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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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 California Labor Code provisions employees cannot waive

Here is a list of five rights provided to employees under the California Labor Code that the employee may not waive by agreement with an employer.

1. Minimum wage
Labor Code Section 1194 provides a private right of action to enforce violations of minimum wage and overtime laws. That statute clearly voids any agreement between an employer and employee to work for less than minimum wage or not to receive overtime.

2. Overtime
In Gentry v. Superior Court, the Supreme Court explained:

[Labor Code] Section 510 provides that nonexempt employees will be paid one and one-half their wages for hours worked in excess of eight per day and 40 per week and twice their wages for work in excess of 12 hours a day or eight hours on the seventh day of work. Section 1194 provides a private right of action to enforce violations of minimum wage and overtime laws.

By its terms, the rights to the legal minimum wage and legal overtime compensation conferred by the statute are unwaivable. “Labor Code section 1194 confirms ‘a clear public policy . . . that is specifically directed at the enforcement of California’s minimum wage and overtime laws for the benefit of workers.’"

3. Expense reimbursement
Labor Code section 2802 requires employers to reimburse its employees for “necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee” while performing his or her job duties. Labor Code section 2804, clearly provides that an employee cannot waive this right to be reimbursed for or liable for the cost of doing business. Section 2804 provides, “Any contract or agreement, express or implied, made by any employee to waive the benefits of this article or any part thereof, is null and void….”

4. Right to participate in PAGA representative actions
The California Supreme Court recently clarified that employees may not waive their right to bring a representative action under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) (even though the Court held that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable). The Court held in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation that, “we conclude that an arbitration agreement requiring an employee as a condition of employment to give up the right to bring representative PAGA actions in any forum is contrary to public policy.”

5. Right to receive undisputed wages
Under Labor Code section 206.5 employers and employees may not enter into agreements that waive the employee’s right to receive wages that are undisputed. Labor Code section 206.5 also provides that an employer may not require “as a condition of being paid, to execute a statement of the hours he or she worked during a pay period which the employer knows to be false.”

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Are you ready for the increase in minimum wage? Join us for a mid-year update on employment and corporate issues.

My firm is conducting a webinar on Thursday June 19, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. for a mid-year update on emerging employment law issues and the newly enacted LLC statute effecting most California Limited Liability Companies. 

For more information and to register, please complete the form below:

 

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Webinar: New Laws Facing California Employers In 2012

 

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. 

 

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What Labor Code requirements can employees waive?

It may come as a surprise to many employers that employees cannot waive, or enter into contracts contrary to many of California’s Labor Code requirements. The rationale for this is pretty basic: if employees could waive the rights given to them under the Labor Code, every employer would simply require the employee to waive the rights on the first day of work, rendering the Labor Code meaningless.

A general rule for Courts is found in Civil Code section 3513, which provides: “Any one may waive the advantage of a law intended solely for his benefit. But a law established for a public reason cannot be contravened by a private agreement.” California courts have found that many of the Labor Code provisions are for the public good, and therefore cannot be waived by an employee.  

Labor Code Provisions An Employee Cannot Waive:

  • Minimum Wage & Overtime

Labor Code Section 1194 provides a private right of action to enforce violations of minimum wage and overtime laws. That statute clearly voids any agreement between an employer and employee to work for less than minimum wage or not to receive overtime:

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.

In Gentry v. Superior Court, the Supreme Court further explained:

[Labor Code] Section 510 provides that nonexempt employees will be paid one and one-half their wages for hours worked in excess of eight per day and 40 per week and twice their wages for work in excess of 12 hours a day or eight hours on the seventh day of work. Section 1194 provides a private right of action to enforce violations of minimum wage and overtime laws.

By its terms, the rights to the legal minimum wage and legal overtime compensation conferred by the statute are unwaivable. “Labor Code section 1194 confirms ‘a clear public policy . . . that is specifically directed at the enforcement of California’s minimum wage and overtime laws for the benefit of workers.’”

  • Expense Reimbursement

Labor Code section 2802 requires employers to reimburse its employees for “necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee” while performing his or her job duties. Labor Code section 2804, clearly provides that an employee cannot waive this right to be reimbursed for or liable for the cost of doing business. Section 2804 provides, “Any contract or agreement, express or implied, made by any employee to waive the benefits of this article or any part thereof, is null and void….”

Labor Code Provisions An Employee May Be Able To Waive:

While it is unclear, the following items could possibly be waived by an employee. However, these areas are very unsettled, and employers should approach with caution when seeking waivers from employees on these issues.

  • Meal Breaks

The California Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case Brinker v. Superior Court, that should address, among other issues, the standard regarding how employers need to provide meals breaks. At issue is whether employers need to simply “provide” employees with meal breaks, or on the other hand, “ensure” that employees take meal breaks. If the Supreme Court rules that employers only need to provide meal breaks, then if the employee chooses not to take the meal break, then arguably there would be no violation. The Supreme Court will hopefully issue a ruling on this case in 2010.

  • Waiver To Participate In A Class Action

Given the increase in wage and hour class actions, employers began seeking agreements from their employees that if a dispute would arise about any wage and hour issue, the employee would agree to only seek remedies on an individual basis, not through a class action. The California Supreme Court reviewed the issue if an employee could enter into such an agreement and found that, “at least in some cases, the prohibition of classwide relief would undermine the vindication of the employees’ unwaivable statutory rights and would pose a serious obstacle to the enforcement of the state’s overtime laws.” The Court therefore set out a number of factors that a trial court must look at to determine whether the class action waiver is enforceable or not. As of February 2010, there has not been a class action waiver that has been upheld by an appellate court in California. So while there is the possibility of enforcing such waivers, this possibility is very slight.
 

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10 common California employment law mistakes by start-up companies

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Not researching particular laws that apply to the industry or city. For example, businesses in San Francisco have to provide for paid sick leave.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Overestimating the enforceability of covenants not to compete. Nine times out of ten, covenants not to compete are unenforceable in California.
  7. Underestimating the importance of an employee handbook.
  8. 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.
  9. Withholding the money necessary to hire an HR manager knowledgeable with California law.
  10. 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.
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Update on Brinker v. Superior Court and other California Wage and Hour Issues