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In California, a pioneering ‘Right to Disconnect’ bill, AB 2751, seeks to shield employees from the increasingly prevalent expectation of perpetual availability to their employers. This legislative proposal mandates that employers clearly define work hours and prohibits employees from responding to work-related communications, such as emails, phone calls, or instant messages, outside these designated times, except in emergencies or for essential scheduling adjustments. As the first of its kind in the United States, the bill aims to foster a healthier work-life balance and reduce burnout among workers.

However, it’s important to note that the bill has not been without its challenges. It has faced significant opposition from business groups, who raise valid concerns about potential compliance complications, particularly in managing salaried employees. This resistance suggests that even if the bill is enacted, adherence might not be a straightforward process. Employees must be aware and ready to address potential violations of the law. In such situations, seeking advice from an employment rights attorney could be instrumental in ensuring their rights are protected under this new legislative framework.

Do Employees Need to Respond to Work Communications After Hours?

Employment lawyers report a growing concern among workers about the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and personal time. This issue has intensified with the rise of telework and work-from-home arrangements, which refer to situations where employees work remotely, often using technology to stay connected to their workplace. While these flexible working conditions offer reduced commuting times and enhanced work-life balance, they complicate the distinction between professional and private spaces. As a result, employees often respond to work communications outside of traditional work hours, infringing on their personal time and even during periods meant for rest or sickness.

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The Federal Trade Commission has issued a transformative ruling that bans noncompete clauses nationwide. This significant move aims to boost competition and enhance innovation and empowers workers, including California employees, to explore new job opportunities without fearing legal repercussions. This rule marks a pivotal change for California employees, expanding their career possibilities and fostering a more dynamic job market. As the landscape of employment law shifts, it’s crucial for workers to seek legal guidance. Consulting with an attorney will help you understand the specific impacts of this ruling on your employment rights and ensure you can fully benefit from these new protections.

Are Noncompete Agreements Valid?

The Federal Trade Commission’s recent decision to ban noncompete agreements marks a significant shift in employment law across the United States. This new rule is aimed at fostering a more competitive job market and encouraging innovation by allowing workers the freedom to move between jobs or start new businesses without the restraint of a noncompete clause. Experts state that eliminating these clauses could boost the economy by creating over 8,500 new startups annually and lead to an overall wage increase for workers.

When navigating the complexities of the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) claims in California, having an experienced attorney by your side is imperative. The recent ruling by the California Supreme Court in Estrada v. Royalty Carpet Mills has significant implications for how these claims are handled in court, making it essential for both employees and employers to understand the changes and how they affect their legal strategies.

Background of Estrada v. Royalty Carpet Mills

In Estrada, employees brought forward a lawsuit alleging various wage and hour violations against their employer, Royalty Carpet Mills. This case included a claim under PAGA representing a collective action for civil penalties for the alleged violations. The controversy centered around whether the trial court could dismiss the PAGA claim due to its complexity and manageability concerns.

Understanding PAGA and the Supreme Court Ruling

The Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) allows California employees to file lawsuits for labor code violations for themselves and other employees. This act has been a powerful tool for addressing workplace issues. However, a key question arose: Can courts dismiss these claims if they are too complex or unmanageable?

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California employees facing challenges with sick leave may need to consult with a lawyer to navigate the complexities of new legislation and ensure their rights are protected. The recent enactment of Senate Bill (SB) 616, effective January 1, 2024, significantly alters the nature of paid sick leave (PSL) for workers across the state, demanding attention and understanding from employees and employers.

Understanding SB 616 and Its Impact

SB 616 broadens the scope of PSL, mandating that nearly all California employers provide a minimum of 40 hours or five days of paid sick leave, whichever is greater. This change aims to enhance employees’ well-being and financial security, ensuring they have adequate time to recover from illness without losing income. The bill applies to employees who have worked for the same employer for at least 30 days within a year in California, covering a wide range of workers, including part-time, per diem, in-home supportive services providers, and temporary employees, with few exceptions.

Accrual and Usage of Paid Sick Leave

The new legislation offers flexibility in how PSL can be accrued. Employers may opt to provide 1 hour of PSL for every 30 hours worked, front-load 40 hours or 5 days of PSL at the beginning of each 12-month period, or implement an alternative accrual method that meets specific requirements. This adaptability ensures that employees have access to sick leave in a manner that suits various employment models.

