Friday's Five: Five things every California employer needs to know about the newly enacted paid sick leave law

On September 10, 2014, the Governor signed into law a bill that requires a minimum of three paid sick days per year for employees. The new law applies to all employers, regardless of size. Here are five essential points employers must understand to begin the process of meeting their obligations under the new law.

1. How much paid sick time must employers provide employees?

Starting on July 1, 2015, any employee who works in California for 30 or more days within a year is entitled to paid sick days. Employees accrue paid sick days at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, beginning at the start of their employment. Employees can use accrued paid sick days beginning on the 90th day of employment.

2. Does this apply to all employers, and when do employers need to comply with this new sick leave requirement?

The law applies to all California employers, regardless of size. It also covers all employees, part-time, full-time, exempt, and non-exempt. Leave may be taken by employees for diagnosis, care, or treatment or preventative care for an employee or an employee’s family member, and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The law takes effect on July 1, 2015. However, it is advisable for employers to start taking action and revising handbooks and leave policies in the beginning of 2015.

Accrued paid sick days carry over to the following year of employment. Employers may limit an employee’s use of paid sick days to 24 hours or three days in each year of employment.

Employers do not have to provide additional accrual or carry over if the full amount of leave is received by the employee under the employer’s leave policy which at least provides for the minimum requirements under the law.

3. Can employers limit the use of paid sick leave or cap the amount of accrual?

Limits on amount of leave used in one year: Employers may limit the use of sick leave at 24 hours or three days of paid sick leave, or equivalent paid leave or paid time off, for each 12 month period based on the employee’s year of employment, a calendar year, or rolling 12-month basis.

Limits on amount used in one day: An employee may determine how much paid sick leave he or she needs to use, but the employer can set a reasonable minimum increment not to exceed two hours that the employee must use each time.

Cap of accrual of total paid leave: In addition, employers can cap the accrual of paid sick leave to 48 hours or 6 days.

Employers may not require that employees obtain a replacement worker to fill their position in order to take the leave. Employees are required to provide reasonable advance notice if the time off is foreseeable, otherwise employees must provide notice of the need for leave as soon as practicable.

4. Does accrued but unused sick leave have to be paid out to an employee upon separation from employment?

No, an employer is not required to provide compensation to an employee for accrued, unused paid sick days upon leaving employment. However, if an employee leaves employment and is rehired by the employer within one year, previously accrued and unused paid sick days must be reinstated. The employee is entitled to the previously accrued and unused paid sick days and to accrue additional paid sick days upon rehiring.

5. What documentation and written requirements does the new law impose on employers?

The law requires that employers provide an employee with written notice setting forth the amount of paid leave available. This information must be included on the employee’s pay stub, or may be provided to the employee in a separate writing given to the employee on the employee’s pay date. In addition, the law amends Section 2810.5 of the Labor Code and adds the following language that must be provided on the employee’s wage notice: “That an employee: may accrue and use sick leave; has a right to request and use accrued paid sick leave; may not be terminated or retaliated against for using or requesting the use of accrued paid sick leave; and has the right to file a complaint against an employer who retaliates.”

In addition, the law requires employers to document and keep records of the hours worked and paid sick days accrued and used by an employee for at least three years. Employees (as well as the Labor Commissioner) have the right to access these records. Failure to keep the required records creates a presumption against the employer that the employee is entitled to the maximum number of hours provided for under the law.

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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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Complying With California's Minimum Wage Increase

Here is a short video regarding some items California employers should consider about the minimum wage increase taking effect July 1, 2014.

 For more information about the minimum wage increase:

Five issues California employers should review before the minimum wage increases July 1, 2014

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Five Things You Need To Know About Arbitration Agreements After The California's Supreme Court's Ruling In Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC

1. Arbitration Agreements: What Are They?
Employers can agree that they and any employees who enter into an arbitration agreement will resolve their differences before a private arbitrator instead of civil court. There are many different arbitration companies to choose from, but the American Arbitration Association and JAMS are two of the larger ones that are routinely appointed in arbitration agreements. Arbitrators are private companies that usually hire retired judges to resolve disputes in a private setting as opposed to civil court.

2. Are Arbitration Agreements Enforceable in California?
Generally speaking, if the agreement is drafted and implemented properly, it is enforceable. However, arbitration agreements are routinely struck down by courts if they are not properly drafted. For example, recently a California court held in Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, that an arbitration agreement was not enforceable because it required the employee to waive statutory damages and remedies.  In addition, the agreement in that case only allowed the employer to recover its attorney’s fees if successful, not the employee.  The Court held these terms caused

3. Why Would an Employer Implement an Arbitration Agreement?
There are a number of reasons. The arbitration process can proceed more quickly than civil litigation, saving a lot of time and attorney’s fees in the process. For example, often times the discovery process moves more quickly, and if there are any disputes, the parties can raise them with the arbitrator telephonically, instead of the lengthy motion process required to resolve disputes in civil court. The arbitration process is also confidential, so if there are private issues that must be litigated, these issues are not filed in the public records of the courts. The parties also have a say in deciding which arbitrator to use in deciding the case, whereas in civil court the parties are simply assigned a judge without any input into the decision. This is very helpful in employment cases, which often times involve more complex issues, and it is beneficial to the parties to select an arbitrator that has experience in resolving employment cases.

4. Are Class Action Waivers Enforceable In Arbitration Agreements?
Yes. The California Supreme Court ruled in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC that class action waivers can be enforceable, following the standards set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.  However, Plaintiffs continually challenge class action waivers on numerous grounds, and it is critical employers’ agreements are properly drafted and up-to-date. In addition, while courts will uphold class action waivers, the California Supreme Court held that employee may still bring representative actions under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). PAGA claims are limited to specific penalties under the law, and have a much shorter one year statute of limitations compared to potentially a four year statute of limitations for most class actions.

5. Based On the Holding in Iskanian, Should Every Employer Enter Into Arbitration Agreements With Its Employees?
No. The decision to implement an arbitration agreement should be reviewed with an employment lawyer to discuss the positives as well as the negatives of arbitration agreements. As discussed above, there are a lot of benefits of having an arbitration agreement in place, but it does not come without a few drawbacks. The primary drawback is that in California, the employer must pay all of the arbitrator’s fees in employment cases. Arbitration fees can easily be tens of thousands of dollars – a cost that employers do not need to pay in civil cases. In addition, while a class action waiver may be enforceable, employers still face substantial liability under PAGA representative actions, and a strategy in implementing a class action waiver should be thought through with the help of informed counsel.

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California Supreme Court Upholds Class Action Waivers: Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC

Today, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC regarding the enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration agreements. In upholding class action waivers in arbitration agreements, the Supreme Court explained in the introduction of the opinion:

The question is whether a state’s refusal to enforce such a waiver on grounds of public policy or unconscionability is preempted by the FAA. We conclude that it is and that our holding to the contrary in Gentry v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 443 (Gentry) has been abrogated by recent United States Supreme Court precedent. We further reject the arguments that the class action waiver at issue here is unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act and that the employer in this case waived its right to arbitrate by withdrawing its motion to compel arbitration after Gentry.

When asserting a Labor Code claim in connection with an Unfair Competition Law claim (Business and Professions Code section 17200), the statute of limitations extends back four years. Today’s holding upholds arbitration agreements entered into between employers and employees barring employees from brining any claims on a class wide basis as long as the underlying arbitration agreement is enforceable under California law.

In addition, the Supreme Court reviewed whether an employer could have an employee waive his ability to bring a representative action under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). PAGA is a Labor Code provision that permits aggrieved employees to recover civil penalties that are only recoverable by the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) and the Labor Commissioner. PAGA expands the scope of penalties available through wage and hour lawsuits. In holding that arbitration agreements could not limit an employee's right from bringing a representative PAGA claim, the Court explained:

The employee also sought to bring a representative action under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.). This statute authorizes an employee to bring an action for civil penalties on behalf of the state against his or her employer for Labor Code violations committed against the employee and fellow employees, with most of the proceeds of that litigation going to the state. As explained below, 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. In addition, we conclude that the FAA’s goal of promoting arbitration as a means of private dispute resolution does not preclude our Legislature from deputizing employees to prosecute Labor Code violations on the state’s behalf. Therefore, the FAA does not preempt a state law that prohibits waiver of PAGA representative actions in an employment contract.

Because PAGA claims seek to recover penalties, a one year statute of limitations applies. Therefore, even if employers have a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement entered into with an employee, the employee may still assert a representative PAGA action to recover appropriate penalties with a one year statute of limitations on behalf of all aggrieved employees. PAGA is sometimes referred to as the “bounty-hunter law” because it allows a plaintiff to recover these civil penalties that were only recoverable by the Labor Commissioner, but it requires that the plaintiff provide 75% of the civil penalties recovered to the LWDA and the remaining 25% to the aggrieved employees. In a previous post, I’ve written about PAGA claims and what to do in response to receiving a PAGA notice. The California Supreme Court's ruling in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC can be downloaded here (Word).  This is an initial summary of the holding, and I'll write more about the case as I've had more time to review the opinion in more detail. 

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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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Now Tougher For Employers To Recover Attorney's Fees In Wage Cases

Yesterday, Governor Brown signed into law SB 462 which amends Labor Code section 218.5 to only allow employers to recover their attorney’s fees and costs upon a finding by the court that the employee brought the claim in bad faith. This Labor Code section applies to actions for nonpayment of wages, fringe benefits, or health and welfare or pension fund contributions.

Prior to this amendment, Labor Code section 218.5 permitted the employee or the employer to recover their attorney’s fees and costs if they prevailed in the underlying action – and there was no need for the employer to make this harder showing that the employee brought the case in bad faith in order to recover its fees and costs. This amendment now makes it harder for employers to recover attorney’s fees and costs upon prevailing in a case involving unpaid wages.

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Court upholds company's classification of worker as an independent contractor in Beaumont-Jacques v. Farmers Group

The new decision in Beaumont-Jacques v. Farmers Group examines the test in determining a worker’s independent contractor status. In applying the “economic realities” test set forth by the California Supreme Court in S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Dept. of Industrial Relations, the Court focused on whether the worker had “meaningful discretion with reference to her efforts” in making the determination about whether her classification as an independent contractor was proper.

Case Facts
In this case, Plaintiff had an agreement with the company that set forth both parties understood and agreed Plaintiff would be working as an independent contractor. The agreement required Plaintiff to conform to the company’s regulations, operations, and certain standards. The agreement provided that either party could terminate the relationship at-will. Moreover, Plaintiff had “meaningful discretion” by recruiting agents and training them to work for the company. She would determine her own hours, vacation schedule, supervising her own staff, remitting payroll taxes for her own staff, paying her own expenses such as office lease, marketing costs and telephones. She also deducted these costs as a business expense in her personal tax returns and identified herself as self-employed in the returns.

Court’s Analysis
The court stated that the “pivotal inquiry looks at the ‘control of details’ – i.e., whether the [company] has ‘the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired.” As the court noted, however, this does not mean that once the company requires certain standards from the worker that this would automatically make the worker an employee:

The California Supreme Court has declared that “the owner may retain a broad general power of supervision and control as to the results of the work so as to insure satisfactory performance of the independent contract—including the right to inspect [citation], the right to make suggestions or recommendations as to details of the work [citation], the right to prescribe alterations or deviations in the work [citation]—without changing the relationship from that of owner and independent contractor . . . .” (McDonald v. Shell Oil Co. (1955) 44 Cal.2d 785, 790 (McDonald).)

The court explained that the key issue is that the company has the right to “oversee the results, but not the mean, of the work in question” in order for the independent contractor status to be upheld.

Applying this test in this case, the court held that Plaintiff was properly classified as an independent contractor because the Defendant did not control “to any meaningful degree the means by which [Plaintiff] performed and accomplished her duties” even though Plaintiff had to attend meeting with the company and was held accountable to reach very specific objectives. Finally, the court held that the fact that the agreement at issue here which allowed both parties to terminate the relationship upon 30-days’ notice did not support Plaintiff’s assertion she was an employee. Because the relationship could be terminated by either Plaintiff or the company, the court did not provide this issue any weight.

However, even though the court found that the Plaintiff in this case was properly classified as an independent contractor, employers should be careful in making independent contractor classifications. The relatively new Labor Code provisions adopted in 2012 added new penalties for “willful misclassification” of employees as independent contractors which cannot be treated lightly.

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7 Items A Company Needs To Do After Being Sued In A Wage And Hour Class Action

Being named as a defendant in a class action lawsuit can be overwhelming, especially for a quickly growing company. However, with planning, a company can minimize the impact of the litigation on its existing operations and put forth the best defense. Here are seven items a company can do as part of this planning process when it is first notified of an existing lawsuit.

1. Contact employment counsel.
A lawyer who has experience in employment law and class actions should be contacted as soon as possible. There are certain deadlines that begin to run when a lawsuit is filed, and any delay could adversely affect the company’s defense. If the company does not know of an employment lawyer, a good start is to reach out to trusted advisors for recommendations, such as the company’s corporate lawyer or accountant. Wage and hour litigation, especially in California, is very unique and it is recommended that the company utilize a lawyer that has experience in this area.

2. Review allegations with counsel to see if the safe harbor provision of the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) could apply.
With the advice of counsel, there should be a review of the allegations in the complaint, and if the Plaintiff is seeking damages under PAGA, the PAGA notice sent to the Labor Workforce & Development Agency (“LWDA”). PAGA provides the employer a short window of time (33 days from receiving the PAGA notice) to “cure” any alleged violations. If the employer cures the problems within the time period, the Plaintiff cannot recover penalties under PAGA. Whether or not any items need to be cured, and the process for utilizing this safe harbor should be reviewed closely with counsel.

3. Gather time records and personnel files for the Plaintiff.
The personnel file for the named Plaintiff will have to be produced early in the case. In addition, the information in the personnel file will (hopefully) document any performance issues or other possible defenses the company has to the Plaintiff’s allegations. Also, if the company has implemented an arbitration agreement, it will be important to determine if the Plaintiff has signed it and whether or not there is an argument that in signing the agreement the Plaintiff cannot bring a class action.

4. Begin constructing a list of all employees who have worked in similar positions as the Plaintiff during the last four years (which is likely the statute of limitations).
In California, the statute of limitations for most wage and hour class actions is four years from the date the complaint is filed. Therefore, the employees who have worked in the same or similar positions as the Plaintiff will likely be the group of employees the Plaintiff is seeking to represent in the class action. It is important to know how many of these employees there are. For example, if there are too few this could be a defense to class certification.

5. Gather employee handbooks and policies that were in effect during the last four years.
The litigation will likely revolve around what policies the company had in place, and whether the policies were legally compliant. The company’s counsel will have to review these policies and handbooks. It is also likely that the company will have to produce these early in the litigation as well.

6. Review any applicable insurance policies.
The company should review all insurance policies it has to see if any of them could potentially cover the litigation. Most employment practices liability insurance (“EPLI”) policies exclude class action lawsuits from coverage, but there may be coverage for defense costs, or there may be something unique about the litigation facing the company that triggers coverage. It is also important to assess whether the lawsuit needs to be tendered to the insurance company.

7. Develop a plan about how to communicate the existence of the class action with current employees.
Word usually starts to spread quickly among the employees about the existence of the lawsuit. The company, with advice from counsel, should determine whether it wants to be proactive about communicating with the employees about the lawsuit, as well as what can and cannot be said to employees. At the minimum, a person within the company should be designated to handle any questions about the lawsuit. This will ensure a consistent message is used.

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Reporting Time Pay - Aleman v. AirTouch

Employees of AirTouch who worked for the cellular provider filed a putative class action alleging that the AirTouch employees were entitled to additional wages under California’s “reporting time pay” requirements. The plaintiffs alleged that they were owed reporting time pay for days on which they were required to attend store meetings, which lasted only a short period of time, but were not scheduled to work after the meetings.

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.

AirTouch would schedule store meetings that all employees were required to attend.  The meetings were scheduled at least four days in advance and were usually held on a Saturday or Sunday before the stores opened.  The meetings lasted from one hour to an hour and a half. Plaintiffs argued because the employees were required to report for the work meetings, which only lasted one to one and a half hours, and then did not work after the meetings, the employees were entitled to two hours of pay under the reporting time pay requirement. 

In rejecting plaintiffs’ argument that the Wage Orders required employers to always pay employees two hours of work when required to report to work, the court stated the following:

To simplify, the issue may be framed by the following question: If an employee's only scheduled work for the day is a mandatory meeting of one and a half hours, and the employee works a total of one hour because the meeting ends a half hour early, is the employer required to pay reporting time pay pursuant to subdivision 5(A) of Wage Order 4 in addition to the one hour of wages?

The answer to this question is no, because the employee was furnished work for more than half the scheduled time. The employee would be entitled to receive one hour of wages for the actual time worked, but would not be entitled to receive additional compensation as reporting time pay. Although somewhat lengthy and cumbersome, Wage Order 4's reporting time pay provision is not ambiguous. There is only one reasonable interpretation of subdivision 5(A) as it pertains to scheduled work—when an employee is scheduled to work, the minimum two-hour pay requirement applies only if the employee is furnished work for less than half the scheduled time.

It is important to note a few critical facts of this case. The employer scheduled the meeting times and provided employees with at least four days’ notice of the scheduled meetings. Also, the employees always worked at least half the duration of each scheduled period for the meetings. The case, Aleman v. AirTouch Cellular can be read here.

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5 compliance issues California employers need to audit at least once a year

Your company has updated its employee handbook, but the work is not over in California. Here are a few reminders of additional steps employers should review after conducting a handbook update and on a periodic basis. Of course this list is not comprehensive, but it comprises of a few items that sometimes take a backseat to the employee handbook update.

1. Ensure wage notice statements are issued and are correct.

Labor Code section 2810.5 requires employers to provide written notice to employees about specific employment items. For example, the law requires that employers provide notice to employees of their rate(s) of pay, designated pay day, the employer’s intent to claim allowances (meal or lodging allowances) as part of the minimum wage, and the basis of wage payment (whether paying by hour, shift, day, week, piece, etc.), including any applicable rates for overtime. The notice must also contain the employer's "doing business as" names, and that it be provided at the time of hiring and within 7 days of a change if the change is not listed on the employee’s pay stub for the following pay period.  The recommended notice published by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement can be downloaded here.  Also the DLSE publishes frequently asked questions that address many issues regarding the notice here

2. Start Using New Form I-9 By May 7, 2013.

By May 7, 2013, employers will be required to use the new I-9 Form. The new Form I-9 can be downloaded from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website here. It would be a good time to review the “Handbook for Employers, Guidance for Completing Form I-9” published by the USCIS.

