With Governor Brown's signing of the bill raising California's minimum wage to $10.00 per hour by January 2016, there are a few new considerations this triggers for California employers. This quick video discusses the increase in guaranteed salary employers must pay in order to for employees to qualify as exempt.
There are some significant changes regarding California employers’ duties in 2013. This list is an overview of the major changes that employers should consider and be aware of at the beginning of 2013.
Employers Cannot Ask Applicants Or Employees For Social Media Passwords – AB 1844
This law created Labor Code section 980, which is effective 1/1/2013. The law prohibits employers from asking employees or applicants for passwords to their social media accounts, accessing their accounts in the presence of the employer, or divulging any personal social media. There are two exceptions to this: (1) if the request is made to a current employee as part of an investigation of allegations of employee misconduct or violation of law, and the request is based upon a reasonable belief that the information is relevant, and (2) to devices issued by the employer.
Commission Agreements Must Be In Writing – AB 1396 and 2675
Beginning 1/1/2013, 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.
Breastfeeding is added to definition of “sex” under the Fair Employment and Housing Act - AB 2386
The new law clarifies that the definition of sex under the FEHA includes breastfeeding and any medical conditions relating to breastfeeding. This amendment makes breastfeeding and the related medical conditions, a protected activity and therefore employers cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees on this basis under California law. While the amendment is effective 1/1/13, the law states that the amendment simply is a statement of existing law, and therefore employers should treat this amendment as existing law immediately.
New Religious and Dress Standards – AB 1964
The new law clarifies that religious dress and grooming practices are protected under FEHA. The law explains that “religious dress practice” is “shall be construed broadly to include the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, artifacts, and any other item that is part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.” The law continues in defining religious grooming as: “Religious grooming practice shall be construed broadly to include all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.” The law also states that it is not a reasonable accommodation it the action requires segregation of the individual from the public or other employees.
Changes in Calculating Employees’ Regular Rate of Pay – AB 2103
The new law revises Labor Code 515(d) to clarify that “payment of a fixed salary to a nonexempt employee shall be deemed to provide compensation only for the employee's regular, nonovertime hours, notwithstanding any private agreement to the contrary.” Therefore, overtime must be paid above any nonexempt employee’s agreed upon salary. This law was in response to the court opinion in Arechiga v. Dolores Press. The legislature history described the opinion in Arechiga as follows:
In the Arechiga case, a janitor and his employer agreed that payment of a fixed salary of $880 a week would provide compensation for 66 hours of work each week. The Court of Appeal held that this method of payment comported with California overtime law, and that no additional overtime compensation was owed. The Court rejected the employee's contention that existing Labor Code Section 515(d) prohibits any sort of agreement that would allow a fixed salary to serve as a non-exempt employee’s compensation for anything more than a 40 hour workweek.
New Penalties For Violations On Itemized Wages Statements – SB 1255
The new law provides that employees are deemed to have suffered injury for purposes of assessing penalties pursuant to Labor Code 226(a), if the employer fails to provide accurate and complete information. Furthermore, a violation occurs if the employee cannot easily determine from the wage statement alone the amount of the gross or net wages earned, the deductions the employer made from the gross wages to determine the net wages paid, the name and address of the employer or legal entity employing the employee, and the name and only the last 4 digits of the employee.
New Requirements On Retention And Inspection of Itemized Wage Statements and Personnel Files– AB 2674
Under Labor Code 226, employers must keep copies of employees’ itemized pay statements for at least three years, at the site of employment or at a central location within the state of California. The new law, effective 1/1/13, clarifies that the term “copy” means either a duplicate of the statements provided to employees, or a computer generated record that shows all information required under Labor Code 226. In addition, the law sets a new deadline for employers to either provide a copy or permit the employee to inspect the personnel file within 30 days after the employer receives the request. The employer and employee may only agree to extend this time period out to 35 days. The employer may also redact the names of any non-supervisory employees in the file. It is important to note, this requirement does not change the 21 day time period to produce or make available for inspection an employee’s itemized wage statements under Labor Code 226(c).
