Author Archives: Branigan Robertson

California Employers Cannot Demand Your Social Media Passwords

Giving Facebook Passwords to Boss Illegal in California

Should your boss be able to access your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn page?  What if he demands that you give him your password to such sites as a condition of employment? Believe it or not, many employers in California are demanding that their employees give them access to their social media platforms. If the employee doesn’t comply the employer will show them the door. Is this legal? Not anymore. On September 27 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown just signed into law a bill passed in the California legislature:

Assembly Bill 1844 by Nora Campos (D-San Jose) prohibits employers from demanding user names, passwords or any other information related to social media accounts from employees and job applicants. Employers are banned from discharging or disciplining employees who refuse to divulge such information under the terms of the bill. However, this restriction does not apply to passwords or other information used to access employer-issued electronic devices. The bill further stipulates that nothing in its language is intended to infringe on employers’ existing rights and obligations to investigate workplace misconduct…. Proponents of Assembly Bill 1844 say this is a common-sense measure that will bring clarity to a murky area of employment law and stop business practices that impede employment.

I predict that the litigation under this new law will surround whether or not the employer is investigating workplace misconduct. When is an employer investigating? What are they investigating? Is there a formal process for this? California courts will have to settle all of these questions.

Moreover, this bill only applies to California. What about the rest of the country? The Password Protection Act of 2012 is a federal bill that is a making its way through the House of Representatives. In addition to forbidding employers from requesting passwords, it would prohibit employers from discriminating or retaliating against a prospective or current employee based on her refusal to provide access to personal accounts.


Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who exclusively represents employees in workplace disputes. He focuses his practice on sexual harassment, wage & hour, wrongful termination, and retaliation. Visit his website at or call his office at 949.667.3025.

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Filed under Company Property, Defamation, Freedom in the Workplace, Human Resources, Privacy at Work Rights, Social Media

Pregnancy Series #4 – Pregnancy Disability Leave in California – 10 Things You Should Know

Pregnancy Disability Leave, PDL, FMLA, CFRA, reasonable accomodationIn a previous post we covered what you need to know about maternity leave. But that is only useful if you have a typical pregnancy. What if it’s a hard pregnancy, and you need more than the usual amount of maternity leave? You are probably wondering:

  • What if I get put on bed rest and can’t work?
  • What if my labor is horrible and I need more than 12 weeks to recover?
  • How much disability leave can I take?
  • Can my boss refuse to let me take disability leave beyond my maternity leave?
  • Do I have the right to return to the same position afterwards? Same pay?
  • What else do I need to know?

Click through for ten critical pieces of information that you need to know about pregnancy disability leave….  Continue reading

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Filed under CFRA - California Family Rights Act, Disabling Injury and Illness, Discrimination, Family & Medical Leave, FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, FMLA - Family & Medical Leave Act, Maternity Leave, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Disability Leave, Sex Discrimination

Breastfeeding in the Workplace Example – American University Professor Adrienne Pine

I’ve already written an entire post on California’s laws on breastfeeding in the workplace. But I just came across this CNN article and had to share it. Although the incident did not take place in Orange County, or even California for that matter, it is still worth a read.

Adrienne Pine, an American University professor in Washington D.C., noticed that her infant child was running a fever. It was Ms. Pine’s first day teaching for the semester. So she didn’t want to miss class. But, as many working mom’s know, couldn’t drop her child off at daycare because of the fever. Daycare generally refuses sick babies because of the potential of spreading the disease (if one exists).

So, what is a working woman to do? She brought her baby to class. But the baby got fussy and hungry and you can guess what happened next:

after her daughter started fussing, the professor began nursing — in front of 40 students — to get her to stop.

A firestorm erupted afterwards. Students complained on Twitter and Ms. Pine was suddenly thrust into a national debate. Should women be allowed to breastfeed at work? Should they be afforded a private place to use a breast pump? Should employers provide emergency daycare? These are all very important questions for working women across America.


Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who exclusively represents employees in workplace disputes. He focuses his practice on sexual harassment, wage & hour, wrongful termination, and retaliation. Visit his website at or call his office at 949.667.3025.

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Filed under Discrimination, Family & Medical Leave, FMLA - Family & Medical Leave Act, Maternity Leave, Pregnancy, Privacy at Work Rights, Sex Discrimination

California’s Lawsuit Environment and the OC Register

I love reading my local news. The Orange County Register does a good job covering local business affairs. Jan Norman, covering small business, is a fantastic reporter. She is objective and fair. But I have a little beef with her recent article, “Business survey ranks Calif. 47th in lawsuit climate.”

The article is about a survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber Institute of Legal Reform (ILR), a national lobby group for big business. According to ILR’s website:

The (ILR) is a national campaign, representing the nation’s business community, with the critical mission of making America’s legal system simpler, fairer and faster for everyone.