3. Place all commission agreements in writing.

Beginning 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.

4. Conduct pay stub audit.

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 law was amended, and as January 1, 2013 it 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.

5. Ensure all personnel records are maintained properly.

When reviewing which records should be maintained in an employee’s personnel file, it is important to keep in mind why an employer would ever have to produce a personnel file – to support its employment based decisions. Therefore, employers should typically maintain personnel files with the following documents: signed arbitration agreements, sexual harassment compliance records for supervisors, sign acknowledgements of policy by employee (for example, confidentiality/proprietary information agreements, meal and rest break acknowledgments, handbook acknowledgments), Wage Theft Protection Act notice, commission agreements signed by both the employer and employee, warnings and disciplinary action documents, performance reviews, documents of any grievance concerning the employee, documents pertaining to when the employee was hired, records pertaining to last day of work and documenting reason for departure from employment.

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Reminder: Webinar On Social Media Under California Law Tomorrow

This will be one of our most attended webinars, and there is still time to sign up. The webinar will cover legal issues facing California employers under the new Labor Code section prohibiting employers from asking applicants and employees for social media passwords, privacy issues when conducting background checks, alternatives to social media policies, and when policies addressing these issues are necessary. It is taking place at 10:00 a.m. PST January 15. Visit our website for registration information.

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Can California employers monitor employees' internet usage under new Labor Code section 980?

California passed a new law taking effect January 1, 2013 that prohibits employers from “requiring or requesting” employees and applicants to provide their passwords to social media accounts. This law was passed after a few cases made the news where employers were actually asking for this information. As I argued before, this law was probably not necessary as California law probably already prohibited this type of conduct to begin with.

However, now that the law is taking effect, there are also new questions that employers are facing under the law. For example, if an employer has the right policies in place that limit an employee’s expectation of privacy, it is pretty well established that the employer may monitor the employee’s internet use and record this. However, under the new law, what if an employee accesses their social media accounts during work? Or on a break? Can employers still monitor employees and record the employee’s login and password information?

I would argue that employers can still monitor employees’ internet use as long as they have made the proper disclosures through a handbook or policies that limit the employees’ expectation of privacy in using the company network or computers. The new law only prohibits employers from requiring employees to divulge their passwords. If the employer notifies the employees that it is recording all activity by the employees on the company network or computers, then the employees have made a voluntary decision to continue to access their account knowing that their employer is monitoring and/or recording the activity. Granted, the law is just going into effect next week, so obviously there is no case law to rely upon in making this argument, so employer will have to wait to see how the law is ultimately interpreted by the courts. 

[image: topgold]

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Zuckerberg's lesson in online privacy - does it exist?

There was a good reminder to everyone over Christmas about online “privacy.” Randi Zuckerberg, the sister of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a picture of her and her family on FB, and it was shared by another person on twitter. The photo was one of the Zuckerberg family using Facebook’s new Poke functionality (which by the way, is a way to send pictures through Facebook that are deleted from the recipient’s machine after a set period of time). A third party posted Randi’s photo online, and Randi’s apparently did not like the fact that the photo was reposted. Randi did not know how the third party got a copy of the picture, but it became apparent that the third party was connect to Randi through a mutual friend and saw the picture posted in her newsfeed. After the issue of how the picture was shared and it was not the result of some underhanded means to gain access to the picture, Randi still commented that people should “always ask permission before posting a friend’s photo publicly.”

I think there is another lesson here that I’ve preached about before: everything you post on the internet is public – even if you think you are only sharing it with your “friends.” However, there is a dichotomy of views that is becoming more apparent. Even though posting items on the internet makes them public to a lot of people to see – maybe even more people than you imagine as Randi’s case shows – there is still an increasing sense that people have a privacy interest in their information posted on the internet. For example, California’s new law (Labor Code section 980) making it illegal in a couple of days for employers to ask applicants or employees for their social media passwords in order to conduct a background check on the applicant/employee. This is also apparent in Randi’s comment that her picture, posted on Facebook and which her “friends” could see, still thought she has some privacy expectation in the photo. Mathew Ingram at Gigaom believes that privacy online is becoming more complicated. I have to agree – with laws being passed like California’s law prohibiting employers from asking for social media passwords, what could be considered private online is becoming more complex.

[image: marsmet481]

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Surprise - Employers Face New Employee Personnel Records Obligations in 2013, But The Term "Personnel Records" Is Not Defined

California employers face a law (AB 2674) taking effect on January 1, 2013 (click here for a list of other new employment laws effective in 2013), which changes their duties to maintain and provide personnel records to current and former employees.  The law amends Labor Code section 1198.5 pertaining to "personnel records".  When discussing this new law, I am getting the question of what documents should be included in an employee’s personnel file, and what exactly are "personnel records" under this Labor Code provision. To many employers' surprise, although the term “personnel file” or “personnel records” is used throughout the Labor Code, the term is never explicitly defined.

The Labor Code provides some guidance for employers by setting for what employees are not entitled to inspect. Labor Code section 1198.5, which provides the employee with certain rights regarding inspection of “personnel records”, does exclude certain records from this right to inspection. Under this section, employees do not have the right to inspect (1) records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense; (2) letters of reference; (3) ratings, reports, or records that were: obtained prior to the employee’s employment, prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or obtained in connection with a promotional examination.

Without the terms “personnel records” or “personnel file” ever being defined, there is considerable ambiguity about what documents should be keep in an employee’s personnel file.

While not legally binding on employers, there is some guidance from the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement’s (“DLSE”) website (caution: at the time of this writing, the DLSE has not updated its website to reflect the new changes in the law):

Categories of records that are generally considered to be "personnel records" are those that are used or have been used to determine an employee’s qualifications for promotion, additional compensation, or disciplinary action, including termination. The following are some examples of "personnel records" (this list is not all inclusive):

  1. Application for employment
  2. Payroll authorization form
  3. Notices of commendation, warning, discipline, and/or termination
  4. Notices of layoff, leave of absence, and vacation
  5. Notices of wage attachment or garnishment
  6. Education and training notices and records
  7. Performance appraisals/reviews
  8. Attendance records

It is important to keep in mind why an employer would ever have to produce a personnel file – to support its employment based decisions. Therefore, employers should typically maintain personnel files with the following documents:

  • Signed arbitration agreements
  • Sexual harassment compliance records for supervisors
  • Sign acknowledgements of policy by employee (for example, confidentiality/proprietary information agreements, meal and rest break acknowledgments, handbook acknowledgments)
  • Wage Theft Protection Act notice
  • If commissioned employee, written commission agreement signed by both the employer and employee beginning January 1, 2013.
  • Warnings and disciplinary action documents.
  • Performance reviews
  • Documents of any grievance concerning the employee
  • Documents pertaining to when the employee was hired
  • Records pertaining to last day of work and documenting reason for departure from employment

Employers typically should not keep the following information in an employee’s personal file:

  • Form I-9s
  • EEOC and DFEH charges of discrimination
  • Workers’ compensation information
  • Private medical information
  • Any information obtained prior to offering the employee a position

Given the ambiguity about the definition of personnel file, employers should take time to consider their operations and industry to develop a system ensures the same documents for each employee are maintained in their personnel files, and what other files need to be established for employees. Also, employers need to design and implement a personnel file retention policy that will maintain the critical documents that would be relevant should the need to defend an employment claim arise. It is important that this process be established in order to survive any potential change in management and/or the human resource functions in the company.

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New Laws Facing California Employers In 2013

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.

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Reminder To Carefully Draft Executive Agreements - Faigin v. Signature Group Holdings, Inc.

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.

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Health Care Reform and The Affordable Care Act - Webinar

It is time to start planning for how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare, will effect your business.  Peterson Milaney Associates, will be hosting a webinar on the new law and what employers need to start planning for now.  The webinar is taking place on Monday, December 3, at 10:00 a.m. 

The webinar is free for readers of the blog.  Registration is here

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Can California Labor Code Provisions Apply To Non-resident Employees Working in California?

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.

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Proposed Bill Gives NLRB And OSHA Right To Review Emails And Other Electronic Information Without Search Warrant

There is concern about a bill making its way through the Senate that would drastically change individuals’ privacy interest in their internet communications and “cloud” information. The bill, named the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2011, originally started out as offering more protection to individuals, but after law enforcement expressed its concerns about the bill, it was rewritten to allow more than 22 governmental agencies to search e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook posts, and direct messages through Twitter. 

Other than lowering everyone’s privacy rights in this information, why would employers have any concern about the bill? The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is one of the governmental agencies expressly listed as having the power to search this electronic information without a search warrant. In addition the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would also have the warrantless subpoena power should the bill pass.  This would give the NLRB and OSHA unprecedented access into a private employer's e-mails and any other information stored in the cloud. 

Under the bill, anyone who sends email or stores information in the cloud would be given less privacy than if the information was stored on a hard drive kept in the office or home. Many companies, such as Google and Apple, who are touting new cloud services are fighting hard to protect the information individuals store in the cloud because a decrease in privacy of cloud based information would likely reduce the consumer demand for the services.

Further diminishing companies’ and individuals’ privacy rights, there has been an argument which was upheld by a federal district court in Oregon in 2009, that the government does not have to give notice to the individual or company to search e-mails or other electronic information, even when the agency has a search warrant. The court held that the notice requirements under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and the Fourth Amendment is satisfied when the only the internet service provider who is storing the information is served with a search warrant.

The vote on the proposed bill is scheduled for Thursday, November 29, 2012.

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NLRB Issues New Memo On Validity of Social Media Policies

In October 2012 the National Labor Relations Board issued an advice memorandum regarding whether an employer’s social media policy violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). This memorandum is of importance because the NLRB has issued findings recently that employer’s seemingly neutral social media policies violated employees’ rights under the NLRA. Section 7 of the NLRA provides that employees have the right to self-organize, form, join or assist labor organizations, and generally “engage in other concerted activities.” Section 8 of the NLRA makes it unlawful for an employer “to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7.” This prohibits applies to all employers, even if the employees are not unionized.

In the memorandum the NLRB sets forth its two step analysis in determining whether a “work rule” “would reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise of their Section 7 rights.” First, the NLRB examine whether the rule “is clearly unlawful if it explicitly restricts Section 7 protected activities.” Second, the rule is examined to determine if “(1) employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit Section 7 activity; (2) the rule was promulgated in response to union activity; or (3) the rule has been applied to restrict the exercise of Section 7 rights.” While the Board said that a rule “that could conceivably be read to restrict Section 7 activity” would does not automatically violate the NLRA, but if the rule is ambiguous and contains no limiting language or context to clarify that it does not restrict their Section 7 rights would be in violation.

The case at issue in the memorandum involved Cox Communications. The company had a standard social media policy:

Nothing in Cox’s social media policy is designed to interfere with, restrain, or prevent employee communications regarding wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment. Cox Employees have the right to engage in or refrain from such activities. . . .

DO NOT make comments or otherwise communicate about customers, coworkers, supervisors, the Company, or Cox vendors or suppliers in a manner that is vulgar, obscene, threatening, intimidating, harassing, libelous, or discriminatory on the basis of age, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetic information, disability, national origin, ethnicity, citizenship, marital status, or any other legally recognized protected basis under federal, state, or local laws, regulations, or ordinances. Those communications are disrespectful and unprofessional and will not be tolerated by the Company. . .

DO respect the laws regarding copyrights, trademarks, rights of publicity and other third-party rights. To minimize the risk of a copyright violation, you should provide references to the source(s) of information you use and accurately cite copyrighted works you identify in your online communications. Do not infringe on Cox logos, brand names, taglines, slogans, or other trademarks.

An employee was fired for violating this policy by posting an offensive and derogatory comment on his Google+ account via his cell phone. The company suspended the employee and conducted a further investigation, which revealed that the employee made numerous other posts “containing lewd language which disparaged customers.” The company terminated the employee.

Applying the analysis above to Cox Communication’s social media policy, the NLRB found that the policy did not violate the NLRA. The Board said that the examples of egregious conduct listed in Cox Communication’s policy established a context that “clearly would not be reasonably understood to restrict Section 7 activity.” Also, the policy’s savings clause that specifically set forth that it was not designed to violate any communications employees had the legal right to make, also supported the finding that it did not violate Section 7.

The NLRB memorandum can be read here (PDF)

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Court Upholds Timekeeping Rounding Policies: See's Candy Shops Inc. v. Superior Court

In See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court the court addressed whether an employer’s policy of rounding  employee’s time clock entries to the nearest tenth of an hour.  See’s Candy’s policy rounded employees’ time entries either up or down to the nearest tenth of an hour in its Kronos time keeping system. For example, if an employee clocked in at 7:58 a.m., the system rounds the time to 8:00 a.m., and if the employee clocked in at 8:02 a.m., the system rounds down the entry to 8:00 a.m.

Plaintiffs challenged this rounding policy by arguing that this policy prevented employees from receiving all of their wages twice a month as required by California law. The court noted that even though California employers “have long engaged in employee time-rounding, there is no California statue or case law specifically authorizing or prohibiting this practice.” See’s Candy argued that given this lack of clear authority on the issue, courts should adopt the federal standard, which is also used by California’s Division Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”), which allows rounding.

The court agreed that time entry rounding is permissible under California law:

Relying on the DOL rounding standard, we have concluded that the rule in California is that an employer is entitled to use the nearest-tenth rounding policy if the rounding policy is fair and neutral on its face and ‘it is used in such a manner that it will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked.’ (29 C.F.R. § 785.48; see DLSE Manual, supra, §§ 47.1, 47.2.)

See’s Candy presented evidence that across all of its employees the rounding policy actually resulted in a total gain of 2,749 hours for the class of employees involved in the litigation. Therefore, the court held that the rounding policy that rounded both up and down from the midpoint of every six minutes did not result in a loss to the employees.

It is important to note the limitation of this holding. This case involved clear evidence, presented in the form of an expert witness, establishing the effect on the total time paid to the employees did not result in a loss to the employees. Also, the rounding policy would round both up and down. Had the policy only rounded in favor of the employer, that would have violating the rule established in this case. Employers utilizing rounding for payroll must still do so with caution. For example, there should be periodic audits to ensure the effect of rounding does not favor the employer over a period of time. The opinion can be read here: See's Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court.

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Silicon Valley Companies Sued Over Agreements Not To Hire Competitor's Employees

Were Silicon Valley companies artificially keeping wages lower by having an agreement not to poach employees from competitors? This issue came to a head in 2010 when the Department of Justice settled an antitrust case with Adobe, Pixar, Google, Apple, Inuit, and Intel. The DOJ alleged that the companies had agreement not to poach each other’s employees, and that these agreements “reduced their ability to compete for high tech workers and interfered with the proper functioning of the price-setting mechanism that otherwise would have prevailed in competition for employees.” In the settlement with the DOJ, the companies agreed to discontinue the use of any agreements that would prevent any company from poaching employees from a competitor.

After knowledge of the DOJ case spread, a group of employees filed a class action lawsuit seeking damages by alleging that the companies violated California’s Cartwright Act and the Unfair Competition Law. The case is currently pending in California’s Federal Northern District Court. The allegations made in the DOJ case and in the class action litigation argue that the companies had a “do not call” list. Under this agreement the companies agreed not to cold call each other’s employees. There have been emails disclosed in the litigation where Steve Jobs emailed Eric Schmidt asking Google to stop its employee from soliciting an Apple employee. When Schmidt informed the Google employees to stop, the Google employees responded that this was inappropriate, and the offender would be fired within the hour.

This litigation shows how valuable a company’s employees are to its productivity and how hard it is to retain employees in competitive industries. It also shows the relatively few methods employers have to retain top talent. Generally speaking, noncompetition agreements are unenforceable in California, and the allegations made in this litigation show that agreements not to poach competitor’s employees can also be challenged as violating anti-trust and unfair competition laws.

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Post-Brinker Decision Upholds Denial Of Class Certification: Muldrow v. Surrex Solutions Corp.

In Muldrow v. Surrex Solutions Corp., the California Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s determination that the plaintiffs could not maintain a class action for proposed meal period class given the holding by the California Supreme Court in Brinker v. Superior Court (click here for additional information on the Brinker ruling). The appellate court had previously upheld the trial court’s denial of class certification, but the California Supreme Court granted review of the case pending its decision in Brinker. Once Brinker was decided, the Supreme Court transferred the case back to the appellate court for a decision applying the new analysis set forth in Brinker.

In Muldrow, the appellate court found that the trial court properly denied class certification for the meal break class.  It stated, “In Brinker, the Supreme Court held that an employer need only provide for meal periods, and need not ensure that employees take such breaks.”

In support of its conclusion that the trial court properly denied class certification as to the meal break claims, the court quoted the following language from the Brinker decision:

An employer’s duty with respect to meal breaks…is an obligation to provide a meal period to its employees. The employer satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.

Plaintiffs argued that they should now be able to present evidence that the employees were “discouraged” from taking meal breaks given the Brinker decision. The appellate court rejected this request as this was the first time plaintiffs raised the issue, and there were a number of cases that plaintiffs could have relied upon for this theory prior to the Brinker decision.

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Does the Company or the Employee Own a Twitter Account?

Imagine you are an employer and your employee in charge of your social media accounts leaves, keeps the accounts, and begins using the accounts while working for a competitor. Conversely, imagine you are an employee, leave employment to work for a competitor and your former employer sues you for $350,000 because you refuse to stop using your social media accounts. These issues are at play in PhoneDog v. Kravitz. The case illustrates the complicated issues surrounding exactly who owns social media accounts that are used for work. Noah Kravitz worked for PhoneDog as a product reviewer and video blogger. He had a Twitter account “@PhoneDog_Noah” he used as one way to publish product reviews as part of his job at PhoneDog. PhoneDog asserts in the lawsuit that it issues its employees Twitter accounts in the form of “@PhoneDog_[name]”. PhoneDog alleges that all of these Twitter accounts are proprietary, confidential information. Kravitz used the account while he was employed at PhoneDog, and garnered 17,000 Twitter followers.

