DLSE template to comply with Labor Code section 2810.5

This week, in Vaquero v. Stoneledge Furniture LLC, a California appellate court issued a decision explaining employer’s obigations to separately compensate employees paid on a commission basis for rest breaks.

Plaintiffs worked as sales associates for Stoneledge Furniture, LLC, a retail furniture company doing business in California as Ashley Furniture HomeStores.  Stoneledge paid the sales associates on a commission basis.  The compensation agreement set out that if a sales associate failed to earn “Minimum Pay” of at least $12.01 per hour in commissions in any pay period, Stoneledge paid the associate a “draw” against “future Advanced Commissions.”  The commission agreement required that “[t]he amount of the draw will be deducted from future Advanced Commissions, but an employee will always receive at least $12.01 per hour for every hour worked.”

The issue addressed by the court was employees paid on a commission basis entitled to separate compensation for rest periods as required by California law, and if so, did Stoneledge’s draw-based compensation system pay for rest breaks?  This Friday’s Five addresses five takeaways from the court’s holding for California employers.

1. IWC wage orders

The appellate court explained that the legislature authorized the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) to regulate “the wages, hours, and working condition of various classes of workers to protect their health and welfare.”  The IWC has promulgated wage orders that set out regulations based on industries, and there are currently 18 wage orders.  The court explained: “As a consequence, ‘wage and hour claims are today governed by two complementary and occasionally overlapping sources of authority: the provisions of the Labor Code, enacted by the Legislature, and a series of 18 wage orders, adopted by the IWC.’”  Even though the IWC was defunded in 2004, the wage order are still in effect.  A list of the  Wage Orders for the various industries can be found here.

2. Rest periods

With respect to rest periods, Wage Order No. 7 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.

Wage Order No. 7 requires employers to count “rest period time” as “hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.”  (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 11070, subd. 12(A), italics added.)  In Bluford v. Safeway Stores, Inc. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 864 the court interpreted this language to require employers to “separately compensate[ ]” employees for rest periods where the employer uses an “activity based compensation system” that does not directly compensate for rest periods.  (Id. at p. 872.)

3. Piece-rate workers must be paid for rest periods and non-productive time under Labor Code Section 226.2

Piece-rate workers are paid “according to the number of units turned out.”  For example, piece-rate workers are paid for the amount of produce harvested, the number of miles driven, or the yard of carpet installed.  Employers cannot deduct wages for rest periods from piece-rate workers, and therefore employers must separately compensate employees for rest periods.

Employers who paid employees on a piece rate basis must comply with Labor Code section 226.2.  Under Labor Code section 226.2, piece-rate workers must be paid for “rest and recovery periods and other nonproductive time separate from any piece-rate compensation.”  The law requires employers to calculate the regular rate of pay for each workweek, and then pay the piece-rate employees the higher of this regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage for rest break time.  The law also requires employers to pay piece-rate employees for “nonproductive time” which is defined as “time under the employer’s control, exclusive of rest and recovery periods, that is not directly related to the activity being compensated on a piece-rate basis.”  The nonproductive time is required to be paid at a rate no less than the applicable minimum wage rate.  In addition, employers who pay employees on a piece-rate basis need to report the pay for rest breaks, recovery periods, and nonproductive time separately on the employees’ pay stubs.

The court explained that piece-rate compensation plans do not directly account for and pay for rest periods because the employee is not working during the rest period and therefore is not being paid.  The Wage Order requires employers to separately compensate employees for rest periods if an employer’s compensation plan does not already include a minimum hourly wage for such time.

4. The court in Stoneledge held that the requirement to separately pay for rest periods applies to employees paid on commission as well

The primary holding Stoneledge is that Wage Order No. 7 applies “equally to commissioned employees, employees paid by piece rate, or any other compensation system that does not separately account for rest breaks and other nonproductive time.”

The court found that the commission agreement used by Stoneledge was “analytically indistinguishable from a piece-rate system in that neither allows employees to earn wages during rest periods.”  The court explained that “[w]hen an employer pays its employees by the piece… those employees cannot add to their wage during rest breaks; a break is not for rest if piece-rate work continues.” The court held that Labor Code Section 226.2, which requires piece-rate workers to be compensated for rest, recovery, and other nonproductive time, applies to commissioned employees as well.

5. Commission arrangements that advance wages that are offset against future commission earnings do not compensate employees for rest breaks

The court held that Stoneledge’s commission agreement did not properly compensate for rest periods taken by sales associates who earned a commission instead of the guaranteed minimum payment.

Stoneledge argued that under the compensation plan “all time during rest periods was recorded and paid as time worked identically with all other work time. . . .  Thus, Sales Associates are paid at least $12 per hour even if they make no sales at all.”  Even though Stoneledge deducted previous draws on commissions paid to the sales associates, Stoneledge argued that the “repayment [was] never taken if it would result in payment of less than the [Minimum Pay of $12.01 per hour] for . . . all time worked in any week.” Therefore, Stoneledge contended that the rest breaks were paid.

However, the court did not agree:

For sales associates whose commissions did not exceed the minimum rate in a given week, the company clawed back (by deducting from future paychecks) wages advanced to compensate employees for hours worked, including rest periods.  The advances or draws against future commissions were not compensation for rest periods because they were not compensation at all.  At best they were interest-free loans.