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In a recent case, the Second District Court of Appeals Division 8 in California issued an opinion in an appeal involving a termination dispute between an employer and an employee. The plaintiff is a former employee of the defendant, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Cedars). The plaintiff contends that she was wrongfully terminated by Cedars based on disability discrimination and also made a claim under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). At trial, Cedars filed a motion for summary judgment, and the court issued a written order granting the motion.

Facts of the Case

Plaintiff began working for Cedars in 2000. Throughout her tenure, she worked in an administrative role with no patient care responsibilities. In 2007, the plaintiff was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer. The treatment was effective to rid her of cancer but left her with lingering side effects. These included unspecified allergies, a weakened immune system, and neuropathy—damage to the nerves resulting in an ongoing “tingling sensation” in her fingers and toes. None of these side effects limited her ability to perform her job functions, and she successfully returned to work for Cedars in 2009.

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In a recent case, the Second District Court of Appeals Division 8 in California issued an opinion in an appeal involving a termination dispute between an employer and an employee. The plaintiff is a former employee of the defendant, St. Cecilia Catholic School. The plaintiff contends that she was wrongfully terminated by St. Cecilia for age discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. At trial, St. Cecilia filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court issued an order granting the motion.

Facts of the Case

St. Cecilia is a Catholic elementary school in Los Angeles offering a faith-based education for children from kindergarten to eighth grade. The plaintiff was employed by St. Cecilia for roughly 40 years from 1978 to 2018. She began working at the school as a part-time secretary and office administrator. The plaintiff’s job duties included answering phones, filing, photocopying, maintaining records, processing registrations, parent communications, and ensuring that the office ran smoothly. She maintained that role until her termination at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year. In 1999, the plaintiff began working as a part-time art teacher at St. Cecilia in addition to her office administrative duties. As an art teacher, she taught studio art and art history to students and occasionally served as a substitute teacher for other subjects from time to time. Throughout her time as an employee, the plaintiff was the school’s only art teacher.

In 2017, a new, younger employee, was hired to work in the school office to do administrative tasks. The plaintiff trained the new employee. In the summer of 2018, a new principal arrived at St. Cecilia. The principal subsequently decided to eliminate the fine arts teaching position, eliminating the plaintiff’s role. They did not give the plaintiff an opportunity to return to administrative work in the front office. Following her termination, the plaintiff filed a suit contending that she was wrongfully terminated by St. Cecilia for age discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. At trial, the trial court granted St. Cecilia summary judgment after St. Cecilia argued that the plaintiff’s claim for age discrimination was barred by the ministerial exception as undisputed evidence showed that in her role as an art teacher, she failed to fulfill her responsibility of educating her students in the Catholic faith.

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In a recent California Court of Appeals case decided in February 2023, the court’s decision illuminates the burden that employees bear, specifically employees who are bringing disability discrimination claims against their employers. In this case, a registered nurse’s employment was terminated by the County after the County determined that she was unable to perform the essential functions of her job after the nurse sought to return to her position under new restrictions after an absence. The County also decided that an accommodation was not possible. The nurse filed a lawsuit against the county on various claims of disability discrimination, in addition to a retaliation claim.

A closer look at the details of the case reveals that the plaintiff, a registered nurse, suffered an injury while pushing a patient on a gurney. The nurse did not immediately report the work incident, hoping her injury would improve, but once she realized that it was not improving, she sought medical treatment. After her healthcare provider indicated that she should be placed in a sit-down job that required no standing, the County employer accommodated the work restrictions. Before the lawsuit, multiple incidents occurred, including the County determining that the nurse could not perform her essential job functions. Ultimately, the nurse decided to file a lawsuit against the County.

The lower trial court ruled in favor of the County, finding that the plaintiff failed to present evidence of discrimination, and the plaintiff filed an appeal. The appellate court ultimately agreed with the lower court’s ruling, finding that the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence. In the opinion, the appellate court lays out the elements required to establish disability discrimination under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Under the Act, a plaintiff is required to present evidence that he or she (1) suffers from a disability, (2) is a qualified individual, and (3) was subjected to an adverse employment action because of the disability.