Further down the page it states:

ILR aims to neutralize plaintiff trial lawyers’ excessive influence over the legal and political systems.

This is a ridiculous position. Plaintiff lawyers are consistently the underdogs representing the little guys. In general, they don’t have millions of dollars to throw at cases like the lawyers who were surveyed by ILR. Moreover, plaintiff lawyers don’t have the lobbying power that Corporate America has in Federal and State legislatures.

Read more after the jump….

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Filed under Class Actions, Lawsuits & Lawyers, Wages and Hours

Pregnancy Series #3 – Maternity Leave – What You Should Know About California Law

Maternity Leave, California, FMLA, CFRAIf you just found out that you are pregnant let me be the first person in the Internet world to say, “Congrats!” There is nothing more exciting that expecting a child. I know this from experience. My wife and I just had our first daughter and I want to jump for joy. I couldn’t be happier.

But if you’re a working woman this might be daunting. What does your pregnancy mean for your job? It obviously means you must take time off for doctor visits, pregnancy classes, labor, and recovery. But how much time can you take off? What protections does California law afford?

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA) are the laws at issue. The FMLA, in combination with the CFRA, provides California working mothers with the best maternity leave rights in the nation.

Read more after the jump…. Continue reading


Filed under CFRA - California Family Rights Act, Employee Benefits, Family & Medical Leave, FMLA - Family & Medical Leave Act, Health Benefits, Health Care, Leaving a Job, Maternity Leave, Pregnancy, Sex Discrimination

Pregnancy Series #2: Pregnancy Discrimination Is Not OK – What You Should Know

pregnancy discrimination at work in CaliforniaThis article is for pregnant working women and new moms in California.

I understand that work is important. If you don’t make money, you can’t buy diapers, formula, or clothing for your children. Your boss knows that the paycheck is very important to you, and sometimes he takes advantage of this by forcing you to work extra hours, or making you perform dangerous jobs that are hazardous to your health. He knows you need the money so you probably won’t complain.

Some bosses are even worse.  They simply fire pregnant women because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of filling your position while you are on leave. Nor do they want to continue paying your health insurance. They usually claim “poor performance,” “absenteeism,” or some other excuse as the reason for the firing.

Other bosses know the law and permit their employees to take leave. But demand that the employee be back in only a few weeks, or when the employee returns, the employer has drastically reduced their responsibility and cut their pay.

Is any of this behavior legal in California? No, it’s not. To find out more continue reading below.

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Filed under Discharge & Layoffs, Family & Medical Leave, FEHA – Fair Employment & Housing Act, FMLA - Family & Medical Leave Act, Pregnancy, Retaliation, Sex Discrimination

Pregnancy Series #1: California is Friendly to Moms Breastfeeding in the Workplace

workplace breastfeeding, breast pumping at work, room for breastfeedingMy wife is 5 days overdue with our first child. Once the baby is out my wife wants to breastfeed our daughter. Although my wife no longer works, I couldn’t help but wonder, what are a new mom’s rights in the workplace? Can you breastfeed on the job? What if your boss doesn’t let you? Can you use a breast pump at work? Does your boss have to provide you with a private room, or do you have to do it in a bathroom stall?

In 1998, California’s legislature resolved to improve the life of Mom’s in the workplace. It passed a series of statutes, including California Labor Code § 1030-1033. The most important is § 1030:

Every employer…shall provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate an employee desiring to express breast milk for the employee’s infant child. The break time shall, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee. Break time for an employee that does not run concurrently with the rest time authorized for the employee…shall be unpaid.

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Filed under Discrimination, Family & Medical Leave, FMLA - Family & Medical Leave Act, Pregnancy, Rest Breaks, Sex Discrimination, Wages and Hours

Arbitration Clauses in Employee Handbooks Are Hard to Enforce

Arbitration agreements in employee handbooks enforceable?Many employees never even bother to read the employee handbook. That’s understandable. They are long, boring, and mostly full of lawyery language that makes the average joe want to shoot himself. I get it.

Well, many California employers have employee handbooks (as they should), and many of them include within the handbook an arbitration clause. What is arbitration and why should the employee care? According to the American Arbitration Association:

Arbitration is the submission of a dispute to one or more impartial persons for a final and binding decision, known as an “award.” Awards are made in writing and are generally final and binding on the parties in the case.

Arbitration basically is an alternative to filing a lawsuit in court. There are many advantages and disadvantages to arbitration. But I’m not writing here to talk about that. What I’m interested in, is whether or not they are enforceable. Meaning, if you sue your boss for sexual harassment, discrimination, or some other employment claim, can you employer force you into arbitration to take your claim out of the court system?