Piece-rate and commissioned based compensation structures must comply with very strict rules in California.  Employers are wise to have assistance from experienced counsel in drafting the compensation plans to ensure compliance.

I can hear the questions already, just five new laws taking effect on January 1, 2016?  No, there are many more, as I have previously written about, but here are five additional new laws employers need to understand going into 2016.

1.     Family members of whistleblower are granted protections and some employers are excluded from the joint employer liability enacted in 2015

AB 1509 – Effective January 1, 2016, this bill prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who is a family member of an employee who made a protected complaint.  The bill extends the protections to an employee who is a family member of a person who engaged in, or was perceived to engage in, the protected conduct or make a complaint protected the law.  This bill also amends Labor Code section 2810.3 to exclude certain household goods carrier employers from the joint liability imposed between the client employer and a labor contractor.

2.     Labor Commissioner Provided Increased Enforcement Authority Over Local Ordinances and the Ability to Issue Awards For Expense Reimbursement

AB 970 – Effective January 1, 2016, provides the Labor Commissioner with authority to investigate and at the request of the local government, to enforce local laws regarding overtime hours or minimum wage provisions.  The Labor Commissioner has authority to issue citations and penalties for violations, but cannot issue violations if the local entity has already issued a citation for the same violation.  The bill also authorizes the Labor Commissioner to enforce Labor Code section 2802 which requires employers to pay for business related costs that the employee directly incurs in discharging their duties for the employer.

 3.     Labor Commissioner Provided Increased Judgment Collection Authority

SB 588 – Amends the Labor Code to provide the Labor Commissioner many more rights in collecting judgments against employers who are found liable for unpaid wages.  The Labor Commissioner has authority to issue a lien against on an employer’s property for the amount of the judgment.  Also, the law also imposes personal liability for employers in adding Labor Code section 98.8(f):

 Any person who is noticed with a levy pursuant to this section and who fails or refuses to surrender any credits, money, or property or pay any debts owed to the judgment debtor shall be liable in his or her own person or estate to the Labor Commissioner in an amount equal to the value of the credits, money, or other property or in the amount of the levy, up to the amount specified in the levy.

Also, if an employer has a judgment entered against it, and it is not paid within 30 days after the time to appeal the judgment, the employer is required to obtain a bond in order to continue to do business in California. Effective January 1, 2016

 4.     Employee’s Permitted Time Off From Work Expanded

SB 579 – Existing law prohibits an employer who employs 25 or more employees working at the same location from discharging or discriminating against an employee who is a parent, guardian, or grandparent having custody of a child in a licensed child day care facility or in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, inclusive, for taking off up to 40 hours each year for the purpose of participating in school activities, subject to specified conditions.  The law is amended to provide these protections for employees under a broader “child care provider”, and applies these protections to employees who are a stepparent, foster parent, or who stands in loco parentis to a child.

The bill also amends California’s Kin Care law set forth in Labor Code section 233 to require employers to allow employees to use “an amount not less than the sick leave that would be accrued during six months” for family members as defined in the Healthy Workplaces, Heathy Family Act of 2014, otherwise known as California’s paid sick leave law.  The Kin Care law is amended under this bill to provide that employers must allow employees to use up to one-half of their sick leave to attend to victims of domestic violence or the diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition of, or preventive care for, the employee or the employee’s family member.  Family member definition is broadened from the existing definition under the law (a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner) to also include grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings.  Effective January 1, 2016.

  5.     Limits Placed on Employer’s Use of E-Verify

AB 622 – Effective January 1, 2016, this bill adds Labor Code section 2814 which expands the definition of an unlawful employment practice to include an employer or any other person or entity using the E-Verify system when not required by federal law to check the employment authorization status of an existing employee or an applicant who has not received an offer of employment, as required by federal law, or as a condition of receiving federal funds. The bill also requires an employer that uses the E-Verify system to provide to the affected employee any notification issued by the Social Security Administration or the United States Department of Homeland Security containing information specific to the employee’s E-Verify case or any tentative nonconfirmation notice “as soon as practicable.”  The bill provides for a civil penalty of $10,000 for an employer for each violation of its provisions.

It is a good time to review employee policies and handbooks to ensure they are compliant with the new requirements.

Today the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) published a template that employers can use in order to comply with the new notice requirements set forth in Labor Code section 2810.5. A Word version can be downloaded here and a PDF version can be downloaded here.

All California employers are required to provide a notice to all employees hired beginning on January 1, 2012 that complies with the requirements of section 2810.5. The new law required the Labor Commissioner to publish a template for employers to use in order to comply with the new law. For more information regarding the notice, and the new law, see my previous post.

I’ve only had a chance to do a quick review of the template, but one area of new information that the DLSE is apparently requiring on the notice is whether the “employment agreement” is oral or written in the wage information section of the template. The new Labor Code section 2810.5 did not require this to be on the notice to the employee, but the law does provide that there may be “[o]ther information added by the Labor Commissioner as material and necessary.” I am wondering if the fact that all employers are required to provide this information on the form necessary means that the “employment agreement” is therefore always going to be written.