Benjamin J. Herold
Benjamin J. Herold
Associate, Los Angeles, CA
Formerly: Surf Instructor, Retail Wine Sales, Busser
  • B.A., Philosophy, Hunter College, New York, NY;
  • J.D., Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York, NY.

I’m the younger of two brothers. That on its own is nothing exceptional, but it’s definitely why I pursued a career in the law. I grew up advocating. My career in advocacy began with an impassioned battle for the basic right to stay up as late as my brother. As I grew older, I advanced to advocating for the exoneration of the wrongfully imprisoned, fighting for people at the lowest points of their lives, and trying the unwinnable cases.

After eleven years in New York City, I returned to my home town of Los Angeles. In looking for a new firm, I was struck by Stokes Wagner’s passion for humanity I felt across all attorneys and staff here. I am proud to work with all the attorneys and staff here, representing employers in an industry dedicated to caring for all members of the human race.

Whether you need someone to talk through your frustrations, find the answer to a perplexing question, zealously advocate for your rights, or give you the name of the best slice spot in any one of NYC’s outer boroughs – I’m here to help.

Last month, the New York City Commission on Human Rights released new guidelines (available here) that explicitly protect “the rights of New Yorkers to maintain natural hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities.” Penalties for employers include fines up to $250,000 per infraction with unlimited civil damages.

The Commission is not creating a new protected trait in protecting an individual’s right to wear their hair a certain way. Rather, the commission is acknowledging that current standards of formal and professional appearance, formed over the preceding centuries, favor a typically Anglo-American standard of appearance: shaved faces, and close-cut, combed-straight hairstyles. As a result of this inherently biased preference, employees of color have long suffered significant physical and psychological harm resulting from the forced choice between their continued employment and their cultural identity. As noted by the Commission on Human Rights, members of the Black community, for instance, are far more likely to suffer from severe skin, hair, and scalp damage due to repeated exposure to manipulation and chemical treatment of their hair in efforts to conform to traditionally White standards of appearance.

While these guidelines only apply to employers within the five boroughs of New York City, the new guidelines should be taken to heart by employers nationwide. Employers must be watchful to ensure that such a policy is not being applied in a manner which targets grooming practices, hair textures, or styles associated with a particular racial group, as such disparate treatment could lead to legal liability.

Stokes Wagner encourages all employers and human beings alike to be aware of the blind spots of inherent bias in their actions, employment practices, and policies. As such, while taking the time to re-evaluate company grooming policies as a result of this article, think about the other policies and practices in place and consider each’s potential for disparate impact on employees in protected classes. Taking the time to understand these inherent biases is not only important to avoid liability for discrimination; it makes us all better global and corporate citizens.

For a printable PDF of this article, click here.

Senate Bill 970, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 27, 2018, will require employers in the hotel and/or motel industry to educate their employees on human trafficking awareness.

The state of California has seen extremely high rates of human trafficking complaints since 2017. The data on can be found on the National Human Trafficking Hotline (“NHTH”) website. In fact, California has the highest recorded number of human trafficking cases by state. The second-most, Texas, comes in at nearly half the California number.

Notably, according to the NHTH, of all human trafficking complaints received, hotels and motels are the third most common venue from which complaints arise, following only illicit massage fronts and residentially-based operations. The NHTH believes that hotels and motels are commonly utilized channels for sex-trafficking due to the ease with which they are accessed and based upon a trafficker’s ability to maintain financial secrecy though cash payments.

With this context in mind, California will now require all employers in the hotel/motel industry to provide at least twenty (20) minutes of training and education in human trafficking awareness to employees who are likely to interact and/or come into contact with potential victims. This training should include but not be limited to: (1) the definition of human trafficking; (2) identification of at-risk individuals; (3) sex trafficking within the hotel industry; and, (4) the role of hospitality employees in reporting and responding to suspected human trafficking.

SB 970 goes into effect January 1, 2019. Relevant employees hired after January 1, 2019 must be given this training within six (6) months of their employment. All covered employees, regardless of hire date, must receive this training by January 1, 2020. Additional trainings will also be required once every two (2) years subsequent to January 1, 2020.

The full text of the Bill can be found here. For a printable PDF version of this article, click here.

