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Friday, May 21, 2004

California proposes to increase the burden on employers 

'Assembly OKs bill expanding reasons employers can be sued' - headline, A.P.
Employers could be sued for failing to take reasonable steps to protect their workers from serious harassment by customers, clients and others under legislation approved Thursday by the state Assembly.

The measure by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, would expand on legislation adopted last year that required employers to take steps to protect workers from sexual harassment.

Laird's bill would cover harassment based on a long list of factors, including the employee's race, sexual orientation, disability, religious beliefs, age and marital status. It would apply when an employer knew, or should have known, the harassment was taking place and did not take reasonable action to stop it.

Of course, all these laws sound reasonable until you think about their actual application. In fact, it just becomes harder to terminate employees who should be terminated, either because they are lame or because it is no longer financially sensible to employ them. Now, any employee who ever thought he was on the receiving end of a dirty look or a less-than-PC comment from another employee, or even a customer, has yet another basis to file a claim, take depositions, run up legal fees, and -- because judges lack the courage to dismiss claims on the pleadings or even on summary judgment -- get to a jury.

California is becoming a terrible place to employ people. Increasingly, there are European-style social burdens, plus the almost constant risk of a jury trial on some trumped up claim (and yes, loyal readers, a huge percentage of these claims are a crock). The combination of the two is deadly to economic growth and new employment, because it makes businesses extremely reluctant to hire people. Sticky labor markets are bad for everybody.

Arnold should veto this bill before even more of California's future moves out of state.

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