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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Steps California employers should take to comply with employment law changes in 2015 - part one

The laws passed in 2014 added some new posting requirements and resulted in the need to
revise some of the notices California employers are required to provide to employees. This Friday’s Five Best Practices article sets out five items California employers should review before the start of 2015:

1. Review newly published frequently asked questions about California’s new paid sick leave law (AB 1522).
The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) published a much awaited frequently asked questions on its website explaining how it interprets the new paid sick leave law taking effect in 2015 (click here to view the FAQ's). Employers should review the questions and answers to have a full understanding their expectations under the new law. As a reminder, this law applies to every employer in California, even if the employer only has one employee.

2. Post the new paid sick leave poster.
As previous written about, the DLSE published the required poster employers must post in a conspicuous place for employees to see. This should be posted by January 1, 2015. Here is a link to download a PDF version of the poster: http://elr.io/pdfsickleaveposter

3. Start using updated Notice to Employee by at least January 1, 2015.
Also written about previously, employers must start using the new Notice to Employee on January 1, 2015. See my previous post for a discussion about how the notice has been revised. Here is a link to download a PDF version of the revised Notice to Employee: http://elr.io/noticetoemployee12-2014

4. Obtain and provide updated sexual harassment pamphlet to new hires.
The DFEH will be releasing revised pamphlets (Sexual Harassment: The facts about sexual harassment DFEH-185) employers are required to provide to new hires. Ensure you company obtains the revised pamphlets and provides the updated pamphlets to new hires.

5. Obtain and provide updated Discrimination and Harassment poster.
Like the sexual harassment pamphlet, the DFEH will be revising the poster entitled “California Law Prohibits Workplace Discrimination and Harassment” (DFEH -162). Employers are required to post this poster in the workplace. This revised noticed should be published by the DFEH within the next week or two, but as of December 5, 2014 the DFEH’s website does not contain the new poster. The poster will reflect the changes in California law that expanded protection against harassment to unpaid interns and volunteers. Click here for a list of the DFEH pamphlets and posters that are available for download. Presumably, once the revised materials are created by the DFEH they will be posted at the DFEH’s website as well.

Next week, I’ll discuss some other areas that employers should review as part of a yearly audit of their employment and wage and hour issues.

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Sick leave poster and revised Notice to Employee published by Division of Labor Standards Enforcement: All California employers must use starting January 1, 2015

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) published a new poster employers are required to post regarding California’s new sick leave law. Under the new law (Labor Code Section 247) employers are required to display a poster in a conspicuous place requiring certain information about the new rights of employees to receive paid sick leave. The new law added Labor Code Sections 245 to 249 providing California employees with up to three days of paid sick leave beginning July 1, 2015. For more information about the sick leave law and employers’ obligations, a prior post can be read here.

The DLSE also published the revised Notice to Employee which now lists information required about employee’s paid sick leave. The new law amended Labor Code Section 2810.5 to require the Notice to Employee, a form required for all California nonexempt employees, to include information about the employee’s right to paid sick leave. This new Notice to Employee adds the following language under the heading of “Paid Sick Leave”:

Unless exempt, the employee identified on this notice is entitled to minimum requirements for paid sick leave under state law which provides that an employee:

a. May accrue paid sick leave and may request and use up to 3 days or 24 hours of accrued paid sick leave per year;
b. May not be terminated or retaliated against for using or requesting the use of accrued paid sick leave; and
c. Has the right to file a complaint against an employer who retaliates or discriminates against an employee for

1. requesting or using accrued sick days;
2. attempting to exercise the right to use accrued paid sick days;
3. filing a complaint or alleging a violation of Article 1.5 section 245 et seq. of the California Labor Code;
4. cooperating in an investigation or prosecution of an alleged violation of this Article or opposing any policy or practice or act that is prohibited by Article 1.5 section 245 et seq. of the California Labor Code.