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Filed under Alternative Dispute Resolution, Lawsuits & Lawyers

Facebooking About “Naked Twister” With Co-workers Is Not a Good Idea if You’re Suing for Sexual Harassment

Naked Twister, Sexual Harassment, Facebook, LawsuitTennessee is a strange place. Earlier this year a very interesting decision was handed down by a Tennessee Federal District Court, Targonksi v. City of Oak Ridge. The case is a typical sexual harassment case by a female police officer against her supervisor. The female plaintiff claimed that she was subjected to a ‘hostile work environment’ because her supervisor was allegedly “spreading sexual rumors” about her. According to Plaintiff, her supervisor told her that he thought she was “a lesbian and I wanted to be part of” an orgy the supervisor was trying to coordinate.

Plaintiff testified at her deposition, “I’m a Christian and I strive really hard to be a moral person. So for someone to start thinking of me as someone who has orgy parties at my house while my son is home, that’s severely humiliating to me.” Plaintiff further testified that she would never “go out and talk to people about” such things, even in a joking manner.

Curiously, however, a few months after the sexual rumors were allegedly spread, she Facebooked about her desire for a female friend to join her “naked in the hot tub.” Moreover, she discussed “naked Twister” during a party at a cabin in the woods. Even more damming, she talked about female orgies involving herself, another female, and others, to be filmed by her very own husband.

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Filed under Freedom in the Workplace, Harassment, Human Resources, Privacy at Work Rights, Relationships, Sexual Harassment, Social Media

Brinker Part II – Lunch & Rest Breaks in California

Wages, hours, Brinker, time card, punch card, employment law, californiaI mentioned in an earlier post that I would post more information on the California Supreme Court decision Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. The Brinker decision was huge in the employment law world. It clarified some of the most tricky wage and hour issues.

Here are a few of the important rulings:

Lunch breaks: An employer is supposed to give a 30 minute uninterrupted meal break to employees who work more than five hours. An employers obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires. The employer does not need to ensure that no work is done. An employer cannot discourage or impede meal periods. If the employer has the employee do work during his or her lunch break, the employee must be paid for it. If the employer relinquishes control and the employee decides to keep working with the employers knowledge, then the employer must still pay the employees hourly rate, but not an additional premium. For those who like bullets:

  • Employees who don’t work more than 5 hours don’t get a meal period.
  • Employees who work over 5 but not more than 6 hours get a meal period, unless they’ve waived it in writing. If they don’t waive it, the meal period must begin by the end of the 5th hour.
  • Employees who work more than 6 but not more than 10 hours get a meal period regardless of whether there’s a waiver. The meal period must begin by the end of the 5th hour.
  • Employees who work more than 10 hours get a second meal period. If they don’t work more than 12 hours they can waive the second meal period. If they don’t waive it, the meal period must begin by the end of the 10th hour.

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Filed under Meal Breaks, Overtime, Rest Breaks, Wages and Hours

Hostess Brands vs. Employee Pensions – Will Twinkies Die?

I’m not ashamed to admit that I ate a Twinkie the other day. It was my first Twinkie in about three years. It melted in my mouth and tickled warm memories of my childhood. I enjoyed it immensely. I told myself that I need to eat more of those delicious yellow cream-filled cakes, but sadly that soon might not be possible.

The maker of Twinkies, Hostess Brands, is bankrupt. Hostess owes more than a billion dollars to creditors. The bakers’ union pension fund was the biggest creditor, owed $994 million. Usually, bankruptcy isn’t a big deal for consumers such as myself, because companies continue to make and sell their products through the bankruptcy proceedings. Usually the company emerges from bankruptcy a more financially sound enterprise because the court discharges debt and other unsavory financial obligations. Well, Hostess Brands is asking the bankruptcy court in White Plains, N.Y. to tear up its labor agreements, which would allow Hostess to change how it funds union pensions. If it continues to fund them as it has been the company will run out of money.

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Filed under Employee Benefits, Health Benefits, Health Care, Labor Law

CA Supreme Court Rules on Brinker Wage & Hour Case

Some big news just hit the airwaves: The California Supreme Court just ruled, in Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court, S166350, that employers are under no obligation to ensure that workers take legally mandated lunch and rest breaks. To put it as the Court put it:

“we conclude an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.”

The unanimous opinion was authored by Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar.  The Court explained that neither state statutes nor the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) compel an employer to ensure employees cease all work during meal periods.  Instead, an employer must provide its employees with a uninterrupted 30-minute duty-free break during which the employee is at liberty to do whatever he or she pleases.  Absent some sort of waiver, a meal break must be afforded after no more than five hours of work, and a second break provided after no more than 10 hours of work.

After I spend a good deal of time analyzing the case I’ll post more information.


Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who exclusively represents employees in workplace disputes. He focuses his practice on sexual harassment, wage & hour, wrongful termination, and retaliation. Visit his website at or call his office at 949.667.3025.


Filed under Rest Breaks, Wages and Hours