With the end of summer quickly approaching, this Friday’s Five (and next week’s post as well) covers broad topics employers should review periodically.  Today’s post covers five questions a company operating in California should be asking on a routine basis:

1. Has the company reviewed and updated the employee handbook and related policies?

As discussed in last weeks Friday’s Five about the new court decision on vacation pay in Minnick v. Automotive Creations, an employer’s policies are critical in defending claims.  Vague or out dated policies can create huge amounts of liability for employers. California’s requirements change throughout the year, and it is important that employers have a good relationship with employment counsel so that they are routinely communicating and reviewing the need to update policies based on new case law and legislation.

2. Does your company train supervisors and employees on its handbook and other policies, and does the company standby what it tells employees in these policies?

Legally drafted policies only get your company half of the way there.  Companies need to train managers and supervisors about what the policies mean and how they need to be implemented day-to-day.  Furthermore, the company needs to follow-through with what it tells supervisors, managers, and employees.  For examples, if the company maintains an open door policy, but none of the employees are utilizing the open door policy there could be a problem.  One solution is for the company to start pro-actively having open door sessions with employees to discuss their experience at the company (my post next week will discuss what should be asked during these open door sessions).

3. Has the company conducted a review of a local county and city laws that apply?

State, county and city laws regulating minimum wage and paid sick leave are numerous and California employers need to ensure they have closely reviewed they are complying with these requirements.  As Carl’s Jr. is finding out, noncompliance can have steep penalties.

4. When was the last time the company conducted an internal wage and hour audit internally? When was the last time an external lawyer or other professional reviewed wage and hour practices?

Many companies establish policies or simply continuing using policies from the past that have never been reviewed internally or externally by a lawyer or other professional.  I’ve published an HR audit list that covers a few of the essential areas that must be reviewed to lower a company’s legal exposure in California.

5. Is there an open line of communication with the employer’s payroll company and have specific wage and hour compliance issues been discussed?

The information that must be listed on employee’s pay stub is detailed, but easy to comply with.  A model pay stub published by the State Division of Labor Standards Enforcement can be found here (but note this only lists the state requirements – any other local county or city requirement will also apply).  The model pay stubs does not list paid sick leave, which employers must also remember to list on the employee’s pay stub or other writing provided to employees when they are paid.

Many payroll companies do not review the accuracy of the information listed on the pay stubs they generate, and this burden falls on the employer.  In addition to the California Labor Code requirements of the information that must be listed on pay stubs, the local requirements for reporting the amount of paid sick time available to employees must also be provided.  Employers need to proactively review and discuss these requirements with their payroll companies.

In this Friday’s Five I discuss:

  • new case decision on vacation pay and policies (Minnick v. Automotive Creations)
  • PAGA decision allowing contact information for other employees (Williams v. Superior Court),
  • new Form I-9 released and employers must start using by September 17, 2017 (download here)
  • new Notice of Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence/sexual assault/stalking required to be provided to California employees effective July 1, 2017 (download here), and
  • new law signed by Governor Brown prohibiting inquiries into litigant’s immigration status.

USCIS released a revised version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. The revised I-9 was released on July 17, 2017, and employers can use this revised version or continue using Form I-9 with a revision date of 11/14/16 N through September 17, 2017. On September 18, 2017 employers must use the revised form with a revision date of 07/17/17 N. Employers must continue following existing storage and retention rules for any previously completed Form I-9.

The City of Los Angeles recently assessed Carl’s Jr. Restaurants $1.45 million in fines for violation of the City’s minimum wage law ordinance.  The City sought these penalties against Carl’s Jr. for allegedly failing to pay 37 employees the applicable Los Angeles minimum wage rate of $10.50 per hour from July 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016.  The city also claimed that the company failed to post the required notices required by the ordinance and did not allow investigators access to two locations.  This astronomical fine imposed by the city seems out of proportion for the size of the number of employees affected, but it is a stark reminder for employers about how serious any violations of the local ordinances could be.  Here are five lessons for Southern California employers from this incident:

1. Enforcement of local ordinances is taking place.

The cities that have passed local ordinances are enforcing the laws strenuously.  The City of Los Angeles has especially been active in investigating potential violations.  First hand I have had a number of clients who have been contact by the city seeking information about compliance with the ordinance.  The investigators have appeared at workplaces in person and also contacted the employers over the phone. As discussed in item number five below, it is important for employers to train staff about how to appropriately respond to questions with people entering the workplace asking for information about the employer’s employment practices.