When Kravitz left employment with PhoneDog to join a competitor, PhoneDog asked him to stop using the Twitter account. It is alleged in the lawsuit that Kravitz refused, changed the Twitter account handle to “@noahkravitz” and then continued to use the account and maintain the Twitter followers.

In response, PhoneDog filed a lawsuit against Kravitz for (1) misappropriation of trade secrets; (2) intentional interference with prospective economic advantage; (3) negligent interference with prospective economic advantage; and (4) conversion. Currently, the Court has ruled that PhoneDog’s lawsuit may proceed at this point, but Kravitz has raised some valid points that may be a defense, but still need to be developed further in litigation. 

Kravitz maintains that there cannot be a claim against him for misappropriation of trade secrets because the Twitter account followers are not a secret, as anyone on Twitter can see who the followers are. Kravitz also argues that the password to the Twitter account is not a trade secret, as PhoneDog does not derive any economic benefit from the password itself – it simply allows the user to see public information. Kravitz was also the person who created the password, not PhoneDog, so there is no PhoneDog secret at issue here. Most interestingly, Kravitz argues that PhoneDog does not have a claim against him for misappropriating the account because the Twitter account is not owed by PhoneDog. Twitter’s Terms of Service specifies that all accounts are the exclusive property of Twitter, that Twitter has the right to “reclaim usernames without liability” to the users, and Twitter retains the right to terminate accounts.

The employer is not without its share of arguments as well. While Kravitz raises some interesting technical issues about who owns the Twitter account, PhoneDog would have a strong argument that the license issued by Twitter is really the property at issue. PhoneDog could argue that because the license granted by Twitter to Kravitz was done during Kravitz’ employment and he set up the account at the request of PhoneDog, this license actually belongs to PhoneDog. Some not so well known California Labor Code provisions strongly support PhoneDog’s argument.  For example, Labor Code section 2860, states:

Everything which an employee acquires by virtue of his employment, except the compensation which is due to him from his employer, belongs to the employer, whether acquired lawfully or unlawfully, or during or after the expiration of the term of his employment.

Furthermore, Labor Code section 2863 provides:

An employee who has any business to transact on his own account, similar to that entrusted to him by his employer, shall always give the preference to the business of the employer.

This fascinating case raises many interesting issues, and will not be the last time I blog about the issues it raises.  It is a good reminder that the creation and maintenance of social media accounts is a critical factor in the employment context today and needs to be addressed from both the employer's and employee's perspectives.

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Court Holds Employers May Chargeback Sales Representatives For Returns

In sales, it is usually the case when the sale is made, but the customer has a set period of time to return the product. This presents an issue for an employer who pays the sales representative a commission. The employer does not want to pay a commission on an item sold that may be returned. On the other hand, the sales representative would like use of the money while waiting to the period of time the customer has to cancel the purchase. Add to the mix California’s very stringent requirements prohibiting chargebacks and protection of employee wages, and the issue becomes very complex. The decision in Deleon v. Verizon Wireless clarified the issue about whether employers may chargeback commissions that have not yet been earned by the sales representative.

The plaintiff, Deleon, worked as a sales representative for Verizon Wireless. He sued Verizon on the basis that its commission plan violated Labor Code section 223 by “secretly pay[ing] a lower wage while purporting to pay the wage designated by statue or by contract.” Verizon contended its chargeback policy did not violate section 223 because: (1) Deleon’s commission payments were advances, not wages; (2) the chargeback policy was set forth in the compensation plans and was not a “secret” underpayment of a lower than agreed-upon wage; and (3) the chargeback provision did not result in a payment of a lower wage than the wage designated in the compensation plans.

In agreeing with Verizon, the court held that while sales commissions are wages, the right to commissions is determined by the “terms of the contract for compensation.” Here, the agreement Verizon had with plaintiff clearly set forth the conditions necessary before a commission was earned. The plan was clear that commissions were only earned if the customer did not discontinue the cell phone service during the applicable chargeback period. The court held that until this chargeback period expired, plaintiff had not made a commission and the amounts provided to plaintiff were only advances. Because Verizon provided plaintiff an advance on the commissions, and if the customer cancelled the service before the chargeback period expired, it was permissible for Verizon to reduce the representative’s next advance as an offset of the cancelled sale.

The take away for employers: commission plans and agreements must be clearly drafted and set forth the conditions that must be met before the commission is earned. It must also set forth that any payments to the sales representative are only advances, not wages, until the sale is final. If the plan is clear, a chargeback against the advances are permissible should the sale not become final with the customer.
 

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Plaintiff Cannot Bring Class Action In Arbitration Even When Arbitration Agreement Is Silent On Issue

In Kinecta Alternative Financial Solutions v. Superior Court (wrd) held that a trial could improperly ordered a wage and hour class action to proceed in arbitration as a class action. The appellate court held that even though the arbitration agreement was silent on whether the parties agreed to arbitrate class claims, the fact that the agreement only referenced plaintiff’s claims against the employer (not other employees’ claims as well) the plaintiff could only bring her individual claims in arbitration. 

The plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement that provided to arbitrate all disputes arising out of her employment. The arbitration agreement was silent on the issue of class arbitration. Plaintiff filed a class action complaint alleging various wage and hour violations including failure to pay overtime and failure to provide meal and rest breaks. The employer filed a motion to compel arbitration and a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s class claims. The issue the court addressed was whether the employer in this case could be compelled to arbitrate a class action when the arbitration agreement does not expressly provide for a class arbitration.

In agreeing with the employer, the Court held that even though the arbitration agreement was silent on class arbitration, it cannot be assumed that the parties agreed to arbitration class claims. Relying upon the recent United States Supreme Court rulings, the court held:

This petition is governed by Stolt-Nielsen v. Animalfeeds International Corp. (2010) 559 U.S. __ [130 S.Ct. 1758], which holds that under the [Federal Arbitration Act], a party may not be compelled to submit to class arbitration unless the arbitration contract provides a basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so. The arbitration provision in this case expressly limited arbitration to the arbitration of disputes between Malone and Kinecta. The arbitration agreement made no reference to, and did not authorize, class arbitration of disputes. Thus the parties did not agree to authorize class arbitration in their arbitration agreement, and the order denying Kinecta’s motion to dismiss class claims must be reversed.

The arbitration agreement in this case only made reference to the plaintiff, by referencing “I”, “me,” and “my.” The agreement never made reference to other employees or groups of employees. Under the Federal Arbitration Act a party cannot not be compelled to submit to class arbitration unless there is a contractual basis for concluding that they agreed to do so. The mere silence on the issue of class arbitration in an arbitration agreement cannot be interpreted to mean that a party agreed to class arbitration. Therefore, the court held that plaintiff’s lawsuit could only proceed on her own individual claims in arbitration.

Employers should carefully examine whether or not arbitration agreements are appropriate for their company. There are some negative aspects of entering into arbitration agreements, but the ruling in Kinecta is a good example of the enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration agreements.

For more information about arbitration agreements, and the enforceability of their terms, please see my previous post, Things You Wanted To Know About Arbitration Agreements In California, But Were Afraid To Ask.

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Meal and Rest Break Compliance After Brinker v. Superior Court

Have you attended webinars and read new legal updates on the new Brinker decision and still uncertain on how this applies to your company? Realizing that employers need to take a more active step in ensuring they are in compliance with the new decision, I've developed a package that actually assists employers in drafting and implementing a meal and rest break policy tailored to their business:

  • A draft of meal and rest break policy to comply with the standards set forth in Brinker.
  • Video presentation covering overview of Brinker (1 hour) and presentation materials.
  • 1/2 hour consultation for implementing meal and rest break policy tailored to your company.

The California Supreme Court made it clear in its decision that different industries and facts will either prohibit or permit employers from requiring different standards regarding the timing and offering of meal and rest breaks under California law.  General advice from webinars and articles are not sufficient to ensure companies are in compliance with the clarifications set forth in the decision.    The cost of the package is a flat fee of $450. 

More information about the compliance package is listed here

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NLRB's Attempt To Require Workplace Poster Is Temporarily Stopped

Here in California the Brinker decision has taken up most of my time over the last week.  Now I am finally able to focus on a national issue - as the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia blocked the NLRB from requiring employers to post a notice of employee rights. The court’s decision comes after the federal court in South Carolina ruled that the NLRB exceeded its authority by requiring employers to post notices in the workplace.

The DC appellate court held:

The uncertainty about enforcement counsels further in favor of temporarily preserving the status quo while this court resolves all of the issues on the merits.

On April 17, the NLRB issued a statement setting forth its position:

The agency disagrees with and will appeal last week’s decision by the South Carolina District Court, which found the NLRB lacked authority to promulgate the rule.
Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce said of the recent decisions, “We continue to believe that requiring employers to post this notice is well within the Board’s authority, and that it provides a genuine service to employees who may not otherwise know their rights under our law.”

The NLRB’s website, which explains the notice, also sets forth:

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily enjoined the NLRB’s rule requiring the posting of employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on April 30, 2012, will not take effect until the legal issues are resolved. There is no new deadline for the posting requirement at this time.

From the docket, it appears that the matter is set for oral argument in September of 2012. So it is unlikely that the NLRB will attempt implement the poster in workplaces prior to this date. My previous post on the topic is here

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When Do Employers Have To Offer Meal And Rest Breaks? Analysis Of Brinker Corp. v. Superior Court

 

It has been a week now since the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. I’ve been getting a lot of questions, and have spoken on the topic a few times, and thought a couple of charts illustrating the Court’s holding would assist in understanding the decision. For a more general discussion of the Brinker decision, please see my previous article. 

 

Meal Periods

The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker that employers need to give an employee their first meal break “no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.” The Court said that contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, there are no additional timing requirements for the meal breaks. 

I’ve created this chart to help illustrate this point:

If an employee begins work at 8:00 a.m., the employee must start his break by 12:59, which is before the end of the 5th hour of work. 

Another issue in the case was Brinker’s policy of “early lunching.” Early lunching is when employers allow the employees to take their meal break within the first hour or two of arriving for work. Once the employee is given this first meal period, then they would continue to work for six, seven, eight, or more hours without an additional meal break. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that this policy violated the law. The Plaintiff argued that the law required employers had a duty to provide meal breaks on a “rolling five” hour basis, or every five hours. 

Here is a chart that provides an example of an early lunching practice:

Before employers begin to employ an early lunching policy, they should do so with caution and some guidance. As Court cautioned employers that: “in the context of an eight-hour shift, ‘[a]s

a general matter,’ one rest break should fall on either side of the meal break. Shorter or longer shifts and other factors that render such scheduling impracticable may alter this general rule.”

Rest Breaks

As for of rest breaks, the Court set forth that, “[e]mployees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.” The Court’s holding can be summarized as follows:

In regards to when during the shift rest breaks should be taken, the Court held that “the only constraint of timing is that rest breaks must fall in the middle of work periods ‘insofar as practicable.’” The Court stopped short of explaining what qualifies as “insofar as practicable”, and employers should closely analyze whether they may deviate from this general principle. 

 

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Brinker: California Supreme Court Clarifies Meal And Rest Break Requirements

Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum) was finally decided by the California Supreme Court. The decision was anxiously awaited by many due to its clarifications of California employment laws regarding the duties employers have regarding offering meal and rest breaks, and when the breaks need to be taken.  The primary holding of the case is that employers do not need to ensure that no work is performed during meal breaks.  The Court, however, cautioned employers that they cannot undermine formal policies by pressuring employees to work during breaks.  Also of interest, as explained below, the Court provided a clarification of the rate that employees accrue rest breaks, which varies from how most employers interpreted the rest break requirement. 

Meal Periods
Employers Have No Duty To Ensure Meal Breaks Are Taken

The Plaintiff in the case argued that Brinker had to “ensure that work stops for a the required thirty minute[]” meal period. Alternatively, Brinker argued that under California law employers only had to provide meal periods and would not incur any liability if the employee did not take the break. The Court explained:

[Plaintiff] Hohnbaum contends an employer is obligated to “ensure that work stops for the required thirty minutes.” Brinker, in a position adopted by the Court of Appeal, contends an employer is obligated only to “make available” meal periods, with no responsibility for whether they are taken. We conclude that under Wage Order No. 5 and Labor Code section 512, subdivision (a), an employer must relieve the employee of all duty for the designated period, but need not ensure that the employee does no work.

The Court clarified that employers do not need to ensure that employees do not perform any work during their break:

The difficulty with the view that an employer must ensure no work is done—i.e., prohibit work—is that it lacks any textual basis in the wage order or statute. While at one time the IWC’s wage orders contained language clearly imposing on employers a duty to prevent their employees from working during meal periods, we have found no order in the last half-century continuing that obligation. Indeed, the obligation to ensure employees do no work may in some instances be inconsistent with the fundamental employer obligations associated with a meal break: to relieve the employee of all duty and relinquish any employer control over the employee and how he or she spends the time.

The Court also provided further clarification as to what meal period obligations employers have:

[T]he wage order’s meal period requirement is satisfied if the employee (1) has at least 30 minutes uninterrupted, (2) is free to leave the premises, and (3) is relieved of all duty for the entire period.

Therefore, the Court held:

To summarize: An employer’s duty with respect to meal breaks under both section 512, subdivision (a) and Wage Order No. 5 is an obligation to provide a meal period to its employees. The employer satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so. What will suffice may vary from industry to industry, and we cannot in the context of this class certification proceeding delineate the full range of approaches that in each instance might be sufficient to satisfy the law.
On the other hand, the employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed. Bona fide relief from duty and the relinquishing of control satisfies the employer’s obligations, and work by a relieved employee during a meal break does not thereby place the employer in violation of its obligations and create liability for premium pay under Wage Order No. 5, subdivision 11(B) and Labor Code section 226.7, subdivision (b).

However, the Court also provided a warning to employers that, “On the other hand, an employer may not undermine a formal policy of providing meal breaks by pressuring employees to perform their duties in ways that omit breaks.”

Meal Period Timing Requirements

The Court also clarified when meal periods must be provided. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that Brinker’s policy of “early lunching” violated the Labor Code. Early lunching is which is when employers allow employees to take their meal break within the first hour or two of arriving to work, and then have the employees continue to work to the end of their shift without taking another meal period. The Plaintiff argued that the Labor Code requires that employees take a meal period every five consecutive hours of work. In rejecting the Plaintiff’s argument, the Court stated:

Hohnbaum contends section 512 should be read as requiring as well a second meal period no later than five hours after the end of a first meal period if a shift is to continue. The text does not permit such a reading.

The Court explained the timing requirements of meal periods as follows:

We conclude that, absent waiver, section 512 requires a first meal period no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.

 

Rest Periods
Rate Rest Periods Accrue To Employees

The Court began its explanation of the rate at which rest breaks must be given to employees by examining Wage Order No. 5. The Court focused in on subdivision 12(A) of the wage order, which provides:

Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. The authorized rest period time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of ten (10) minutes net rest time per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof. However, a rest period need not be authorized for employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one-half (3½) hours.

The Court explained that “major fraction thereof” as applied to the four hour period referenced in the Wage Order means “any amount of time in excess of two hours – i.e., any fraction greater than half.” Therefore, by applying this calculation under the wage order, the Court held:

Employees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.

Timing Of Rest Breaks

The Court disagreed with the Plaintiff’s argument that rest breaks had to occur before meal breaks under the law. The Court held that the only “constraint on timing is that rest breaks must fall in the middle of work periods ‘insofar as practicable.’” The Court explained:

Hohnbaum asserts employers have a legal duty to permit their employees a rest period before any meal period. Construing the plain language of the operative wage order, we find no such requirement and agree with the Court of Appeal, which likewise rejected this contention.

 

...

Either the rest period must fall before the meal period or it must fall after. Neither text nor logic dictates an order for these, nor does anything in the policies underlying the wage and hour laws compel the conclusion that a rest break at the two-hour mark and a meal break at the four-hour mark of such a shift is lawful, while the reverse, a meal break at the two-hour mark and a rest break at the four-hour mark, is per se illegal.

 

The entire decision can be read from the Supreme Court's website here (PDF) (WRD).  I will definitely have more thoughts on this decision in the near term, and will be reviewing it in further detail over the weekend in preparation for the webinar my partner, Dan Turner and I will be conducting next Wednesday addressing the full impact the Brinker decision will have on employers.

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Brinker v. Superior Court Decision To Be Published Tomorrow

The California Supreme Court announced today that the opinion in Brinker v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum) will be published tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. The opinion will address many issues surrounding meal and rest break requirements under the California Labor Code, such as whether employers need to ensure or simply provide meal breaks, and when breaks should be taken during a shift.

For more information on the decision we will be holding a webinar next Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. PST. Registration information is here.

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Webinar - The Impact of Brinker: Understanding The Supreme Court's Decision On Meal & Rest Breaks

Be among the first in California to understand the complete impact the monumental decision in Brinker v. Superior Court will have on employers. The Court’s decision is expected on April 12, and Anthony Zaller and Daniel Turner will analyze and discuss the impact of the decision. The webinar will explain the decision and what it means for employers and wage and hour class actions, discussing among other items:

  • Can meal periods be offered to employees, or do they need to be ensured?
  • When during the shift can meal and rest periods be taken?
  • What does the Court’s ruling mean for the status of meal and rest break class actions and class certification issues?
  • What is the impact for cases currently being litigated?

The cost is $150 per connection. 

Date: Wednesday, April 18
Time: 10:00 a.m. PST

Click here to register.  Existing clients can email us here to have the fee waived. 

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Everyone Needs To Calm Down About Social Media And The Law

I would love to be able to tell my clients that the Internet and social media has created a very complex set of legal issues that requires them to hire me in order to help develop all new handbook policies, change the way they conduct background checks on applicants, and monitor their employees. However, unfortunately, this is not the case. Employers and employees need to calm down a bit. I cringe when I hear employment lawyers (and Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer recent comments about employers asking to have employee’s Facebook passwords) advising people to refrain from using the Internet to do background checks on applicants because it may reveal that they are in a protected category, and then this could (possibly) be grounds for a discrimination case. Are these same lawyers advising their clients not to conduct interviews because during a face to face interview the employer will learn the same information? And just because the employer knows that an applicant or employee is in a protect class does not mean that discrimination occurred if it takes an adverse employment action against the applicant or employee. Sure, all employers are subject to frivolous legal actions. But, as I tell my clients, there are only two things my clients and I can control: (1) the advice I give them about how to act according to the law, and (2) whether my clients listen to my advice and act accordingly. The one thing we cannot control, no matter how hard we wish we could, is being able to stop people from filing a baseless lawsuit.

