HR Intel – California and New York Flex Their Legislative Muscle and More…

A roundup of workplace developments and legal trends to help keep HR ahead of the curve

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The HR world held its collective breath as legislative juggernauts California and New York released a wave of new employment laws in the past two weeks. California struck first with new wage and hour regulations, discrimination and retaliation protections and background check requirements, among others.

The biggest news in California, however, is the “strongest equal pay law in the nation,” according to California Governor Jerry Brown. It places the onus on employers to justify differences in pay between men and women when accused of equal pay violations, rather than placing the burden on employees to show discrimination. Industry experts say this will result in more litigation in California, adding to employers’ woes in the Golden State.

And if that wasn’t enough, Hollywood heartthrob Bradley Cooper threw his hat into the equal pay ring by declaring that he would disclose his pay to female colleagues during future contract negotiations. How’s that for a, ahem, silver lining?

Not to be outdone, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a host of bills regarding gender pay equality, protecting victims of sexual harassment, domestic violence and human trafficking and removing some barriers to filing discrimination lawsuits under the state human rights law.

Hold on to your happy meals

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has filed a petition with New York’s Industrial Board of Appeals to fight New York’s $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. Both the restaurant association and franchise owners in New York say that $15 minimum wage for their industry alone is “unfair and discriminatory.” The minimum wage is a constant trouble spot for multistate and franchise employers.

Meanwhile, an Indiana Subway employee claims he was fired from his job for revealing his HIV positive status. Indiana state law does not protect employees against discrimination based on HIV status, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does. Whoops.

High-tech = high velocity HR

The Harvard Business Review tackled how Netflix revamped its HR department, and how that initiative helped propel the company into the streaming stratosphere.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals (covering New York, Connecticut and Vermont) found that a Facebook “like” counts as protected activity under the NLRA.  This is a “first of its kind” ruling that presents some real headaches for employers insofar as policing employee Social Media activity.

On the chopping block

Goldman Sachs fired 20 employees for cheating on compliance tests. The company failed to disclose, however, how the remaining employees actually performed on those tests.

ESPN is cutting up to 350 jobs or about 4% of its total staff. The company said the mass layoff is a response to the double-whammy of declining demand for cable television and rising programming costs. ESPN CEO John Skipper said terminated employees will get a minimum of 60 days’ advance notice, severance packages and job search assistance.  The amount of advanced notice is a nod to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which may apply to ESPN’s planned layoffs.

Minor league baseball players can now move forward with their minimum wage lawsuit against Major League Baseball as a certified class of plaintiffs. MLB says that playing in the minor leagues was never meant to be a career and is more like a de facto internship.

Legal briefing

In Thomas v. Berry Plastics Corp., an employee claimed he was the victim of racial discrimination after being targeted by a manager and disciplined for work quality issues. The court found that the employee’s discrimination claim could not stand because the decision to terminate him was made by an independent panel of upper level employees, after the employee had an opportunity to tell his side of the story.

This case highlights the importance of reviewing disciplinary or termination decisions internally whenever possible. Ideally, the final decision to terminate should either be made or approved by an upper level employee who is removed from the regular manager-employee relationship.

How is this song relevant to HR?

In the last edition of HR Intel, we asked you how Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon is relevant to HR. The Vietnam War-themed song is partially known for its familiar refrain of “and we will all go down together,” an important message of solidarity, morale and unity within organizations that are going through major layoffs, restructurings or transformations.

We leave you with “Taxman” by the Beatles.  Tell us how you think this song is related to HR in the comments section below.


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