Mandatory Paid Sick Leave For California Employees

Law Goes into Effect July 1, 2015

Father Christmas comes to Shrewsbury Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital, 1950

Father Christmas comes to Shrewsbury Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital, 1950

As reported in “Will California Employers Have to Cough Up Paid Sick Leave?”, the proposed Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (Assembly Bill [AB] 1522) was the California Legislature’s third – and now successful – attempt to provide such benefits. Governor Brown signed that measure into law on September 10, making California and Connecticut the only two states to require businesses to provide paid sick leave.

Starting in July 2015, all California employers, regardless of size (and except for those with collective bargaining agreements and other very limited exemptions), will generally need to provide paid sick leave to any temporary, part-time and full-time employee who has worked in California for 30 days, at an accrual rate of at least one paid hour for every 30 hours worked. An employee would be entitled to use accrued sick days beginning on the 90th day of employment.

Accrued paid sick days shall carry over to the following year of employment. However, an employer may limit an employee’s use of paid sick days to 24 hours (or three days) in each year of employment.

Employees will be allowed to use paid sick time for their own or a family member’s preventative care (dental cleaning, physical etc.), as well as for treatment and care of an existing health condition. “Family member” includes children (of any age), parents, spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild and sibling. Employers shall not require employees to search for or find a replacement worker to cover the shifts during which the employee uses paid sick leave.

Employers must also modify their record-keeping, itemized wage statements, employee notices, and posters to satisfy the new law. After the California Labor Commissioner’s office publishes its upcoming frequently-answered questions on the new law, we will issue an updated blog with more information.

For assistance creating complete and comprehensive workplace policies, contact one of our attorneys Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

The Annals of Copyright Number 4

Defenses to Copyright Infringement

Image from page 158 of An introduction to the study of prehistoric art (1915)

Image from page 158 of An introduction to the study of prehistoric art (1915)

 

As in any other sort of civil lawsuit, the alleged wrongdoer can prevail in a copyright infringement claim by asserting a valid defense. Common defenses include:

1. Lack of Copyright Notice:

Under U.S. law before March 1, 1989, copyright owners were required to put a copyright notice on their works. The challenged party could assert failure to do so to nullify the ownership requirement of an infringement claim, as the work so published would have gone into the public domain. While the U.S.’s adoption of the Berne Convention Implementation Act on that date removed this strict requirement, it still applies to older copyrights, and prudent copyright owners still put copyright notices on their published works.

2. Lack of Originality:

Copyright only applies to original works of authorship. If you depict something in a mundane way without any creativity, you may not have sufficient originality to claim copyright in what you have produced. For example, seeing a red car parked outside and then writing “There is a red car in front of the house” uses virtually no creativity or originality. Nor would simply taking a snapshot of the car without staging the lighting and other aspects of the photo.

A graphic design that lacks originality cannot be copyrighted such as “©”. A prominent example was Best Western’s failed application to copyright its logo. (The hotel chain was able to register its “Best Western” design as a trademark however.)

The Supreme Court has held that mundane information, such as the names, addresses, phone numbers in telephone directories cannot be copyrighted. However, the selection and arrangement of such information may be sufficiently original to deserve copyright protection. While the threshold for originality is low, the more originality and creativity involved in the work, the more likely copyright protection will apply.

3. Nothing was Copied:

A news photographer and a fan who simultaneously take virtually identical shots at a concert would probably not have copyright claims against each other. Thus, if the professional sought to sue to protect his photograph, the fan could likely defend himself against that claim because he did not copy from the photographer’s photo.

4. Fair use.

This defense acknowledges the copyright owner has the right to protect his or her original work but asserts that the use was “fair,” for example a minimal quotation of the work in the context of a scholarly discussion. Fair use is a major topic in itself deserving of a separate and upcoming blog in this series.

If you have copyright issues on which you need assistance, please contact attorney Helena Kobrin.

 

Anger Management

Jerks, Introverts and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Weaving v. City of Hillsboro

constructive_discharge_wrongful_termination

The ability of employers to follow the law – and of judges to enforce it – depends on clearly defined standards of responsibility and conduct. Vaguely or otherwise poorly stated rules can lead to inconsistent outcomes in very similar factual situations. This danger of arbitrary, unpredictable consequences is perhaps no better illustrated than in the recent struggles of three appeals judges to define the terms of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in Weaving v. City of Hillsboro (9th Circuit, D.C. No. 3:10-cv-01432-HZ, August 15, 2014).

The ADA forbids workplace discrimination against a “qualified individual on the basis of disability.” “Qualified individual” means a person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. Under the ADA, a “disability” is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” with “a record of such an impairment,” or who is “regarded as having such an impairment.” The ADA provides examples of such major life activities, including “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.”

