Articles Posted in Employment


What is an Agency Relationship?

“Agency” is a term that defines a legal relationship between two parties: the principal and the agent.  An agency relationship is established once the agent has the legal authority to act as the legal representative on behalf of the principal, which may be an entity or a person. The agent will only have legal authority to act on behalf of the principal so long both parties are in agreement to create the agency relationship and the principal must have the necessary legal capacity (must be of legal age and of sound mind, etc.) to enter into a contract.

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How Do Agency Relationships Affect Workplace Settings?

The United States Department of Labor recently announced a new rule on white collar overtime exemption regulations. This new rule will affect an estimated 4.2 million white collar workers who will no longer be exempt from Fair Standards Labor Act guidelines and must be paid for overtime work. The new rule will go into effect on December 1, 2016. The employment lawyers at Structure Law Group, LLP are experienced in ensuring that their clients follow all federal and California employment rules and regulations.

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Previously, qualifying employees with an annual salary of more than $23,660 (or $455 per week) were generally exempt from the federal requirement that employees are entitled to overtime if they work over forty hours in one week. Under the new law, the minimum salary threshold for exemption has been raised to $47,476 annually, or $913 per week. This amount will be automatically revised every three years by a formula that takes into account wages across the country.

Owners of businesses with at least one employee should stay fully apprised of all federal and California state laws that relate to the treatment of employees. For example, there are various state and federal laws related to wage and hour matters, discrimination, and insurance and taxes. Laws can change and courts regularly issue new interpretations of existing laws.  Accordingly, it can be difficult for you to know whether you are truly in compliance with the most up-to-the-minute versions of employment laws. After all, your focus is on your business and not the latest court opinions. However, a skilled business attorney makes it their job to know new developments in any laws that would be applicable to your business and your employees.

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California Court Ruling on Employee Seating Requirements

Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court issued a decision on a class action case that involved an employer who forced its employees to stand during their work and subjected those employees to potential discipline for sitting down. This discipline occurred even though their job duties did not require standing. Even if some employees were not actually prohibited from sitting down during work hours, they were not provided with chairs, stools, or adequate seating by their employer. While employee seating may not seem like a hot-button issue to you, it is important to many employees who experience foot pain, back pain, or other ailments from standing for long hours unnecessarily.

California’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, “WARN” for short, obligates employers of 75 or more employees to follow certain procedures when downsizing the workforce.   The WARN Act does not apply to a few layoffs. Rather, the WARN Act applies to what is known as a “mass layoff,” in which the business lays off 50 or more employees during a 30-day period.  Businesses considering downsizing their workforce must be wary of the consequences of failing to comply with the WARN Act. Failure could cost the employer a significant amount of money in back pay and other compensation. Consulting with an experienced Silicon Valley Employment Lawyer at Structure Law Group, LLP will help you avoid the pitfalls associated with downsizing your workforce.

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Owners of “covered establishments,” that is, businesses employing 75 or more employees in a 12-month period, must give proper notice of a mass layoff. The employer must give notice to its employees 60 days in advance of the layoff order. “Layoff” means cessation of employment because of insufficient money or an insufficient amount of work. The term “layoff” does not apply to seasonal employment or employees in certain industries including logging and motion pictures. The WARN Act also applies to mass relocations and when an employer’s business closes down. To qualify for the WARN Act’s protection, an employee must be employed by the company for 6 of the preceding 12 months.

In addition to giving notice to the affected employees, the employer must also give written notice to several state and local agencies.  These notices must include the following:

California law requires employers to take reasonable steps to prevent and address alleged discriminatory and harassing conduct, to provide a government-issued brochure on sexual harassment to all employees, and to conduct sexual harassment prevention trainings if the employer has 50 or more employees.  As of April 1, 2016, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has enacted regulations that will require employers to develop written anti-discrimination and harassment policies with certain content requirements.

Under the new regulations, the anti-discrimination/harassment policy must be in writing, and must at a minimum:

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  1. List all of the protected categories under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which currently include race, creed, color, national origin, age, ancestry, physical and/or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, and military and/or veteran status,

Contracts are an integral part of conducting business and the necessity for certain contracts can arise from the very start of your company. The following are only some examples of important contracts for startups in California.

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Founders’ Agreement — If you are going into business with one or more people, having a comprehensive and clear founders’ agreement is imperative. This agreement can be likened to a premarital agreement: it foresees and addresses potential issues that may arise and sets guidelines for dealing with those issues. A solid and enforceable founders’ agreement can prevent a lot of legal conflict and costs down the road.