Itemized Wage Statements And Wage Theft Notices For Temporary Service Employers – AB 1744
This new law requires temporary service employers to provide wage statements that list the rate of pay and total hours worked for each temporary assignment. A “temporary service employer” is defined in Labor Code 201.3(a)(1) as a company that contracts with customers to supply workers to perform services for the customer. This is effective 7/1/2013. Furthermore, the law requires temporary services employer to provide Wage Theft Notices required under 2810.5 and include additional information regarding the name, the physical address of the main office, the mailing address if different from the physical address of the main office, and the telephone number of the legal entity for whom the employee will perform work, and any other information the Labor Commissioner deems material and necessary. This requirement is effective on 1/1/2013.
The judgment against the defendant for $1,347,000 in Faigin v. Signature Group Holdings, Inc. should be a good reminder for companies to have well drafted executive agreements. Faigin worked as General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer for Fremont General, a parent corporation. Defendant had various subsidiary companies that Faigin also worked for during his employment. Faigin entered into an employment contract with Fremont General. The agreement set forth that Faigin would be entitled to certain benefits if he was involved in an “involuntary termination.” If he was involuntarily terminated, as defined in the agreement, the company agreed to pay Faigin a lump sum equal to three years of his base salary.
After entering into the agreement with Fremont General, Faigin was appointed to interim President and Chief Executive Officer of FRC, a subsidiary of Fremont General. A short time after assuming these roles, Faigain was replaced at FRC. Faigin argued that his dismissal from his roles at FRC resulted in an involuntary termination under the term of his employment contract, entitling him to three years of his salary which exceeded $400,000 per year.
At trial, FRC argued that the employment agreement entered into with Fremont General did not apply to the situation arising out of Faigin’s employment with FRC because the agreement was only entered into with Fremont General, not FRC. The trial court agreed, and excluded any evidence of the employment agreement between Faigin and Fremont General. However, Faigin presented evidence that FRC created an implied-in-fact employment contract that he would only be terminated for good cause. As the court noted, an implied-in-fact employment contract can be established by showing the following:
The existence and content of such an agreement are determined from the totality of the circumstances, including the employer’s personnel policies and practices, the employee’s length of service, actions and communications by the employer reflecting assurances of continued employment, and practices in the relevant industry. The question whether such an implied-in-fact agreement exists is a factual question for the trier of fact unless the undisputed facts can support only one reasonable conclusion.
An implied-in-fact agreement to terminate only for good cause cannot arise if there is an express writing to the contrary, such as a written acknowledgement that employment is at will or an at-will provision in a written employment agreement. “There cannot be a valid express contract and an implied contract, each embracing the same subject, but requiring different results. [Citations.]”
(Citations omitted). The court stated that because the employment agreement with Fremont General fixed the term of employment at three years and did not provide that Faigin’s employment was at-will, this written agreement is not inconsistent with the jury’s finding of an implied-in-fact agreement existed.
The case shows how careful employers need to be in drafting executive compensation agreements, and especially if the executive is working for different subsidiaries of a parent company.
Given the increasing mobility of the workforce, the issue of which state’s laws apply to a traveling employee is becoming more and more common. In Sullivan v. Oracle Corp., the California Supreme Court held that California-based employers must pay non-resident employees working in California according to the California’s overtime laws. That means that a California employer who has employees travel to California to work must pay the employees according to California’s wage and hour laws – not pursuant to the laws from the state that the employee is from. The Court emphasized California’s strong public policies in place to protect the employees.
This holding was again recognized in See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court. The Court in See’s Candy stated, “We agree with [the Plaintiff] that under Sullivan a California employer generally must pay all employees, including nonresident employees working in California, state overtime wages unless the employee is exempt.” While the issue in See’s Candy was whether an employer’s time-keeping rounding policy complied with California law, the case is a good reminder that the analysis of which state’s employment laws apply to employees is simply more than looking up where the employee live.
It may come as a surprise, but Stephen Colbert is human, and like the rest of us, has a mother. He has taken a leave of absence from his show to apparently spend time with his ailing mother. An article I read recently notes how Colbert’s leave could trigger family medical leave. I thought the article does fine explaining family and medical leave, but given Colbert’s importance to The Colbert Report, it is also a good reminder about a narrow exemption to an employee’s reinstatement rights if they are a “key employee.”
