Employment Law Attorney Helps Organizations From Schools to Tribes

Spotlight on Wendy Tucker

Wendy Tucker, Employment Attorney.

Wendy Tucker is a San Diego attorney who assists employers in complying with all aspects of state and federal employment law while, at the same time, reducing the risk of potential lawsuits. She does this as senior counsel at the San Diego office of Procopio.

Wendy represents charter schools, public agencies, private companies, Native American Tribes and health care entities. Her practice encompasses counseling and all phases of litigation before state and federal courts, including discovery, mediation, arbitration, trial, writs and appeals.

Here’s a look at Wendy and the work she does in the employment law field, and why she’s passionate about her work.

1. Why did you decide to go to law school (and where did you go), and become a lawyer?

I decided to go to the University of San Diego School of Law for several reasons. First, I am a born problem-solver and I love to help people. People have always come to me for advice. Plus, I am a very logical person and have always gravitated toward writing and analysis so this seemed to be a perfect fit.   

2. Why did you choose your practice area? What about it excites you?

I love employment law! The issues we get are very interesting and very challenging and it is critical to have a good understanding of human nature. Because my job is not to just give legal advice, but to help the client solve the problem, it is important to me to get to know my clients and their businesses so I can help them achieve their goals.

Employment laws in California place a heavy burden on employers and I really like being able to ease some of that burden. I did exclusively litigation for the first 13 years of my practice and I kept asking why someone didn’t help these employers before they got to litigation. 

Finally, the light bulb went on and now that’s what I focus my practice on – helping employers resolve problems before they get sued.

 With a counseling practice, I never know what issues each day will bring. Even though the legal issues may be similar, there is always something unique in each case and I get to help some really wonderful people.

3. In your work, you represent employers. What are some of the most common legal issues you see employers face on a regular basis?

The most common issue is how to handle employees with medical conditions. Often, nowadays, employees who know their employers are unhappy with their work performance will go out on a medical leave or claim some type of medical condition (often “stress”) as a way to try to prevent the employer from disciplining or terminating them. 

There are strict legal requirements an employer must comply with for employees who claim medical issues even if you are confident that it is an excuse. Failure to comply with the required steps can mean legal liability for the employer even if there is no valid medical condition. This is a very difficult issue for employers and can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more to resolve.

The second most common issue arises out of wage and hour questions. California has onerous rules in place governing how employers must pay their employees.

 These rules, which apply to all California employers regardless of size, include who can be a salaried employee, how overtime is calculated, how many times and on what days of the month employees should be paid, what should be on the pay stub and much more. Failure to comply with these rules can mean fines and penalties for the employer, which can add up quickly.

4. A follow up to question #3: How can those issues be addressed (either by employers or employees) before they become legal problems?

As I mentioned above, although I still do some litigation, this is where my practice focuses these days. I work with businesses to make sure they have a California-compliant employee handbook and compliant payroll practices. When problems or questions arise in connection with employees, my clients call me for advice on how to handle.

This includes hiring, firing, discipline, medical leaves, disability accommodations and wage and hour questions. 

Although many people think seeking legal advice would be too expensive, it is much more cost-efficient (and provides a reduced level of stress) to consult with an attorney for 20 to 30 minutes than it is to face potential damages or fines and penalties.

5. You work with a range of different employers, from charter schools to Native American Tribes. What are some of the unique issues those groups face that others do not?

My work with charter schools and Native American Tribes are unique for several reasons. First, both charter schools and tribal businesses often have much deeper relationships with and among their employees, who are often more like a family than co-workers. This can add another layer of complexity when dealing with employment issues. I have to be sensitive to these relationships and feelings when creating a workable solution.  The other unique characteristic these types of clients share is that it is often not clear which state or federal laws apply to them. That can make it very challenging, but also gives room to be creative. 

I love working with these clients as they are so invested in the purposes of their organizations: charter schools are devoted to the betterment of children while tribal businesses are devoted to the betterment of the tribe or conditions for their people. It’s great to be able to help them with these goals, even if only in some small way. 

6. What else do you want to add about you, your practice, or advice for young attorneys?

Any attorney who wants to counsel employers on employment-related issues should first focus on gaining litigation and trial experience. Since one of the main goals of counseling is to help the client avoid litigation, it is critical that an advising attorney know how events and evidence can be used in the litigation process and how the same evidence might be perceived by a jury.