2. Review pay rates to ensure compliance with local ordinances.

Employers need to remember that even if their business is not located in a city or county that does not have a minimum wage or paid sick leave requirement, this does not mean your company can ignore the new laws.  Most of the ordinances require compliance with their local laws if any employee works two hours within the city or county even if the employer is not based within that city or county.  For example:

  • Santa Monica:  Law applies to any employee working a minimum of two hours within Santa Monica in a given week (even if employer is located outside of Santa Monica).
  • City of Los Angeles: Ordinance applies to “[a]n employee … who performs at least two hours of work in a particular week within the City of Los Angeles….”
  • County of Los Angeles: Ordinance applies to “[a]nyone who works at least two hours in a one-week period within the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County is entitled to the County minimum wage for the hours worked in the unincorporated area of the County.”
  • Pasadena: Applies to employees who perform at least two hours of work in Pasadena.
  • Malibu: “This ordinance applies to employees who perform at least two hours of work in a particular week within the Malibu city limits.”

3. Penalties for non-compliance are substantial.

An employer who violates the City of Los Angeles’ minimum wage requirements is liable to the employee for payment of back wages and an additional penalty of $100 for each day that the violation occurred or continued.  Where retaliation has occurred, the employee is entitled to reinstatement and a trebling of all back wages and penalties.

In addition, employers are subject to administrative fines as set forth below:

Failure to post notice of the Los Angeles Minimum Wage rate

$500 per day per employee
Failure to allow access to payroll records $500 per day per employee
Failure to maintain payroll records or to retain payroll records for your years $500 per day per employee
Failure to allow access for inspection of books and records or to interview employees $500 per day per employee
Retaliation for exercising rights under the ordinance $1,000 per day per employee
Failure to provide employer’s name, address, and telephone in writing $500 per day per employee
Failure to cooperate with the Division’s investigation $500 per day per employee
Failure to post Notice of Determination to employee $500 per day per employee

4. Ensure all poster and notice requirements are complied with.

The cities and counties that have local minimum wage and paid sick leave ordinances are making the notices relatively easy to obtain from their websites.  For example, here are a few links published by various cities in the Los Angeles area:

Santa Monica notices:  https://cityofsantamonica.app.box.com/s/nuccal4on935m43p0nhmuzgy65f5mbwl

City of Los Angeles notice: http://wagesla.lacity.org/#information

County of Los Angeles notice: http://file.lacounty.gov/dca/cms1_245570.pdf

Pasadena notice:  http://www.cityofpasadena.net/minimumwage/

Malibu: http://www.malibucity.org/minimumwage

5. Implement policy and train staff and managers about how to respond to investigators.

All staff should receive training about how to respond if contacted by anyone who indicates that they are from a government office and are seeking information about the workplace.  It is important for the employer to be able to identify and confirm that the investigators are who they are reporting to be and that they are actually working for the federal, state or local government.  Once their identify has been confirmed, employers need to designate who from the company will gather and communicate the relevant information to the investigators in a timely manner.  The person designated by the employer should have experience in dealing with investigations, an understanding of the company’s policies and the local legal requirements.  Finally, the employer should address whether they need the assistance of legal counsel to assist in the investigation.

coffee breakCalifornia Labor Code section 226.7 provides that employees are entitled to receive premium wages in the form of one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for a missed meal or rest break.

An employee who works more than three and one-half hours per day must be permitted to take a paid 10-minute rest period — during which the employee shall not be required “to work” — per every four hours of work or major fraction thereof.  An employee who works at least five hours must also be given a 30-minute unpaid meal break, during which the employee must be “relieved of all duty” if the meal period is not to be counted as time worked.

As the California Supreme Court recognized in Augustus v. ABM Security Services (2016), employers how cannot provide the required meal or rest breaks to employees have various options to comply with the law.  The Court stated:

Several options nonetheless remain available to employers who find it especially burdensome to relieve their employees of all duties during rest periods — including the duty to remain on call. Employers may (a) provide employees with another rest period to replace one that was interrupted, or (b) pay the premium pay set forth in Wage Order 4, subdivision 12(B) and section 226.7. (See Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1039.)

