Five issues employers should become familiar with under California's Labor Code provisions regarding one day of rest every seven days of work

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has asked the California Supreme Court to clarify three questions pertaining to California’s little known, and very rarely litigated, laws regarding a day of rest every seven days. The case is Mendoza v. Nordstrom. The California Supreme Court’s clarification could result in a new-found focus on these laws, and it is worth it for California employers to follow the issues raised in this case. Below are five issues employers ought to pay attention to:

1. Is the requirement to provide one day of rest every seven days based on a rolling seven days or on the workweek?
The first issue the Appellate Court seeks clarification on is California Labor Code section 551. This section states that “[e]very person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven.” Section 552 further states that “[n]o employer of labor shall cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.” The issue is whether these Labor Code sections apply to seven consecutive days on a rolling basis or only apply to each workweek. The difference in how the days are counted can have a significant impact. The court provides the following example to illustrate its point:

 

 

Sun.

Mon.

Tues.

Wed.

Thurs.

Fri.

Sat.

Week 1

Off

Work

Work

Work

Work

Work

Work

Week 2

Work

Work

Work

Work

Work

Work

Off

If the workweek begins each Sunday, if the statute is read to apply to consecutive seven days, then the employer in this example has violated sections 551 and 552. Alternatively, if the statute applies to each workweek, then the employer has not violated these provisions. The appellate court could not find any support to both plausible interpretations of these Labor Code sections, and therefore is asking the California Supreme Court to clarify.

2. When is an employer exempt from the seven day rule?
The second issue the Appellate Court seeks clarification on pertains to California Labor Code section 556. The section exempts employers from the day-of-rest requirement “when the total hours [worked by an employee] do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.” The court provides the following example of hours worked each day: 8-9-5-8-8-8-9. Would this work schedule exempt the employer from providing a day of rest on the seventh day? The court explained that the interpretation of the word “any” in section 556 could easily mean one (as in “Pick any card from the deck.”) or it could mean all (as in “Any child knows the answer to that simple question.”).

3. What does it mean to cause employees to work seven days?
The next question the Appellate Court proposed to the California Supreme Court is for clarification of Labor Code section 552. This section provides that employers may not “cause” its employees to work more than six days in seven. The court asks the Supreme Court to clarify the term “cause.” The court states:
To “cause” can mean to “induce,” so is it enough for an employer to encourage or reward an employee who agrees to work additional consecutive days? In another context, causation is defined in terms of the “natural and probable consequence” of one’s action. Is it enough for an employer to permit employees to trade shifts voluntarily, when a natural and probable consequence may be that an employee works more than the day-of-rest statutes allow?

4. Definition of workday.
While this case did not address the issue of overtime, it is a good reminder to review the definition of workday and workweek under California law.
The DLSE defines workday as:

A workday is a consecutive 24-hour period beginning at the same time each calendar day, but it may begin at any time of day. The beginning of an employee’s workday need not coincide with the beginning of that employee’s shift, and an employer may establish different workdays for different shifts. However, once a workday is established it may be changed only if the change is intended to be permanent and the change is not designed to evade overtime obligations.


5. Definition of workweek.
The DLSE defines the workweek as:

Any seven consecutive days, starting with the same calendar day each week beginning at any hour on any day, so long as it is fixed and regularly occurring. "Workweek" is a fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours, seven consecutive 24-hour periods. An employer may establish different workweeks for different employees, but once an employee's workweek is established, it remains fixed regardless of his or her working schedule. An employee's workweek may be changed only if the change is intended to be permanent and is not designed to evade the employer's overtime obligation.

If an employer does not set a designated workweek, the DLSE will presume the employer uses the calendar week, from 12:01 a.m. Sunday to midnight Saturday, with each workday ending at midnight.

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Five documents employers should provide to employees separating from the company

There is always a lot of attention paid to what notices and forms should be given to new-hires. However, today’s Friday’s Five post I want to focus on the documents that should accompany an employee’s separation from employment:

1. Paycheck for all hours worked until separation including all accrued but unused vacation time.
Generally, the paycheck must be provided at the time of termination or within 72 hours if employee quits without providing 72 hours’ notice. Here is a more detailed article I wrote on the topic previously.

