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FAQs on PPP Fraud

Many businesses have benefited from PPP loans during closures due to COVID-19. PPP funds, however, are supposed to benefit employees by providing financial assistance to businesses to maintain payroll, employee benefits and other business expenses. If you are aware of any PPP fraud by your employer, you have an obligation to report the fraud. Moreover, you are protected from any retaliation for reporting any violations.

Q: What is PPP fraud?

A: PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) fraud includes any misuse of funds from the Small Business Administration (SBA) in response to COVID-19. In an effort to provide financial assistance to businesses during the pandemic. Any business that received PPP money, must use the money for specific business expenses such as payroll, employee benefits, rent, interest on mortgages, and utilities. The intent of the PPP was to ensure that businesses could continue to pay employees and cover necessary businesses expenses during mandatory closures.

Unfortunately, there is a growing concern that businesses have been violating the requirements of PPP. This fraudulent behavior has resulted in the money not being used to pay employees as intended. Examples of PPP fraud include falsifying information on PPP applications, providing inaccurate data regarding employees, and misdirecting PPP funds away from payroll.

Q: What happens if I learn my company committed PPP fraud?

A; If you learn that your company has committed PPP fraud, you must report the fraud. However, there are steps you can take to protect your rights. First, you should review any paperwork you signed as a condition of employment. This will include any employment contract, documents signed during orientation and training, as well as any employee handbooks. These documents often include a company policy that employees will act honestly and report fraud. In other words, you could be violating a company policy by not reporting the fraud. Second, you should consult with an experienced labor law attorney who can not only advise you of the legal issues, but more importantly, will protect your rights.

A: Can my company fire me for reporting PPP fraud?

A: No. If you report PPP fraud, you are protected by federal and state laws as a whistleblower. Any punitive action taken by an employer against an employee for reporting PPP fraud (or any violation of a law or regulation) is specifically protected under laws against whistleblower retaliation. In addition to federal protection, California has very strong labor laws that protect whistleblowers. Specifically, California Labor Code section 1102,5 (in part) states:

An employer, or any person acting on behalf of the employer, shall not retaliate against an employee for disclosing information, or because the employer believes that the employee disclosed or may disclose information.

The broad protection under California law not only protects whistleblowers from retaliation, but also protects an employee who are believed to be a whistleblower by the company. Other forms of retaliation that are prohibited by law include threats, demotions, reduced hours or pay, blacklisting or denying a promotion that is merited.

Q: Can I sue my company if they retaliate against me for reporting PPP fraud?

A: Yes. If you report PPP fraud by your company, and are the victim of retaliation because of the report, you have a right to sue under federal and state law. Moreover, the company can also face significant civil penalties. An experienced labor law attorney can review your case and help you decide what course of action is best. More importantly, consulting with an attorney will protect your rights as an employee and possible whistleblower.

FREE CONSULTATION

Srourian Law Firm, with locations in Los Angeles, Westwood, Woodland Hills, and Orange County is experienced in all aspects of employment law including PPP fraud and whistleblower retaliation, and have aggressively represented employees in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Tustin, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Brea, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, Westminster, Laguna Hills, Cypress, and La Habra.

If you or someone you know suffered employment violations due to PPP fraud or whistleblower retaliation, you may have certain employee rights under state and federal law, and may be entitled to compensation as a part of the class action lawsuit. Please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers for a free consultation.


A recent decision by a federal appeals court is good news for delivery drivers seeking compensation for unpaid wages and unreimbursed expenses. In an important decision dated July 17, 2020, the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that Amazon delivery drivers are considered “transportation workers engaged in interstate commerce” even if they never physically cross state lines to complete deliveries.

The decision is important because this means that Amazon delivery drivers may proceed with a class action lawsuit without having to go through private arbitration. Defendant Amazon argued that plaintiffs may only resolve disputes through arbitration, and are prohibited from filing a law suit according to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The appeals court, however, disagreed with Amazon’s argument that the FAA required arbitration in this case because the FAA does not require arbitration for “entire categories of workers in the transportation industry just because those workers might not have physically crossed state lines.”

Amazon unsuccessfully argued that “last-mile delivery workers” who do not always cross state lines when traveling the final legs of the delivery did not “engage in interstate commerce” and therefore must settle claims in arbitration, not court. The court’s decision, however, firmly includes these last-mile delivery drivers as engaging in work “within the flow of interstate commerce.” The key to the decision was whether or not the delivery drivers “engaged in” interstate commerce if they did not actually travel across state lines to deliver goods. According to the appeals court, the drivers were entitled to sue employers for claims of labor law violations and it was not important that they did not actually physically cross a state line in order to make the delivery. This reasoning is based on a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held employees were engaged in interstate commerce even when employees did not actually cross a state line as long as the intrastate portion of their work was part of an overall “interstate journey.” In other words, the court did not want to penalize the drivers for being assigned delivery routes by Amazon that did not require them to cross state lines, but nonetheless was part of interstate delivery of goods.

