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Talking About What Matters to Employees
Currently Browsing: Wednesdays at Work

But, Don’t They Have to Give Me Severance?

Each week, our office receives dozens of calls from prospective clients. And, virtually every week, at least one of these callers, after explaining that they were terminated without warning, asks: “doesn’t my employer have to pay me some severance?”

What’s in Your Personnel File? – Part 1

A personnel file can serve as the road map to a person’s employment.  It often contains the initial employment application, performance evaluations over the years, commendations the employee has received, as well as disciplinary records or other written documentation critical of the employee’s performance.  Supervisors and managers often read through personnel files when it comes time to make critical decisions about an employee’s career.  Raises, bonuses, even continued employment often ride on what can be found inside the file.  Yet most employees have never even seen the full contents of the important file bearing their name. If you are an employee (and most of us are), here are some prime examples of times when you might do well to review your personnel file – When you are headed into an interview about a potential promotion.  The manager who is going to interview you is certainly going to have a look at your personnel file.  Make an appointment with HR to have a look at it yourself to make sure the information in the file accurately reflects your work history and performance. When you have filed a worker’s compensation claim, requested medical leave or asked for reasonable workplace accommodations for a disability.  In each of these instances, you may have provided medical information in support of your request.  Reviewing your personnel file will help you make sure that your employer is not keeping your private medical information in the same file with the rest of your personnel records.  (A number of laws require medical records to be kept in a separate file.) When your boss seems to have it out for you.  It is rare, but we’ve come across more than a few cases where there is evidence that managers have papered personnel files with fake disciplinary write-ups.  If a manager is treating you unfairly in the workplace, make sure she or he is not creating a secret record to use to terminate you. When you have been terminated.  Even after you have been terminated, you can review your file.  In fact, your employer must keep your personnel records for at least three years following your termination. In California, employees have a legal right to review and copy their personnel files.  Employees and employers have a stake in fair workplace practices.  Human resources professionals and managers should view employee requests to review their personnel files as a chance to fulfill the promise of their open door policies. Part 1 of this article explained the reasons why employees should consider finding...

Decipher Your Paystub

California has very stringent laws regarding when and how employees must be paid. To make sure the laws aren’t ignored, employers are required to provide lots of information on paystubs. But do you really understand all the information you are receiving?

Don’t Press That Button!

Understandably, you may want to record that conversation your boss or HR is about to have with you. DON’T! Not without their express (and recorded) consent. Unless you are expecting to tape record someone admitting or committing extortion, kidnapping or physical violence against a person, you will be the one on the wrong side of the law. California is one of 12 states in which recording an otherwise confidential conversation, without the express permission of the other person(s), is a crime – specifically, a misdemeanor. It can subject you to as much as a year in jail and/or a $2500 fine. Equally important, the tape recording may not be admissible in court in any case you may bring in the future. So, if you are in California, shut off those iPhones and Droids during confidential conversations.  Instead, take notes during the meeting or consider taking a few minutes right after the conversation to write down everything that you can recall about the conversation, including what each person said. Even if you are upset by the conversation, take a deep breath and write as soon as possible. Depending on the circumstances (such as whether you continue to be employed after the conversation), you may want to send an email to your boss or HR confirming what was said. And always keep your emails and other written communications polite and to the point....

The Top Five Wins for Workers’ Rights in 2014

The Employee Matters marks the end of 2014 with a“Top Five” list.  Interest in “Top Ten” or “Top Five” lists is so immense that psychologists have even coined the term the “Top Ten Effect,” to describe the “bump” that items on such a list receive in terms of sales.  A list of the top developments in employment law may not cause a run on any stores, but policy makers and working people should take note (drum roll please) as we now count down the list of five developments that will change the landscape of employee rights as we enter the new year. No. 5:  New California Law Says Proof of Sexual Desire is Not Required to Win Sexual Harassment Claim  The California Legislature deserves recognition for a new law that strengthens protection against sexual harassment on the job. For years, employers have tried to defend against sexual harassment claims by arguing that the harassment, although boorish, was not illegal because it was not based upon sexual desire.  This “defense” goes something like this — The boss who “joked” with his female subordinate about hopping over to a motel for the night wasn’t actually attracted to her, so that couldn’t be sexual harassment.  Or as the employer claimed in one infamous case, the ironworkers who hazed a new guy on the crew with threats of sexual violence couldn’t have perpetrated sexual harassment since they were all straight.  Earlier this year, the California legislature took away this excuse when it amended the Fair Employment and Housing Act to specifically provide that “sexually harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire.”  These few short words will provide powerful protection for victims of workplace sexual harassment.  As important, the change reminds employers and the courts that sexual harassment is about abuse of power, not sex. No. 4:  California Supreme Court Guarantees that Undocumented Workers are Protected Against Discrimination  The California Supreme Court took aim at the hypocrisy of employers who hire and exploit undocumented workers. It has often been noted that low wage workers, regardless of their immigration status, are frequent victims of workplace violations. Undocumented workers, fearful that any complaint regarding a violation of these rights might result in their deportation, are a particularly vulnerable group.  This year, in Salas v. Sierra Chemical Company, the California Supreme Court ruled that an employer who discriminates or retaliates against an undocumented worker can be held liable. While the case limits the damages available to these employees, it does provide that employers who violate...

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