The challenge in the Weaving case appeal was whether the ADA’s protections should extend to an individual terminated over recurring interpersonal problems with co-workers that he and testifying mental health practitioners attributed to so-called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Two of the three appeals judges concluded that Officer Weaving’s sometimes gruff, offensive manner – even if the supposed result of a purported ADHD condition – did not deserve ADA protection because his behavior evidenced only an inability “to get along with others,” not a major life activity. The third judge disagreed, contending that Weaving’s periodically boorish behavior amounted to a substantial impairment of the ADA-protected major life activity of “interacting with others.”

While employers might take heart in the immediate result of the Weaving case, that (to use the court’s term) “jerks” do not deserve ADA protection, the decision really should give neither workers nor managers comfort since it leaves the dividing line about as clear as mud between: a) disruptive conduct from which an employer can protect its workforce by suspension or termination of the perpetrator; and b) perhaps offensive but protected behavior stemming from a disability that a business must seek to reasonably accommodate.

The City of Hillsboro, Oregon terminated Matthew Weaving from its police force in late 2009, in part based on the report of his superior that Weaving had created a hostile work environment for his junior officers and peers for actions described as “tyrannical, unapproachable, non-communicative, belittling, demeaning, threatening, intimidating, arrogant, and vindictive.” Weaving at page 10.

Officer Weaving then sued the City for ADA discrimination, alleging that he deserved protection because his diagnosed ADHD condition substantially limited his major life activity of “interacting with others.” The City appealed after a jury awarded Officer Weaving well over $600,000 in damages and over $139,000 in attorney fees. Weaving at page 11.

Weaving contended his situation was similar to the systems analyst who was able to maintain an ADA case in McAlindin v. County of San Diego (9th Cir., 1999) 192 F.3d 1226. There, Mr. McAlindin was able to convince two out of three appeals judges that his claimed panic attacks, “fear reaction,” and “communicative paralysis” created a substantial limitation on his major life activity of interacting with others. 192 F.3d at 1235-1236. Weaving also argued he was entitled to ADA protection just as an equipment operator had been in Head v. Glacier Northwest (9th Cir., 2005) 413 F.3d 1053. There, Mr. Head convinced the appeals court that the ADA could protect him from discrimination since his avoidance of crowds and large family gatherings, and his shutting himself away in his house for weeks – all purportedly the result of a diagnosed “bipolar” mental disorder – constituted a substantial limitation on his major life activity of interacting with others. 413 F.3d at 1060-1061.

Yet, two of the three of the judges in Officer Weaving’s appeal found his situation more akin to another “bipolar”-afflicted employee, this time an electric-guitar assembler in Jacques v. DiMarzio, Inc. (2nd Cir. 2004) 386 F.3d 192. According to the lower court’s record, Ms. Jacques was a “problem employee,” prone to confrontations with co-workers, intolerance of ethnic minorities in the production department, and emotional problems dealing with supervisory staff. Ms. Jacques’s supervisors had found her the “most confrontational person we ever employed,” with supervisors and coworkers regarding her as “intimidating and mercurial” and feeling obliged to treat her with “kid gloves.” 386 F.3d at 197-198.

Taking the cue from the Jacques case, the majority in Weaving found the officer was not eligible for ADA protection for being a cantankerous person with mere trouble getting along with coworkers. In contrast to the plaintiffs in the McAlindin and Head cases, Officer Weaving did not shut himself away, unable at times to interact with others at all. While able to engage in normal social interactions, “his interpersonal problems existed almost exclusively in his interactions with his peers and subordinates.” Weaving at page 17. “One who is able to communicate with others, though his communications may at times be offensive, ‘inappropriate, ineffective, or unsuccessful,’ is not substantially limited in his ability to interact with others within the meaning of the ADA. To hold otherwise would be to expose to potential ADA liability employers who take adverse employment actions against ill-tempered employees who create a hostile workplace environment for their colleagues.” Weaving at page 18.

Circuit Judge Callahan, the third judge in Weaving, disagreed sharply with the other two. Citing the report of the treating psychologist, she emphasized that Officer Weaving was apparently unable to “self-regulate” certain symptoms of his supposed ADHD condition, including impulsiveness, “not seeming to listen when spoken to, … interrupting others, … difficulty waiting his turn, blurting out comments without having emotional intelligence, [and lack of] awareness of the effect that that communication would have on his other workers at the police department.” Weaving at page 23. Judge Callahan thus contended that Officer Weaving “was well beyond being merely cantankerous or troublesome. To the contrary, he had problems in his interactions with just about everyone throughout his career in law enforcement.” Judge Callahan thus reasoned that Weaving was substantially limited in his ability to interact with others and was not just a cranky, defiant bully undeserving of ADA protection. Weaving at page 32.