The recent appeals court decision will allow delivery drivers to proceed in court with claims that Amazon misclassified employees in violation of their rights.

The class action suit against Amazon was originally filed in 2017 by drivers in Massachusetts who claimed Seattle-based Amazon misclassified delivery drivers as independent contractors. This misclassification allowed Amazon to refuse to provide drivers with vehicles or reimburse for expenses incurred by drivers such as insurance, gas, and mileage. Amazon argued that arbitration was the appropriate and only forum available to plaintiffs because of the FAA. Employers favor arbitration because arbitration usually favors employers, awards are binding and not subject to appeal, and arbitration is generally much less expensive than a trial. Moreover, if an employer loses at trial, often the award includes plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.

Additionally, Amazon unsuccessfully argued that Washington state law prohibited the class action lawsuit because the employees were bound by a class action waiver that was part of their employment contract. A class action waiver prohibits employees from filing a class action against employers, but the appeals court refused to apply Washington state law. Instead, the court relied on Massachusetts state law, which is considerably more favorable to employees. Under Massachusetts state law, the appeals court held that the class action waiver was “contrary to the commonwealth’s fundamental public policy” and invalid because it was not possible to enforce the arbitration provision independently from the rest of the relevant section of the contract dealing with dispute resolution.

This decision has significant impact on the pending litigation, as well as other class action lawsuits across the country where employees are misclassified by employers in order to violate labor laws and avoid paying certain wages or reimburse expenses, and will greatly assist employees who have had their rights violated by employers.

FREE CONSULTATION

Srourian Law Firm, with locations in Los Angeles, Westwood, Woodland Hills, and Orange County is experienced in all aspects of employment law including unpaid wages and unreimbursed expenses and have aggressively represented employees in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Tustin, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Brea, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, Westminster, Laguna Hills, Cypress, and La Habra.

If you or someone you know suffered employment violations as a delivery driver or employee including unpaid wages or unreimbursed expenses, you may have certain employee rights under state and federal law, and may be entitled to compensation as a part of the class action lawsuit. Please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers for a free consultation.


FAQs on Whistleblowers

Reporting your company or supervisor for violating the law can be frightening. However, reporting workplace violations are important to ensure the rights of all employees, and in some cases protect the health and safety of employees, the public and the environment. Fortunately, federal and state laws protect employees who report violations.  

Q: What is a whistleblower?

The term “whistleblower” is used to describe an employee who reports an employer for violating the law. The violation could be an illegal act taken by the employer against the whistleblower, or a general violation with a wider impact. For example, an employee who reports an incident of sexual harassment at work would be a whistleblower. Similarly, an employee who reports an employer for violating pollution laws would also be a whistleblower.

Q: Are whistleblowers protected?

Yes. There are many federal and state laws enacted specifically to protect whistleblowers. In addition to protection from retaliation, whistleblowers can also file a lawsuit against the employer if there is retaliation for reporting the violation of the law. In other words, an employee cannot retaliate (or punish) an employee for being a whistleblower.

Federal law protection for whistleblowers require a “good-faith” belief that a violation of the law occurred. Like many legal terms, it is difficult to define “good-faith,” but courts have generally held that a good-faith belief be a combination of the whistleblower’s subjective opinion as well as an objective basis for the violation. An experienced labor law attorney can discuss the facts of your case and advise you on how to proceed with an allegation against your employer and ensure that your rights are protected under Federal law.

Whistleblowers are also protected under state law, and California labor laws provide significant protection to employees, and are considered among the strongest in the country. For example, under the California Labor Code, an employer cannot retaliate against a whistleblower if the employee “reasonably” believes a violation has occurred which is considered a lower burden than the federal law requiring a good faith belief. Moreover, the California whistleblower is protected even if the employer is cleared of any wrong-doing. 

Q: What is considered whistleblower retaliation?

A: Whistleblower retaliation includes a variety of actions such as:

• wrongful termination;

• demotion;

• failure to promote when promotion is merited;

• denying opportunity for training or professional development;

• blacklisting;

• reducing pay or hours;

• reassignment to less desirable task;

• intimidation;

• denying access to resources necessary to perform work duties; and

• making any threat including a threat to report non-citizen employee to ICE or immigration.

Under California law, an employee is protected from workplace retaliation even if the employee did not actually make a whistleblowing report. In other words, employers cannot retaliate against an employee because they believe the employee is a whistleblower.

Q: What can I do if my employer retaliates against me for being a whistleblower?

A: If you believe you are the victim of unlawful labor practices, or that your employer is violating the law or regulations, you have the right to file a complaint without fear of retaliation. For example, if you are the victim of sexual harassment, you have the legal right to file a formal complaint against your employer through the regular channels proscribed in the employee handbook or your employment contract. Similarly, if the wrongful action by your employer is a workplace safety violation or an environmental violation, you have the right to file a complaint to an appropriate governmental agency such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and not fear retaliation.

