Articles Posted in Employment

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.


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:

  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.


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.


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.


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:

Seek Legal Assistance. Do Not Tackle Business Lawsuits Alone.

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.

Reputation can help make or break a startup. Startups rely upon a positive reputation to grow, develop, and maintain a strong customer base. Glowing reviews help startups strengthen their brand equity; at the same time, they help support and influence a customer’s decision to use the startup’s product or service.


A startup that develops a negative reputation will not have the same luck. Customers that leave negative reviews weaken the perceived value of the startup’s product or service. Potential future customers may find themselves less inclined to use the product or service as a result of negative reviews. Too many potential reviews could spell a startup’s demise.

Startups want to succeed. Whether the ultimate goal is to grow and expand or to be bought out, startups want to ensure that their success is not derailed through customer disparagement. In order to combat potential negative reputation, some startups began including non-disparagement clauses in their purchase or licensing agreements.

Many business owners do not hire an experienced attorney for several reasons. Some believe they cannot afford it and others may believe there is no need for a lawyer unless a legal conflict arises. However, it is much more resource-effective (time, energy, and money) to have the guidance of a skilled business lawyer from the very start. Doing so can avoid costly litigation in the first place and will allow you to focus on your business operations and not on a legal case. The following are only some examples of how hiring a business attorney can help to avoid litigation.


Business contracts – Businesses involve many different kinds of contracts, whether they are with fellow owners, suppliers, clients, or any other party. You may not recognize that a particular contract has unfair or adverse provisions that may leave your business vulnerable to losses or liability. Every single contract you consider signing should be carefully drafted, reviewed, and negotiated by a knowledgeable lawyer to protect your interests and avoid legal liability.

Compliance with business laws – California has a great number of laws that are relevant to businesses, and compliance is essential to avoid costly fines or legal conflicts. Such laws can regulate business formation, licenses, permits, zoning, taxes, employees, and many other issues. As a business owner, it may be challenging for you to identify all relevant laws and to ensure that you comply with them. An experienced attorney will know what steps you need to take to comply with necessary laws.

Hiring employees can be exciting for a business owner though it comes with many legal responsibilities and requirements. You must report your new hires to the state, set up a payroll system, comply with tax and immigration laws, and more. With so many requirements, the last thing you may want to do is anything that is not expressly required by law.


One optional step that can be extremely important, however, is developing and regularly updating an employee handbook. Following are some reasons that a carefully drafted employee handbook can help you to avoid legal conflicts with employees.

Avoid employee miscommunication