We’ve had the Internet since the 1970’s, and it became mainstream in the 1990’s. I would argue that most people (at least in the U.S.) have had experience on the Internet for at least a decade now. There has not been a lot of case law that has changed the way employment lawyers advise their clients on new human resources policies given the advent of the Internet and social media.

Have the courts simply not caught up with these "new" developments?

As typical lawyers always suggests at this point - courts are slow to deal with emerging technology issues, but I don’t think that is a play here. Courts are slow, but we’ve been actively using the Internet for a decade now. They are not that slow, and I think rather that the rules that were already in place and governed employer’s and employee’s activities were and still are sufficient in addressing the vast majority of the employment issues involving the Internet and social media. Sure, on the fringes there are a few technical items that may be the exception to this, but for the vast majority of employers the Internet and social media does not change much about how HR should conduct itself. The basic analysis regarding monitoring and employee’s off work conduct and right to privacy – the issues usually at play in these types of cases – is the same if the conduct at issue was done off the Internet. I would even argue that privacy cases usually are easier when it involves a posting on the Internet, as no one has any reasonable expectation of privacy in such a public disclosure.

What about social media policies?

That usually leads to the next question, “What about social media policies?” Again, most employers probably don’t need a specific social media policy.  And a basic policy (if you really think a social media policy is necessary) that the employer may terminate or discipline an employee for anything they do on the Internet if the employer could terminate or discipline the employee if the conduct at issue did not occur on the Internet would normally be sufficient.

Employers, lawyers, and employees need to take a step back and realize that even though we have these great new technological advances, the law developed before this technology does a pretty good job at resolving these issues in the employment context.

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Employers Requiring Employees To Provide Facebook Passwords

There are more reports of employers requiring applicants and employees to provide their passwords to their Facebook pages so that the employers can get a more accurate view of the employee’s character. I wrote about this issue a couple of years ago regarding the City of Bozeman requiring passwords from applicants. Apart from being a bad recruiting move, I believe it could arguably run afoul of California law as well.

Legality aside, employers that require this information will simply not get qualified applicants. I expect that most applicants or employees would simply refuse to provide this information. In addition, only people that don’t use social media much would have no problems with turning over their passwords. But companies need employees who understand social media these days, not someone who lacks initiative and some basic curiosity to at least log on to Facebook to see what the rest of the world is talking about.

In addition, there may be some real challenges against employers in California who require this information. First off, in California, Article I, Section I of the California Constitution guarantees citizens a right of privacy:

All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.

This right to privacy carries over to the workplace, but is even more protected when the employee is conducting personal activities during non-working hours. A person’s privacy expectation in their Facebook posts is very low since it is on the Internet. But one could argue that off-work conduct (which includes Facebook activity) is part of the employee’s privacy right recognized in the California Constitution.

Furthermore, section 96(k) of the Labor Code provides that the California Labor Commissioner may assert on behalf of employees:

Claims for loss of wages as the result of demotion, suspension, or discharge from employment for lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises.

For example, in Barbee v. Household Automotive Finance Corp. (2003), a court provided some guidance about the ramifications of section 96(k). Barbee was dating a subordinate at work, which violated the company’s policy and created a conflict of interest. The company gave Barbee and the employee with whom he was involved the option that one of them had to resign or to end the relationship. Barbee refused to resign, and they did not end the relationship, so the company terminated Barbee. Barbee sued, arguing that the company violated Labor Code section 96(k) in that his employer was regulating his lawful conduct during personal time. The court rejected Barbee’s argument in stating:

We conclude that Labor Code section 96, subdivision (k) does not set forth an independent public policy that provides employees with any substantive rights, but, rather, merely establishes a procedure by which the Labor Commissioner may assert, on behalf of employees, recognized constitutional rights. Therefore, in order to prevail on his wrongful termination claim, Barbee must establish that his employment was terminated because he asserted civil rights guaranteed by
article I of the California Constitution. We conclude that Barbee cannot make this showing and therefore he cannot establish the first necessary element of his wrongful termination claim.

While the court held that the company’s actions in that case did not violate section 96(k), the facts were very favorable to the employer, and there are other arguments available to employees. For example, an employee may also argue violation of Labor Code Section 98.6 which states in part that “no person shall discharge any employee ... because the employee … engaged in any conduct delineated in this chapter, including the conduct described in subdivision (k) of Section 96 ….”
Unfortunately, there are not many reported cases dealing with these issues. However, with the ubiquity of Facebook and other social medial sites, legislatures and courts will undoubtedly need to weight into these issues.

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The Enforceability of Class Action Waivers In The Employment Context

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently held in D.R. Horton, 357 NLRB No. 184, that a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement was unenforceable as it violates employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Specifically, it held that employees have “the right ‘to engage in…concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…” under section 7 of the NLRA and therefore any waiver to participate in class actions violates this right.

However, since the D.R. Horton decision courts have upheld class action waivers in the employment context and have rejected the NLRB’s reasoning in D.R. Horton as inconsistent with the United States Supreme Court’s holding in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which permitted class action waivers in arbitration agreements. For example, in LaVoice v. UBS Financial Services, Inc. (S.D.N.Y.), the plaintiff brought a putative class action alleging various wage and hour violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York labor laws. In rejecting the reasoning of D.R. Horton, the court held that:

Given that the Supreme Court held in AT&T Mobility that ‘[r]equiring the availability of classwide arbitration interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration and thus creates a scheme inconsistent with the FAA,’ this Court must read AT&T Mobility as standing against any argument that an absolute right to collective action is consistent with the FAA’s ‘overarching purpose’ of ‘ensur[ing] the enforcement of arbitration agreements according to their terms so as to facilitate streamlined proceedings. To the extent that [plaintiff] relies…on the recent decision of the National Labor Relations Board (‘NLRB’) in D.R. Horton, Inc. and Michael Cuda, Case 12-CA-25764, January 2, 2012, as authority to support a conflicting reading of AT&T Mobility, this Court declines to follow [that] decision[].

As I’ve written about previously, this area of the law is quickly changing. There is no doubt that new decisions this year will continue to add to the development of this area of the law.

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Things You Wanted To Know About Arbitration Agreements In California, But Were Afraid To Ask

 

What is an arbitration agreement?

            Employers can agree that they and any employees who enter into an arbitration agreement will resolve their differences before a private arbitrator instead of civil court. There are many different arbitration companies to choose from, but the American Arbitration Association and JAMS are two of the larger ones that are routinely appointed in arbitration agreements. 

Are they enforceable in California?

            Generally speaking, if the agreement is drafted and implemented properly, they are. However, arbitration agreements are routinely struck down by courts if they are not properly drafted. For example, recently a California court held in Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, that an arbitration agreement was not enforceable because it required the employee to waive statutory damages and remedies and only allowed the employer to recover its attorney’s fees if successful, not the employee. 

Why would an employer want to implement arbitration agreements?

            There are a number of reasons. The arbitration process can proceed more quickly than civil litigation, saving a lot of time and attorney’s fees in the process.  For example, often times the discovery process moves more quickly, and if there are any disputes, the parties can raise them with the arbitrator telephonically, instead of the lengthy motion process required to resolve disputes in civil court. The arbitration process is also confidential, so if there are private issues that must be litigated, these issues are not filed in the public records of the courts. The parties also have a say in deciding which arbitrator to use in deciding the case, whereas in civil court the parties are simply assigned a judge without any input into the decision. This is very helpful in employment cases, which often times involve more complex issues, and it is beneficial to the parties to select an arbitrator that has experience in resolving employment cases.   

Are class action waivers enforceable in arbitration agreements?

            Yes. Two recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp. have established that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable. However, Plaintiffs continually challenge class action waivers on numerous grounds, and it is critical employers’ agreements are properly drafted and up-to-date. 

Should every employer implement arbitration agreements?

            No. The decision to implement an arbitration agreement should be reviewed with an employment lawyer to discuss the positives as well as the negatives of arbitration agreements. As discussed above, there are a lot of benefits of having an arbitration agreement in place, but it does not come without a few drawbacks. The primary drawback is that in California, the employer must pay all of the arbitrator’s fees in employment cases. Arbitration fees can easily be tens of thousands of dollars – a cost that employers do not need to pay in civil cases. However, if the company values the confidentiality and speed of process provided in arbitration, this extra cost may well be worth it.

 

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Can Employees Agree To Waive Berman Hearings In Arbitration Agreements?

I’ve recently written a series of posts regarding the Berman hearing process available for employees to resolve wage disputes before the Labor Commissioner. See previous posts: Overview Of Berman Hearings Before The Labor Commissioner and How To Prepare For a Berman Hearing. But can an employer have an employee sign an arbitration agreement in which the employee agrees to waive any rights to a Berman hearing, and all claims against the employer must proceed directly to arbitration? A good question, to which there is not currently an answer. The issue is currently under review by the California Supreme Court in the case Sonic-Calabasas A, Inc. v. Moreno

This also leads to the issue of why might an employer want to have all claims proceed directly to arbitration, and skip-over the Berman hearing. As the California Supreme Court stated in its initial review of the Sonic-Calabasas case in early 2011, the Berman hearing provides the employee a number of benefits:

These provisions include the Labor Commissioner's representation in the superior court of employees unable to afford counsel, the requirement that the employer post an undertaking in the amount of the award, and a one-way attorney fee provision that requires an employer that is unsuccessful in the appeal to pay the employee's attorney fees.

It is an interesting background on how the Sonic-Calabasas case proceeded through the Courts. The California Supreme Court has already ruled on the Sonic-Calabasas case in the early part of 2011. At that time, the Court held that a waiver of the Berman hearing process in the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and contrary to public policy, and was not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Therefore, the California Supreme Court ruled that this waiver of the Berman hearing process was not an enforceable provision of the arbitration agreement. However, shortly after this ruling, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, a separate case out of California in which the US Supreme Court held that the FAA preempted California law and found that a class action waiver provision in arbitration agreements can be enforceable. For more information on AT&T Mobility you can listen to my podcast on the case here. The employer in Sonic-Calabasas A v. Moreno filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court to review the California Supreme Court’s ruling invalidating the Berman hearing waiver in the arbitration agreement. The US Supreme Court granted review, but recently sent the case back to the California Supreme Court to review the case again and to apply the standards set forth in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. So, we are waiting for the California Supreme Court to review the issue once again to have a definitive answer to the question.

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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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Oral Arguments In Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court

What can I say, technology is awesome.  The oral arguments in Brinker v. Superior Court that took place on November 8 are already on Youtube:

The Supreme Court has 90 days from oral argument to issue its decision.

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California Supreme Court Likely to Issue Ruling in Brinker Restaurant v. Superior Court Soon

Today, the California Supreme Court set oral argument in Brinker Restaurant v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum) to take place on November 8, 2011. The Court typically provides a ruling on cases within 90 days of oral argument, so I expect a ruling very early in 2012.

This case is the much anticipated ruling on whether employers need to “ensure” meal breaks or merely make the breaks available to employees.  The Supreme Court explains, "This case presents issues concerning the proper interpretation of California's statutes and regulations governing an employer's duty to provide meal and rest breaks to hourly workers."   Click here for a detailed analysis of the lower court’s ruling and the different issues that the Supreme Court may address.

The Supreme Court has issued "grant and hold" order pending the ruling in Brinker for the following cases and the Brinker decision will likely determine the issues in these cases as well:

S168806 BRINKLEY v. PUBLIC STORAGE
S184995 FAULKINBURY v. BOYD & ASSOCIATES
S186357 BROOKLER v. RADIOSHACK CORPORATION
S188755 HERNANDEZ v. CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL
S191756 TIEN v. TENET HEALTHCARE
S194064 LAMPS PLUS OVERTIME CASES
S195866 SANTOS v. VITAS HEALTHCARE

I will continue to provide case updates routinely as the decision nears.

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California Supreme Court Holds Nonresident Employees Entitled to California Overtime - Sullivan, et. al. v. Oracle Corporation.

In Sullivan, et. al. v. Oracle Corporation, the California Supreme Court ruled on whether California's overtime laws apply to out-of-state residents who perform work in California. The Court held that California’s interests in protecting all workers who perform work within the state are sufficient enough to require that California based employers must pay all out-of-state workers who perform work in California according to California’s overtime requirements.

The Plaintiffs were employed by Oracle as instructors who train Oracle’s customers in the use of the company’s products. Two Plaintiffs reside in Colorado, and another plaintiff resides in Arizona. The Plaintiffs primarily worked in their home states but also performed work in California and other states. During the relevant time period for this case (2001-2004), Plaintiff Sullivan worked 74 days in California, Plaintiff Evich worked 110 days, and Plaintiff Burkow worked 20 days.

The case came to the California Supreme Court as a request by the Ninth Circuit to decide unresolved questions of California law. The issues presented to the Court were:

  1. Does the California Labor Code apply to overtime work performed in California for a California-based employer by out-of-state plaintiffs in the circumstances of this case, such that overtime pay is required for work in excess of eight hours per day or in excess of forty hours per week?
  2. Does Business and Professions Code section 17200 apply to the overtime work described in question one?
  3. Does Section 17200 apply to overtime work performed outside California for a California-based employer by out-of-state plaintiffs in the circumstances of this case if the employer failed to comply with the overtime provisions of the FLSA?

Does California Overtime Apply to Out-Of-State Plaintiffs Working In California?

The Supreme Court held that the Plaintiffs were owed California overtime. It explained:

California’s overtime laws apply by their terms to all employment in the state, without reference to the employee’s place of residence. The overtime statute declares simply that “[a]ny work in excess of eight hours in one workday and . . . 40 hours in any one workweek . . . shall be compensated at the rate of no less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay . . . .” (Lab. Code, § 510, subd. (a), italics added.) The civil enforcement provision provides that “any employee receiving less than . . . the legal overtime compensation applicable to the employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance . . . .” (Id., § 1194, subd. (a), italics added.) Moreover, a preambular section of the wage law (Lab. Code, div. 2, pt. 4, ch. 1, §1171 et seq.) confirms that our employment laws apply to “all individuals” employed in this state (id., § 1171.5, subd. (a), italics added).

The Court explained that states have broad authority under their police powers to regulate employment matters within their boundaries (such as child labor laws, minimum and other wage laws, and workers compensation laws). “To exclude nonresidents from the overtime laws’ protection would tend to defeat their purpose by encouraging employers to import unprotected workers from other states.”

The Court was clear that the holding in this case is limited to the facts presented to it. The court stated, “[t]hus, we are not prepared, without more thorough briefing of the issues, to hold that IWC wage orders apply to all employment in California, and never to employment outside of California.” (emphasis in original).

Does B&P Code Section 17200 (“Unfair Competition Law” or “UCL”) Apply to The Unpaid Overtime?

The Supreme Court held it does, stating:

We have already decided that the failure to pay legally required overtime compensation falls within the UCL’s definition of an “unlawful . . . business act or practice”

Does the UCL Apply When To Claims Under the FLSA for Overtime Worked By Nonresidents In Other States?

The Court concluded that the UCL does not apply to claims under the FLSA for alleged violations that occurred in other states. It explained that in holding so would extend the UCL to apply outside of California’s boarders, in violation of the “presumption against extraterritorial application.”
 

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California Employment Law Podcast - AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion Decision On Class Action Waivers And Arbitration Agreements

Employees Entitled Up To Two Hours Of Premium Pay For Missed Meal and Rest Breaks Per Day - UPS v. Superior Court

California Labor Code section 226.7 provides that employees are entitled to receive premium payment in the form of one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for a missed meal or rest break. As the appellate court admitted in UPS v. Superior Court, this Labor Code provision is amenable to the two different interpretations offered by Plaintiff and Defendant.

Labor Code section 226.7 provides:

(a) No employer shall require an employee to work during any meal or rest period mandated by an applicable order of the Industrial Welfare Commission. [¶] (b) If an employer fails to provide an employee a meal period or rest period in accordance with an applicable order of the Industrial Welfare Commission, the employer shall pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each work day that the meal or rest period is not provided.

Plaintiff argued that section 226.7 allowed the recovery of two hours of premium wages if a meal and a rest break were not provided. Defendant argued that the language of section 226.7 only allowed Plaintiff to recover one hour premium wage, regardless if the Plaintiff did not receive both a rest and a meal break. The appellate court reviewed the legislative history and administrative history of the applicable Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders, and concluded that the employer is liable up to two hours of premium wages – one hour for a missed meal break and one hour for a missed rest break – per day.

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Court Affirms Denial Of Class Certification In Security Guard Meal and Rest Break Case

In Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates, Inc., Plaintiffs brought a case on behalf of about 4,000 current and former security guards of Boyd & Associates, Inc. Plaintiffs asserted that all guards had to sign an agreement to take on-duty meal periods and that they never took an uninterrupted, off-duty meal break. They also asserted that, while employed by Boyd, they were instructed not to leave their posts and never took any off duty rest breaks.

Meal Break Claim

Defendant Boyd argued that the on-duty meal periods at issue in this case created individualized issues that were not suitable for class-wide treatment by the court. In reviewing defendant’s argument, the court explained that on-duty meal periods are permissible if it meets the “nature of the work exception”:

Under the nature of the work exception, an employer is not required to provide off duty meal breaks “when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and when by written agreement between the parties an on the job paid meal period is agreed to.” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11040, subd. 11(A).) On duty meal period agreements are permitted under Wage Order No. 4 2001, California Code of Regulations, title 8, section 11040, subdivision 11(A). Based on the nature of the work exception, Boyd argues its liability to the Meal Break Class depends on individual issues regarding the nature of the work at each post and whether each employee did in fact take on duty meal breaks.

The court noted that Boyd did have a company-wide uniform policy of requiring security guard employees to take on duty meal breaks and required them to sign on duty meal break agreements. However, the court also recognized that individualized issues still existed. For example, Boyd submitted evidence that guards were able to take meal break “during periods of inactivity” and other guards stated that they are relieved of all duty in order to take a meal break. Boyd also submitted evidence showing that some of its guards were able to take off-duty meal breaks, it depended on the employees’ post they were assigned to, and other factors could make it possible for employees to take an off-duty break. Some employees submitted declarations saying that Boyd’s clients’ in-house security would relieve a Boyd security guard for a meal and rest break and on other occasions a second Boyd security guard would cover the other’s post to enable one of them to take a break.