After reporting the violation, an investigation should be conducted, and your rights as a whistleblower protect you from workplace retaliation. However, if your employer does retaliate, you can file a lawsuit against your employer for whistleblower retaliation. If you prevail, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages and benefits, physical pain, mental suffering, loss of career opportunities, punitive damages, legal costs and attorney’s fees.

There are strict deadlines on retaliation claims, so be sure to act promptly after the retaliation and speak to an experienced labor law attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

FREE CONSULTATION

Srourian Law Firm, with locations in Los Angeles, Westwood, Woodland Hills, and Orange County is experienced in all aspects of employment law including whistleblower retaliation, and have aggressively represented employees in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Tustin, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Brea, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, Westminster, Laguna Hills, Cypress, and La Habra.

If you or someone you know suffered employment violations due to whistleblower retliation, you may have certain employee rights under state and federal law, and may be entitled to compensation as a part of the class action lawsuit. Please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers for a free consultation.


FAQs on Arbitration

Often a job offer will include an employment contract that you are expected to sign. Understandably, as a prospective employee, you are anxious to be hired, so you may not give much thought to signing the contract. However, every employment contract will be unique, and you must be sure that the terms in the contract reflect the negotiations that lead to the job offer. More importantly, you need to make sure the contract is fair and your rights are protected by consulting with an experienced labor law attorney.

Q: What is arbitration?

A: Arbitration is a type of alternative dispute resolution that handles disputes without going to court. The dispute is decided by one or more neutral arbitrators after the parties present evidence and make arguments in an arbitration hearing. Some hearings also permit questioning witnesses. The rules of arbitration are less formal than a trial, but there are federal and state rules of arbitration that must be followed. Arbitration can be either binding or non-binding. In binding arbitration, the arbitrator’s decision may include an award for damages which is enforceable by law. In non-binding arbitration, the decision is merely “advisory” in nature, and the parties can either accept the decision, or pursue binding arbitration or a trial.

Q: What is an arbitration clause?

A: An arbitration clause is often included in agreements including employment contracts. The primary purpose of an arbitration clause is to require any dispute between the parties pursuant to the contract be settled by arbitration. In other words, if an employee alleges the employer has violated terms of the employment contract, the employee must resolve the dispute through arbitration instead of going to court. The arbitration clause, however, may designate arbitration as either “mandatory” or “voluntary.” Mandatory arbitration requires arbitration, while voluntary arbitration means the parties may chose arbitration by mutual agreement. Most employment contracts include a mandatory arbitration clause because employers generally prefer arbitration. Arbitration clauses can be complicated, and include many terms regarding venue, costs, procedures, scope of disputes, and selection of arbitrators. You should consult with an experienced labor law attorney before signing any arbitration clause to ensure your rights are protected. More importantly, your attorney can identify any unfair terms of the arbitration clause, and employment contract in general, and request modification.

Q:  Should I sign an employment contract with an arbitration clause?

A: Whether you agree to an arbitration clause or not will depend on many factors, and you should consult with an experienced labor law attorney before signing any employment contract. You should realize that arbitration clauses, and employment contracts in general, are often written to favor the employer. With that said, your attorney can review the terms of the contract and advocate for your rights. Just as not all employment contracts are the same, arbitration clauses will differ as well. If you are asked to sign an employment contract, be sure to consult with an experienced labor law attorney, despite your eagerness to accept employment. You must protect your rights as an employee and take every step possible to ensure the terms of your employment are fair before signing an employment contract.

Q: Why do employers include arbitration clauses in employment contracts?

A: There are several reasons why employers prefer arbitration rather than a trial. First, arbitration is usually less expensive than a trial. Second, arbitration is considered a private resolution of a dispute between parties, and therefore would not be as public as a trial. Also, an unfavorable ruling against an employer would not be setting precedence for other employees, unlike case law. Third, many arbitration clauses in employment contracts prohibit employees from joining a class action lawsuit. Class action lawsuits are important to challenge wide-spread labor law violations, and employers discourage class actions which could result in significant legal fees, financial liability as well as bad publicity. Finally, because there is an inherent imbalance of bargaining power at the time of hiring, many employers use this advantage by including arbitration clauses that deprives employees of their rights to their day in court. This also provides an on-going advantage to the employer who knows that the employee is restricted by the arbitration clause.

FREE CONSULTATION

Srourian Law Firm, with locations in Los Angeles, Westwood, Woodland Hills, and Orange County is experienced in all aspects of employment law including employment contracts and arbitration clauses, and have aggressively represented employees in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Tustin, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Brea, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, Westminster, Laguna Hills, Cypress, and La Habra.

If you or someone you know suffered employment violations due to an unfair employment contract or arbitration clause, you may have certain employee rights under state and federal law, and may be entitled to compensation as a part of the class action lawsuit. Please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers for a free consultation.


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