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February 2013 Archives

California is exception to national status of paid family leave

Most California employees are familiar with their rights to family and medical leave under federal and state law. Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, employees may take up to 12 weeks of time off from work in a year to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, provide care for a seriously ill family member or recover from their own serious illness or injury. The California Family Rights Act provides similar benefits. Under both laws, employers are not required to provide a paid leave of absence in every case. Yet many employees may be unaware that state law also provides a paid family leave benefit under certain circumstances.Why, then, is California's paid family leave law relatively unknown? The answer may be because it is such a rarity in this country. While 177 countries around the world require some form of paid maternity leave benefits to employees, the United States is not one of them. Only three states in the nation require paid family leave, including California. However, lawmakers in one of those states are looking to repeal the paid leave law.

'50 Shades' of sexual harassment

It seems like everyone is talking about "50 Shades of Grey." The erotic romance, which started as an e-Book and gained a huge word-of-mouth following in California and across the nation, is now the best selling paperback of all time. There is even a movie in the works. With such a huge following, it was perhaps inevitable that the book would become a popular topic of discussion at the proverbial water cooler. However, is it appropriate to have workplace discussions about a book that some have dubbed "mommy porn"? Could such discussions lead to claims of sexual harassment? Many employers today are struggling with these questions.Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination that is prohibited by both federal law and the laws of California. Unlawful sexual harassment includes conduct of a sexual nature that unreasonably interferes with an employee's ability to do his or her job or that creates an offensive or hostile working environment. The bottom line is that some people may be extremely uncomfortable to hear their co-workers talking about the sexually explicit content and themes of "50 Shades of Grey." If the discussions are unwelcome and pervasive, they may give rise to a claim of sexual harassment.

Silicon Valley firm fined for underpaying workers

A judge has ordered Bloom Energy Corp. to pay 14 Mexican workers nearly $64,000 for wage and hour violations. The green energy company, which manufactures solid oxide fuel cells, brought workers from Chihuahua, Mexico, to its Sunnyvale, Calif., plant to refurbish power generators. The workers came into the country on visitors' visas and were not authorized to work in the United States, but lack of proper work authorization was not the only issue. Under both California and federal wage and hour laws, employers must pay workers at least the minimum wage for all hours worked. In California, the minimum wage is $8.00 per hour, higher than the $7.25 hourly rate required under federal law. Bloom did not pay either rate; instead, it paid the workers the equivalent of $2.66 an hour in pesos. The violations were deemed intentional, meaning the company was required to pay employees the $31,922 it owed in back wages plus the same amount for liquidated damages.

Warehouse owes over $1 million in unpaid wages

The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has cited a Walmart contractor for wage and hour violations. Quetico, LLC, a warehouse operation that packs clothes and shoes for Walmart and other retailers, owes 865 workers more than $1.1 million in unpaid wages and overtime, the state says. The citations carry penalties of around $200,000. The state stepped in after workers sought assistance from the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, an advocacy group associated with Warehouse Workers United. The workers reported their employer routinely shorted them pay for hours worked. The workers also reported missed lunch periods, faulty warehouse time clocks and retaliation. They said the employer would restore their pay if they complained but then would issue a warning. After three warnings, an employee would be fired.

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