The following applies to the employee identified on this notice: (Check one box)
□ 1. Accrues paid sick leave only pursuant to the minimum requirements stated in Labor Code §245 et seq. with no other employer policy providing additional or different terms for accrual and use of paid sick leave.
□ 2. Accrues paid sick leave pursuant to the employer’s policy which satisfies or exceeds the accrual, carryover, and
use requirements of Labor Code §246.
□ 3. Employer provides no less than 24 hours (or 3 days) of paid sick leave at the beginning of each 12-month period.
□ 4. The employee is exempt from paid sick leave protection by Labor Code §245.5. (State exemption and specific subsection for exemption):____________________________

Even though the requirement for employers to provide paid sick leave does not start until July 1, 2015, the revised Notice to Employee and the poster must be used by employers starting January 1, 2015. Therefore, the old Notice to Employee published by the DLSE will be effective until the end of 2014.

View the full DLSE required poster below:

Paid Sick Days Poster Template (11 2014) by anthonyzaller

 View the full DLSE revised Notice to Employee required under Labor Code Section 2810.5 below:

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


 

 

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Five things to know about time off for holidays and holiday pay under California law

Happy Holidays! With the holidays upon us, it is a good time for employers to review their holiday schedule and these five reminders about holidays and holiday pay under California law.

1. California employers are not required to provide employees time off for holidays.

There is no requirement that California employers provide time off (except for religious accommodations – see below) for holidays. California’s DLSE’s website states the following:

Hours worked on holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays are treated like hours worked on any other day of the week. California law does not require that an employer provide its employees with paid holidays, that it close its business on any holiday, or that employees be given the day off for any particular holiday.

2. California employers are not required to pay for time off for holidays, nor are they required to pay additional wages if employees work on holidays.

Likewise, there is no requirement that employers pay employees extra pay or “holiday pay” for work performed on holidays. Employers can voluntarily agree to pay employees extra pay for work that is required during holidays, but these terms would be governed by policy set forth by the employer. Therefore, employers are urged to make sure their holiday pay policies are clearly set forth.

3. Employers have to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who cannot work on certain holidays due to religious observances.

Employers need to be aware, however, of any religious observances of their employees. Employers need to provide reasonable accommodations for employees due to their religions. The analysis of what is a reasonable accommodation will be a case by case analysis based on the company’s type of business and the accommodation requested by the employee. If the employer operates a company that requires employees to work during normally recognized holidays, such as a restaurant, then this should be communicated to employees in handbooks or other policies and set the expectation that an essential function of the job requires work during normal holidays.

4. If an employer does provide for paid holidays, the employer does not have to allow employees to accrue paid time off.

If an employee leaves employment before the holiday actually arrives, employers are not required to pay the employee for these days off.

5. If a pay day falls on certain holidays, and the employer is closed, the employer may pay the wages on the next business day.

If an employer is closed on holidays listed in the California Government Code, then the employer may pay wages on the next business days. The holidays listed in the Government Code are as follows:

  • January 1 — New Year’s Day
  • Third Monday in January — Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 12 — Lincoln’s Birthday
  • Third Monday in February — Washington’s Birthday
  • Last Monday in May — Memorial Day
  • July 4 — Independence Day
  • First Monday in September — Labor Day
  • Second Monday in October — Columbus Day
  • November 11 — Veterans Day
  • Fourth Thursday in November — Thanksgiving Day
  • Day after Thanksgiving
  • December 25 — Christmas
  • Other days appointed by the governor for a public fast, thanksgiving or holiday

The DLSE’s website provides the definition of “holiday” here.

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Understanding immigration and labor reform laws on the federal and state level: President Obama's immigration proposal and California's change to immigration related laws in 2015

President Obama's announcement of his controversial plan to provide amnesty for illegal immigrants to remain in the country who meet certain requirements raises a few employment and immigration issues for employers. Putting the politics aside, it is a good time for employers to review their obligations under the law to confirm a worker’s eligibility to work, especially given the new laws taking effect in California in 2015. Below are five areas involving federal and state immigration laws and verification requirements California employers need to be aware of going into 2015.

1. The President’s proposal does not change employers’ current obligation to verify employees’ eligibility to work in the United States.

