Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Santa Barbara County Economic Summit announces historic lineup of speakers

If you live or work in Santa Barbara County, you have likely benefited from the work done by UCSB's Economic Forecast Project. The Economic Forecast team puts together statistics regarding Santa Barbara County's economy and employment, and more importantly, interpret the statistics in plain language so that business owners can use the information.

This year, the 2012 Santa Barbara County Economic Summit has an especially good lineup of speakers for the event on May 3, 2012, at the beautiful Granada Theatre:

- Gillian Tett, US Managing Editor of The Financial Times

- Dennis P. Lockhart, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

- Charles I. Plosser, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

- John C. Williams, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

- David E. Altig, Senior Vice President & Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

- Peter C. Rupert, Executive Director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project and Chair of the UCSB Department of Economics

For more on the event, or to register, go to

Monday, February 27, 2012

State Fund in the news... will this effect your business?

Pacific Coast Business Times has an interesting story about State Fund today in their Monday Briefing.

According to Business Reporter Stephen Nellis, the State Compensation Insurance Fund, a government sponsored fund which offers workers compensation coverage to firms that can't find insurance elsewhere, is hurting for cash - and looking to local business owners to fill the gaps in their funding. State Fund has filed seven lawsuits against contractors and small business, each seeking unpaid workers compensation premiums. Nellis' article also reports that one local employer has accused State Fund of refusing to investigate fraud claims, championing a "pay benefits now, ask questions later" approach to handling workers compensation claims.

State Fund is the largest provider of workers’ compensation insurance in California: because of this, what we are seeing will likely trickle down to other carriers as insurers try to grapple with mounting costs, more complex claims and tighter purse strings. As an employer you must carry workers compensation insurance in almost all situations (domestic employees are a rare exception, and even they can require coverage). I recommend that all of us watch the State Fund situation carefully - and of course, try to keep claims to a minimum with safe workplaces and good employee policies.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Are we seeing a rise in the number of employment lawsuits?

Most mornings, I start the day by opening an email from Courthouse News Service, or CNS. The CNS "hot sheet" tells me who is suing whom in Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties, listing daily case filings with a summary of each new lawsuit. (In case you are wondering, by the way, I don't read this for fun - the CNS hot sheet helps me monitor filings for existing clients and help other businesses I care about know whether they are being sued.) The hot sheet email doesn't make great reading, especially if you are an employer: an unscientific and highly personal review of the sheets tells me that as the economy has gotten worse, more and more employees are treating their employers (or former employers) as "deep pockets." Disgruntled employees are filing wage and hour lawsuits, discrimination claims (age, gender, and increasingly, sexuality), and alleging retaliation against any employer who tries to terminate their employment.

So, what does my unscientific, purely observational survey of recent employment lawsuits tell me?

First, high unemployment means that employees are less likely to turn away from a job they don't like. If they can't find another job, they are more likely to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner, or hire an employment law attorney. The alternative - work someplace else - is no longer an alternative.

Second, lower incomes and problems with mortgages, credit card debt and loans mean that employees are more likely to look for "compensation" for workplace ills like discrimination or unpaid overtime. If you are in business, you are a target.

Third, if you have terminated an employee, they are going to have problems finding alternative employment. The answer to some is to file a lawsuit for unfair dismissal, retaliation, discrimination, unpaid overtime or failure to give meal breaks.

Depressing reading? Only if you don't have an employment risk management plan in place! The best time to defend against an employment lawsuit is before you get sued. Make sure you have clear workplace policies and procedures, consider an employee handbook, and keep good records. Before terminating an employee, think about consulting an employment law attorney to run through the potential risks to your business. More to come on the process of terminating employees, but for now, the message is simple - with employment lawsuits on the increase, prevention is better than cure when it comes to protecting your company.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Getting paid: lunchtime seminar for architects & design professionals

One of my partners, and a founding member of Hardin & Coffin LLP, is Mark Coffin, who serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Santa Barbara's chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and dedicates a significant part of his practice to representing architects and design professionals. (Mark also practices construction law, and is known locally for his role in an eleventh-month endurance race of a trial, El Escorial Owners Association v. Santa Barbara Villas.).

On February 15, 2012, Mark Coffin is presenting a lunch program at the Santa Barbara AIA, "Lien and Learn" with an overview of lien procedures that architects can use to encourage full and prompt payment for their services. To learn more about the program, visit the AIA website at or visit their events page.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What to Look For in an Employment Lawyer

Ever get the feeling an employee is gearing up to sue you or file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner, or worse still, ever find out that they already HAVE filed a complaint? If you don't have an attorney already, finding one when you are under the additional pressure of facing an employment lawsuit or labor claim can be overwhelming.

Hiring an Employment Attorney

- What type of employment matters does the lawyer handle? If you are already facing an employment claim, look for an attorney with trial experience. If you want advice on preventing future claims, look for someone with experience in advising businesses like yours, so that your attorney brings an understanding of the issues you face as an employer to the table.

- What is the attorney's skill level? Are you confident that the employment lawyer you are considering will be able to argue your case with opposing counsel, interact with employees in sensitive situations, or negotiate the best deal for you as an employer?

- How much does the attorney know about employment law? The law changes fast, and it is important that the person you choose to represent you is up to date on new legislation and regulations. State and federal labor laws can be complicated. Ask the lawyer if they are aware of any changes in the law as it impacts your case.

- What is the attorney's fee structure? Look for an attorney who offers value billing, and a commitment to working with you as an employer to keep your legal fees and expenses trim.

If the employment attorney you choose offers a free consultation, come prepared with questions about your case and how they will handle it. Look for a lawyer who will keep you up to date on the progress of your case and make themselves available for any questions you have. This may seem logical, but did you know that failure to return phone calls is one of the biggest complaints clients have about their lawyers?

Finally, it is important that you feel comfortable discussing your business and your employees with your employment attorney. A good lawyer should not be intimidating, speak about your case using legal terms that you don't understand, or forget that being sued or having a claim filed against you is a stressful and unique experience for even the most experienced employers.

What do you think? Are there other things you want to see in an employment lawyer? As always, I look forward to your calls and emails.