May families are struggling financially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. With California’s jobless claims reaching historic levels and many employees finding it difficult to submit unemployment claims with the state’s Employment Development Department, many are California’s are wondering how to pay their bills or buy groceries. Employees who have been furloughed or laid off with no definitive date of return in the foreseeable future should be aware of their rights with respect to their accrued and unused vacation or Paid Time Off (PTO) time.
Under California law, accrued vacation and PTO, is considered a vested wage that belongs to the employee and should be paid out at the time of termination, be it voluntary or involuntary, such as in connection with a furlough or layoff. An employee’s right to vacation and PTO is a long established California principle under Suastez v. Plastic Dress Up, where the California Supreme Court held vacation (PTO) accrues as it is earned and cannot be forfeited upon termination, regardless if the termination is voluntary or involuntary. Suastez v. Plastic Dress Up (1982) 31 Cal. 3d 774.
Similarly, California Labor Code Section 227.3 states that, unless otherwise provided for by a collective bargaining agreement, if an employer has a vacation or PTO policy that provides for paid vacation, all earned and unused vacation/PTO must be paid to the employee upon termination at his or her final rate of pay.
Many employees then ask themselves, is my furlough or layoff a termination? Many may view their employment as continuing and they hope their employer will recall them, but they have been given no definitive date of return. California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, commonly referred to as the Labor Commissioner’s Office, has long taken the position that “if an employee is laid off without a specific return date within the normal pay period, the wages earned to and including the lay off date are due and payable in accordance with Section 201.” DLSE Opinion Letter, May 30, 1996.
Accordingly, employees who have been furloughed or laid off and do not have a definitive date of return within the normal pay period should be paid their accrued and unused vacation or PTO at the time of furlough or layoff. Employees who have not received their unused vacation or PTO in these instances should consider consulting with an employment attorney about their rights. In addition to payment of their vacation and PTO, employees may also be entitled to certain penalties for the delay in receiving their final wages.
The attorneys at Ares Law Group, P.C. have extensive experiencing representing employees with wage and hour claims. What sets Ares Law Group, P.C. apart from other firms is its experience. The partners at Ares Law Group, P.C. Matt D’Abusco and Cynthia Sandoval, have been practicing employment law and litigation a collective 30 years. Prior to founding Ares Law Group, Mr. D’Abusco and Ms. Sandoval worked at a renowned and prestigious nationwide labor and employment firms representing a variety of employers, from small family owned businesses to Fortune 100 companies. As a result of this experience, Ares Law Group attorneys bring a unique perspective to each case as they understand opposing counsels’ perspective and approach defending cases, which is invaluable to Ares Law Group’s clients.
Female Firefighter Alleges Gender-Based Wrongful Termination
Our employment attorneys have learned that a female firefighter has taken legal action against her former employer, alleging she was fired because of her Instagram photos.
Presley Pritchard was employed by the Kalispell, Montana Evergreen Fire Rescue until 2019, when she said she was relieved of her duties after being overtly targeted because of her appearance. She stated that this included how she looked in certain apparel, such as gym attire, amid other factors related to her presence on various social media platforms. According to the Daily Inter Lake, a wrongful termination lawsuit has now been filed by Pritchard, in which she alleges she was a victim of gender discrimination.
Pritchard Accuses Employer of Wrongful Termination
The lawsuit states Pritchard’s status as a fitness influencer caused her to be unfairly singled out by her employer. Twenty-seven-year-old Pritchard has approximately 100,000 Instagram followers. This is the social media platform on which she usually shares videos and pictures of her workout routines, as well as uplifting messages for other individuals interested in physical fitness. She also does a bit of promotion for several wellness brands with which she has partnerships.
Pritchard maintains that her online presence was entirely separate from her job, but it created issues as far back as 2018, when Evergreen Fire District Board member Jack Fallon voiced concerns about her account.
It was at that point that Pritchard said she began getting called in for “everything” and felt like she was continuously “walking on eggshells.”
According to Vice.com, the former firefighter claims she was reprimanded approximately 20 times for issues associated with her social media accounts, including photos she posted and the attire she wore when headed to the gym. Although the majority of Pritchard’s photos show her in workout clothes, she also posted pictures of herself in bathing suits, shooting guns, promoting products, and also posing with other people.
Female Firefighter Alleges She Was Issued Men’s Uniform Pants
Pritchard claims she was issued men’s uniform pants and at one point said, “Am I supposed to leave my butt at home?” She stated that she showed Vice numerous pictures of male firefighters posing shirtless on similar sites and pointed out that they were from the same department, highlighting what she believes was gender discrimination. She also told Vice she thought the double standard favoring males was hypocritical.
The former firefighter stated that she was ultimately fired following a request from her supervisors to remove various pictures of herself in her work uniform. They purportedly told her that the pictures blurred the line between her personal brand and her employment. Pritchard said that an attorney told her it was not necessary to remove the pictures, as there was no social media policy set forth by her department at the time of her employment.