Basic Medical Leave Rights
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) both provide employees the opportunity to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain “qualified” events. Employers with 50 or more employees (part-time employees are counted to make this determination) are covered by the FMLA and CFRA. Employees who have worked for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours in the immediately preceding 12 months are covered by the laws. However, employers do not need to provide the leave if the employee works at a location with fewer than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.
“Key Employee” Exception
If the employee is covered by the FMLA or CFRA the employee is entitled to return to his or her former position, or a position that is equivalent to the previous position held with equivalent benefits, pay, and conditions of employment. The small exception to this is for “key employees.” A key employee is defined as a salaried employee who is the highest paid 10% of employees within a 75-mile radius. If the key employee’s reinstatement would cause “substantial and grievous economic injury” to the employer, then the key employee may be denied reinstatement. However, when the employee takes the leave of absence, the employer must provide notice to the employee that he or she is a “key employee” and explain their reinstatement rights. If the employer fails to do so at the time the employee goes on the leave of absence, it loses the ability to deny reinstatement to the employee under the “key employee” exception.
No need to worry about Colbert though. It is being reported that Colbert will be returning to our televisions tonight.
California Minimum Wage
$8.00 per hour (unchanged from previous years)
San Francisco Minimum Wage
$10.24 per hour
Computer Professional Exempt Salary Rate
$38.89 or annual salary of not less than $81,026.25 for full-time employment, and paid not less than $6,752.19 per month
Hourly Physicians Exempt Hourly Rate
$70.86 per hour
IRS Mileage Rate
55.5 cents per mile for business miles driven
Governor Brown signed a number of new employment laws that take effect in January 2012. During this webinar, we will cover the new obligations facing employers under these recently enacted employment laws as well as the proper steps employers should take to comply with them. The discussion will also cover the recent oral argument in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court and what steps employers should take while waiting for the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Other topics will include:
- New laws effective January 2012, including:
- Statute increasing the penalties for employers who misclassify independent contractors
- What the Wage Theft Protection Act of 2011 means for employers
- Gender identity and expression
- Prohibiting e-verify requirements under the Employment Acceleration Act of 2011.
- New requirement to provide health benefits during pregnancy disability leave
- Review of new developments that took place in 2011:
- Development of case law upholding class action waivers in arbitration agreements
- Payment requirements for non-resident employees working in California
The cost is $150 per connection (no fee for existing clients). Click here for more information and to register.
The case Pellegrino v. Robert Half International, Inc. (RHI) was brought by recruiters alleging that RHI failed to comply with Labor Code provisions pertaining to overtime compensation, commissions, meal periods, itemized wage statements, and unfair competition (under Business and Professions Code section 17200).
As defenses, RHI argued that Plaintiffs’ claims were barred because they all entered into agreements that shortened their statute of limitations down from four years to six months. RHI also argued that the Plaintiffs were exempt from wage and hour laws because the employees qualified for the administrative exemption. The appellate court, in agreeing with the lower trial court, dismissed RHI’s defense that the Plaintiffs’ agreed to a shorter statute of limitation on the grounds that this agreement violated public policy and is unenforceable.
The Administrative Exemption
Employers bear the burden to prove that the employee does not qualify for overtime of one and a half times the employee’s regular hourly rate for all work performed over eight hours in one day and/or all hours over 40 in one week. Employees can qualify for a number of different exemptions, and in this case RHI argued that the Plaintiffs were administrative employees.
In order to qualify for the administrative exemption, the court noted that the employer must prove that the employee must:
(1) perform office or non manual work directly related to management policies or general business operations’ of the employer or its customers,
(2) customarily and regularly exercise discretion and independent judgment,
(3) perform under only general supervision work along specialized or technical lines requiring special training or execute under only general supervision special assignments and tasks,
(4) be engaged in the activities meeting the test for the exemption at least 50 percent of the time, and
(5) earn twice the state’s minimum wage.
The employee must meet all five elements in order to be an exempt administrative employee.
The court explained, by quoting the applicable regulations, that:
“The phrase ‘directly related to management policies or general business operations of his employer or his employer’s customers’ describes those types of activities relating to the administrative operations of a business as distinguished from ‘production’ or, in a retail or service establishment, ‘sales’ work. In addition to describing the types of activities, the phrase limits the exemption to persons who perform work of substantial importance to the management or operation of the business of his employer or his employer’s customers.”
