Seyfarth Shaw Publishes Guide to California Workplace Regulations

Over the 12 years that Seyfarth Shaw LLP has published Cal-Peculiarities, its annual guide to the twists and turns of California's distinctive employment law landscape, each edition has been longer than the one previous. This one is no exception. Clocking in at 241 pages, the 2011 Cal-Peculiarities is a practitioner's must-have manual of the ever-growing number of rulings, regulations, and bills that govern the largest workforce in the 50 states -- and have helped earn California its reputation as "the most burdensome state" in which to run a business.

The publication's full title, Cal-Peculiarities: How California Employment Law is Different, underscores the many idiosyncrasies of the Golden State's workplace regulation regime, which collectively add up to a highly pro-employee venue for workplace litigation. In a multitude of areas -- from discrimination and harassment claims to privacy protection, family leave policies, third-party injury, independent contractor status, non-competes, and wage-and-hour issues -- California workers enjoy protections that often go far beyond benchmarks established under federal law.

"Since 2004 the California Private Attorney General Act has allowed private citizens to bring workplace civil actions on behalf of the state and share any fines that arise -- effectively licensing employees as bounty hunters," said Lisa Damon, chair of Seyfarth Shaw's Labor & Employment department, which includes more than 125 attorneys in California. "California's history of progressivism and the intent on the part of some judges and legislators to exceed federal standards has placed pressures on businesses here that catch many newcomers by surprise. Cal-Peculiarities has become a trusted guide for employers navigating the legal complexities of what is the 8th-largest economy in the world."

As it has since every year since inception, the book is edited by Seyfarth employment partner David Kadue of the firm's Los Angeles office. The guide's content was pulled together by the firm's California Workplace Solutions Group, who counsel businesses nationally on the state's expansive employment laws. Cal-Peculiarities is designed for executives and managers, general counsel, human resources professionals, recruiters, and others whose familiarity with federal workplace regulations are often of limited value when confronting workplace issues in the Golden State. The 21 chapters of the 2011 edition shed light on every conceivable corner of workplace non-compliance. Consider the following:

  • Employers must grant time off to workers for "good deeds" service -- such as firefighting, emergency relief, and air search and rescue patrols -- or face misdemeanor charges;
  • Workplace may ban trousers for employees, but only if the prohibition applies to both genders;
  • The customer is always right, even if annoying: a business can be held liable for an employee's assault on an irksome customer, on the theory that such attacks are a predictable risk of retail employment;
  • In 2010, state appellate courts held that employees, including retail cashiers and restaurant hostesses, can claim penalties under the Private Attorney General Act for a lack of "suitable seating."

 

Additionally, Cal-Peculiarities covers the growing list of activities protected by employee privacy rights; workers compensation, whistleblowing, and wage-and-hour laws; the right to organize, including among agricultural workers; and prohibitions on English-only workplace rules. A special glossary of initials and acronyms explains the alphabet city of agencies, abbreviations, and jargon that populates the California workplace.

Also tackled are California eccentricities that employers dismiss at their peril, including lactation accommodation; time off permitted to addicts; compensation due employees as a class for time spent undergoing security checks; liability of employees and their employers for "Good Samaritan" actions; and the upshot of a recent appeals court ruling that a simple doctor's note verifying hospitalization can constitute a request for protected leave.

California appeals courts and the state supreme court do not march in lockstep when it comes to upholding workplace regulations, said Mr. Kadue, who noted that the state high court is not as pro-employee as many believe. This widespread lack of familiarity with legal trends and court precedent regarding California employment law, he said, is another reason why Cal-Peculiarities is such a critical reference for any employer doing business in California.

"Every year the workplace laws in California become more accommodative to employees -- and to plaintiffs' lawyers -- and more onerous for businesses," said Kenneth Sulzer, chair of Seyfarth Shaw's California Labor and Employment Law practice. "And don't expect Governor Jerry Brown to make life easier for employers. If anything, we expect to see even more legislation and enforcement, with state lawmakers and agencies giving workers wide berth to bring actions against employers. The irony of our books title is that peculiar has unfortunately become the norm in California when it comes to the state's workplace laws."