The court also noted:

The ability of a Boyd security guard employee to take an off-duty meal break sometimes depended on whether the employee was training another employee (“When I am training another security officer we will relieve each other of all duty during meal and rest periods”). Some guards put out a sign saying “on a break” and took an off duty break.
The trial court held, and the appellate court agreed, that these issues were enough to create individual issues of liability predominate over common issues.

Rest Break Claim

The court held that to determine Boyd’s liability for failing to authorize and permit off duty rest breaks, individual determinations would have to be made for each security guard employee for each shift worked.

In at least one declaration, the employee stated he determined, based on the circumstances, when to take a rest break, and “[w]hen these periods occur I place a sign out to inform visitors that I am on break and will be back shortly.” Another employee declared she frequently took rest breaks at her post, but was able to “watch television, read magazines or books, or engage in other non security related activities.”

The court concluded that the evidence established that there was no common proof regarding a finding of Boyd’s liability for rest breaks. Boyd had no formal policy denying off-duty rest breaks, Boyd did not require employees to waive them, and whether a guard took a rest break depended on a number of individual circumstances.

Therefore, the court held that the trial court was correct in holding that the meal and rest break claims were not suitable for class-wide treatment. The opinion, Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates, Inc., can be read in full here.
 

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Employer Found Potentially Liable For Employee's Conduct After Work

In an opinion last month that did not receive much attention on the employment-law front was the case Lobo v. Tamco, which has huge ramifications for California employers. At issue was if the employer, Tamco, could legally be held liable for one of its’ employee’s negligent driving while he was on his way home. The court found that the employer could be held liable under an exemption to the “going-and-coming” rule.

This case was filed by Daniel Lobo’s wife and minor child. Mr. Lobo was a deputy sheriff who was killed by the allegedly negligent driving of Luis Duay Del Rosario who had just left work and was driving home. The officer was on a motorcycle, and was apparently responding to a call with his lights and sirens on, when the two collided. The family members sued Mr. Rosario’s employer (most likely because Mr. Rosario does not have any assets). The employer argued that because Mr. Rosario was going home, there could be no liability on its part. The court disagreed.

The “going-and-coming” rule and its exception

The court explained that normally employers are not liable for employee’s acts when they are not in the “course and scope of employment”:

Under the theory of respondeat superior, employers are vicariously liable for tortious acts committed by employees during the course and scope of their employment. [citation] However, under the “going and coming” rule, employers are generally exempt from liability for tortious acts committed by employees while on their way to and from work because employees are said to be outside of the course and scope of employment during their daily commute. (Huntsinger v. Glass Containers Corp. (1972) 22 Cal.App.3d 803, 807 [Fourth Dist., Div. Two] (Huntsinger).)

The court, however, also explained that there is an exception to the general rule:

“A well-known exception to the going-and-coming rule arises where the use of the car gives some incidental benefit to the employer. Thus, the key inquiry is whether there is an incidental benefit derived by the employer. [Citation.]” (State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Haight (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 223, 241.) This exception to the going and coming rule, carved out by this court in Huntsinger, supra, 22 Cal.App.3d 803, has been referred to as the “required-vehicle” exception. (Tryer v. Ojai Valley School (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 1476, 1481.) The exception can apply if the use of a personally owned vehicle is either an express or implied condition of employment (Hinojosa v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (1972) 8 Cal.3d 150, 152), or if the employee has agreed, expressly or implicitly, to make the vehicle available as an accommodation to the employer and the employer has “reasonably come to rely upon its use and [to] expect the employee to make the vehicle available on a regular basis while still not requiring it as a condition of employment.” (County of Tulare v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1985) 170 Cal.App.3d 1247, 1253.)

But what if the employee rarely uses their car for company business?

It does not matter how frequently or infrequently the employee uses their car for company purposes to establish the exception.  Here, the employer argued that the exemption to the going-and-coming rule did not apply because Mr. Rosario rarely used his care for company purposes. The evidence was that he only used his car 10 times or fewer during the 16 years he worked for Tamco. The court was not persuaded by this argument, and noted that there was not case law to support the argument. The fact that Mr. Rosario sometimes needed to use his car for company purposes was sufficient to establish the exception to the going-and-coming rule.

This case should be a call to employers to review if they require their employees to use their personal cars for work, and if this could create potential liability for the employer even though the employee is driving to or from work. 

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Recruiters for temporary staffing company must be paid overtime

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.

The case, Pellegrino v. Robert Half International, Inc. can be downloaded here (PDF).

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Arbitration Agreement Upheld Despite Employee's Argument It Was Not Mutual And Adhesive

In Roman v. Superior Court, the Court of Appeals upheld an arbitration agreement where the employee challenged the agreement by arguing that the agreement was unenforceable because it only obligated the employee to arbitrate his claims. The court disagreed with plaintiff’s argument and explained that the mere inclusion of the words “I understand” or “I agree” does not destroy the mutuality of an arbitration agreement. Roman v. Superior Court, 172 Cal.App.4th 1462, 1473 (2009).

The arbitration agreement at issue in the case provided:

I hereby agree to submit to binding arbitration all disputes and claims arising out of the submission of this application. I further agree, in the event that I am hired by the company, that all disputes that cannot be resolved by informal internal resolution which might arise out of my employment with the company, whether during or after that employment, will be submitted to binding arbitration. I agree that such arbitration shall be conducted under the rules of the American Arbitration Association. This application contains the entire agreement between the parties with regard to dispute resolution, and there are no other agreements as to dispute resolution, either oral or written.

Id. at 1467 (citation omitted). The agreement was contained in an employment application and clearly provided: “Please Read Carefully, Initial Each Paragraph and Sign Below.” Plaintiff also initialed next to the paragraph that contained the arbitration agreement. The court found that simply because the agreement in that case was an adhesion contract (or on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis), it still did not render the agreement unenforceable because the agreement was fair. Even though the agreement contained the words “I agree”, this did not render the arbitration agreement to only bind the employee and not the employer to the arbitration agreement.

The Roman court also noted that even if the agreement “were somehow ambiguous on this point, given the public policy favoring arbitration [citation] and the requirement we interpret the provision in a manner that renders it legal rather than void [citation], we would necessarily construe the arbitration agreement as imposing a valid, mutual obligation to arbitrate.” Roman, supra, 172 Cal.App.4th at p. 1473.  Employers should consider the pros and cons of having employees enter into arbitration agreements, and as this case illustrates, courts are likely to enforce the agreement if it is properly drafted. 

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Lower Court's Ruling In Brinker v. Hohnbaum

The Fourth Appellate District, Division One, Appellate Court's opinion in Brinker Restaurant Corporation, et al. v. Hohnbaum, et al. (July 22, 2008) is the opinion that was appealed to the California Supreme Court. The case is one of the first California state appellate court to rule on the parameters of employers’ duties under the California Labor Code requiring rest and meal breaks for hourly employees.  As discussed below, the court’s opinion was across the board in favor for California employers.  The primarily holding by the appellate court was that an employer does not have to “ensure” that meal and rest breaks are taken, therefore making these types of cases very difficult to certify as a class action. 

Due to the monumental impact this case will have on the vast wage and hour litigation in California, this post is longer than we typically like to write.

Case Background

In November 2005 Brinker filed its first petition for writ of mandate (D047509) in this matter. In the petition, Brinker challenged the court's July 2005 meal period order. Specifically, Brinker requested a writ directing the trial court to "vacate its earlier order holding that: (1) a non-exempt employee is entitled to a meal period for each five-hour block of time worked[; and] (2) the premium pay owed for a violation of [section 226.7] is a wage."

In support of its petition, Brinker argued the trial court erred by interpreting section 512 to mean that an hourly employee's entitlement to a meal period is "rolling," such that "a separate meal period must be provided for each five-hour block of time worked . . . regardless of the total hours worked in the day. In other words, the [court] interpreted the law to be that . . . [o]nce a meal period concludes, the proverbial clock starts ticking again, and if the employee works five hours more, a second meal period must be provided." 

Brinker also argued that although an employee working more than five hours and less than 10 hours is entitled under section 512 to a 30-minute meal period at some point during the workday, "nothing in [s]ection 512 . . . requires a second meal period be provided solely because [the] employee works five hours after the end of the first meal period, where the total time worked is less than [10] hours." Brinker further asserted that IWC Wage Order No. 5 also "does not dictate the anomalous result that meal periods must be provided every five hours" because, like section 512, it requires only that an employee working more than five hours "gets a meal period at some point during the workday." Brinker complained that the court's meal period ruling "requires servers to sit down, unpaid, during the most lucrative part of their working day."

Plaintiff’s Motion For Class Certification

Plaintiffs moved to certify a class of "[a]ll present and former employees of [Brinker] who worked at a Brinker[-]owned restaurant in California, holding a non-exempt position, from and after August 16, 2000 ('Class Members')." In their moving papers, plaintiffs alternatively defined the class as "all hourly employees of restaurants owned by [Brinker] in California who have not been provided with meal and rest breaks in accordance with California law and who have not been compensated for those missed meal and rest breaks." 

Plaintiffs' motion also sought certification of six subclasses, three of which are pertinent to the appeal: (1) a "Rest Period Subclass," consisting of "Class Members who worked one or more work periods in excess of three and a half (3.5) hours without receiving a paid 10 minute break during which the Class Member was relieved of all duties, from and after October 1, 2000"; (2) a "Meal Period Subclass," consisting of "Class Members who worked one or more work periods in excess of five (5) consecutive hours, without receiving a thirty (30) minute meal period during which the Class Member was relieved of all duties, from and after October 1, 2000"; and (3) an "Off-The-Clock Subclass," consisting of "Class Members who worked 'off-the-clock' or without pay from and after August 16, 2000."

The class in question is estimated to consist of more than 59,000 Brinker employees.

Plaintiffs Rest Break Claims

Plaintiffs allege Brinker willfully violated section 226.7 and IWC Wage Orders Nos. 5-1998, 5-2000 and 5-2001 by "fail[ing] to provide rest periods for every four hours or major fraction thereof worked per day to non-exempt employees, and failing to provide compensation for such unprovided rest periods." Section 226.7, subdivision (a) provides: "No employer shall require any employee to work during any meal or rest period mandated by an applicable order of the [IWC]." (Italics added.) 

The pertinent provisions of IWC Wage Order No. 5-2001 are codified in California Code of Regulations, title 8, section 11050, subdivision 12(A), which provides:

Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. The authorized rest period time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of ten (10) minutes net rest time per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof. However, a rest period need not be authorized for employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one-half (3 1/2) hours. Authorized rest period time shall be counted as hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages. (Italics added.)

The court held that the phrase "per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof" does not mean that a rest period must be given every three and one-half hours:

Regulation 11050(12)(A) states that calculation of the appropriate number of rest breaks must "be based on the total hours worked daily." Thus, for example, if one has a work period of seven hours, the employee is entitled to a rest period after four hours of work because he or she has worked a full four hours, not a "major fraction thereof." It is only when an employee is scheduled for a shift that is more than three and one-half hours, but less than four hours, that he or she is entitled to a rest break before the four hour mark. 

Moreover, because the sentence following the "four (4) hours or major fraction thereof" limits required rest breaks to employees who work at least three and one-half hours in one work day, the term "major fraction thereof" can only be interpreted as meaning the time period between three and one-half hours and four hours. Apparently this portion of the wage order was intended to prevent employers from avoiding rest breaks by scheduling work periods slightly less that [sic] four hours, but at the same time made three and one-half hours the cut-off period for work periods below which no rest period need be provided. 

The court also held that the DLSE’s opinion that the term "major fraction thereof" means any time over 50 percent of a four-hour work period is wrong because it renders the current version of Regulation 11050(12)(A) internally inconsistent. As an employee cannot be entitled to a 10-minute break if she or she "works more than 2 . . . hours in a day," if the employee is not entitled to a 10-minute break if he or she works "less than three and one-half" hours in a day. The court also noted that it is not required to follow the DLSE opinion on the matter, citing Murphy v. Kenneth Cole, 40 Cal.4th at p. 1105, fn. 7.

The court also held that the law does not required employers to provide rest breaks before meal breaks:

Furthermore, contrary to plaintiffs' assertion, the provisions of Regulation 11050(12)(A)do not require employers to authorize and permit a first rest break before the first scheduled meal period. Rather, the applicable language of Regulation 11050(12)(A)states only that rest breaks "insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period." (Italics added.) Regulation 11050(12)(A)is silent on the question of whether an employer must permit an hourly employee to take a 10-minute rest break before the first meal period is provided. As Brinker points out, an employee who takes a meal period one hour into an eight-hour shift could still take a post-meal period rest break "in the middle" of the first four-hour work period, in full compliance with the applicable provisions of IWC Wage Order No. 5-2001.

The court explained that Regulation 11050(12)(A) allows employers some “discretion to not have rest periods in the middle of a work period if, because of the nature of the work or the circumstances of a particular employee, it is not ‘practicable.’” In explaining what “practicable” means, the court specifically mentioned that:

…this discretion is of particular importance for jobs, such as in the restaurant industry, that require flexibility in scheduling breaks because the middle of a work period is often during a mealtime rush, when an employee might not want to take a rest break in order to maximize tips and provide optimum service to restaurant patrons. As long as employers make rest breaks available to employees, and strive, where practicable, to schedule them in the middle of the first four-hour work period, employers are in compliance with that portion of Regulation 11050(12)(A). 

Ultimately, the court held that a determination about whether it is practicable to permit rest breaks near the end of a four hour work period is not an issue that can be litigated on a class-wide basis. In overruling the trial court’s granting of class certification the Appellate Court stated:

Had the court properly determined that (1) employees need be afforded only one 10-minute rest break every four hours "or major fraction thereof" (Reg. 11050(12)(A)), (2) rest breaks need be afforded in the middle of that four-hour period only when "practicable," and (3) employers are not required to ensure that employees take the rest breaks properly provided to them in accordance with the provisions of IWC Wage Order No. 5, only individual questions would have remained, and the court in the proper exercise of its legal discretion would have denied class certification with respect to plaintiffs' rest break claims because the trier of fact cannot determine on a class-wide basis whether members of the proposed class of Brinker employees missed rest breaks as a result of a supervisor's coercion or the employee's uncoerced choice to waive such breaks and continue working. Individual questions would also predominate as to whether employees received a full 10-minute rest period, or whether the period was interrupted. The issue of whether rest periods are prohibited or voluntarily declined is by its nature an individual inquiry.

Plaintiffs argued that even if the trial court erred in failing to define the elements of plaintiffs' rest period claims prior to certifying the class the appellate court should remand the case to the trial court to permit the trial court to rule on if plaintiffs' "expert statistical and survey evidence" makes their rest break claims amenable to class treatment. The appellate court refused to remand the case, stating that while courts may use such evidence in determining if a claim is amenable to class treatment, here, that evidence does not change the individualized inquiry in determining if Brinker allowed or forbade rest periods. The court stated:

The question of whether employees were forced to forgo rest breaks or voluntarily chose not to take them is a highly individualized inquiry that would result in thousands of mini-trials to determine as to each employee if a particular manager prohibited a full, timely break or if the employee waived it or voluntarily cut it short. (Brown v. Federal Express Corp. (C.D.Cal. 2008) ___ F.R.D. ___ [2008 WL 906517 at *8] (Brown) [meal period violations claim not amenable to class treatment as court would be "mired in over 5000 mini-trials" to determine if such breaks were provided].)

For these reasons, the appellate court vacated the order granting class certification for the rest break subclass. 

Plaintiffs’ Meal Break Claims

In their second cause of action, plaintiffs allege Brinker violated sections 226.7 and 512, and IWC Wage Order No. 5, by failing to "provide meal periods for days on which non-exempt employees work(ed) in excess of five hours, or by failing to provide meal periods [altogether], or to provide second meal periods for days employees worked in excess of [10] hours, and failing to provide compensation for such unprovided or improperly provided meal periods." Plaintiffs claim that Brinker’s “early lunching” policy that required its employees to take their meal periods soon after they arrive for their shifts, usually within the first hour, and then requiring them to work in excess of five hours, and sometimes more than nine hours straight, without an additional meal period violated California law. 

Plaintiffs asserted that common issues predominate on their rest break claims because they "presented corporate policy evidence of a pattern and practice by Brinker of failing to provide a rest period prior to employees' meal period as a result of its practice of scheduling meals early." Specifically, plaintiffs argued that "Brinker maintains company-wide policies discouraging rest periods, including requiring servers to give up tables and tips if they want a break and failing to provide rest periods prior to scheduled early meals."

1. Rolling five-hour meal period claim

The lower trial court in this case, found that a meal period "must be given before [an] employee's work period exceeds five hours." The lower court also stated that "the DLSE wants employers to provide employees with break periods and meal periods toward the middle of an employee[']s work period in order to break up that employee's 'shift.'" The court further stated that Brinker "appears to be in violation of [section] 512 by not providing a 'meal period' per every five hours of work."

In overruling the lower court, the appellate court ruled that this interpretation of the law was incorrect and that the trial court’s class certification order rests on improper criteria with respect to the plaintiffs' rolling five-hour meal period claim.

The appellate court began its analysis with Labor Code Section 512, subdivision (a), which provides:

An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee. An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee only if the first meal period was not waived.

The appellate court held that Section 512(a) thus provides that an employer in California has a statutory duty to make a first 30-minute meal period available to an hourly employee who is permitted to work more than five hours per day, unless (1) the employee is permitted to work a "total work period per day" that is six hours or less, and (2) both the employee and the employer agree by "mutual consent" to waive the meal period.

The appellate court also held that this interpretation of section 512(a), regarding an employer's duty to provide a first meal period, is consistent with the plain language set forth in IWC Wage Order No. 5-2001, which provides in part: "No employer shall employ any person for a work period of more than five (5) hours without a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that when a work period of not more than six (6) hours will complete the day's work the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee."