2. Notice to Employee as to Change in Relationship
California Unemployment Insurance Code 1089 requires that employers provided separated employees with written notice of the employee’s change in relationship with the employer.

3. “For Your Benefit, California’s Program for the Unemployed” pamphlet published by the EDD (Form 2320)
This form published by the EDD is required to be provided to any employee who is being laid off, terminated, or placed on a leave of absence on the last day of employment.

4. COBRA and Cal-COBRA Notices.
Employers should obtain these forms through your health insurance provider.

5. Health Insurance Premium (HIPP) Notice (DHCS 9061)
For employers with 20 or more employees, the Department of Health Care Services requires that employers provide terminated employees with the Health Insurance Premium Payment (HIPP) notice.

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Five pointers to know before attending a Labor Commissioner hearing

This Friday’s Five is a bit early this week, but I have to post today as my blog is going through some upgrades and I will not be able to post this tomorrow (Friday). I’ve previously written about what Labor Commissioner hearings are (also known as Berman Hearings here in California) and how to prepare for the hearings. This post is more generally about the strategy during Labor Commissioner hearings, and items to remember while completing the process.

1. Be courteous to everyone during the process.
Be nice to the clerk checking people in at the Labor Commissioner’s office. Be nice to the Deputy Labor Commissioner hearing the claim. And yes, be nice to the claimant. You can be nice while still aggressively defending your position, just don’t be a jerk about it. I can hear other lawyers criticizing this advice already with the idea that you do not want to make the process pleasant for the other side in order to deter this type of behavior. I disagree with this approach. First, once the claim is resolved, it is generally binding on the parties, so by making the process unpleasant on the claimant, it will not be deterring any other actions. Second, the hearing officers are human beings, if they get the sense that you (or your opponent) are the unreasonable party creating the conflict, they are probably going to find against you.

2. Do not take it personally.
Because Labor Commissioner claims can be relatively small, and parties do not need to be represented by a lawyer, many parties represent themselves during the process. However, just like negotiating someone’s salary, employers need to view the process as a business transaction, not a personal attack. If it is too hard to separate the personal issues from the process, it is best to hire a lawyer to help make the arguments for the company and to help take the personal aspect of the process out of the equation.

3. Read the DLSE’s website for the Labor Commissioner’s view of the law.
The DLSE has a great website setting out its position on some aspects of California labor law. While the DLSE’s view expressed on its website is not necessarily binding on the parties, it is a good starting point regarding what issues the company will likely be challenged on during the proceeding.

4. Make the record.
The actual Labor Commissioner hearing is tape recorded, and the parties and any potential witnesses give testimony under oath during the proceeding. Therefore, because there is a record of testimony provided under oath, if the case is appealed to superior court by either party after the hearing, this testimony will be very important in subsequent proceedings.

5. Don’t make the wrong record.
This goes back to being prepared. All parties have to be truthful as they are sworn in, but be careful in your testimony. Think through all of the facts before the hearing. If you wrongly recall facts or begin to guess at answers during the Labor Commissioner hearing, and then try to correct those facts at a subsequent proceeding, it will adversely affect your credibility. Think through your testimony before the hearing in order to be as accurate as possible.

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Five rules for drafting vacation policies the right way under California law

One policy that I find is usually not given the attention it deserves when drafting employee handbooks is the policy for vacation time. There are numerous rules about how employees earn vacation, and it is often tricky to draft a proper policy without someone experienced in this area. Many out-of-state employers assume that their policy complies with California law when setting up operations, but California is unlike most other states when it comes to vacation time. Here are some of the more problematic areas I see arise (for more detailed overview it is worth reading the DLSE’s website explaining the nuances here):

1. No use-it-or-lose-it policies permitted.
Under California law, vacation is treated the same as earned wages and vest as the employee performs work. Because vacation is earned proportionally as the employee works, any type of policy requiring employees to lose vacation that has already been earned is illegal under California law.

