A Relationship between California OSHA and Wells Fargo


Pomona, CA: As occupational health and safety regulations continue to be strengthened, California OSHA complaints have evolved from the sensational debacle surrounding allegations that banking giant Wells Fargo established accounts in the names of various Wells Fargo clients allegedly without their permission, in a bid to increase fees. Various fines have been levied against the bank, investigations have been launched and thousands of Wells Fargo employees have lost their jobs in the wake of the alleged wrongdoing.

One of those former employees is Claudia Ponce de Leon. Years before the current troubles surrounding Wells Fargo became public, the California-based former employee filed a California OSHA complaint against the bank in December, 2011. In her complaint, Ponce de Leon noted that she had been promoted to a general manager at her branch in Pomona the preceding June, only to discover that employees were engaged in “excessive gaming.” The assumption, is that this reference to gaming had little to do with the playing of video games on company time, but instead involved behavior that reflected questionable practices in an attempt to meet overly-ambitious quotas issued by the bank.

Ponce de Leon, who was terminated from her job soon after raising concerns about the practice, alleged in her California OSHA complaint that it was “virtually impossible” for employees to meet such aggressive quotas without cheating, and that her attempt at reporting what she had found to her superiors resulted in a termination “without cause.”

She reported to Reuters (09/19/16) that only recently has she heard from California OSHA with regard to her firing partly, it is assumed, due to the recent escalation of the Wells Fargo debacle in the media.

However, the increased interest in her case five years out is also presumed to be, in part, due to an overhaul in enforcement guidelines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The federal agency – which also has jurisdiction at the state level in concert with state governance – is sharpening its teeth in an effort to become more effective and relevant at both the federal and state level, including California.

In related news, the recent strengthening of equal pay laws in the state of California – in an effort to make it more difficult to discriminate against workers based on gender – will soon be augmented by a pending change to the salary threshold for exempt employees that will increase costs for employers beginning December 1. The increase will reflect a renewed threshold for white-collar workers of $47,476 per year, or $913 when translated to a weekly salary.

This means that anyone earning less than that amount will be eligible for overtime pay. It should be noted that 10 percent of the threshold can be legally compensated through the issuance of incentive pay, commissions or nondiscretionary bonuses paid quarterly. However, the remaining 90 percent would have to qualify under federal and state overtime pay rules.

Any California employer attempting to skirt around these rules after December 1st will run the risk of an overtime pay lawsuit, or a California OSHA lawsuit provided an employee determines a breach in compensation is based on discrimination.

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