As recognized by the Supreme Court, employers may consider voluntarily paying premium wages when it is questionable if an employee did not receive a compliant break or if they in fact missed the break.  Here are five issues employers should understand about the option of paying premium pay voluntarily1.

1. Employers potentially only owe two premium pay hours for each day worked.

The court in United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Superior Court (2011) 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.  Even if the employee missed two rest breaks and one meal break in one day of work, the employee would only be entitled to one hour of premium pay for the missed rest breaks, and one hour of pay for the missed meal break, for a total of two hours of premium pay for that day.

2. Voluntarily making premium payments establishes that employer has effective open door policy.

By paying premium pay to employees who are not able to take breaks or complain that they have not been able to take breaks establishes that the company has an effective complaint procedure employees should utilize when any problems arise.  This presents an effective argument against any claims by employees after-the-fact that they were unable to take their breaks, and assert claims against the employer well after their employment ended.

3. Voluntary payment reduces potential liability.

The premium pay mentioned above is the penalty that is provided to the employee if they miss any of their required breaks.  Therefore, if the employer voluntarily pays the premium when the employee did not receive proper breaks, this will reduce the total potential liability owed to employees if sued.

4. Establishes that employer understands its legal obligations.

In making premium payments to employees who are arguably not able to take meal and or a rest break, establishes to any governmental agency or a plaintiff’s counsel that the company understands it obligations under the law and treats the obligations seriously.

5. If paid, it should be listed separately on employees’ paystubs to record payments.

It goes without saying that if the employer is taking this affirmative step, it needs to record the payments in a manner that makes it clear to the employee that the premium pay is being paid when breaks are missed.  In addition, the employer needs to have a record to establish all premium paid that could possibly be asserted by an employee has been paid out.

In speaking to a few groups of California employers this week, a common question kept coming up about what are the essential Booksemployment policies California employers must have?  While there are more than five, this week’s Friday’s Five starts with what I consider to be critical policies that every California must have in place.

1. At-will policy

Under California law, it is presumed that all employment is terminable at-will. California Labor Code section 2922 provides: “An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other.” The at-will doctrine means that the employment relationship can be terminated by either party at any time, with or without cause, and with or without advanced notice. There are some major exceptions to this rule, but generally California law recognizes that employers and employees may, at any time, and for any legal reason, terminate the employment relationship.

2. Anti-harassment, discrimination and retaliation policy

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Council published new regulations pertaining to anti-discrimination and anti-harassment requirements effective April 1, 2016.  Employers need to review and potentially update their policies in order to meet the new requirements.  The full text of the regulations can be obtained here.

3. Timekeeping policy

California law requires employers to track start and stop times for hourly, non-exempt employees. The law also requires employer to track the start and stop times for the employee’s thirty minute meal periods. The time system needs to be accurate, and the employer needs to be involved in the installation and setup of the system. Do not simply use the default settings for the hardware and software. Understand what the system is tracking and how it is recording the data. Since the statute of limitations for California wage and hour violations can extent back four years, it is recommended that employers take steps to keep these records at least four years.  Employers should also have a complaint procedure in place and regularly communicate the policy to employees in order to establish an effective way to remedy any issues.

4. Meal and rest break policy

As I’ve written about many times previously, employers must have a compliant meal and rest break policy.  Indeed, given the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Augustus v. ABM Security Services in December 2016, employers should review their rest beak policy to ensure it complies with this ruling.