2. Reasonable caps are allowed.
While employers cannot implement “use-it-or-lose-it” policies, they can place a reasonable cap, or ceiling, on vacation accrual. The DLSE explains:
Unlike "use it or lose it" policies, a vacation policy that places a "cap" or "ceiling" on vacation pay accruals is permissible. Whereas a "use it or lose it" policy results in a forfeiture of accrued vacation pay, a "cap" simply places a limit on the amount of vacation that can accrue; that is, once a certain level or amount of accrued vacation is earned but not taken, no further vacation or vacation pay accrues until the balance falls below the cap. The time periods involved for taking vacation must, of course, be reasonable. If implementation of a "cap" is a subterfuge to deny employees vacation or vacation benefits, the policy will not be recognized by the Labor Commissioner.

3. Vacation is a formed of earn wages that must be paid out on the employee’s last day of work.
An employee who is discharged must be paid all of his or her wages, including accrued vacation, immediately at the time of termination. Labor Code Sections 201 and 227.3

4. No deductions permitted from employee’s final wages for use of vacation that was not accrued.
Vacation is treated as a form of wages under California law, and by permitting an employee to take vacation time before it is earned, is effectively a loan provided to the employee. It is well established under California law that employers may not utilize self-help remedies to recover debts from the employee’s final pay check.

5. “Cliff vesting” policies are problematic.
While employers may set probationary periods or waiting periods during which employees do not accrued vacation time. However, the DLSE maintains that employers may not have a policy that grants employees lump sums of vacation upon reaching certain dates. The DLSE’s view on this type of “cliff vesting” is that the employer is really attempting to provide for accrued vacation, but at the same time is impermissibly attempting to limit its liability of having to pay out a pro rata share of the accrued vacation if the employee does not work until the date in which the vacation is granted to the employee. It is safer for employers to avoid these lump sum grants of vacation, and simply set a time period (i.e., the employee’s first six months of employment) that the employee does not accrue vacation.

As you can probably tell by now, California law is vastly different than Federal law and other states. It is a trap for employers, but with some understanding of the obligations created under the law it can easily be managed.

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Five exempt employee classifications all California employers should understand

I apologize for the long post in advance, but I’ve been receiving many questions about exempt vs. non-exempt classification of employees lately. This article is the first in a series of articles to help employers tread through this technical area, hopefully in a manner that makes it at least somewhat easier for employers to understand.

California law presumes that all employees are non-exempt employees, meaning that they are not exempt from the Labor Code requirements, such as overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and minimum wage. Exempt employees are designated as such because they are “exempt” from certain wage and hour requirements due to their duties and pay. However, the employer bears the burden when classifying an employee as exempt, and simply providing a title to an employee does not make them exempt. The employee must meet very specific requirements for each applicable exemption, and if the requirements are not met the employer must comply with all wage and hour requirements – such as overtime pay, etc…. It is also important to note that some exemptions only exempt the employee from specific Labor Code provisions (for example, the inside sales exemption only exempts the employee from overtime pay requirements, but the employer is still required to provide meal and rest breaks).

There are many exemptions, and many nuances to each exemption, so employers should perform this analysis very carefully and receive advice from an experienced attorney or HR professional when classifying employees as exempt.

In my experience, here are the most common exemptions that arise in a workplace under California law and the requirements to meet each one:

1. Executive/managerial exemption
In order to meet the executive (managerial) exemption, the employee must meet all of the following requirements:

  1. Employee’s duties and responsibilities involve the management of the enterprise in which he or she is employed or of a customarily recognized department or subdivision of the enterprise;
  2. Employee customarily and regularly directs the work of two or more other employees;
  3. Employee has the authority to hire or fire other employees, or whose suggestions and recommendations as to the hiring or firing and as to the advancement and promotion or any other change of status or other employees is given particular weight;
  4. Employee customarily and regularly exercises discretion and independent judgment in performing his or her duties;
  5. Is “primarily engaged” in duties that meet the test of the exemption;
  6. Earns a monthly salary equivalent to no less than two times the state minimum wage for full-time employment.

The term "primarily engaged in" means that more than one-half of the employee's work time must be spent engaged in exempt work and differs substantially from the federal test which simply requires that the "primary duty" of the employee falls within the exempt duties. Therefore, to qualify for this exemption, the employee must spend more than 50% of their work time on exempt duties.