Nevertheless, Pritchard maintained she was terminated for refusing to remove the photos. The lawsuit was filed in December and cited wrongful termination due to gender discrimination and a double standard that favored men. According to the most recent data from the National Fire Protection Association, NFPA, only 7% of all firefighters are female.
According to our employment attorneys in Orange County, Pritchard’s lawsuit is still underway and her case is under review by a state investigator. She has been able to apply for unemployment in the meantime.
Uber Technologies Inc. is indebted to the State of New Jersey for approximately $650 million for disability and unemployment insurance taxes. The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development said that the money owed is based on Uber’s misclassification of employees as independent contractors.
Uber, along with its subsidiary, Rasier LLC, was given a past-due tax assessment of $523 million, which covers taxes from 2015 to the present. According to additional documents, the rideshare companies may also be obligated to pay up to $119 million in penalties and interest on the four-year-long tax bill.
Uber Challenges State Labor Department
Uber spokesperson Alix Anfang told Bloomberg Law that this determination was incorrect and that the companies are planning to fight it because in New Jersey, and elsewhere, drivers are independent contractors.
At this point, New Jersey’s determination is limited to disability and unemployment insurance; however, it could also mean that eventually rideshare drivers would have to be paid at the state’s minimum wage rate and receive applicable overtime pay. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, if companies such as Lyft and Uber are forced to recategorize their drivers as employees, the cost of rides could increase by over 20 percent.
Lobbying in New York and California
These controversies mark the most recent attacks on the business model for rideshare companies, virtually all of which treat drivers as independent contractors, not employees. When working as self-employed contractors, individuals do not qualify for certain benefits, such as the aforementioned disability and unemployment insurance. Lyft and Uber have now pledged $30 million apiece to challenge new legislation in California that is expected to force such companies to recognize drivers as employees. Additionally, lawmakers in New York are preparing for a similar battle after the New Year.
California has effectively legislated to force Uber and Lyft to classify drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. This will undoubtedly be a hotly contested issue in the California Court system until, more likely than not, the California Supreme Court has the final say.
Audit Launched Among Uber Drivers
The New Jersey Labor Department dispatched surveys to drivers working for Uber and Lyft over the past year, requesting information concerning their tax status and classification. Each year, the Labor Department audits approximately one percent of employers to screen for possible misclassification of workers.
As of Oct. 23, 2019, the State of New Jersey has discovered that 65 drivers who declared Lyft, Uber, or Rasier as their employer on claim forms are actually company employees, and therefore eligible to apply for various unemployment benefits.
No Action Planned at the Federal Level
The National Labor Relations Board and Federal Labor Department recently stated they are unlikely to pursue the rideshare companies for alleged misclassification. The decision was based on their opinion that contractors at an unnamed “virtual marketplace” are not employees because the business simply acts as a referral to link entrepreneurs with various opportunities. The Federal Labor Department said that this means Uber drivers are therefore independent contractors, thus excluding them from unemployment insurance, union benefits, and disability insurance.
However, the State of New Jersey requires a business to demonstrate that it does not control the work completed by the independent contractor and that the services provided are outside the scope of the company’s “usual course” of business. Otherwise, the drivers are considered employees by the state.
According to Bloomberg Law, certain New Jersey drivers said they prefer the flexibility of remaining independent contractors, as this means they can choose where and when to work. Worker advocates, on the other hand, are holding fast to their position that rideshare company owners are skirting their basic responsibilities by classifying such drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.
Uber fell to $25.99 per share, a decline of 2.7 percent, once the news of the disputed tax bill became public. Lyft’s shares fell 3.2 percent around the same time. As of December 2019, it is unclear whether a hearing has been scheduled, and it is also not known if Uber has paid any part of the tax bill that the State of New Jersey is demanding.
If you think you are being misclassified as an employee or independent contractor, call one of our employment attorneys in Orange County at Ares Law Group. Our number is 949-629-2519 and we would be happy to give you a free consultation regarding your situation.
The State of California just enacted a bill confirming that most workers are employees rather than independent contractors and affirming the relevant legal analysis implemented by California Courts. Although the law is applicable to all employers in the State of California, it has a particularly strong effect on Lyft, Uber and numerous “gig” companies that will require them to acknowledge many of their workers as employees, rather than independent contractors. Our employment attorneys in Orange County believe similar laws may pass in other states as well, as California is often the leader with regard to employment regulation.
In California, the law confirms what California Courts have found that, in general, a person would only be considered an independent contractor if the tasks he or she performs fall outside the parameters of the company’s usual course of business. In addition, workers are not regarded as independent contractors if the business exerts meaningful control over how their job duties are performed or if the work they do is part of the company’s regular business.
Lorena Gonzalez, the Democrat Assemblywoman who authored the bill, stated that it was developed as a way to prohibit businesses from miscategorizing workers and ultimately gaming the system. Naturally, it would have been difficult to predict the ways in which the employment landscape would change when these companies were created, but the aim of California lawmakers is to prevent businesses from passing costs onto workers and taxpayers.