On September 30, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed a number of bills that will have a major impact on businesses operating in California. All of the following will take effect January 1, 2019, with the exception of Senate Bills 1123 and 1343 (described in further detail below)


Lowering the Bar for Plaintiffs to Bring Harassment Claims (SB 1130): The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) establishes employer liability for harassment in three general situations: 1) where the employer itself is alleged to have perpetrated acts of harassment against an employee; 2) where the employer is aware of acts of harassment by one employee against another and fails to take corrective action; and, 3) where the employer is aware of sexual harassment perpetuated by a non-employee against an employee and fails to take corrective action. This bill would expand employer liability with regard to acts by non-employees to cover any act of harassment (rather than only acts of sexual harassment) the employer is made aware of and fails to address with the appropriate corrective action

The bill will also prohibit employers from making raises, bonuses or promotions contingent upon the execution of a release of a claim of right or a non-disparagement agreement. Any such provisions entered into subsequent to the effective date of this Bill will be void as contrary to public policy.

Finally, the bill eliminates a prevailing Defendant’s entitlement to attorney’s fees and court costs absent a showing that the action was frivolous and significantly raises the bar on motions for summary judgment regarding claims of hostile work environment.

Mandatory Sexual Harassment Training Coming Soon to Many More Employers (SB 1343) – effective January 1, 2020: The FEHA has previously mandated employers with fifty or more employees to provide at least two hours of training regarding sexual harassment, gender harassment and abusive conduct to all supervisory employees within six months of their assumption of the position and again once every two years.

This bill will expand these requirements to any employer with five or more employees. As a cost-saving measure for small businesses, the bill will also mandate that the Department of Fair Employment and Housing provide a web-based training course to assist employers in satisfying this requirement.

New Rule Expanding Privileges Against Defamation Claims (Assembly Bill 2770): It is long settled that an employee or employer who makes a good-faith claim related to a colleague’s job performance or qualifications (whether true or false) shall be shielded from any subsequent defamation claim.

This new bill explicitly expands the existing privilege to the arena of sexual harassment claims. The new bill will shield employees from defamation liability for good-faith complaints made to their employer related to sexual harassment in the workplace. The bill will also allow former employers to answer whether or not they would re-hire a former employee and, importantly, whether the decision to not rehire is based on a determination that the former employee engaged in sexual harassment.

Expanding the Prohibition on “Secret Settlements” (SB 820): California law prohibits confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements regarding certain enumerated sex offenses. Expanding on the existing law, this new bill will explicitly prohibit a court from entering any civil settlement agreement containing a confidentiality clause intended to prevent the disclosure of factual information regarding claims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or sex discrimination.


Amending the Rule for Accommodating Lactation (Assembly Bill 1976): Until now, employers were required to provide “the use of a room or other location, other than a toilet stall,” within which an employee could express milk in private. The new bill requires employers to not only provide a dedicated space, but to ensure that such a space is, “private and free from intrusion,” and is, “only used for lactation purposes while an employee expresses milk.” Notably, the bill expressly disqualifies bathrooms as locations to accommodate lactation.

Expanded Coverage for Paid Family Leave (SB 1123) – effective January 1, 2021: This bill will expand the scope of paid family leave to cover employees who take time off to participate in a “qualifying exigency” related to covered military active duty. “Qualifying exigencies” will be defined to include: official ceremonies; financial, legal and child care arrangements; and accompaniment of a spouse, domestic partner, child or parent on their period of rest and recuperation.


Clarification of a Rule for Requesting Salary History Information (Assemble Bill 2282): The purpose of this bill is to clarify some confusion resulting from a recent ban on inquiring into the salary history of prospective employees. The amended section of the Labor Code will now specify that employers are entitled to inquire into a prospective employee’s salary expectations. The bill also clarifies that a prospective employee is entitled to review the employer’s pay scale (salary or hourly wage range) upon request following the completion of an initial interview.

For a printable PDF version of this article, click here.

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has announced, effective January 2019, it will begin enforcing penalties against employers who file Form W-2s with inaccurate employee information.

These penalties are not excessive in the micro context ($270 per form), but they can add up quickly and are only capped at an annual maximum penalty of $3,282,500.