2. Administrative exemption
To meet the administrative exemption, an employee must meet all of the following requirements:

  1. Employee spends more than one-half of their work time performing office or non-manual work directly related to management policies or general business operations for the employer or the employer’s customers;
  2. Employee “customarily and regularly” exercises discretion and independent judgment in carrying out job duties as to matters significant to the employer’s business;
  3. Performs his or her job only under general supervision and works along specialized or technical lines requiring special training, experience, or knowledge; and
  4. Is paid a salary equivalent to no less than two times the state minimum wage.

3. Computer professional exemption
To be an exempt computer professional, the employee must meet the following requirements:

1. The employee is primarily engaged in work that is intellectual or creative and requires the exercise of discretion and independent judgment.

“Primarily” is defined as requiring more than 50% of the employee’s work time be spent on these types of duties.

2. The employee is primarily engaged in duties that consist of one or more of the following:

  • The application of systems analysis techniques and procedures, including consulting with users, to determine hardware, software, or system functional specifications.
  • The design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing, or modification of computer systems or programs, including prototypes, based on and related to, user or system design specifications.
  • The documentation, testing, creation, or modification of computer programs is related to the design of software or hardware for computer operating systems.

3. The employee is highly skilled and is proficient in the theoretical and practical application of highly specialized information to computer systems analysis, programming, and software engineering.

4. The employee’s hourly rate of pay, or annual salary if paid on salaried basis, meets a minimum threshold amount set by California’s Division of Labor Statistics and Research (DLSR). For 2015, the DLSR set the amounts at $41.27 per hour or annual salary of not less than $85,981.40 for full time employment, and paid not less than $7,165.12 per month.

4. Commissioned inside sales exemption
To qualify as an exempt commissioned inside sales employee, an employee must meet the following requirements:

  1. Employee’s earnings must exceed one and one-half times the California minimum wage; and
  2. More than half of the employee’s compensation must be commissions.

Employers must note that this exemption is only for the overtime requirement, and other wage and hour requirements such as minimum wage, meal and rest breaks, time recording requirements still must be met.

5. Outside salesperson exemption
To qualify as an exempt outside salesperson the employee must:

  1. Be at least 18 years old;
  2. Must customarily and regularly work more than 50% their work time away from the employer’s place of business; and
  3. Must be engaged in selling tangible items or obtaining orders or contracts for products, services, or use of facilities.
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Five indispensable items employers must know about California's Wage Theft Protection Act's Notice to Employee

The Wage Theft Protection act of 2011 added Labor Code section 2810.5 requiring all private California employers to provide a written notice containing specific information to non-exempt employees upon hire. Below are five indispensable items employers should understand about the Notice to Employee (“Notice”) required under the law.

1. All private employers, regardless of size, must provide the Notice to employee with some limited exceptions.
The DLSE explains that the Notice is not required for employees “directly employed by the state or any political subdivision, including any city, county, city and county, or special district; an employee who is exempt from the payment of overtime wages by statute or the wage orders of the Industrial Welfare Commission; or for an employee who is covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement if it meets specified conditions.” So for private employers, no matter how small, must provide the Notice to an employee unless the employee is an exempt employee.

2. DLSE publishes a template Notice to Employee, but it is not required.
It is recommended that employers use the DLSE’s template to avoid any potential challenges (the most current template published as of January 2015 is embedded below). If the template is not used, the employer is still required to provide all of the information required by the law on one form to the employee. It is not compliant to provide the information piecemeal to the employee on various forms. As explained in number 4 below, the DLSE’s webpage regarding the Wage Theft Protection Act has not been updated to reflect the new template published by the DLSE to address the new paid sick leave requirement in 2015. The current Notices for 2015 can be found on the DLSE’s website at its Publications webpage (or embedded below). Hopefully the DLSE will update its website to avoid any potential employer confusion in this regard.

3. Electronic delivery is acceptable under certain conditions.
Electronic delivery of the Notice is fine as long as there is a process for the employee to acknowledge receipt of the Notice and print a copy of the Notice.