In a recent opinion decided by the Napa County Superior Court, the court decided against the plaintiff in an employment lawsuit, bringing to light the importance of meeting filing deadlines and understanding and following the legal rules put in place regarding certain filing requirements. In this case, an employee of the California Department of State Hospitals was disciplined by her employer with a temporary salary reduction and was later terminated. The employee unsuccessfully challenged the salary reduction and termination in administrative proceedings before the State Personnel Board but failed to seek judicial review of those adjudications. She ultimately sued the Department under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act for retaliation, race-based harassment, and failure to prevent harassment. She also amended her complaint to assert a claim under the California Whistleblower Protection Act.

The plaintiff was a Black woman who was employed by the Department. She filed the lawsuit in April 2019 and filed her first amended complaint in March 2021. The amended complaint, amongst multiple other incidents, alleges multiple incidents of racist terms by coworkers and alleges multiple instances of disciplinary actions that the plaintiff believed were in retaliation for reporting her coworker’s racist comments. The incidents span from 2015 to 2018. The Plaintiff appealed to the State Personnel Board, and after two-day evidentiary hearings, the Board sided against the plaintiff.

Ultimately, the higher court that reviewed the Plaintiff’s case found against her for multiple reasons. One reason provided is that two events that she discussed in her complaint occurred much earlier and were outside of the filing deadline. The court also considered whether certain claims she made were barred because they were not distinguishable from earlier claims made. Additionally, the court found that her whistleblower claim was barred because she failed to exhaust administrative remedies. In other words, because the plaintiff did not seek judicial review of the administrative decisions that the State Personnel Board made by timely filing a required petition, she was no longer able to bring the claims that she brought. Certain legal rules require that all judicial remedies are exhausted first. This means that the legal rules prevent plaintiffs from bringing claims that should have been brought in a previous suit involving the same parties and also bars litigating the same issues that were argued and decided in the first suit.

In a recent case, the First District Court of Appeals Division 5 in California issued an opinion in an appeal involving a dispute between an employer and an employee. The plaintiff is a former organizer for the defendant, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). The plaintiff contends that she was wrongfully terminated by the NUHW under numerous statutes, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court issued a written order granting NUHW summary judgment and dismissing all the causes of action in the plaintiff’s complaint.

Facts of the Case

As an employee of the NUHW, the plaintiff was hired in September 2015 as an internal organizer. The NUHW employs external organizers, who encourage non-unionized employees to join the union, and internal organizers, who develop and organize members to be active participants in the union. Although the plaintiff had some union experience, she did not have experience organizing union members in hospitals or organizing workers in technical job classifications. Nevertheless, she was assigned as an internal organizer to two hospitals in Sonoma County, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital (SRMH) and Petaluma Valley Hospital (PVH).

During the trial, the plaintiff’s former supervisor testified that the plaintiff initially performed well. When she was hired, NUHW was negotiating with SRMH for a successor contract, and the plaintiff was able to communicate with Spanish-speaking union members and organize them to support the contract. The contract was ratified, and the plaintiff was given a positive skills assessment.

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The outcome of a case can turn on the evidence each party presents. As a result, parties to a lawsuit will seek to include their evidence and may object to the other party’s evidence. A recent opinion from the Second District Court of Appeals Division 4 in California demonstrates the importance of these evidence disputes to the strength of each party’s case. The case involved an appeal from a lower court decision granting an employer’s motion for summary judgment. The employee claims his former employer, Fox Digital Enterprises, Inc., eliminated his shifts as a finishing editor due to his age. At the time of his termination, the employee was 63 years old, the third-oldest finishing editor. The employee filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Both parties objected to the opposing side’s evidence.

Facts of the Case

At Fox, the plaintiff had edited promotional videos since 1984. In 2018, his supervisor eliminated his and the oldest editor’s shifts. Later, Fox gave additional shifts to the youngest editor. A few months prior, Fox had informed employees of anticipated staffing cuts due to budgetary constraints. However, the plaintiff argued he was terminated because of his age. Fox countered by citing issues with his speed and tardiness. Several supervisors and editors testified that the plaintiff was one of the slowest editors in his department. The plaintiff countered that he produced meticulous, quality work, and Fox’s reported concerns were a pretext for age discrimination.

To support their claims, each party submitted several forms of evidence. The plaintiff claimed he heard a supervisor say that another editor was the slowest. He provided declarations from former Fox employees who attested to his high-quality work and punctuality. He also cited evidence of finishing editors’ average hourly wages to argue his above-average pay reflected strong performance. Fox objected to this evidence and provided its own pay data.

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