The court found that the evidence did not support RHI’s argument that the Plaintiffs were administrative employees. The court explained that the account executives were trained in sales and evaluated on how well they met sales production numbers – which are not exempt duties. The account executives were also primarily responsible for selling the services of RHI’s temporary employees to its clients. And when they were not selling, they were recruiting more candidates for RHI’s “inventory.” The account executives also followed a “recipe” established by the company which required the employees to rotate their duties ever week between a “sales week,” “desk week,” and recruiting week.” The employees did not develop any policy, but simply followed the company’s system of performing their job. The court finally noted that the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) previously opined that recruiters who worked in a recruiting company did not qualify for the administrative exemption (which can be read at the DLSE’s website here (PDF)). All of these facts supported the trial court’s finding that the employer failed to meet its burden that the account executives were administrative employees.
This case is a good reminder to employers that they must be careful about how employees are classified. Simply because the employee has a high-level title, or every employer in the particular industry has always treated this type of employee as an exempt employee does not mean that the employees are properly classified. Courts will strictly apply the applicable exemption element-by-element to determine whether or not the employer must pay the employee overtime and provide meal and rest breaks. Finally, employers must remember that they will bear the burden of proof when asserting in court that the employee is properly classified as an exempt employee.
Start-up companies are usually saving every penny and operating on small margins. Simply the cost of defending an employment lawsuit could bring the entire venture into jeopardy. Here is a list of ten common California employment law mistakes made by start-ups:
- Assuming everyone can be paid a salary, and not paying overtime for hours over 8 in one day or 40 in one week. For a company to not pay overtime, it has the burden of proof to establish that the employee meets an exemption to California’s overtime laws. The exemptions are based on the amount of pay the employee receives and the duties the employee performs.
- Not researching particular laws that apply to the industry or city. For example, businesses in San Francisco have to provide for paid sick leave.
- Not having a meal and rest break policy. It goes without saying, every company in California needs a meal and rest break policy – and evidence that this policy is regularly communicated to employees.
- Not recording meal breaks. Employers are required to not only provide meal breaks, but also keep records of when the employee started and stopped the meal break.
- Not paying accrued vacation when employment is severed. Accrued and unused vacation is considered wages under California law, and needs to be paid out at the end of employment regardless of whether the employee is fired or quits.
- Overestimating the enforceability of covenants not to compete. Nine times out of ten, covenants not to compete are unenforceable in California.
- Underestimating the importance of an employee handbook.
- Assuming any worker can be classified as an independent contractor. Just like exempt employees, employers will bear the burden of proof when it comes to classifying independent contractors. Generally, the test is how much control the employer has over the worker.
- Withholding the money necessary to hire an HR manager knowledgeable with California law.
- Not reimbursing employees for business related expenses, such as travel expenses. Under Labor Code section 2802, employers are required to repay employees who pay for business related items out of their own pocket.
In Chindarah v. Pick Up Stix, Inc. (February 26, 2009) the court of appeal held that employers may enter into settlement agreements with current and former employees over disputed wage claims. At issue in the case was whether the employer’s settlement and release agreements entered into with individual employees settling disputed overtime wages were valid and enforceable under California law. Thankfully for the thousands of employers in California who have entered into settlement agreements regarding wage and hour claims, the appellate court held the agreements are enforceable.
Two former employees of Pick Up Stix sued for claims for unpaid overtime, penalties and interest due to the misclassification of their jobs as exempt from overtime pay. The employer participated in a mediation, but to no success. Stix then decided to approach the putative class members on its own in an attempt to settlement with them individually. Stix offered the putative class members an amount that the employees would have received under the amount offered by Stix during the mediation. More than two hundred current and former employees accepted the settlement amount and signed a general release. The release acknowledged that the employees had spent more than 50% of their time performing managerial duties and agreed “not to participate in any class action that may include …any of the released Claims….” The release also provided:
In exchange for the release from Employee set forth below, the Company will pay Employee by check the gross amount of [varied amounts] less payroll deductions, in full and complete satisfaction of all issues and claims by Employee for unpaid overtime, penalties, interest and other Labor Code violations for the time period of February 28, 1999 through September 2003.
