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My company has stores in California and it seems that we are constantly changing our policies at all the stores nationwide based on changes to California law? Why is that?

It would be hard for me to answer the "WHY" without understanding the reasoning behind your company making company-wide policy changes. There is no requirement for the stores located in the other states to adopt policies reflecting the changes to California state law. However, it is very possible that a company with multiple locations chooses to follow the same law across the country for ease of administration and to avoid having separate handbooks and HR policies for each state.  It is perfectly legal for a company to adopt employment policies or practices which further protects employees’ rights and is more generous to the employee than the individual state requirement.  State law provisions are the minimum required by law and a company can do more than the state requirement.  For example, California allows very generous leave policies under the federal and state FMLA, and family leave, etc. while NYS requirements are limited to 12 weeks combined leave between federal, state FMLA and maternity leave. If a company decides to allow the employees the longer and more generous mandatory leave protection under California state law, NY State has no problem with it.

California happens to be on the forefront of many employment and labor laws and legislation and your company may have decided that instead of providing the benefits to California employees only, they will make the benefits available to all employees across the nation.

Please contact Lena Bodin at 845-362-3445 or
lena@4prs.com with questions.

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I have worked with small companies that either don't offer health insurance or have a long wait period up to 6 months. What are the applicable laws for health care and is it mandatory for companies of a certain # of employees?

This is an excellent question and I often get this both from employers and employees. There is no current requirement either on the federal or state level which requires an employer to provide health care to its employees.

Health Care is still considered a benefit and so far has no mandatory requirement.  However, companies find that with the rising cost of health care, having this benefit helps the company attract employees and retain them.

There are few requirements that companies must follow however, if they are terminating an existing plan.  It is always easier to add health care than to take away an existing plan.  Employers must notify their employees in writing and provide them with a reasonable amount of time before terminating any health plan in place. Even if the benefits allowed under an existing health plan is being reduced, or the employee co-insurance or co-pays are being increased it is good management practice to provide enough information ahead of time to the employees so that they can consider options.

Please contact Lena Bodin at 845-362-3445 or lena@4prs.com with questions.

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Can I change vacation time an employee has accrued on a company-wide basis? For example, my company currently gives up to 4 weeks of vacation for tenured employees and is not considering reducing that and capping vacation at 3 weeks maximum.  Can the company take away the additional one week for those who are currently on the 4 week vacation accrual plan?

The questions can be complicated since there are many parts to consider.  First of all, let me start by saying that vacation benefits is not a mandatory benefit and vacation benefits are more traditional and companies find it helps hire and retain their workforce.

You ask if you can take away accrued vacation from an employee or on a company-wide basis. The answer is "no".  However, you can change future vacation employees will have available based on your company's vacation year.  So, the answer to the last part of your question is "yes".

Lets look at the first part.  If employees has worked in this year and is entitled to 4 weeks of vacation, you cannot take away that vacation because the employees has already accrued or earned that vacation according to your company's current vacation policy.  You can, however, change the vacation policy for say, the following year, where they only receive 3 weeks instead of the usual 4, provided you have communicated this to your employees well in advance.

Companies often change vacation policies and more so nowadays, we see companies reducing the maximum weeks of vacation an employee can receive.  When a company makes adjustments downwards to their vacation accrual, common practice seems to be for employers to "grandfather" the existing employees who may be entitled to more weeks that the company's new maximum.  In your example, those employees who are currently accruing 4 weeks keep their 4-weeks and is grandfathered. Those employees who are receiving the 3 weeks and haven't had the tenure for the 4 weeks goes on the new policy of being capped at 3 weeks. New hires will also follow the new company policy of being capped at 3 weeks. The intent here is not to take always anything employees are already receiving.  This helps maintain employee morale.

Please contact Lena Bodin at 845-362-3445 or lena@4prs.com with questions.

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Can we terminate an employee for violating company policy and discussing his pay with other employees?  Our handbook clearly states that it is against company policy to discuss individual compensation and will lead to immediate termination.

For many years I have seen companies have a policy in their handbook stating that salary discussions are prohibited with terminating being resulting consequences.  I have also seen company take action and terminate someone for discussion salary with co-workers.  Both actions may be considered unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  Under most circumstances management cannot prohibit salary discussions, or threaten discharge or discipline for revealing salaries since it may violate fair labor standards and denies employees from knowing whether they are being paid fairly.

Under certain circumstances employers are permitted to treat salary information as confidential if there are legitimate business reasons for the confidentiality that outweigh the protected interest of employees in discussing wages.  For example, an employer may be able to discharge an employee who steals confidential wage information.

For the most part, an employer will find itself unable to control what employees discuss for reasons which protect the employee and also because people like to talk.  Many companies openly communicate to employees salary grades and where the employee stands and the potential for income the employee has in the current position or promotions, etc. so that the employee isn't left guessing.  The more information a company provides employees about compensation the less likely they are to gossip and try to find out where they stack up on the compensation chain.

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