The President’s proposal will take time to implement, and given the change of power in the Senate in the last election, there is a lot of uncertainty about the effect of the President’s proposal. Even with the political uncertainty, the President’s proposal recognizes the need to create a “provisional legal status” for illegal immigrants that may be provided citizenship. The White House’s website states the following:

Undocumented immigrants must come forward and register, submit biometric data, pass criminal background and national security checks, and pay fees and penalties before they will be eligible for a provisional legal status. Agricultural workers and those who entered the United States as children would be eligible for the same program. Individuals must wait until the existing legal immigration backlogs are cleared before getting in line to apply for lawful permanent residency (i.e. a “green card”), and ultimately United States citizenship. Consistent with current law, people with provisional legal status will not be eligible for welfare or other federal benefits, including subsidies or tax credits under the new health care law.

The details of this system still need to be set out and a process put into place. So employers need to continue to follow the current requirements to verify employment eligibility, and it is not likely that any of the requirements under Federal law will change anytime soon.

2. Expect increased enforcement by federal agencies of immigration and labor laws.

President Obama’s proposal also calls for increasing the monitoring and audit of employers to ensure they are complying with the immigration laws. The President’s proposal seeks a new “labor law enforcement fund” to “ensure that industries that employ significant numbers of immigrant workers comply with labor laws.” The White House’s website touts the fact that ICE has increased his audits of employers since January 2009, and has fined more companies than the Bush administration.

Employers need to review their policies to ensure that they comply with federal and California labor laws. In my practice, I have seen an uptick in DOL audits of employers over the last two years. It is important for California employers to understand the different employment law requirements between federal law and California law, and to ensure that they are complying with the law that applies to their particular workforce.

3. In California, employers need to recognize the new California drivers’ licenses being issued on January 1, 2015 to undocumented workers.

Illegal immigrants will be able to obtain a California driver’s license beginning January 1, 2015. AB 60 was passed in 2013 allowing people who cannot prove their eligibility to be in the United States legally the ability to obtain a driver’s license. The California DMV will begin issuing these drivers’ licenses in the beginning of next year. The licenses will be marked with the phrase “federal limits apply” on the front of the license in the same size and color of text as the other text. This statement will be located in the top right corner above the Class designation on the licenses. On the back of the license, it will have the statement that the license is “not valid for official federal purposes.”

The California drivers’ licenses issued under AB 60 are not valid documentation to prove eligibility to work in the United States. It is important for employers to train their personnel who are responsible for verifying documents when completing the Form I-9 to ensure that the documents presented by the worker are valid for I-9 purposes. In addition, it would be a good time for employers to audit their Form I-9 process and document retention policies.

4. It is illegal for employers to discriminate against workers who present licenses obtained through AB60.

A new law passed in 2014, AB 1660, makes it a violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) to discriminate against a worker who presents a driver’s license which was issued to them under AB60 and the individual does not have the legal right to work in the United States. Read this last sentence again and it is not hard to see the rock (federal I-9 obligations) and the hard place (California law) that employers find themselves between. AB 1660 amends FEHA to specify that discrimination on the basis of national origin includes, but is not limited to, discrimination on the basis of possessing a driver’s license issued under this new law. California employers need to be clear on what their obligations are under federal law and carefully navigate these obligations to ensure they do not run afoul of AB 1660 and Vehicle Code section 12801.9.

5. California employers need to treat driver’s license information as confidential employee information.

AB 1660, which amends Vehicle Code section 12801.9, provides that employees’ drivers’ license information obtained by the employer is confidential:

Driver’s license information obtained by an employer shall be treated as private and confidential, is exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1 of the Government Code), and shall not be disclosed to any unauthorized person or used for any purpose other than to establish identity and authorization to drive.

Therefore, employers need to review their record keeping procedures to ensure that any driver’s license information for their employees is keep in a secure manner and limit other employees’ access to the data.

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Five lessons for employers from new meal break decision: In re Walgreen Co. Cases

An appellate court upheld a trial court’s denial of class certification in a case brought against Walgreens. The appellate court’s decision provides a few good lessons for employers defending class action allegations.