4. Notices must be in the language usually used to communicate employment policies with the employee.
The DLSE has published previous templates in various languages, such as Chinese, Spanish and Korean on its Wage Theft Protection Act page. However, the DLSE has not updated many of these translations since it has published the new Notice to Employee effective January 1, 2015 to address California’s paid sick leave requirement. In fact, the DLSE’s own page on the Wage Theft Protection Act still contains the old Notice to Employee. The current templates for 2015 are only found on the DLSE’s Publications page which contains the updated 2015 Notice in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

5. If any information listed on the Notice changes, the notice does not have to be reissued as long as the information is listed on the employee’s next pay stub.
Employers must notify the employee in writing of any changes to the information set forth in the Notice within seven calendar days after the time of the changes, unless one of the following applies:

  1. All changes are reflected on a timely wage statement furnished in accordance with Labor Code section 226, or
  2. Notice of all changes is provided in another writing require by law within seven days of the changes.

LC_2810.5_Notice_(Revised-11_2014).pdf by anthonyzaller

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Five errors that make defending an employment lawsuit harder

In litigation, the following five issues make defending an employment lawsuit much more difficult.

1. No documentation.
No matter what type of employment litigation is at issue - wage and hour claims, leave issues, or harassment claims - the amount of documentation an employer has dramatically increases the odds of prevailing in litigation. I would even go as far as to say there is a relationship in place here (similar to Moore’s law in the computing industry) that the likelihood of avoiding a devastating judgment is proportionate to the amount of documentation the employer has regarding the particular employee or group of employees involved in the litigation.

What should employers document? Conversations with employees, reviews, days absent and the reason for the absence, performance issues (both good and bad – see below), etc…. With email and the ability to scan documents or take pictures of documents on a phone, there is almost no excuse not to have everything documented. The only issue preventing employers from documenting issues is not stressing the need to do document, and the press of business.

2. Inadequate time records.
Employers have the burden to record and maintain accurate time records under California law. If the employer knows employees are not properly recording their time, the employer needs to enforce a policy to have employees accurately record their time, even if it requires disciplinary action. Also, how can time records be “inadequate”?

  • The records that do not record the employee’s actual time working. For example, the employee records their start and stop time and the same time every day even though the employer knows it changes.
  • Not keeping time records long enough. The statute of limitations can reach back four year in wage and hour class actions, and these records will be the primary issues in most cases.
  • Not recording all required information. For example, employers are required to record employee’s meal periods under the IWC Wage Orders (see section 7 - Records).
  • Not keeping the time records in a manner that is usable. Maintaining records in a form that makes reviewing the records almost impossible is almost equivalent to not maintaining them in the first place. Some thought should be put into how an employer is keeping old time record information and how that data could efficiently be reviewed in the future if needed.

3. No institutional knowledge of policies and changes to policies.
Is there one person with full knowledge of the employment policies implemented by the company? Institutional knowledge about the various policies put into place by the company, when they were implemented and why they were implemented is critical knowledge. Also, this information should not reside with just one person in case that person leaves the company.

4. Not communicating goals and performance expectations to employees routinely.
This is pretty basic, but it helps to be reminded about conducting employee reviews routinely and accurately. The reviews will likely be the primary focus in a wrongful termination, discrimination or relation claim, and therefore the reviews should be accurate. It is hard to counsel employees on performance issues, but it is critical that these issues are addressed with employees in writing.

5. No written policies.
Sometimes employers operate with unwritten policies. It is important to have the policies clearly spelled out in an employee handbook or in some other manner. It is critical to have the policies in writing to prevent an employee from claiming that he or she is being arbitrarily singled out for discipline.

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Five New Year's resolutions for California employers in 2015

Happy New Year.  I started the Friday’s Five articles at the beginning of last summer, and the interest in the articles has been astounding, so I appreciate everyone who has read them and provided comments and feedback. If you have any topics you would like me to address, please let me know. With that said, here is a list of five resolutions for California employers in 2015:

1. Relax–make sure your employees are taking their meal and rest breaks.

2. Train – your supervisors to comply with California’s required sexual harassment prevention training for employers with 50 or more employees.