On the issue regarding when an meal break must be provided the court stated:

With respect to the issue of when an employer must make a first 30-minute meal period available to an hourly employee, Brinker's uniform meal period policy (titled "Break and Meal Period Policy for Employees in the State of California") comports with the foregoing interpretation of section 512(a) and IWC Wage Order No. 5-2001. It provides that employees are "entitled to a 30-minute meal period" when they "work a shift that is over five hours." 

The court continued in holding that Section 512(a) also provides that an employer has a duty to make a second 30-minute meal period available to an hourly employee who has a "work period of more than 10 hours per day" unless (1) the "total hours" the employee is permitted to work per day is 12 hours or less, (2) both the employee and the employer agree by "mutual consent" to waive the second meal period, and (3) the first meal period "was not waived."

Plaintiffs argue that Brinker's written meal policy violates section 512(a) and IWC Wage Order No. 5 (specifically, Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11050, subd. 11(A)) because it allows the practice of “early lunching” and fails to make a 30-minute meal period available to an hourly employee for every five consecutive hours of work. Plaintiffs maintained that every hourly employee should receive a second meal break five hours after they return from the first meal break. The court found this argument unpersuasive:

Under this interpretation, however, the term "per day" in the first sentence of section 512(a) would be rendered surplusage, as would the phrase "[a]n employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes" in the second sentence of that subdivision.

The appellate court held that without a proper interpretation of section 512(a), the lower court could not correctly ascertain the legal elements that members of the proposed class would have to prove in order to establish their meal period claims, and therefore could not properly determine whether common issues predominate over issues that affect individual members of the class.

2. Brinker's failure to ensure employees take meal periods

Plaintiffs also claim that Brinker's uniform meal period policy violates sections 512 and 226.7, as well as IWC Wage Order No. 5, by failing to ensure that its hourly employees take their meal periods. In the primary holding of the case, the appellate court stated:

We conclude that California law provides that Brinker need only provide meal periods, and, as a result, as with the rest period claims, plaintiffs' meal period claims are not amenable to class treatment.

The appellate court disagreed with Plaintiffs’ contention that an employer’s duty was to ensure a meal break. The court stated:

If this were the case, employers would be forced to police their employees and force them to take meal breaks. With thousands of employees working multiple shifts, this would be an impossible task. If they were unable to do so, employers would have to pay an extra hour of pay any time an employee voluntarily chose not to take a meal period, or to take a shortened one. 

3. Amenability of plaintiffs' meal break claims to class treatment

The appellate court held that because meal breaks need only be made available, not ensured, individual issues predominate in this case and the meal break claim is not amenable class treatment. The court explained:

The reason meal breaks were not taken can only be decided on a case-by-case basis. It would need to be determined as to each employee whether a missed or shortened meal period was the result of an employee's personal choice, a manager's coercion, or, as plaintiffs argue, because the restaurants were so inadequately staffed that employees could not actually take permitted meal breaks. As we discussed, ante, with regard to rest breaks, plaintiffs' computer and statistical evidence submitted in support of their class certification motion was not only based upon faulty legal assumptions, it also could only show the fact that meal breaks were not taken, or were shortened, not why. It will require an individual inquiry as to all Brinker employees to determine if this was because Brinker failed to make them available, or employees chose not to take them.

The appellate court also found that the evidence does not show that Brinker had a class-wide policy that prohibited meal breaks. Instead, the evidence in this case indicated that some employees took meal breaks and others did not, and it requires the court to perform an individualized inquiring into the reasons why an employee did not take the break. The court also held that the plaintiffs’ statistical and survey evidence does not render the meal break claims one in which common issues predominate because while the time cards might show when meal breaks were taken and when there were not, they cannot show why they were or were not taken.

Plaintiffs’ Off-the clock claim

Plaintiffs also allege Brinker unlawfully required its employees to work off the clock during meal periods. This claim was comprised of two theories: (1) time worked during a meal period when an individual was clocked out; and (2) time “shaving,” which is defined as an unlawful alteration of an employee's time record to reduce the time logged so as to not accurately reflect time worked.

The court held, and the Plaintiffs did not dispute, that employers can only be held liable for off-the-clock claims if the employer knows or should have known the employee was working off the clock. (citing Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal.4th at p. 585.) The evidence also established that Brinker has a written corporate policy prohibiting off-the-clock work. Because of these facts, the court found that plaintiffs' off-the-clock claims are not amenable to class treatment. As the court stated:

Thus, resolution of these claims would require individual inquiries in to whether any employee actually worked off the clock, whether managers had actual or constructive knowledge of such work and whether managers coerced or encouraged such work. Indeed, not all the employee declarations alleged they were forced to work off the clock, demonstrating there was no class-wide policy forcing employees to do so.

 

 

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CA Supreme Court denies review in Starbucks tip pooling case

The California Supreme Court denied review of a lower appellate court decision in the class action of Chau v. Starbucks. The issue in the case is whether store managers, who as part of their duties also served customers, could share in the tips which were left for all servers. The trial court took the technical line that Labor Code section 351 prohibits any "agent" of the employer from sharing in tips. At the trial court level, plaintiffs won a $105 million award for restitution over the disputed tips for a four year period.

However, on appeal, this award was reversed. In a favorable ruling for employers, the appellate court took a more common sense reading of Labor Code section 351, explaining:

There is no decisional or statutory authority prohibiting an employer from allowing a service employee to keep a portion of the collective tip, in proportion to the amount of hours worked, merely because the employee also has limited supervisory duties. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and order the trial court to enter judgment in Starbucks's favor.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to review the appellate court’s decision establishes that decision as precedent and binding in California. Click here for a more detailed analysis of the appellate court's decision. 

However, employers are cautioned to review the appellate decision (and obtain legal advice) before allowing managers to share in tip sharing arrangements. For example, the Starbucks ruling involved the situation where there was a "collective tip box" that "a customer would necessarily understand the tip will be shared among the employees who provide the service” and that the managerial employee is part of the team that provided the service.

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California Supreme Court holds employees' privacy rights not invaded by video surveillance

Plaintiffs Hernandez and Lopez were employed by Hillsides Children Center, Inc., which provided services to children with special needs and who were abused. Hillsides discovered that someone was accessing pornographic websites on a computer located in the Plaintiffs’ office late in the evening. 

The employer, citing its mission to protect abused children and to protect itself from any legal liability, installed a video camera in Plaintiffs’ office to identify the perpetrator. Because the websites were only being access at night, the video camera did not record any of Plaintiffs’ activities during the day, and was only turned on at night. The perpetrator was not caught.  But Plaintiffs’ discovered the video camera in the office, and filed this lawsuit for violation of their privacy rights.

The California Supreme Court noted that to succeed on their privacy claims, Plaintiffs would need to prove that:

  1. The plaintiff must possess a legally protected privacy interest,
  2. The plaintiff’s expectations of privacy must be reasonable, and
  3. The plaintiff must show that the intrusion is so serious in nature, scope, and actual or potential impact as to constitute an egregious breach of social norms.

The Court noted that Plaintiffs were able to establish violation of the first two elements in this case– that the employer intentionally intruded into the Plaintiffs’ office in which they had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Offensiveness of the employer’s action

However, the Court held that Plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proof for the third element. First, the Court held that the degree and setting of the intrusion into Plaintiffs’ privacy was not very high. The Court noted that the “place, time, and scope” of defendant’s surveillance was not highly offensive. Second, the Court looked at the employers motive and justifications for conducting the surveillance – which had no element of being improper in this case. Given nature Hillsides’ business of helping abused children, it was taking proper action to prevent any possible harm to them. Given these factors, the Court found that the Plaintiffs could not, as a matter of law, prove that a reasonable person would find the intrusion into their privacy offensive.

Take away for employers

  • Do not assume that you have the right to monitor employees during working hours. As the case establishes, employees still have reasonable expectations of privacy at work.
  • Do not assume a computer monitoring policy applies to video and audio surveillance. The employer in this case tried to argue that the computer monitoring policy diminished Plaintiffs’ expectation of privacy at work, but the Court disagreed because the policy never mentioned the possibility that employees could be videotaped at work.

The case, Hernandez v. Hillsides, Inc. can be read here (PDF).
 

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Massachusetts Employee Seeks Refuge From Noncompetition Agreement In California

The case of David Donatelli is a good reminder to employers how important choice of law provisions can be in noncompetition agreements. The Trade Secrets and Noncompete Blog recently chronicled a fight between EMC Corp (based in Massachusetts) and Hewlett Packard Co. (based in California) over the enforceability of a noncompetition agreement with a former high level EMC employee.

California courts have clearly established that noncompetition agreements are very difficult to enforce under California law, as explained further below. Therefore, once Donatelli left employment with EMC, the company raced to file a lawsuit against the former employee to prevent him from working with HP in Massachusetts. HP also raced to file a lawsuit in California barring EMC from enforcing the noncompetition agreement.

The Massachusetts court ruled first, finding that the agreement was enforceable under Massachusetts law, and that California law does cannot affect the court’s ruling. The court allowed Donatelli to present evidence establishing that his duties and job at HP did not directly compete with his former position at EMC. The court allowed Donatelli to work for HP in California given the fact that he proved there is minimal overlap between his new HP position and his former position at EMC.

Noncompetition Agreements In California

In California, noncompetition agreements are governed by Business & Professions Code section 16600, which states: “Except as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.” The statute permits noncompetition agreements in the context of sale or dissolution of corporations (§ 16601), partnerships (§ 16602), and limited liability corporations (§ 16602.5).

Under the common law, as still recognized by many states today, contractual restraints on the practice of a profession, business, or trade, were considered valid, as long as they were reasonably imposed.

In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled on the enforceability of noncompetition agreements under California in Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP. Arthur Andersen argued that California courts have held that section 16600 embrace the rule of reasonableness in evaluating competitive restraints.

The Court disagreed with Arthur Andersen, and noted:

We conclude that Andersen’s noncompetition agreement was invalid. As the Court of Appeal observed, “The first challenged clause prohibited Edwards, for an 18-month period, from performing professional services of the type he had provided while at Andersen, for any client on whose account he had worked during 18 months prior to his termination. The second challenged clause prohibited Edwards, for a year after termination, from ‘soliciting,’ defined by the agreement as providing professional services to any client of Andersen’s Los Angeles office.” The agreement restricted Edwards from performing work for Andersen’s Los Angeles clients and therefore restricted his ability to practice his accounting profession.

The Court found that this agreement was invalid because it restrained Edwards’ ability to practice his profession.

However, Arthur Andersen argued that section 16600 has a “narrow-restraint” exception and that its agreement with Edwards survives under this exception. Andersen pointed out that a federal court in International Business Machines Corp. v. Bajorek (9th Cir. 1999) upheld an agreement mandating that an employee forfeits stock options if employed by a competitor within six months of leaving employment. Andersen also noted that a Ninth Circuit federal court in General Commercial Packaging v. TPS Package (9th Cir. 1997) held that a contractual provision barring one party from courting a specific customer was not an illegal restraint of trade prohibited by section 16600, because it did not “entirely preclude[]” the party from pursuing its trade or business.

In refusing to accept the “narrow-restraint” exception for noncompetition agreements in California, the Court stated:

Contrary to Andersen’s belief, however, California courts have not embraced the Ninth Circuit’s narrow-restraint exception. Indeed, no reported California state court decision has endorsed the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning, and we are of the view that California courts “have been clear in their expression that section 16600 represents a strong public policy of the state which should not be diluted by judicial fiat.” [citation] Section 16600 is unambiguous, and if the Legislature intended the statute to apply only to restraints that were unreasonable or overbroad, it could have included language to that effect. We reject Andersen’s contention that we should adopt a narrow-restraint exception to section 16600 and leave it to the Legislature, if it chooses, either to relax the statutory restrictions or adopt additional exceptions to the prohibition-against-restraint rule under section 16600.

The Court’s ruling basically eliminated the validity of non-competition agreements under California that are not expressly provided for in Section 16600.

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$86 Million Verdict Against Starbucks Overturned: Court Holds That Shift Supervisors May Share In "Tip Apportionment" Arrangements

The $86 million trial award against Starbucks for violation of California Labor Code provisions on tips was overturned by a California appellate court (Chau v. Starbucks). The case was initiated by Jou Chau who was a former Starbucks barista. He brought a class action against Starbucks alleging that the company’s policy permitting shift supervisors to share in tips that customers place in a collective tip box violated Labor Code section 351 and California Unfair Competition Law. The trial court certified a class action of current and former baristas and held a bench trial, in which it held Starbucks was liable for $86 million.

The appellate court, in overturning the trial court’s award, succinctly summarized the error it found the trial court made:

The applicable statutes do not prohibit Starbucks from permitting shift supervisors to share in the proceeds placed in collective tip boxes. The court's ruling was improperly based on a line of decisions that concerns an employer's authority to mandate that a tip given to an individual service employee must be shared with other employees. The policy challenged here presents the flip side of this mandatory tip-pooling practice. It concerns an employer's authority to require equitable allocation of tips placed in a collective tip box for those employees providing service to the customer. There is no decisional or statutory authority prohibiting an employer from allowing a service employee to keep a portion of the collective tip, in proportion to the amount of hours worked, merely because the employee also has limited supervisory duties.

At issue in this case is the interpretation of Labor Code section 351, which states: "No employer or agent shall collect, take, or receive any gratuity or a part thereof that is paid, given to, or left for an employee by a patron . . . . Every gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for." Plaintiff here argued that the shift supervisors who participated in sharing the tips left in the tip jar were “agents” of Starbucks, and therefore are prohibited from sharing in the tips.

The court explained the manner in which Starbucks collects and shares the tips left in the tip jars:

Because of the team-service approach, a collective tip box is provided for those customers who choose to tip the group of employees, rather than an individual. Collective tipping is the norm with occasional instances of individual tipping. Starbucks has a highly detailed written policy for collecting, storing, and distributing these collective tips. This policy requires each store to have a "standard 4" x 4" plexi cube container for tips." The container must be placed near each cash register, and should not have any signs on it. At the end of each day, an employee must store the tips under numerous rules that ensure the security of the tip funds.
Starbucks mandates that the only employees eligible to share in the weekly collective tips are "all baristas and shift supervisors who worked that week." Store managers and assistant managers are prohibited from receiving any portion of these tips. Additionally, only baristas and shift supervisors are eligible to count and distribute the tips. To calculate the weekly tip distribution, the selected counting employee must: (1) determine the total monetary amount from the tip container; (2) calculate the total number of hours worked by all baristas and shift supervisors in the particular store; (3) divide the total amount of hours by the store's total earned tips for the week to obtain the tip hourly rate; (4) multiply each of the barista and shift supervisor hours by the tip hourly rate to determine each employee's tip income; and (5) place each employee's tip income in a sealed envelope, label the envelope with the employee's name, and store the envelope in the safe until the employee is available to take possession of it.

The court recognized that if a customer left a tip for a particular employee, then the employee was entitled to keep that tip and was not required to place the tip in the collective tip jar.

Plaintiff argued that because the shift supervisors were considered Starbucks’ agent under Labor Code section 350, they cannot participate in the sharing of the tips even if they serviced customers who left tips in the communal tip jar.

The court found that even if the shift supervisors meet the definition of agent under section 350, Labor code section 351 does not prohibit Starbucks from allowing shift supervisors from sharing in tips that were left for baristas and for the shift supervisors. The court explained:

Because—as plaintiffs concede—section 351 does not prohibit a shift supervisor from keeping gratuities given to him or her for his or her customer services, there is no logical basis for concluding that section 351 prohibits an employer from allowing the shift supervisor to retain his or her portion of a collective tip that was intended for the entire team of service employees, including the shift supervisor. In this situation, the shift supervisor keeps only his or her earned portion of the gratuity and does not "take" any portion of the tip intended for services by the barista or baristas. If—as is undisputed here—the tips were left in the collective tip boxes for the baristas and shift supervisors, and it was permissible for Starbucks to require an equitable division of the tips according to the number of hours worked by each employee, it is not a violation of section 351 for the employer to maintain a policy ensuring those service employees benefit from a portion of those tips. Because a shift supervisor performs virtually the same service work as a barista and the employees work as a "team," Starbucks did not violate section 351 by requiring an equitable distribution of tips specifically left in a collective tip box for all of these employees.

Mandatory Tip Pooling vs. Tip Apportionment

The court explained there is a difference between mandatory tip pooling and tip apportionment:

[T[he legal principles prohibiting an employer from requiring an employee to share his or her personal tip with the employer's agent ("mandatory tip pooling") do not logically apply to an employer policy requiring equitable apportionment of the proceeds in a collective tip box ("tip apportionment").

The court explained that under previous case law “an employer violates section 351 if it requires an employee to give up any part of his or her tip for the benefit of the employer's agent.” However, the court set forth that the case here does not involve tip pooling, but rather tip apportionment. Starbucks did not require its baristas to give their tips to the shift supervisors. The policy at issue in this case was how employees divide tips left for them in a collective tip jar. The court held that Starbucks’ policy appropriately distributes the tips as close as possible to the intent of the customers who leave a tip in the jar, which does not violate the Labor Code.

Employers concerned about this issue should approach with caution. The court made it very clear that the case was decided on facts specific to Starbucks the policies specific to this case.

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Solicitation of Competitors and Employees By Former Employees Is Not Protected Speech Under California's anti-SLAPP Statute

The case, World Financial Group, Inc. v. HBW Insurance & Financial Services, Inc. involved the situation where employees broke off from their former employer and started to work for a direct competitor. After leaving employment, the former employees made statements to former colleagues and customers in an attempt to have them join their new venture. 

However, the defendants signed an “Associate Membership Agreement” with World Financial that prohibited them from recruiting customers, employees, and sharing trade secrets of World Financial for a limited time after they left employment with World Financial. World Financial Group, filed the lawsuit for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, conversion, violation of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act and the Unfair Competition Law, intentional and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage, and unjust enrichment. 

The defendants took an offensive step and filed an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss plaintiff's lawsuit in arguing that their actions were protected speech. The court explained that an anti-SLAPP motion:

…provides that "[a] cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person's right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim." 

The issue in this case was whether defendants’ speech is afforded protection under the anti-SLAPP statue. The anti-SLAPP law applies to claims "arising from" speech or conduct "in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of . . . free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest." (Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16, subd. (e)(4).)