5. Paid sick leave policy

Many local governments in Southern California have passed laws increasing the minimum wage and amount of paid sick leave that must be provided to employees.  Employers must ensure they are complying with the law that provides the most benefits to employees.  Here is a brief summary of some of the local laws in Southern California:

State/City Minimum Wage Paid Sick Leave
1) California $10/hr January 1, 2016; $10.50 January 1, 2017; $11/hr January 1, 2018; $12/hr January 1, 2019; $13/hr January 1, 2020; $14/hr January 1, 2021; $15/hr January 2022* Current: 3 days or 24 hours
2) Los Angeles – City (click here for more information about Los Angeles City’s minimum wage and paid sick leave laws) July 1, 2016: $10.50/hr; July 1, 2017 $12; July 1, 2018 $13.25; July 1, 2019 $14.25; July 1, 2020 $15.00 * (click here for more information about Los Angeles’s minimum wage ordinance) July 1, 2016: 48 hours*
3) Los Angeles – County (applies to unincorporated cities in LA County) Same as LA City (see above) No specific requirement – state law applies
4) San Diego City July 2016: $10.50 (date not set yet – likely effective in first half of July 2016); January 1, 2017 $11.50; January 1, 2019 $11.82; January 1, 2020 $12.15; January 1, 2021 $12.49; January 1, 2022 $12.84 5 paid sick days
5) Santa Monica (click here for Santa Monica’s website for details of the law) $10.50 July 1, 2016; July 1, 2017 $12.00; July 1, 2018 $13.25; July 1, 2019 $14.25; July 1, 2020 $15.00* January 1, 2017: 32 hours for small businesses, 40 hours for large businesses; January 1, 2018: 40 hours for small business, 72 hours for large businesses*
*Employers with 25 or fewer employees the implementation is delayed one year.

Happy Memorial day weekend!

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

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

The IRS publishes standard mileage rates each year (and sometimes adjusts these rates during the year). The 2017 IRS mileage rate is as follows:

  • 53.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, down from 54 cents for 2016
  • 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down from 19 cents for 2016
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

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

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

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

Gattuso, at 479.

2. Actual expense method of reimbursement

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

3. Mileage reimbursement method

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

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

4. Lump sum payment method

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

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

5. Don’t forget about other expenses incurred in the “course and scope” of working

In addition to mileage, employers may also have to reimburse employees for other costs they incurred in driving their personal cars for business. In making the determination about whether an employee’s actions are in the “course and scope” of their job, courts examine whether the expense being sought by the employee is “not so unusual or startling that it would seem unfair to include loss or expense among other costs of the employer’s business.” Employers need to be mindful about reimbursing employees for cell phone use, printing and office supplies (if employee is required to maintain a home office or use personal printer for work), and other work related expenses.

Happy Friday!  This Friday’s Five covers five areas that employers can start with in conducting an employment practices Checklistsaudit.  Coming up on the mid-point of the year, it is a good time to conduct an employment law practices audit to ensure that policies are compliant, managers are properly trained, and the company is maintaining the required records for the necessary length of time.  Here are five areas to start with in conducting an audit and a few recommended questions for each topic:

1. Hiring Practices

  • Are applications seeking appropriate information?
    • For example: Be careful about local ban the box regulations.
  • Are new hires provided with required policies and notices?
  • Are new hires provided and acknowledge recommended policies?
    • For example: meal period waivers for shifts less than six hours
  • Are hiring managers trained about the correct questions to ask during the interview?
  • Does the company provide new hires (and existing employees) with arbitration agreements with class action waivers?

 2. Records

  • Are employee files maintained confidentially and for at least four years?
  • Are employee time records maintained for at least four years?
  • Are employee schedules maintained for at least four years?
  • Do the managers have set forms for the following:
    • Employee discipline and write-ups
    • Documenting employee tardiness
  • How is the employee documentation provided to Human Resources or the appropriate manager?
  • Who is involved in reviewing disability accommodation requests?
  • How are employee absences documented?

3. Wage and Hour Issues

  • Does the company have its workweeks and paydays established?
  • Are paydays within the applicable time limits after the pay period as required under the law?
  • Are employees provided with compliant itemized wage statements?
  • Are employees provided a writing setting out their accrued paid sick leave each pay period?
  • Are employees properly classified as exempt or nonexempt?
    • For exempt employees, review their duties and salary to ensure they meet the legal requirements to be an exempt employee.
  • Any workers classified as independent contractors, and if so, could they be considered employees?
  • Are nonexempt employees properly compensated for all overtime worked?
  • Is off-the-clock work prohibited?
    • Policy in place?
    • Are managers trained about how to recognize it and what disciplinary actions to take if find employees working off-the-clock?
  • Does the company’s time keeping system round employee’s time?
    • If so, is the rounding policy compliant with the law?
  • Are meal and rest period polices set out in handbook and employees routinely reminded of policies?
    • Does the company pay “premium pay” for missed meal and rest breaks? If so, how is this documented on the employee pay stub?
    • Do employees record meal breaks?
    • Are managers trained on how to administer breaks and what actions to take if employees miss meal or rest breaks?
  • Is vacation properly documented and tracked?
  • Are all deductions from the employee’s pay check legally permitted? (use caution, very few deductions are permitted under CA law)
  • Are employees reimbursed for all business expenses, such as uniforms, work equipment and miles driven for work?

