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January 31, 2001, Wednesday, Final Edition
The San Francisco Chronicle
By Kathleen Pender

I thought my Jan. 19 column on the rights of laid-off dot-com workers covered every base, but I apparently missed one. Harvey Sohnen, a lawyer in Walnut Creek who represents employees, wrote in with this advice:

“Many of the Internet startups show little regard for wage and hour law requirements for overtime, spawning the term ‘Net-slaves’ to refer to a generation of people who work long hours in the hopes of getting stock options.  Most of these people are not exempt from overtime requirements under California labor laws, although in many cases they are misinformed and believe that they are exempt. California laws are stricter in this area than federal wage and hour laws, particularly as regards high-tech workers.

Near the top of my checklist for Web page designers and other high-tech workers losing jobs in the dot-com debacle is to assess violations of overtime laws. Although this group of people may waive some of their rights that have an impact on employment cases, such as by signing ‘at will’ clauses, rights to overtime pay are non-waivable. In some cases, the overtime claim is the one viable claim to be made.

Your article makes the statement, ‘Most private attorneys won’t take cases unless the potential damages are close to $100,000.’ Although this might express the view of a minority of attorneys, I don’t think the statement is true as a generality. “With regard to overtime claims in particular, I seldom see an individual claim rising to this level. These cases are attractive anyway, because California law allows the employee an additional recovery of attorney fees if he prevails.”