1. Meal break cases are harder to certify as class actions after the Brinker decision.
The California Supreme Court held in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court that employers had to make meal breaks available to employees, and had no obligation to ensure that employees took the meal break. The court in Walgreens acknowledged this, and explained by the make available standard set forth in Brinker makes it hard to certify meal break claims as a class action:

One important difference between the make available standard and the ensure standard has to do with ease of proof. The ensure standard can make it easier for plaintiffs to prove employer meal break violations, while the make available standard can make it harder. Here is why. Employers generally require employees to record hours worked by clocking in and clocking out, a process that typically generates centralized and computerized time records. It is simple to use computer records to determine if each employee checked out on time for a full 30-minute meal break. Meal break classes thus are relatively easy to certify under the ensure test: each missed break automatically equals an employer violation. Meal break classes are harder to certify under a make available test because the fact of a missed break does not dictate the conclusion of a violation (and thus employer liability). Rather, under the make available standard you additionally must ask why the worker missed the break before you can determine whether the employer is liable. If the worker was free to take the break and simply chose to skip or delay it, there is no violation and no employer liability. This make available test thus can make analysis of break violations more complex than under the ensure standard.

2. There is not a presumption against the employer if the employer’s records show no meal period was taken.
Plaintiff argued that because Walgreens's records did not show that meal breaks were being taken, or taken on a timely basis, that there was a rebuttable presumption created against Walgreens that the breaks had not been taken. Plaintiff argued that Justice Werdegar’s concurring opinion in Brinker supported this analysis. However, in this case, the court did not find this was binding analysis, as a majority of the justices did not agree with this rebuttable presumption and because “concurring opinions are not binding precedent.”

3. After Brinker, an expert witness’ job becomes much more difficult.
The plaintiff utilized an expert witness in the case to attempt to prove that the case was suitable for class certification. However, Plaintiff’s expert witness “incorrectly assumed there was a Labor Code violation every time a worker did not take a timely break. [The expert] thus incorrectly assumed Walgreens must ensure employees took their breaks. This assumption is legally unsound under Brinker’s holding….”

4. It is a good idea to test the truthfulness of the declarations submitted by Plaintiff’s counsel of current or former employees.
In this case, it does not appear that the employees made up facts about their breaks, but instead the plaintiff’s counsel took some liberties with the facts. Usually, plaintiff's counsel will submit written declarations from current and former employees to support their theories for class certification.  In this case, it appears that the declarations were all very similar, and when the employees who signed the declarations were deposed by the defendant, the employees recanted their declarations and stated that the declaration drafted by plaintiff's counsel included statements that they never made during the interview by plaintiff's counsel.  The appellate court noted:

The trial judge repeatedly said these declarations “appalled” him, and he told [plaintiff’s] counsel, “You know better.”
The trial court was “especially troubled” that, once deposed, so many witnesses recanted their declarations.
Form declarations present a problem. When witnesses speak exactly the same words, one wonders who put those words there, and how accurate and reliable those words are.
There is nothing attractive about submitting form declarations contrary to the witnesses’ actual testimony. This practice corrupts the pursuit of truth.
It was not error for the trial court to give these unreliable declarations no weight.

Defendants should take the opportunity to depose the individuals who submitted declarations drafted by plaintiff's counsel.  You never know what may turn up. 

5. Emails and other documentation reminding managers to provide meal breaks will help the company’s defense against class certification.

In the Walgreens case, plaintiff counsel argued that the following email (and apparently similar emails) by Walgreens to its managers established meal break violations:

Just an FYI . . . if anyone is on this list, they did not receive a lunch. Please, you must talk to the assistant managers and find out why. . . . please make a big deal about this . . . remind employees that it is their job to ask for a break or lunch if they did not receive it, but also remind the Managers on duty that they must have a break schedule created for every shift . . . there is no negotiation about this . . . there is no excuse not to give a break or lunch . . . look at your schedule and make sure you have the right people at the right time. Two of the people received a lunch, but it was after the 5 hour mark and both did not take a 30 minute lunch. Please. . . Please address in every store. . . . This is one day in the district . . . but this is occur[r]ing in every store! Thank you for your complete follow through on this. If you have any questions, please let me know. I will be sending out some guidelines to help you succeed on making sure everyone gets a 30 minute break within 5 hours of their shift. Thank you.