As of 2015 this training now must also discuss bullying in the workplace to be legally compliant.

3. Read – and update employment handbook policies on a yearly basis.

2015 has a few new laws that should be addressed the employee handbook and new hire packets.

4. Run. Sorry, no play on words with this one, you just need to get outside and run a bit.

5. Organize – and keep employment files, time records and wage information for at least the length of any applicable statute of limitations.

Employers should review their systems to ensure there is a process in place on how to organize and maintain employment information for the required time periods, it is required under the law and can help defend the company should litigation ensue.

Ok – one more bonus resolution:
Learn – more by attending my webinars on California employment laws to stay up to date.

In February, I will be presenting on what documents should be in new hire packets to employees. Date is still to be determined, but drop me an email if you are interested and I will forward you information as we set the date.

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Top five employment law class action claims for California employers in 2014

Let me start with the lawyer’s disclaimer up-front: this Friday's Five list has no scientific or statistical backing whatsoever, I generated it based on the cases I’ve been litigating in 2014. My experience may be (and probably is) skewed a bit, but nevertheless California employers should pay attention to the following areas of potential litigation.

1. Meal and rest break litigation.

Meal and rest break class action litigation is still very prevalent in California. While employers are becoming more sophisticated in ensuring compliance with their obligations, the litigation has turned to more nuanced issues, such as the employer’s failure to record meal breaks or provide a full 30 minutes for the meal break. Meal and rest break policies and procedures should always been under review by employers to ensure compliance.

2. Rounding policies.

There have been a number of cases I’ve litigated this year involving time rounding policies. It is important for employers to simply no use the default settings provided by their time keeping software, but instead ensure that the rounding complies with California law.
The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) provides the following guidance for California employers in regard to time rounding:

…the federal regulations allow rounding of hours to five minute segments. There has been practice in industry for many years to follow this practice, recording the employees’ starting time and stopping time to the nearest 5 minute s, or to the nearest one-tenth or quarter of an hour. Presumably, this arrangement averages out so that the employees are fully compensated for all the time they actually work. For enforcement purposes this practice of computing working time will be accepted by DLSE, provided that it is used in such a manner that it will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked. (See also, 29 CFR § 785.4 8(b))


3. Private Attorneys General Act claims.

In 2014, the California Supreme Court held that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable. Click here to read more about the holding, Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC. This holding provided a tool for employers to reduce their class action liability by entering into arbitration agreements with their employees. However, Plaintiffs continually challenge class action waivers on numerous grounds, and it is critical employers’ arbitration agreements are properly drafted and up-to-date. In addition, while courts will uphold class action waivers, the California Supreme Court held that employee may still bring representative actions under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). PAGA claims are limited to specific penalties under the law, and have a much shorter one year statute of limitations compared to potentially a four year statute of limitations for most class actions. Given that the California Supreme Court found that the arbitration agreements could not have employees waive their rights to bring “representative actions” under PAGA, the PAGA claims are more prevalent and being litigated harder by both plaintiffs and defendants.

Click here to read more about PAGA and what do to in response to receiving a Private Attorney Generals Act notice.

4. Required information on pay stubs/itemized wage statements.

Employers are cautioned to rely on their payroll companies for compliant itemized wage statements, as these companies often times do not understand the legal requirements. Ensuring the required information is properly listed on the itemized wage statements is an item that employers should review at least twice a year for compliance.

Labor Code Section 226(a) requires the following information to be listed on employees’ pay stubs:

1. Gross wages earned
2. Total hours worked (not required for salaried exempt employees)
3. The number of piece-rate units earned and any applicable piece rate if the employee is paid on a piece rate basis
4. All deductions (all deductions made on written orders of the employee may be aggregated and shown as one item)
5. Net wages earned
6. The inclusive dates of the period for which the employee is paid
7. The name of the employee and the last four digits of his or her social security number or an employee identification number other than a social security number
8. The name and address of the legal entity that is the employer
9. All applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period, and the corresponding number of hours worked at each hourly rate by the employee

Here is an example of an itemized wage statement published by the DLSE:

PayStub - California Example by anthonyzaller


Also, do not forget that with California’s paid sick leave law taking effect July 1, 2015, employers will have additional reporting information regarding employees’ accrued paid sick leave and usage. Employers must show how many days of sick leave an employee has available on the employee’s pay stub or a document issued the same day as a paycheck.