What should you do? Keep an eye on your incoming mail from the SSA. Effective as of August 2018, the SSA is mailing letters to employers concerning each employee who has already been found to have an inaccurate Form W-2. If you receive one of these letters, be sure to re-submit an accurate Form as soon as possible before the end of the 2018.

You should not assume, however, that if you do not receive a letter from SSA that you are in the clear. In order to ensure full compliance, we recommend all employer’s take steps to ensure that employee information is accurate prior to the end of 2018. The SSA provides a number of free tools and suggestions to assist employers in getting their W-2s updated. With these tools, checking and updating your W-2s should be a quick and easy process that could save you from potentially serious penalties in the future.

A sample of the letter the SSA will be sending to employers in 2018 can be found here.

The SSA’s recommended guidelines for checking Forms W-2 for accuracy can be found here.

For a PDF version of this update, click here.

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) recently updated its Notice to Employees poster (DE 1857A) and its pamphlet, For Your Benefit: California’s Program for the Unemployed (DE 2320).

Employers are not required to post the new version of the poster or provide the updated version of the pamphlet until January 1, 2019, but Stokes Wagner encourages all California employers reading this article to be proactive and bring their literature into compliance as soon as possible. Both of these changes are quick and easy compliance updates that could save you a costly headache.

The updated poster can be found online, here in English and here in Spanish. The poster provides workers with information regarding unemployment insurance, state disability insurance and paid family leave. Remember to place all posters in conspicuous locations where your employees will be likely to read them.

The updated pamphlet can be found online, here. This pamphlet provides information on California’s unemployment benefits and is to be provided to every employee upon termination, or where an employee is laid off or takes a leave of absence.

For a printable PDF of this article,click here.

If you are considering settling your employee’s workers’ compensation claim and hoping to avoid further litigation, be aware of the Adrian Camacho v. Target Corporation decision by California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal.

Plaintiff Adrian Camacho, a Target employee, filed a workers’ compensation claim due to injuries he suffered as a result of workplace harassment. Target settled the claim with a standard Compromise and Release (“CR”). This form contains a clause which makes clear that execution will have, “no effect on claims that are not within the scope of the workers’ compensation (…) unless otherwise expressly stated.” (emphasis added) This final clause became the central issue of Camacho.

As a condition of settlement, Target included the following Addendum to this standard form CR which they believed would discharge them of all future liability:

“E. SETTLEMENT ACCURALS (sic)(:) The amount in paragraph #7, page 6, includes consideration for the settlement by this Compromise and Release of any claimed, accrued medical temporary disability, vocational rehabilitation, temporary disability, mileage, penalties and interest, reinstatement, lost wages, attorney fees, costs, or any other claims for reimbursement, benefits, damages, or relief of whatever nature, include [sic]{:target=”blank”} Labor Code §132(a) (Discrimination for filing a work injury) or Labor Code 11 §4553 (for serious and willful misconduct by the employer) claims filed, threatened, or contemplated, through the date of the Order Approving Compromise and Release.”

Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff filed a civil complaint against Target for multiple causes of action related to the same harassment allegations. The court summarily dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, agreeing with Target that the Addendum was sufficient to release the employer from civil liability.

However, the Fourth District Court of Appeal for California found this decision to be in error. The Court reasoned that the context of the general release clause in the Addendum was problematic, buried under multiple lines of technical language. The Court held the release to be insufficiently clear to put a claimant on notice that they were executing a general release of all liability and that the plaintiff could continue on his civil claim.

What does this mean for you?

The Court’s reasoning was based heavily on the nature of workers’ compensation proceedings. Claimants are not required to appear with an attorney, and regularly do not. The threat of imbalance in party representation make it imperative to keep safeguards in place to avoid employees improvidently waiving their rights or releasing their employer from liability without careful consideration. Thus, a court will require any release to be in “clear and non-technical language.”

Err on the side of caution in negotiating a settlement of a workers’ compensation claim. Clearly offset a general release in its own section on both the standard CR and in a separate addendum. Make clear the intent to specifically release the employer from all future claims and causes of action, explicitly including any unknown or unanticipated claims pursuant to Civil Code § 1542.

Less is not always more. In settlements like these, you can never be too careful.

For a printable PDF version of this article, click here.