Contrary to plaintiff’s argument however, the court found that this email instead showed Walgreens’s efforts to provide its employees with meal breaks. The emails showed the company pressuring store managers to ensure that employees took meal breaks. Takeaway for employers: document the emphasis on the company’s actions to make meal breaks available for employees and routinely remind managers of the obligations to make breaks available.

The decision, In re Walgreen Co. Overtime Cases and be read here

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Five issues employers must understand about California's harassment and discrimination laws

1. Automatic liability for a company when harassing or discriminatory conduct is taken by supervisors.
A company is automatically liable for any harassment or discriminatory actions taken by its supervisors. Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), a supervisor is defined as anyone who has the authority to hire, transfer, suspend, layoff, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or the responsibility to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend these actions to the employer.

2. When is a company liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees?
Employers are only liable for harassment in the workplace that it knew about or should have known about, and failed to take corrective action to stop the harassment.

3. Is there personal liability for harassment or discrimination?
There is a difference regarding personal liability for alleged harassment and discrimination.  Employees can be held personally liable for harassment, but there is no personal liability for discrimination.

Any employee working for a company covered by FEHA can be held personally liable for harassment that employee engages in. However, a supervisor who did not engage in harassment and who is aware of harassment taking place but fails stop the harassment, cannot be held personally liable for aiding and abetting the harassment.  However, obviously, this will create liability for the company. 

On the other hand, supervisors are not held personally liable for discrimination or retaliation. This is because the basic job duties of a supervisor could be viewed as discriminatory, acts such as hiring, firing, and setting schedules. Therefore, the courts did not want to impose personal liability on to supervisors for their day-to-day duties. However, it is important to remember that even though the supervisor does not have personal liability for discrimination or retaliation, the employer will always be liable for any proven misconduct.

4. The avoidable consequences doctrine could reduce liability in certain cases.
Under the avoidable consequences doctrine, an employee’s damages can be limited if the employer can show that: (1) it took reasonable step to prevent harassment, (2) the employee unreasonably failed to utilize the procedures put in place by the employer to prevent harassment, and (3) had the employee used the procedure to prevent the harassment some of the damages would have been prevented. Under this defense the employer’s complaint system put in place will be challenged and viewed under high scrutiny.  Therefore it is important for employers to show that employee’s who complained in the past had their complaints properly addressed and there was never any retaliation for making the complaint.  

5. Revise sexual harassment training in 2015 to include discussion about abusive conduct.
Even though workplace bullying is not illegal under California law, a new law going into effect in 2015 amends the law requiring employers with 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to include a discussion about workplace bullying and abusive conduct.

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Friday's Five: Five new laws for 2015 that employers should review

Below are five new laws going into effect in 2015 that California employers should know about before the start of 2015. Employers should also take time and review their current policies to ensure compliance for the new year.

1. Mandatory paid sick leave.
You’ve probably been beaten over the head from emails from your employment lawyer already about this new law, so I won’t rehash the particulars. If you need more information, see my prior post.

2. Must revise sexual harassment training to include anti-abusive conduct training.
This is a simple revision to sexual harassment training should be implemented into any sexual harassment training. For more information, see my prior post here.

3. Undocumented workers’ driver’s licenses: immigration and confidentiality issues.
Last year, California passed AB 60 that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license. This year, AB 1660 was passed to clarify some issues left unresolved by AB 60, and to provide greater rights to immigrants who present a driver’s license to employers that was obtained without establishing citizenship. The California DMV will begin issuing driver’s licenses under the new law on January 1, 2015. These licenses will be marked with the term “federal limits apply” on the front of the license. Therefore, employers must be aware that these licenses cannot be used to establish eligibility to work when completing the Form I-9. Once the new licenses are issued, employers should train the individuals regarding the different licenses and which licenses can be used to verify eligibility to work in the U.S. when completing the I-9. In addition, the new law makes it illegal to discriminate against employees who present these licenses for employment purposes.
Finally, employers must be aware that the new law also makes driver license information obtained by the employer “private and confidential.” Therefore, employers should take steps to ensure that this information is treated with the same safeguards as other confidential information.

