the candidate is you he/she says they are.

Here’s an article in the South Jersey Courier Post that talks about the reference controversy. However, I seriously disagree with parts of the article that suggest visiting a candidates social networking sites as a pre-hire investigation. As I wrote back in May, using google and social networking sites to evaluate potential candidates is a really bad idea.

What does calling references accomplish?