Uber Attorney Announces That Drivers are to Maintain Contractor Status
Uber’s top attorney announced on September 11, 2019, that in spite of the new regulations, the company has no plans to treat drivers as employees. Uber’s Chief Legal Officer, Tony West, promised that drivers will maintain independent contractor status.
West stated that Uber’s business does not merely provide rides, but serves as a technology platform for numerous kinds of digital marketplaces, and that they are somewhat used to legal battles.
As our Orange County employment attorneys know from handling these cases, as well as observing the local legal environment, litigation is almost certain to continue if companies continue to attempt to find justifications to classify regular works as independent contractors.
When the costs and complexities of having employees versus hiring independent contractors are considered, it is not difficult to see why some businesses do everything they can to maintain contractors.
One case in point is a long-running dispute that was settled for $228 million in 2015, between FedEx and their Ground California drivers. FedEx Ground robustly defended its purported independent contractor model, but the Ninth Circuit determined that over 2,250 drivers were actually covered by California’s employee protection statutes. Our employment attorneys in Orange County will continue to follow the story and watch for any new developments.
Our employment law attorneys recently heard about the story of Ms. Rosette Pambakian, who filed a lawsuit against the parent companies behind Tinder and its former Chief Executive Officer, Gregory Blatt. Ms. Pambakian formerly served as the company’s VP of communications, and alleges in her lawsuit that she was fired in retaliation for bringing forth sexual assault allegations against Blatt.
The Blast obtained court documents that outlined Ms. Pambakian’s claims that she was harassed and assaulted in December, 2016 at the company’s holiday party. Ms. Pambakian alleges that Blatt approached her at the party and made a series of lewd remarks and inappropriate sexual advances.
Ms. Pambakian states that following Blatt’s advances, she left the party with friends, only to have Blatt show up to their hotel room at approximately 2 a.m., at which point Ms. Pambakian claims she was sexually assaulted.
Following the alleged assault, Ms. Pambakian said she told then-Chairman and former Tinder CEO, Sean Rad, about what happened. However, she states that the company ignored damning facts, never interviewed key witnesses, and failed to conduct a meaningful investigation because they were afraid to “risk their bottom line.”
Ms. Pambakian states she was put on administrative leave and in the course of time, was unjustifiably terminated. She is now suing for wrongful termination and retaliation, gender violence, sexual battery and negligence, for which she is seeking unspecified damages.
A representative for the Match Group, Tinder’s parent company, stated that they cannot comment on the lawsuit because they have not yet seen it. They did, however, forward a letter that was previously sent to Ms. Pambakian from their Chief Executive Officer, Mandy Ginsberg.
The letter, Ms. Ginsberg stated that Pambakian was not terminated due to reporting Blatt for sexual harassment, because no such report was ever made. Ms. Ginsburg further stated that although she was not the CEO at the time of the alleged incident, she had knowledge of Ms. Pambakian being interviewed on several occasions during which she made no accusations of sexual harassment. Tinder has declined to comment on the suit.
According to a lawsuit filed by Concetta Graziosi in Brooklyn Federal Court, Latin music superstar, Marc Anthony, failed to pay his long-term housekeeper approximately $500,000.00 in unpaid wages. The former housekeeper was responsible for various duties, including cleaning the 10,000 square foot Long Island mansion in which Mr. Anthony resided in with his then-wife, Jennifer Lopez, and their children.
Housekeeper Alleges Thousands in Unpaid Wages
Ms. Graziosi began working for the music star in 2005 and remained employed until 2017, when the Brookville home was sold. Ms. Graziosi alleged that Mr. Anthony forced her to work as many as 80 hours each week, but never paid her the required overtime wages. According to Court papers, Ms. Graziosi stated that at times she was not even paid minimum wage, but rather was given $2,000.00 every other week, regardless of the number of work hours she logged. The lawsuit also alleged that Ms. Graziosi sometimes had to work seven days a week and at times, was not paid at all. In addition, she stated that she never received paid vacation time.
Mr. Anthony also allegedly deducted a processing fee from Ms. Graziosi’s paychecks, which she received via direct deposit. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Ms. Graziosi sometimes bought groceries for the household on her way to work, but was not given compensation. Jonathan Bell, Ms. Graziosi’s employment law attorney, stated that she was terminated just prior to the Brookville home being sold in 2017 for $4.5 million, and that his client was clearly taken advantage of.
Lawsuit Settled for $500,000
After months of negotiations between the employment attorneys, a deal was finally reached. Mr. Anthony agreed to pay his ex-housekeeper approximately $500,000.00. The lawsuit was settled in private mediation, but the singer has not yet commented about the matter. Mr. Anthony and Ms. Lopez divorced in 2014, and Ms. Lopez was not named in the suit. Representatives for the singer did not immediately return requests for comment.