4. Joint liability for employers who contract with outside companies for workers.
AB 1897 automatically makes an employer jointly liable with a labor contractor, such as an employment agency, for wage and workers’ compensation violations. The law exempts some companies from this joint liability, such as companies with fewer than 25 employees, or businesses with five or fewer workers supplied by a labor contractor. With this new potential liability, employers need to carefully review the contractors who provide workers for their companies. While companies cannot contract around the provisions of the new law, companies can enter into indemnification agreements with the staffing agencies to mitigate some of the risk. Companies should audit the staffing agencies they work with to insure they are compliant with the law, and should consider asking for indemnification from the staffing agency should there be any wage and hour violations.

5. Employers may utilize email to report serious injuries.
Under existing law, employers are required to file a report with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), every occupational injury or illness which results in lost time beyond the date of injury or illness, or which requires medical treatment beyond first aid. Employers are required to immediately report a serious injury or illness, or death at the workplace to DOSH. The prior law permitted employers to make these reports by telephone or telegraph. AB 326 updates the law to allow employers to make the reports by telephone or email. This is not a major change in the law, and one to make it easier for employers, but a good reminder for employers to review injury protocols in the workplace and ensure that these reports are being made to DOSH when required. Failure to do so could result in a $5,000 fine.

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Friday's Five: Five items employers need to understand about automobile and mileage reimbursement under California law

Expense reimbursement may seem like a small issue in comparison with the other areas of liability facing California employers, but the exposure for not appropriately reimbursing employees can be substantial. In Gattuso v. Harte-Hanks Shoppers, Inc., the California Supreme Court clarified the parameters of mileage reimbursement under California law, as well as the three different methods available for employers to reimburse employees for their mileage reimbursement.  This post discusses five issues employers need to know about automobile and mileage reimbursement under California law.

1. Mileage reimbursement based on IRS mileage rate is presumed to reimburse employee for all actual expenses

The IRS publishes standard mileage rates each year (and sometimes adjusts these rates during the year). The 2014 mileage rate is published on the IRS mileage rate here.

If the employee challenges the amount reimbursed, the employee bears the burden to show how the “amount that the employer has paid is less than the actual expenses that the employee has necessarily incurred for work-required automobile use (as calculated using the actual expense method), the employer must make up the difference.” Gattuso, at 479.

The California Supreme Court also held that the reimbursement rate can be negotiated by parties as long as it fully reimburses the employee, and the amount does not have to be set at the IRS mileage rate. The Court also warned that employee cannot waive the right to be fully reimbursed for their actual expenses:

We agree that, as with other terms and conditions of employment, a mileage rate for automobile expense reimbursement may be a subject of negotiation and agreement between employer and employee. Under section 2804, however, any agreement made by the employee is null and void insofar as it waives the employee’s rights to full expense reimbursement under section 2802.

Gattuso, at 479.


2. Reimbursement Method: Actual Expense Method

In examining the different methods of reimbursement, the Supreme Court held that the actual expense method is the most accurate, but it is also the most burdensome for both the employer and the employee. Gattuso, at 478. Under the actual expense method, the parties calculate the automobile expenses that the employee actually and necessarily incurred and then the employer separately pays the employee that amount. The actual expenses of using an employee’s personal automobile for business purposes include: fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, registration, and depreciation.

3. Reimbursement Method: Mileage Reimbursement Method

The Court recognized that employers may simplify calculating the amount owed to an employee by paying an amount based on a “total mileage driven." Gattuso, at 479.

Under the mileage reimbursement method, the employee only needs to keep a record of the number of miles driven for job duties. The employer then multiplies the miles driven by a predetermined amount that approximates the per-mile cost of owning and operating an automobile. The Court recognized that the mileage rate agreed to between the employer and employee is “merely an approximation of actual expenses” and is less accurate than the actual expense method. It is important to note that while this amount can be negotiated, the employee still is unable to waive their right to reimbursement of their actual costs as mentioned above.