The Weaving decision demonstrates the highly subjective element that can drive the discussion on what is and what is not a protectable mental disability under the ADA. In the face of disruptive conduct as displayed by Officer Weaving, management must base any disciplinary decisions on the observable and documented negative effects that such angry, demeaning and bullying behavior has on the morale and productivity of the workers on the receiving end of such conduct. Job descriptions that establish the abilities to engage in effective, constructive communication and to work in efficient coordination with supervisors, coworkers and juniors will also promote the proper objective expectations for a worker at every company position.

For further information and assistance on workplace disability issues, contact any of our office’s attorneys, Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.
Additional references:
Disability and Leave of Absence Policies, Keeping Up with Changing Employment Laws”

Say “ADAAAAHHH” – More People to be Protected Under Federal Workplace Disability Law”

Disability Employment, Employing Big Eaters, High Rollers and Voyeurs, Unusual Mental Disability Claims on the Horizon?

To Vape or Not To Vape

Should Employers Ban E-Cigarettes in the Workplace?

Cigarette girl - April 5, 1947

“Cigarette girl” – April 5, 1947

Given the widespread popularity of electronic cigarettes, more cities and states are passing legislation to address their use in the workplace. Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-powered and tobacco free. They vaporize a liquid nicotine solution that users inhale and then puff out (i.e., “vaping”). The exhaled water vapor appears similar to traditional tobacco smoke but without the odor.

Three states, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Utah, have enacted bans against e-cigarettes in the workplace. Multiple cities have followed suit, including Seattle, Boston, New York City and Chicago. Surprisingly, California, usually in the forefront of such legislation, has yet to expand its workplace smoking bans to encompass e-cigarettes. Absent a state-wide ban, some California counties and cities have prohibited e-cigarettes on their own, including Marin County, Santa Clara County, and the City of Los Angeles.

Employers with multi-city or multi-state operations should consider instituting a uniform ban on e-cigarettes to ensure compliance as such prohibitions continue to spread. Even in jurisdictions with no restrictions on workplace vaping, employers may wish to ban the practice outright for several reasons, such as to prevent co-worker and customer complaints and to avoid triggering indoor smoke detectors. Some employees have reportedly misused e-cigarettes or “vape pens” to smoke marijuana in their workplaces. That practice may be difficult to detect because the vapor does not have a discernible odor.

Where lawful, some employers view vaping as a means to increase productivity and decrease absenteeism since such users need not leave the building for multiple cigarette breaks beyond the minimum required rest periods. If an employer permits vaping, however, it should explicitly ban marijuana or other drug use in vape pens and reserve the right to inspect such devices for such illicit substances.

For assistance creating complete and comprehensive workplace policies, contact one of our attorneys Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

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The Annals of Copyright Number 3

What Is Copyright Infringement?

The Westminster hymnal  the only collection authorized by the hierarchy of England and Wales (1912)

The Westminster hymnal the only collection authorized by the hierarchy of England and Wales (1912)

Copyright infringement has two sides: a) protecting your own copyrighted material and b) avoiding violations of another’s copyrighted work.

The U.S. Copyright Act, section 106, gives a copyright owner exclusive rights to the control of an original work, including reproducing it, publicly displaying it, publicly performing it, making derivative works, and selling, leasing or licensing it to others. Infringement occurs when someone uses another’s work or part of it in these and other ways without the owner’s permission.

To prove copyright infringement, in the simplest terms, the owner must show that he or she owns the copyright to the work in question and that the infringing item is a copy of the original. Copy does not necessarily mean an exact duplicate. The owner can prove this element by showing that the “copy” is substantially similar to the owner’s original and that the infringer had access to the original. If the alleged infringer came up with the same idea independently and created a similar work without any access to that original, there may not be an infringement.

Sometimes the analysis is simple. For example, if you wrote a book, another’s publication of the identical text under a different name and cover would clearly be copyright infringement. Unauthorized use of another’s original photo for the cover of a music album or a secret video recording from the audience of a first run movie for production of pirated DVDs are also examples.

The situation may be less than clear-cut if, for instance, you and another happen to each write original music which sounds similar for a few notes or bars. Two individuals painting the same landscape with similarities in treatment may also be possible trouble, but then again, may not. For some real-life close-calls, see the blog “5 famous copyright infringement cases (and what you can learn).”

The livelihoods of copyright lawyers depend on accurately analyzing such scenarios. However, while an experienced practitioner can and will offer his or her perception of whether similar works present a potential infringement, experts inevitably will differ in more complex cases.

If is of course far preferable to consult a copyright attorney over potential infringements before any “cease and desist” letter or, worse, a lawsuit arises from another copyright holder. If you need help with such issues, you can contact our Of Counsel attorney, Helena Kobrin.

Related articles: The Annals of Copyright Number 1, When in Doubt, Choose Contract Over Lunch (on the importance of written agreements for the use of copyrighted material) and The Annals of Copyright Number 2, You May Have a Copyrighted Work and Don’t Know It (on the definition of a copyrighted work).