5. Off the clock claims.

Litigation alleging that employees were not paid for all time worked was continuing strong in 2014. This claim arises in various scenarios. The basic claim is that the employee clock out from work and was required to or voluntarily continued to work. This type of claim is usually very difficult to have certified as a class action because the employer’s liability for not paying for off the clock work is whether the employer knew or should have known that the work was being performed and that the employee was not compensated for the work. Anther common scenario given rise to an off the clock claim is when employees have to do some task before or after clocking or out for their work. While the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that security screenings of employees at the end of their shifts to ensure they were not stealing product was not compensable time, employers need to review their practices to avoid these types of situations in their workplace.

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Areas employers should review as part of their yearly audit - part two

In my last post, I wrote about what steps employers should talk to comply with the new employment laws for 2015. This post discusses more generally what employers should audit on a yearly basis. And with the year coming to a close, now is a great time to review these five items:

1. Expense reimbursement and mileage policies.
Employees must be reimbursed for all out of pocket expenses incurred while performing their jobs under Labor Code Section 2802. This includes reimbursing employees for their out of pocket expenses for driving their personal vehicles for business purposes. There are a number of different methods employers may utilize in calculating and paying expense reimbursement, as I have previously written here.

While not required, the employer can utilize the IRS mileage rates established each year to pay employees for their vehicle expenses. The IRS mileage rate for 2015 has been set at 57.5 cents per mile (up from 56 cents in 2014).

2. Deductions from wages.
Generally, employer cannot make deductions from employees’ pay for ordinary business expenses or losses. For example, employers are not allowed to deduct the following items employee’s wages:

  • Ordinary damage or wear and tear to equipment
  • The outstanding balance owned on a loan to an employee in one “balloon payment” for the remaining balance of a loan owed to the employer
  • Deductions from employee’s current pay for past payroll errors
  • For returned items from customers
  • Lost equipment
  • Shipping fees to return items to the employer

3. Reporting time pay
California law requires an employer to pay “reporting time pay” under the applicable Wage Order, which states:

Each workday an employee is required to report for work and does report, but is not put to work or is furnished less than half said employee's usual or scheduled day's work, the employee shall be paid for half the usual or scheduled day's work, but in no event for less than two (2) hours nor more than four (4) hours, at the employee's regular rate of pay, which shall not be less than the minimum wage.

This issue comes up often times when the employer requires employees to attend meetings during days the employees normally have off. It is important for employers to understand this requirement and schedule employees accordingly.

4. Handbook updates
With California’s new paid sick leave requirement, it may be a good time to review your company’s handbook policies to ensure they are compliant and add a policy for the new law. We are currently reviewing a number of our client’s handbooks. It is like going to the dentist, if you wait too long to update your handbook, it will end up costing you more than if the handbook is revised at least once a year.

5. Review employees who are paid on commissions.

A) Must have written agreements with commissioned employees.
As of January 1, 2013, when an employee is paid commissions, the employer must provide a written contract setting forth the method the commissions will be computed and paid. The written agreement must be signed by both the employer and employee. Commission wages are “compensation paid to any person for services rendered in the sale of such employer’s property or services and based proportionately upon the amount or value thereof.” Commissions do not include (1) short-term productivity bonuses, (2) temporary, variable incentive payment that increase, but do not decrease, payment under the written contract, and (3) bonus and profit-sharing plans, unless there has been an offer by the employer to pay a fixed percentage of sales or profits as compensation for work to be performed.

B) If the commissioned employee is non-exempt, ensure the proper overtime rate is being calculated.
If the employee is non-exempt and the employer is required to pay overtime for work longer than eight hours in one day or more than 40 hours in one week, ensure that the employee’s regular rate of pay is properly calculated for overtime purposes. The DLSE provides a good overview of how to calculate the appropriate regular rate of pay here.

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