The court held that the type of speech at issue here was not protected. The court explained:

While employee mobility and competition are undoubtedly issues of public interest when considered in the abstract, one could arguably identify a strong public interest in the vindication of any right for which there is a legal remedy. "The fact that 'a broad and amorphous public interest' can be connected to a specific dispute is not sufficient to meet the statutory requirements" of the anti-SLAPP statute. [citation] By focusing on society's general interest in the subject matter of the dispute instead of the specific speech or conduct upon which the complaint is based, defendants resort to the oft-rejected, so-called "synecdoche theory of public issue in the anti-SLAPP statute," where "[t]he part [is considered] synonymous with the greater whole." [citation] In evaluating the first prong of the anti-SLAPP statute, we must focus on "the specific nature of the speech rather than the generalities that might be abstracted from it. [citation.]" 

The court found that the defendants' attempt to frame their speech as involving "the pursuit of lawful employment pursuant to Bus. & Prof. § 16600" and "workforce mobility and free competition" as “infirm.” The court held that the defendants’ speech did not rise to this protected level because it was merely soliciting a competitor’s employees and customers.  There was no public  The court stated that if it applied the anti-SLAPP statute as defendants requested, it “would effectively ‘eviscerate the unfair business practices laws,’ a result the Legislature plainly did not intend.” To bring the point home, the court quoted The Godfather: “As Salvatore Tessio said to Tom Hagen, ‘Tell Mike it was only business.’ So it is here.”

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"Direct Table Service" Is Not Required For Employees Participating In Tip Pools: Budrow v. Dave & Buster's

California restaurateurs received a huge victory from the Second District appellate court's ruling in Budrow v. Dave & Buster’s Of California, Inc. The lawsuit against Dave & Buster’s alleged that its tip pool policy violated California law in that it required employees to tip out bartenders who did not provide "direct table service." The court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that an employee had to have “direct table service” in order to validly participate in the tip pool.  As previously written, this is the second appellate court decision that reached the same result.

The court first explained that Labor Code section 351 does not impose a “direct table service” requirement on tip pools. The court explained that are two parts of Labor Code section 351 that are relevant to the “direct” and “indirect” table service issue. First, section 351 provides that “No employer or agent shall collect, take, or receive any gratuity or a part thereof that is paid, given to, or left for an employee by a patron.” Second, section 351 also provides that “[e]very gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for.” Based on a plain reading of the Labor Code, the court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that there had to be direct table service for all employees who were a part of the tip pool.

Plaintiffs also argued that the “direct table service” requirement was established by prior case law in Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, Ltd. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 1062. The court rejected Plaintiff’s argument on four grounds:

  1. The Old Heidelberg case does not define “direct” as opposed to “indirect” service. The court noted that a bartender pouring a drink at the bar could be considered as providing direct table service. The court also noted that Old Heidelberg relied upon “industry practice” of tipping 15% to busboys and 5% to bartenders. Therefore the court could not agree that Old Heidelberg even defined “direct table service” for use as a requirement in this analysis.
  2. The “references to direct table service are made in Old Heidelberg without any attempt to fashion a rule that would limit tip pools to servers and busboys.”
  3. Old Heidelberg did not establish who which employees, if any, are to be excluded from the tip pools.
  4. Old Heidelberg did not decide which limitations on the types of employees are allowed to participate in tip pools, nor did it set forth “criteria or standards” to establish these limitations.

Therefore, the court held that there was no standard that only employees who provided direct table service are those who could participate in tip pools.

The court explained that “[t]ip pools exist to minimize friction between employees and to enable the employer to manage the potential confusion about gratuities in a way that is fair to the employees.” And the artificial distinction between “indirect” and “direct” table service is of no help.

The opinion can be downloaded from the court's website for a short period of time in PDF or Word.

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Etheridge v. Reins International: Employees Who Do Not Provide Direct Table Service May Still Participate In Tip-Pools

 Another California Court of appeal ruled on the issue of tip-pooling in California. In Etheridge v. Reins International California, Inc., the court held that employees who do not provide “direct table service” may participate in tip-pools mandated by employers. (This holding confirms another recent appellate court's ruling in Budrow v. Dave & Buster’s Of California, Inc. on the same issue.)

The court set forth the issue in the case:

Tip-pooling, a practice by which tips left by patrons at restaurants and other establishments are shared among employees, is a common practice throughout California and the nation. No California statutes expressly address the practice. In this case, restaurant servers challenge the legality of a mandatory tip-pooling arrangement, whereby, as a condition of their employment, the servers must share tips with certain other employees at the restaurant. While the servers do not contest the requirement that bussers share in the tip pool, they challenge the inclusion of employees who do not provide “direct table service.”

The complaint alleged that Reins has a mandatory tip pooling policy by which its servers are required to “tip out” certain categories of Reins’s employees who do not provide direct table service. Specifically, it is alleged that servers are required to pay a share of their tips to the kitchen staff, bartender, and dishwashers.

Plaintiff alleged that because the tip-pooling policy at issue mandated that employees who do not provide direct table service (such as the kitchen staff) participate in the mandatory tip-pool violates Labor Code section 351, which governs gratuities.  

Tip Credits vs. Tip Pools

The Court clearly explained that tip credits and tip-pools are two different items and should not be confused. Tip credits, where the employer applies a portion of the employees’ tips against the employer’s obligation to pay minimum wage (which were not an issue in this case), are not valid in California:

The first is a practice known as a “tip credit,” by which an employer credits a certain amount of the tips received by an employee against the employee’s wages. In other words, when using a tip credit, the employer pays the employee less than minimum wage, with the understanding that the employee’s tips will make up the difference. As will be discussed at length, tip credits against minimum wage are permissible under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. § 203(m)); tip credits against minimum wage were once permitted under California law, but were subsequently prohibited by statute. (Henning v. Industrial Welfare Com. (1988) 46 Cal.3d 1262, 1270-1275.)

Under tip pooling, employees who receive tips share the tips with other employees in the restaurant. As the court explained, there are different types of tip pooling arrangements:

This case raises the issue of precisely which other employees may participate in a tip pool. In one type of tip pool, the pool is designed to spread the risk of low tipping patrons among all tipped employees; thus, only tipped employees may participate in tip pools. In another type of tip pool; the pools are designed to share tips with non-tipped employees who are considered deserving of tips, but who, for some reason (perhaps tradition, or location) are generally not tipped by patrons.

Labor Code Section 351 - Gratuities

The primary issue of the case is the interpretation of Labor Code section 351.  The court examined the first California court opinion that addressed the validity of tip pools, Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, Ltd. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 1062. The court noted that while the Leighton court was primarily resolving the issue of requiring servers to "tip-out" bussers, that ruling also held that bartenders could participate in tip pools.  The Leighton court also stated that tips belong “to the employee[s] who contributed to the service of that patron.” Therefore, the court held that Leighton’s holding and rational extended to all employees who contribute to the service of customers, not just those who provide direct table service. 

The court also held that common sense dictates all employees should be able to participate in a tip-pool:

But a “direct table service” limitation would allow a busser to participate in a tip pool if the busser clears the plates while the patron is still seated at the table, but not to participate if the busser waits until after the patron has departed. The work is the same; the next patron still starts his dining experience with an equally clean table, but the busser who cleans between patrons would be barred from participating in the tip pool because he does not personally interact with any patrons. This illogical result casts doubt on any “direct table service” requirement.

Is this the last word on tip-pools in California? 

Probably not. Judge Croskey, who provided a concurring opinion, and Judge Klein, who provided a dissenting opinion on the "direct table service" issue, both called for the California Supreme Court to review this issue to provide further guidance.

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California Appellate Court Holds Postings On MySpace.com Are Not Private

The issue in Moreno v. Hanford Sentinel, Inc., as stated by the court, is:

… whether an author who posts an article on myspace.com can state a cause of action for invasion of privacy and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress against a person who submits that article to a newspaper for republication.

The case arose out of a college student, Cynthia Moreno’s, return to her hometown of Coalinga, California (which is somewhere between Sacramento and Los Angeles). She wrote “An ode to Coalinga” and posted it on her site on MySpace.com. The ode badmouthed her hometown. Six days after publishing it on MySpace, she took the writing off of the site, but the town’s high school principal submitted the writing to the local newspaper for publication. The newspaper republished the ode in the letters to the editor section and listed Cynthia’s full name (she only used her first name on MySpace). 

This must have been some ode, as the town became furious:

The community reacted violently to the publication of the Ode. Appellants received death threats and a shot was fired at the family home, forcing the family to move out of Coalinga. Due to severe losses, David closed the 20-year-old family business.

Because the information was published on MySpace.com, there could not be a cause of action for invasion of privacy.

The court held that publishing the ode on MySpace.com defeated any theory that the newspaper’s republication of the ode was an invasion of privacy. The court explained:

Cynthia’s affirmative act made her article available to any person with a computer and thus opened it to the public eye. Under these circumstances, no reasonable person would have had an expectation of privacy regarding the published material. As pointed out by appellants, to be a private fact, the expectation of privacy need not be absolute. (Sanders v. American Broadcasting Companies (1999) 20 Cal.4th 907, 915.) Private is not equivalent to secret. (M.G. v. Time Warner, Inc. (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 623, 632.) “[T]he claim of a right of privacy is not ‘“so much one of total secrecy as it is of the right to define one’s circle of intimacy -- to choose who shall see beneath the quotidian mask.”’ Information disclosed to a few people may remain private.” (Ibid., fns. omitted.) Nevertheless, the fact that Cynthia expected a limited audience does not change the above analysis. By posting the article on myspace.com, Cynthia opened the article to the public at large. Her potential audience was vast.

The court also held that the fact Cynthia removed the Ode from her online journal in six days does not change its analysis. “The publication was not so obscure or transient that it was not accessed by others.” The court also held that because Cynthia published the ode under only her first name on MySpace, but then the newspaper republished it under her first and last name is irrelevant. The court said her identity was readily ascertainable from the MySpace page – primarily because she posted her picture on the site.

While not directly an employment law case, the holding definitely has ramifications for employees who post information on the Internet. As discussed previously here and here, employers can view and possibly act upon information employees list on the Internet. This holding provides further support that employees (as everyone) should be very careful in what they post on the Internet.
 

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Court Holds Arbitration Agreement With Class Action Waiver And PAGA Waiver Is Unenforceable

Plaintiff, who was a trash truck driver for Athens Disposal Company, Inc., filed a class action against the company alleging violations of the Labor Code.  Plaintiff asserted the following causes of action against Athens:

  1. Failing to pay overtime.
  2. Failing to provide meal periods and to pay an additional hour of compensation per workday to employees who missed a meal period.
  3. Failing to provide rest periods and to pay an additional hour of compensation per workday to employees who missed a rest period.
  4. Failing to provide necessary payroll information to employees and failing to maintain records on each employee showing all hours worked and all meal periods taken.
  5. Civil penalties authorized by the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) for violating the Labor Code.
  6. Violation of the California Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.).

Immediately after the lawsuit was filed, Athens filed a petition to compel arbitration based on a written agreement with plaintiff. The arbitration agreement contained a provision waiving class arbitrations and also precluded an employee from acting in “a private attorney general capacity,” which would bar plaintiff’s enforcement of the Labor Code on behalf of other employees.

The court held that the entire arbitration agreement was not enforceable:

We conclude that the class arbitration waiver is unconscionable with respect to the alleged violations of the meal and rest period laws given “the modest size of the potential individual recovery, the potential for retaliation against members of the class, [and] the fact that absent members of the class may be ill informed about their rights.” (Gentry v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 443, 463 (Gentry).) In addition, because the arbitration agreement prevents plaintiff from acting as a private attorney general, it conflicts with the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) (§§ 2698–2699.5) — an act that furthers Gentry’s goal of comprehensively enforcing state labor laws through statutory sanctions (see Gentry, supra, 42 Cal.4th at pp. 462–463).

The court noted that the class action waiver in the arbitration agreement by itself was unenforceable, which may have been severed from the arbitration agreement. However, when coupled with the employee’s waiver of action as a private attorney general, the entire agreement was unenforceable.

The case, Franco v. Athens Disposal Company, Inc., can be downloaded for a short period of time from the court’s website in PDF or Word.
 

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Court Holds Employer's Settlement Agreement With Individual Class Members Is Valid

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.

The opinion can be downloaded from the court's website here in Word or PDF.
 

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Delay In Transition To New Form I-9

Today, February 2, 2009, employers were supposed to transition to start using a new I-9 Form.  However, Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department made the following announcement:

USCIS Delays Rule Changing List of Documents Acceptable to Verify Employment Eligibility Reopens Public Comment Period for 30 days

WASHINGTON—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today it has delayed by 60 days, until April 3, 2009, the implementation of an interim final rule entitled “Documents Acceptable for Employment Eligibility Verification” published in the Federal Register on Dec. 17, 2008. The rule streamlines the Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) process.

The delay will provide DHS with an opportunity for further consideration of the rule and also allows the public additional time to submit comments. A notice announcing the delay was transmitted today to the Federal Register. In addition, USCIS has reopened the public comment period for 30 days, until March 4, 2009.

Employers were originally required to use the new form beginning today, on February 2, 2009.  However, employers must now wait until April 3, 2009 to begin using the new form.  Click here for the USCIS's website for download the Form I-9

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US Supreme Court Rules Title VII Anti-Retaliation Provision Applies To Statements Made During Investigations

Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report workplace race or gender discrimination. The issue examined by the US Supreme Court in Crawford v. Metro Government of Nashville, was whether this protection extends to an employee who speaks out about discrimination not on her own initiative, but in answering questions during an employer’s internal investigation. The basic holding by the Supreme Court on the issue can be summed up the Court's statement:

Nothing in the statute requires a freakish rule protecting an employee who reports discrimination on her own initiative but not one who reports the same discrimination in the same words when asked a question.

The Court explained Title VII’s two anti-retaliation provisions:

The Title VII antiretaliation provision has two clauses, making it “an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees . . . [1] because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or [2] because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e–3(a). The one is known as the “opposition clause,” the other as the “participation clause,” and Crawford accused Metro of violating both.

The lower court in the Sixth Circuit in this case held that the plaintiff could not satisfy the opposition clause because she had not “instigated or initiated any complaint,” but had “merely answered questions by investigators in an already-pending internal investigation, initiated by someone else.”

The Supreme Court rejected the lower court’s rational. The Court reiterated that under the Farragher/Ellerth defense, when no tangible employment action is taken against an employee, the employer may invoke a defense to the employee’s claim if it took reasonable care to prevent/correct and discrimination, and the employee failed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the employer to prevent or to correct the discrimination. The Court explained that the lower court’s rational, if applied here would create a catch-22 for the employee:

The appeals court’s rule would thus create a real dilemma for any knowledgeable employee in a hostile work environment if the boss took steps to assure a defense under our cases. If the employee reported discrimination in response to the inquiries, the employer might well be free to penalize her for speaking up. But if she kept quiet about the discrimination and later filed a Title VII claim, the employer might well escape liability, arguing that it “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct [any discrimination] promptly” but “the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of . . .preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.”

The Take-Away for Employers:

  1. Investigate all employee workplace complaints;
  2. Document the investigation well (such as who was spoken to, who conducted the investigation, and what was said);
  3. Take all reasonable steps to stop improper workplace conduct discovered during the investigation; and
  4. Ensure that no one who participates in the investigation is retaliated against for providing information during the investigation.

The Ohio Employment Law Blog and the Connecticut Employment Law Blog have also posted their great analysis on this case. 

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On-Call Time - When Do Employers Have To Pay?

The question whether an employer is obligated to pay an employee for time on-call depends on interpretation of the term “hours worked.”

In a recent opinion regarding class action issues (Ghazaryan v. Diva Limousine, LTD), an appellate court offered an analysis of what would be considered “hours worked” and, therefore, entitling the employee to pay. The court examined this definition by turning to the IWC’s Wage Order No. 9. This provision defines “hours worked” as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.”

The court also looked to California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). The DLSE offers opinions on California employment issues, and while the DLSE’s opinions are not binding on the courts, they are given some weight by the courts. The court in Diva explained the DLSE opinion letter on the issue of what constitutes hours worked by an employee:

One such advisory letter, issued on March 31, 1993,  acknowledges the inquiry is “highly fact-driven,” but “[t]he bottom line consideration is the amount of ‘control’ exercised by the employer over the activities of the worker. . . . [I]mmediate control by the employer which is for the benefit of the employer must be compensated.”

The court continued to explain that in another opinion letter dated December 28, 1998, the DLSE summarized the factors relevant to this inquiry:

  1. Whether there are excessive geographic restrictions on the employee’s movements;
  2. Whether the frequency of calls is unduly restrictive;
  3. Whether a fixed time limit for response is unduly restrictive;
  4. Whether the on-call employee can easily trade his or her on-call responsibilities with another employee; and
  5. Whether and to what extent the employee engages in personal activities during on-call periods.

While the court's decision is primarly dealing with class action issues, this analysis of what constitutes compensatable time is a good overview.

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California Supreme Court Grants Review Of Another Meal And Rest Break Case: Brinkley v. Public Storage Inc.

Today, the California Supreme Court granted reivew of Brinkley v. Public Storage, Inc.:

BRINKLEY v. PUBLIC STORAGE INC.
Case: S168806, Supreme Court of California

Date (YYYY-MM-DD): 2009-01-14
Event Description: Review granted/briefing deferred (8.512(d)(2) civil case)
Notes:
The petition for review is GRANTED. Further action in this matter is deferred pending consideration and disposition of a related issue in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, S166350 (see Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.512(d)(2)), or pending further order of the court. Submission of additional briefing, pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 8.520, is deferred pending further order of the court.

The lower appellate court in Brinkley basically had the same holding as the lower court in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, that employers need to only provide, not ensure, employees with their 30-minute meal break under California law.  The California Supreme Court granted review of Brinker, which meant that employers could not rely upon the very helpful ruling.  Then Brinkley was decided shoretly thereafter by another appellate court, which still allowed employers to argue that they only need to provide meal breaks.  But because of this recent action by the Court, the standard will finally be clarified by the California Supreme Court. 

It is likely to take at least one year for the Suprme Court to provide a ruling in Brinker.