Plaintiffs challenged the settlement agreements arguing that the agreements were void under Labor Code sections 206 and 206.5.
Labor Code section 206.5 provides:
An employer shall not require the execution of a release of a claim or right on account of wages due, or to become due, or made as an advance on wages to be earned, unless payment of those wages has been made. A release required or executed in violation of the provisions of this section shall be null and void as between the employer and the employee. Violation of the provisions of this section by the employer is be a misdemeanor.
In regards to the waivability of overtime rights, Labor Code section 1194, subdivision (a) provides:
Notwithstanding any agreement to work for a lesser wage, any employee receiving less than the legal minimum wage or the legal overtime compensation applicable to the employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance of the full amount of this minimum wage or overtime compensation, including interest thereon, reasonable attorney’s fees, and costs of suit.
Plaintiffs argued that the release in this case was void as a matter of law to the extent it releases claims for any wages actually due and unpaid and because it constitutes an agreement to work for less than the overtime compensation actually due and unpaid. The court rejected Plaintiffs’ argument:
The Plaintiffs claim “wages actually due and unpaid” means wages that are disputed, if they are ultimately found to be owing. In other words, the Plaintiffs claim any settlement of a dispute over overtime compensation runs afoul of sections 206.5 and 1194.
The court also noted various federal court cases that have also reached the same conclusion. In Reynov v. ADP Claims Services Group, Inc. (N.D. Cal., Apr.30, 2007), after plaintiff quit his job, he signed an agreement releasing the employer “from ‘all claims, actions, and causes of action, of every kind, nature, and description, which exist as of the date you sign the Letter Agreement, arising out of or related to your employment.’” As consideration for the release, the plaintiff received “substantial compensation to which he was not otherwise entitled, including a severance payment in excess of $29,000.” The plaintiff argued the release was unenforceable under section 206.5. Relying on other state court cases, the Reynov court found that section 206.5 prohibited a release of wages due unless paid in full, and “wages are not due if there is a good faith dispute as to whether they are owed. Because [the employer’s] defense that [the plaintiff] was an exempt employee under California law would, if successful, preclude any recovery for [the plaintiff], a bona fide dispute exists and the overtime pay cannot be considered ‘concededly due.’” (citations omitted)
The court also rejected Plaintiffs’ argument that the newly decided case of Edwards v. Arthur Andersen (2008) supports their position. The Plaintiffs contended that because the Supreme Court found in Edwards that an employee’s statutorily unwaivable indemnity rights under Labor Code section 2802 could not be waived as part of a general release, a dispute over past overtime wages cannot be settled. The court recognized that an employee cannot waive his or her right to overtime pay under Labor Code section 1194 (as well as other statutorily provided rights), but the court also reasoned that there was not statute prohibiting employees from releasing their claims to past overtime as settlement “of a bona fide dispute over those wages.”
In conclusion, the court reasoned the public policy underlying section 1194 to protect worker from employer coercion to forgo overtime is not violated by its holding. The releases here were to settle disputes about whether the employees were properly paid in the past and the agreements did not bar employees from suing over future violations.
As long as employers are given reasonable advance notice, employees are entitled to take time off to serve as a juror or as a witness if subpoenaed to appear at trial. Employers may not discriminate or otherwise punish an employee for taking time off to serve as a juror or a witness.
Pay During Jury Duty:
Unless a union agreement or contract provides otherwise, you are not required to pay non-exempt employees for time not worked due to jury service. However, due to the prohibition against discrimination against employees who are subpoenaed or called for jury service, employers should have a jury duty policy that is consistent with other policies for taking time off due to non-personal, non-voluntary reasons. In the case of an exempt employee, the employer must continue to pay the full weekly salary unless the jury service prevents the exempt employee from performing any work for a full week.
Many employers voluntarily pay full or half wages for a specified period of time, such as a maximum of two weeks, to employees who are selected to sit on a jury in an effort to raise the quality of juries by expanding the pool of people who are able to serve. As with all policies, whether employers choose to provide paid or unpaid leave, it is important to have a clear policy that is uniformly enforced.