Employment Update
January 2009


Employment Law - Employee Handbooks

Analysis from the Office of Court Research shows a 54% increase in employment case filings in Sonoma County between 2005 and 2007. As the economy continues to struggle, employment suits are likely to increase throughout California when some employees turn to a lawyer rather than the classified ads. As a result, now is an especially important time for California employers to make sure that their policies comply with current employment laws. Several important changes to be aware of are discussed below. IS YOUR COMPANY'S EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK UP TO DATE?

We recommend that every employer with at least 15 employees maintain an employee handbook. The employee handbook is a useful way to enumerate company policies and procedures. Listed below are several areas where the law has changed in the last few years, and regarding which employers may wish to update their employee handbooks. Singler, Napell & Dillon, LLP can assist your company in drafting a new employee handbook or updating an existing one.

A. Vacation Policies

Handbooks should clearly describe the manner in which vacation benefits accrue and state whether employees will be paid for accrued but unused vacation upon termination. California employers should be aware that it is one of the few states that prohibit employers from requiring employees to take their vacations by a certain date or lose them (See Cal. Labor Code § 227.3).

B. Sick Leave Policies

The employee handbook should also clearly set out the employer's sick leave policy. How much sick leave, how it is accrued, how much can be accumulated, whether it is paid or unpaid, and whether it is paid out at termination should all be addressed. As of February 5, 2007, all employees who work in San Francisco are entitled to mandatory paid sick leave (See Proposition F, San Francisco Admin. Code § 12W.1 et seq.). However, neither California nor San Francisco require that unused sick leave be paid out at

C. Family Leave Policies

Since January 1, 2005, California has granted registered domestic partners all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities as married spouses (See California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003 (AB 205)). Hence, the employee handbook's family leave policy should make clear that "family member" includes child, parent, spouse and registered domestic partner.

D. Cell Phone Policies

As of July 1, 2008, California law prohibits the use of cell phones while driving, except if used with a hands free device (See Cal. Vehicle Code § 23123 et seq.). Drivers under the age of 18 cannot use a cell phone while driving, even with a hands free device. There are exceptions to each of these rules in case of emergency, or for use on private property. There is also a commercial exception for radios used by Class A or B drivers operating commercial motor trucks, truck tractors, implements of husbandry, farm vehicles, school buses, transit vehicles, or tow trucks. However, this exception does not cover drivers of pickup trucks, even if the truck has commercial plates and is being used for commercial purposes. Thus, contractors and other businesses using two-way radios will be violating the law if they do not fit within one of the exceptions.

We strongly recommend that employers update their employee handbooks to be consistent with this new law. The policy should require employees to follow the hands free law while working or suffer disciplinary consequences.

This update is only a summary. The attorneys at Singler, Napell & Dillon, LLP can help you understand the full impact this update may have on your business. If you have any question, please contact Corey Mostafa at (707) 823-8719 or CFM@singler-law.com..

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