4. Reimbursement Method: Lump Sum Payment

Under the lump sum method, the employee need not submit any information to the employer about work-required miles driven or automobile expenses incurred. The employer merely pays an agreed upon fixed amount for automobile expense reimbursement. Gattuso, at 480. This type of lump sum payment is often labeled as a per diem, car allowance, or gas stipend.

In Gattuso, the Court made it clear that employers paying a lump sum amount have the extra burden of separately identifying and documenting the amounts that represent payment for labor performed and the amounts that represent reimbursement for business expenses.

5. All expenses incurred in an employee’s course and scope of their job must be reimbursed by the employer.

In addition to mileage, employers may also have to reimburse employees for other costs they incurred in driving their personal cars for business. In making the determination about whether an employee’s actions are in the “course and scope” of their job, courts examine whether the expense being sought by the employee is “not so unusual or startling that it would seem unfair to include loss or expense among other costs of the employer’s business.” This is a very fact specific determination that employers need to approach with caution.

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Friday's Five: Five answers to common questions about severance pay and severance agreements

Severance pay is not required under California law. However, employers who have potential disputes with employees that are leaving employment should consider whether offering severance pay in exchange for a signed severance agreement containing a release of claims against the company may be useful in avoiding costly litigation. Here are answers to five common questions about severance:

1. Are employees entitled to severance pay?
No. If an employee is an at-will employee, and either the employer or the employee decides to end the employment relationship, the employer is not required to provide any type of severance to the employee.

2. If severance pay is not required, why would employers offer it?
There are a number of reasons that employers offer severance pay. If the employer’s business has slowed down and it needs to layoff employees, but the employer wants to cushion the effect of the layoff, severance can be offered. Also, if the employer believes that there is a potential dispute between it and an employee, the employer may choose to pay some severance in exchange of a release of claims by the employee in order to avoid any potential litigation.  If done properly, an employee's acceptance of a severance agreement would effectively waive any and all claims that he or she may have against the company.  If there is any potential for a dispute about any issues that arose during employment, entering into a severance agreement could be an effective way to avoid costly and time consuming litigation. 

3. Does the employer have to pay the employee for a release of claims?
If the employer asks the employee to release all claims the employee may have against the company, generally there needs to be some consideration provided to the employee for the release of his or her rights. Consideration is a legal term, and very generally means something of value that each side agrees to exchange (this is a very oversimplified definition). In severance agreements, the consideration is usually, but is not required to be, some form of payment by the employer that is not already legally obligated to be made in exchange for the release of claims (i.e., an agreement not to sue) by the employee.

4. What terms are generally included in a severance agreement?
Here is a list of common terms included in severance agreements:

  • A general release with a Civil Code section 1542 waiver releasing all known and unknown claims.
  • Confidentiality
  • No admission of liability
  • No present or future employment
  • Non-disparagement clause which can also set forth what job reference, if any, will be given to any prospective employers
  • Return of company property and non-solicitation of customers clause

5. Are there any special considerations for employees 40 years old or older that need to be included in a release?
Yes. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) protects individuals 40 years old or older. The OWBPA provides that in order to release a claim for age discrimination must meet certain requirements. Some of these requirements include that the employee is advised to consult with an attorney, the waiver is easily understood, the individual is given at least 21 days to consider the agreement; and the individual is given at least 7 days following the execution of the agreement to revoke the agreement. The 21 day consideration period can be waived by the employee, but the seven day revocation period after the agreement is signed cannot be waived by the employee. Therefore, it is important to consider potentially not paying any money until after the seven day revocation period expires. If the employer is offering the release to a group or class of employees a longer consideration period and other requirements apply. It is highly recommended that employers receive the assistance of counsel to ensure that employees 40 years old or older effectively waive any rights under the OWBPA. For more information, the EEOCs’ website provides a good explanation and some examples.

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