Nondisclosure Agreements — If you have the idea or formula for a unique product or process, you want to keep information confidential so others do not try to misappropriate your idea. However, it will be necessary to share information with co-founders, employees, investors, contract developers, and others involved in the project. In such cases, you may have others sign a nondisclosure agreement to ensure they will not disclose confidential information to other parties.

If your business employs at least one person, you should be thoroughly familiar with both the California and federal wage and hour laws. These laws regulate many aspects of employment from minimum wage to guaranteed rest and meal breaks. One important part of compensation that is regulated by wage and hour laws is overtime payments for individuals who work more than 40 hours per week.

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Overtime laws entitle certain employees to time-and-a-half payments for additional hours worked. However, not everyone is entitled to overtime and the laws that regulate overtime exemptions can be complex. One important rule under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is that anyone who earns less than $455 per week for full-time work ($23,660 annually) is automatically entitled to earn overtime. If employees earn more, a closer examination into their job duties must be made. In addition, once an employee earns $100,000 annually, they are considered to be “highly compensated” and no longer have the right to overtime provided his or her job duties meet certain minimum requirements.

The Department of Labor updated the overtime rules with regard to the income threshold and the new rules will take effect on December 1, 2016. The new threshold for automatic entitlement to overtime will be $913 per week for full-time work ($47,476 annually) and the new highly compensated threshold will be increased to $134,004. It is estimated that over four million people will receive a new entitlement to overtime.

Issuing equity in a company is a popular form of employee compensation. This trend is especially popular here in Silicon Valley, where startup companies often defer cash compensation to their employees in exchange for a share of future growth through the issuance of equity. If you own a non-public company, you may wish to compensate your employees partially by issuing them equity in the company. Equity aligns incentives between employers and employees while enabling employees to build up wealth over a longer term. Equity issuance can be done in different ways, including by issuing restricted stock grants or by issuing stock options. Each of these forms of compensation can have its own pros and cons and you want to make sure you carefully analyze the decision and decide which is best for your circumstances.

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Restricted Stock

Restricted stock is a stock award that will not fully transfer to the employee until certain conditions have been met. These conditions can include a certain length of time working for your company, meeting certain performance or financial goals or milestones, and more. These restrictions can be helpful for owners to ensure that employees do not simply walk away from your venture and that they must wait for the award to vest before they receive the stock benefits. In addition, by making an 83(b) election with the IRS within a certain period of time after the restricted stock grant, employees can save significantly on the tax burden once the stock vests. If no election is made, however, employees may face hefty tax liability at the time of vesting depending on the value of the shares. Restricted stock is less risky and easier to manage in comparison to regular stock.  However, restricted stock has less favorable tax treatment than options.

Businesses are not immune to making mistakes, and many businesses will at some point be served with a lawsuit. Being sued is, without a doubt, very stressful. However, if you find yourself in this situation, you should ensure that you act in a manner that preserves your legal rights and positions while allowing for the best possible outcome. Here are some things that you should consider:

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Businesses faced with potential lawsuits may not fully consider the potential negative fallout that may occur as a result of the litigation. Some businesses may be very concerned with the expenses that would be required to defend the suit. However, do not make the foolish decision of not obtaining legal counsel.

Hiring and retaining employees is critical to success in business. While successfully managing a workforce has many components to it, understanding the basic components of the employment relationship not only protects the company when hiring, but also helps to set the expectations for new and existing employees. Clearly articulating expectations – such as whether the employee is hired at-will or for a fixed term, identifying the main responsibilities of the employee in a clearly articulated job description, informing the employee on the processes and procedures involved in the review process and protecting the company’s intellectual property assets – ensures the employer sets the stage for a successful employment relationship.

Should my Employee be At-will or Fixed Term?stretta di mano per lavorare in un ufficio

Employees can be hired as either an at-will or fixed-term employee. Unless otherwise specified in a written agreement, all employment in the State of California is “at will,” meaning either the employer or the employee can terminate the relationship at any time with or without cause. While at-will employment gives employees more flexibility in controlling how long they continue to work with a particular company, at-will employment also grants businesses with a greater control in terminating employees. Businesses can fire at-will employees at any time, with or without cause. (Obviously, this is limited to instances in which the business is not committing discrimination.) This is true because no contractual obligation exists between the business and its at-will employee.