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Appellate Court Allows Class Action Certified For Limousine Driver Case

In Ghazaryan v. Diva Limousine, LTD, the appellate court reversed the trial court's denial of plaintiff's class certification motion and remanded the case with instructions that the trial court certify the class action.  The case was brought by a limousine driver who filed a wage and hour class action against Diva Limousine, LTD. The main issue in the case was Diva’s policy of paying its drivers an hourly rate for assigned trips but failing to pay for on-call time between assignments. This on-call time is referred to as “gap time.”

Background Facts Of Limousine Drivers Time Working

The drivers were notified about their first few driving assignments before their shifted started. The court noticed that about 75% of the drivers were allowed to take Diva cars home and use the cars to drive to their first assignment. After these first few assignments were completed, the drivers received additional assignments from dispatch given the drivers’ location, availability and fairness among the drivers. The drivers could not predict the amount of gap time during any given day.

Diva established policies in its “Chauffeur’s Handbook.” Among the policies, Diva did not allow drivers to use the cars for personal use, drivers were required to stay near the vehicle, and to remain in uniform. The drivers were required to use the gap time to take their meal and rest breaks. However, the breaks could be interrupted dispatched to an assignment. Diva tracked the vehicles using GPS systems.

The plaintiff, Ghazaryan filed his lawsuit alleging Diva by its practice of paying drivers by the job, not by the hour, had failed to pay earned wages and overtime or to provide required rest breaks and meal periods in violation of multiple provisions of the Labor Code and regulations.

Class Certification Issues

Diva opposed class certification arguing that the difficulties in identifying eligible members of the class and assessing the validity of Diva’s compensation policy for different classification of drivers.  Diva also argued that the drivers may or may not have used their gap time for personal pursuits, adding to the individualized inquiry necessary in this case.  

Diva had several different categories of drivers assigned different driving responsibilities (including organ transplant drivers). Diva that some drivers were paid for gap-time, and some were not paid for this time.

The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion for class certification. In explaining the lower court’s error, the appellate court explained:

The trial court is, of course, correct, under well-established Supreme Court authority, “The certification question is ‘essentially a procedural one that does not ask whether an action is legally or factually meritorious.’” (Sav-On Drug Stores, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 326.) But the trial court fundamentally misconceived the import of the rule against evaluating the merits of the plaintiff’s claims in deciding whether class treatment is appropriate. Rather than denying certification because it cannot reach the merits, as the court did here, the trial court must evaluate whether the theory of recovery advanced by the plaintiff is likely to prove amenable to class treatment: “As the focus in a certification dispute is on what type of questions common or individual are likely to arise in the action, rather than on the merits of the case [citations], in determining whether there is substantial evidence to support a trial court’s certification order, [the reviewing court] consider[s] whether the theory of recovery advanced by the proponents of certification is, as an analytical matter, likely to prove amenable to class treatment.”

Ascertainability and Numerosity

The appellate court held that the Plaintiff’s proposed class was ascertainable and numerous enough to be certified as a class action. The court explained that the class could be identified by Diva’s employment records and that class members “are ‘ascertainable’ where they may be readily identified without unreasonable expense or time by reference to official records.” Diva argued that differences in how the drivers were paid makes the class unascertainable. The court disagreed:

Yet the existence of these separate assignments in no way renders Ghazaryan’s proposed class unascertainable. If some drivers worked exclusively in one of these categories, they can simply be excluded from recovery if liability is ultimately found. Alternatively, the class can be modified to specify only those drivers who were not paid for their on-call or gap time. This modification may not even be necessary if, as we suspect, few Diva drivers fall exclusively into a single category.

Based on this, and the fact that there were approximately 170 current and former drivers who worked for Diva, the appellate court held that the class is ascertainable and numerous enough to proceed as a class action.

Community of Interest

The court found Diva’s policies about how drivers could use the gap-time applied to the drivers uniformly. The requirements, for example, that drivers remain with the vehicles, must take new dispatch assignment, not use the vehicle for personal purposes, and remain in uniform applied to all drivers equally. The court noted that "the common legal question remains the overall impact of Diva’s policies on its drivers, not whether any one driver, through the incidental convenience of having a home or gym nearby to spend his or her gap time, successfully finds a way to utilize that time for his or her own purposes."

Superiority

The court also held that it did not see any advantage to not allowing the case to proceed as a class action and voiced concerns that employees may not be able to find adequate representation if required to pursue their own individual claims.  Therefore, plaintiff met the superiority requirement to proceed as a class action. 

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House Approves Two Bills: Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and The Paycheck Fairness Act

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act:

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision that made it more difficult to sue over past pay discrimination, and prevented Ledbetter from filing an employment discrimination claim. The WSJ notes this is, in effect, and earmark for the plaintiff's trial lawyers:

[The Supreme Court’s] ruling put to rest Ms. Ledbetter’s creative theory that decisions made decades ago by a former boss affected her pay all the way to retirement, so that each paycheck was a new discriminatory act and thus fell within the statute of limitations. Yet that is exactly the theory Congress would now revive with the Ledbetter bill. There would no longer be time limits on such discrimination claims. They could be brought long after evidence had disappeared or witnesses had died — as was the case with Ms. Ledbetter’s former boss.

For the tort bar, this is pure gold. It would create a new legal business in digging up ancient workplace grievances. . .

The Paycheck Fairness Act:

The Paycheck Fairness Act clearifies the 1963 Equal Pay Act by making clear that victims of gender-based discrimination can sue for compensatory and punitive damages.  It also moves the burden to employers to prove that pay differences are job-related and not sex-based.  It also bars employers from retaliating against workers who discuss or disclose salary information with their co-workers.

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Trial Court's Discretion To Award Attorney's Fees To Prevailing Defendant

Laura Young was terminated after closing down a 24-hour service station for several hours, in violation of company policy, sued her employer and her supervisor, Angela Lopez (the station manager), alleging claims of harassment on the basis of mental disability, retaliation, and wrongful termination, among others.

The employer and supervisor won summary judgment, ending the case. Lopez, the supervisor personally sued by plaintiff, filed a motion for attorney fees under Government Code section 12965, contending that Exxon, on behalf of Lopez, incurred substantial attorney fees defending Young’s “unreasonable, frivolous, and meritless claims against Lopez individually.” Lopez sought $18,750 in attorney fees (which comprised ¼ of the total attorney’s fees in the case). The court agreed that plaintiff’s claims against the supervisor were frivolous, which entitled the supervisor reimbursement of attorney’s fees.  However, the trial court only awarded nominal attorney fees of $1.00. The supervisor appealed this ruling, seeking additional attorney’s fees.

In only allowing Lopez to recover $1.00 in attorney’s fees, the trial court noted that an award to Lopez “would actually be an award to Exxon, which does not claim [Young’s] claims against it were frivolous.” The trial court concluded this “does not seem right,” and awarded nominal attorney fees of $1.00.

The appellate court here up held the trial court’s nominal attorney fee award of $1.00. The court stated:

In actions under the FEHA, the court, in its discretion, may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party. (Gov. Code, § 12965, subd. (b).) California courts have followed federal law, and hold that, in exercising its discretion, a trial court should ordinarily award attorney fees to a prevailing plaintiff, unless special circumstances would render an award of fees unjust. A prevailing defendant, however, should be awarded fees under the FEHA only “in the rare case in which the plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.” (Rosenman v. Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 859, 864 (Rosenman).) Rosenman cites the high court’s observation that the strong equitable considerations supporting an attorney fee award to a prevailing plaintiff – including that fees are being awarded against a violator of federal law, and that the federal policy being vindicated by the plaintiff is of the highest priority – are not present in the case of a prevailing defendant. (Id. at p. 865, citing Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC (1978) 434 U.S. 412, 418-419 (Christiansburg).)

The appellate court approved that the trial court has discretion to set the amount of attorney's fees recoverable to a prevailing defendant, providing the following four reasons:

  1. That the Rosenman case sets the standard by which to measure the exercise of the trial court’s discretion in awarding attorney fees to a prevailing defendant in an FEHA case: namely, only in the “rare case” in which the plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation.
  2. As Exxon argued, there are many cases in which the courts have awarded attorney fees to prevailing parties who, like Lopez, are not actually liable for or have not incurred or paid fees. But in all those cases, the attorney fee award actually benefits the prevailing party or an entity which has provided the services and would otherwise not be compensated for them.
  3. There was no evidence that Exxon incurred fees on Lopez’s behalf that it would not have incurred had Lopez not been named as a defendant.
  4. As the Rosenman case instructs, the trial courts should “make findings as to the plaintiff’s ability to pay attorney fees, and how large the award should be in light of the plaintiff’s financial situation.”

The case, Young v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, can be downloaded from the court’s website here.
 

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Wal-Mart Settles Wage & Hour Class Action for $54 Million

Wal-Mart settled another wage and hour class action in Minnesota for $54 million. The class includes as many as 100,000 employees who worked from September1998 to November 2008. The judge found that Wal-Mart had violated Minnesota's Fair Labor Standards Act more than 2 million times. This settlement is similar to a 2005 verdict in California for $172 million for violations of California’s meal and rest break requirements and another case in Pennsylvania where Wal-Mart workers received $78.5 million.

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Petition For Review Filed In Brinkley v. Public Storage

Plaintiff filed a petition for review to the California Supreme Court in Brinkley v. Public Storage, Inc.  Shortly after the Supreme Court granted review of Brinker v. Superior Court, the Brinkley decision was issued by a lower appellate court (click here to read the opinion in Brinkley v. Public Storage, Inc.).  The appellate court in Brinkley held that:

  • Meal periods need not be provided within the first five hours of the shift.
  • Defendant must provide meal periods but need not ensure that they are actually taken.
  • Defendant did not violate Labor Code section 226.7 because defendant made rest periods available.

This ruling basically agrees with the appellate court's decision in Brinker. The holdings in Brinkley and Brinker definitely make plaintiff's attempt to certify class actions in meal and rest break cases much more difficult.  If the standard is that employers only need to provide (and not ensure) meal breaks, then the inquiry into why employees did not take meal breaks becomes more individualized, which means a court probably cannot make these determinations on a class-wide basis.  For example, the court would have to determine if employees voluntarily worked through meal breaks, as opposed to whether the employee was required to work through the breaks. 

I expect the California Supreme Court will issue a grant and hold in Brinkley, making it non-binding on California trial courts until a final ruling is issued by the Supreme Court on similar issues in Brinker v. Superior Court.

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Court Holds That Employer Is Not Liable For Punitive Damages For Labor Code Violations

Christine Brewer, a longtime waitress employed at the Cottonwood Golf Club restaurant, quit her job in March 2005. Shortly thereafter, Brewer filed this action against her employer, Premier Golf Properties, LP, dba Cottonwood Golf Club alleging a causes of action for age discrimination, for meal and rest break violations (among other Labor Code violations), sought compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney fees.

The jury returned special verdicts in favor of Brewer on most of her Labor Code violations, and allowed Brewer to recover attorney fees and costs pursuant to section 218.5 and costs pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1032.

The issue in this case is that the jury also granted plaintiff punitive damages for $195,000. In order for there to be punitive damages, the defendant must act with fraud, oppression or malice toward Brewer. The jury found that the defendant had acted with malice, but only in regards to the Labor Code violations and not on the conduct underlying Brewer's age discrimination claim.

The court held that Labor Code violations alone could not support the finding for punitive damages:

We are convinced, both by application of the "new right-exclusive remedy" doctrine and under more general principles that bar punitive damages awards absent breach of an obligation not arising from contract, punitive damages are not recoverable when liability is premised solely on the employer's violation of the Labor Code statutes that regulate meal and rest breaks, pay stubs, and minimum wage laws.

The “New Right-exclusive Remedy” Doctrine Bars Punitive Damages for Labor Code Violations

The court explained that the “new right-exclusive remedy” doctrine provides that "[w]here a statute creates new rights and obligations not previously existing in the common law, the express statutory remedy is deemed to be the exclusive remedy available for statutory violations, unless it is inadequate." The court acknowledged that meal and rest break provisions of the Labor Code created new rights that were not already provided under common law (i.e., meal and rest break requirements) and that the statutes provided an adequate remedy (i.e., premium wage of one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for a violation). Therefore, because the right to meal and rest breaks is created by a statute that provides for adequate remedies, an employee could not add punitive damages to his or her claim.


Punitive Damages Not Available For Obligations Arising From Breach Of Contract

The court also found that, even were the remedies provided by the statutory scheme not the exclusive remedies for the new rights, punitive damages would not be available in this case because punitive damages can only be recovered "for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract." (Civ. Code, § 3294) The court stated that Brewer's claims for unpaid wages and missed meal and rest breaks all arise from her “employment contract” and, therefore, punitive damages were not available for this additional reason.

The case, Brewer v. Premier Golf Properties, LP, can be read from the court's website in Word or PDF

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Update on Brinker v. Superior Court and other California Wage and Hour Issues

Top Ten Stupidest Things California Employers Could Say

Your company may be in trouble if you (or the president/owner you work for) have had one of the following thoughts:

1. My company is too small to be sued in a wage and hour class action.

2. I’m too busy to think about employment law issues – I’ll get to it next week.

3. I cannot afford an attorney to review my policies and give me some advice on what policies I should have. (Hint – you are probably talking to the wrong lawyers if you cannot get some quick answers without having to pay each time you pick up the phone to call your lawyer.)

4. I don’t need a meal and rest break policy – my employees know they can take a break whenever they want.

5. My current handbook is fine, [insert one of the following]:

a. I found it on the Internet.

b. the previous company I worked for used it.

c. I had my lawyer review it when I founded the company in the 1980’s.

d. my friend who owns a business in the same industry gave me a copy of her handbook.

6. My payroll company [insert one of the following]:

a. Watches out for my company.

b. Knows California’s wage and hour laws.

c. Calculates and pays proper overtime for my employees.

7. All of my employees are exempt employees – I find its simpler than having to figure out overtime and track employee’s hours each week.

8. What? California employers with more than 50 employees are required to send their supervisors to sexual harassment training?

9. Vacation pay policies, timing of final pay checks, and the information on the employee’s itemized wage statements are very trivial and any violations cannot create that much liability for the company.

10. I protect my company by having employees sign a statement each pay period stating that they have been paid all of their wages in full – therefore extinguishing any potential liability.
 

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Noncompetition Agreements In California Are Narrowly Construed

In Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP (link to PDF), the California Supreme Court ruled on the following issues: (1) To what extent does Business and Professions Code section 16600 prohibit employee noncompetition agreements; and (2) is a contract provision requiring an employee to release “any and all” claims unlawful because it encompasses nonwaivable statutory protections, such as the employee indemnity protection of Labor Code section 2802?

Noncompetition Agreements
Noncompetition agreements are governed by Business & Professions Code section 16600, which states: “Except as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.” The statute permits noncompetition agreements in the context of sale or dissolution of corporations (§ 16601), partnerships (§ 16602), and limited liability corporations (§ 16602.5).

Under the common law, as still recognized by many states today, contractual restraints on the practice of a profession, business, or trade, were considered valid, as long as they were reasonably imposed. Andersen argued that California courts have held that section 16600 embrace the rule of reasonableness in evaluating competitive restraints.

The Court disagreed with Andersen, and noted:

We conclude that Andersen’s noncompetition agreement was invalid. As the Court of Appeal observed, “The first challenged clause prohibited Edwards, for an 18-month period, from performing professional services of the type he had provided while at Andersen, for any client on whose account he had worked during 18 months prior to his termination. The second challenged clause prohibited Edwards, for a year after termination, from ‘soliciting,’ defined by the agreement as providing professional services to any client of Andersen’s Los Angeles office.” The agreement restricted Edwards from performing work for Andersen’s Los Angeles clients and therefore restricted his ability to practice his accounting profession.

The Court found that this agreement was invalid because it restrained Edwards’ ability to practice his profession.

However, Andersen argued that section 16600 has a “narrow-restraint” exception and that its agreement with Edwards survives under this exception. Andersen pointed out that a federal court in International Business Machines Corp. v. Bajorek (9th Cir. 1999) upheld an agreement mandating that an employee forfeits stock options if employed by a competitor within six months of leaving employment. Andersen also noted that another Ninth Circuit federal court in General Commercial Packaging v. TPS Package (9th Cir. 1997) held that a contractual provision barring one party from courting a specific customer was not an illegal restraint of trade prohibited by section 16600, because it did not “entirely preclude[]” the party from pursuing its trade or business.

In refusing to accept the “narrow-restraint” exception for noncompetition agreements in California, the Court stated:

Contrary to Andersen’s belief, however, California courts have not embraced the Ninth Circuit’s narrow-restraint exception. Indeed, no reported California state court decision has endorsed the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning, and we are of the view that California courts “have been clear in their expression that section 16600 represents a strong public policy of the state which should not be diluted by judicial fiat.” [citation] Section 16600 is unambiguous, and if the Legislature intended the statute to apply only to restraints that were unreasonable or overbroad, it could have included language to that effect. We reject Andersen’s contention that we should adopt a narrow-restraint exception to section 16600 and leave it to the Legislature, if it chooses, either to relax the statutory restrictions or adopt additional exceptions to the prohibition-against-restraint rule under section 16600.

The Court’s ruling basically eliminates the validity of non-competition agreements under California that are not expressly provided for in Section 16600.

Contract Provision Releasing “Any and All” Claims
The second issues in the case was whether Andersen's condition of Edwards’s obtaining employment that Edwards execute an agreement releasing Andersen from, among other things, “any and all” claims, including “claims that in any way arise from or out of, are based upon or relate to [Edwards’s] employment by, association with or compensation from” Andersen.

Edwards argued that Labor Code section 2804 voids any agreement to waive the protections of Labor Code section 2802 (which provides that employers must reimburse employees for all business related expenses that the employee incurs) as against public policy.

The Court noted that Labor Code section 2804 has been interpreted to apply to Labor Code section 2802, making all contracts that waive an employee’s right to reimbursement null and void. Therefore an employee’s right to be reimbursed for business expenses provided under Labor Code section 2802 are nonwaivable, and any contract that does purport to waive an employee’s right would be contrary to the law. Edwards maintained, therefore, the agreement was an independent wrongful act that would support another claim he was alleged for intentional interference with prospective advantage.

The Court disagreed with Edwards, and concluded that a contract provision releasing “any and all” claims does not encompass nonwaivable statutory protections, such as the employee indemnity protection of Labor Code section 2802. Therefore, such agreements are still valid and enforceable under the law.
 

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