 4.End of Employment Issues

  • Are employees leaving the company provided their final wages, including payment for all accrued and unused vacation time?
  • Does the employer deduct any items from an employee’s final paycheck?
    • If so, are the deductions legally permitted?

5. Anti-harassment, discrimination and retaliation

  • Are supervisors provided with sexual harassment training every two years? (If employer has 50 or more employees, supervisors are legally required to have a two-hour harassment prevention training that complies with AB 1825 and amendments to this law).
  • Are supervisors and managers mentioning the open-door policy of the company to employees at routine meetings with employees? Is this being documented?

Please let me know if you have any other items your company considers during review of employment policies – it would be great to update this list to share with readers.  Have a great weekend.

This Friday’s Five comes on Cinco de Mayo – how appropriate.  The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Working Family Flexibility Act, now it is being consideredfamily - school by the Senate.  President Trump has indicated that he would sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.  Five issues California employers need to understand surrounding comp time:

1. What does the Working Family Flexibility Act provide?

The law passed by the U.S. House of Representatives adds sections to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by allowing employers to offer employees compensatory time instead of paying them for overtime worked.  The bill provides for the following:

  • Comp time is accrued at the rate of not less than one and one-half hours for each hour of overtime pay is required under the FLSA;
  • Private employers that are not unionized are required to enter into a written agreement with the employee about the comp time, and the agreement must be voluntarily entered into by the employee; and
  • The employee must have worked for the employer for at least 1,000 hours for the employer for a continuous period in the 12-month period before being eligible for comp time.

2. The Federal legislation will unlikely effect California employers

California law generally prohibits most employers from offering comp time in lieu of paid overtime.  California law requires employers to pay overtime on a more stringent basis than the FLSA (below is a description of California’s daily overtime requirements).  California’s Labor Code specifically prohibits any employee from waiving their rights to overtime under the Labor Code.  See Section 1194.  Therefore, because California law is more stringent and provides employees more protection than the FLSA (and the proposed Working Family Flexibility Act), California employers would still need to comply with California law even if the Working Family Flexibly Act is passed into federal law.

3. California’s unwaivable daily overtime requirements

Under California’s Labor Code, time and a half overtime is due for (1) time over eight hours in one day or (2) over 40 hours in one week or (3) the first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day worked in a single workweek; and double time is due for (1) time over 12 hours in one day and (2) hours worked beyond eight on the seventh consecutive day in a single workweek. The DLSE provides a good summary here.

4. California employers can offer makeup time to employees, but there are strict requirements that must be meet

California employers are not without any options however, as it is easy to forget the one form of flexibility provided to California employers: makeup time. This provision allows employers to avoid paying overtime when employees want to take off an equivalent amount of time during the same work week. There are, however, a few requirements that must be met to ensure that the employer is not required to pay overtime for the makeup time.  For instance:

  • An employee may work no more than 11 hours on another workday, and not more than 40 hours in the workweek to make up for the time off;
  • The time missed must be made up within the same workweek;
  • The employee needs to provide a signed written request to the employer for each occasion that they want to makeup time (and if employers permit makeup time, they should have a carefully drafted policy on makeup time and a system to document employee requests); and
  • Employers cannot solicit or encourage employees to request makeup time, but employers may inform employees of this option.

5. Will the federal legislation influence California to provide similar flexibility to workers?

If the Working Family Flexibility Act becomes federal law, it is unlikely to influence California’s legislators to draft a similar state law.  The Democrats in the U.S. House all voted against the bill, and the left is vehemently opposed to the bill, even though it provides for the payment of all comp time accrued but not used when the employee leaves employment.  Such opposition from the Democrats make it unlikely to be considered in the California legislature.