Labor Code section 226

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.

Let me start with the lawyer’s disclaimer up-front: this Friday’s Five list has no scientific or statistical backing whatsoever, I generated it based on the cases I’ve been litigating in 2014. My experience may be (and probably is) skewed a bit, but nevertheless California employers should pay attention to the following areas of potential litigation.

1. Meal and rest break litigation.

Meal and rest break class action litigation is still very prevalent in California. While employers are becoming more sophisticated in ensuring compliance with their obligations, the litigation has turned to more nuanced issues, such as the employer’s failure to record meal breaks or provide a full 30 minutes for the meal break. Meal and rest break policies and procedures should always been under review by employers to ensure compliance.

2. Rounding policies.

There have been a number of cases I’ve litigated this year involving time rounding policies. It is important for employers to simply no use the default settings provided by their time keeping software, but instead ensure that the rounding complies with California law.
The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) provides the following guidance for California employers in regard to time rounding:

…the federal regulations allow rounding of hours to five minute segments. There has been practice in industry for many years to follow this practice, recording the employees’ starting time and stopping time to the nearest 5 minute s, or to the nearest one-tenth or quarter of an hour. Presumably, this arrangement averages out so that the employees are fully compensated for all the time they actually work. For enforcement purposes this practice of computing working time will be accepted by DLSE, provided that 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. (See also, 29 CFR § 785.4 8(b))

3. Private Attorneys General Act claims.

In 2014, the California Supreme Court held that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable. Click here to read more about the holding, Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC. This holding provided a tool for employers to reduce their class action liability by entering into arbitration agreements with their employees. However, Plaintiffs continually challenge class action waivers on numerous grounds, and it is critical employers’ arbitration 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. Given that the California Supreme Court found that the arbitration agreements could not have employees waive their rights to bring “representative actions” under PAGA, the PAGA claims are more prevalent and being litigated harder by both plaintiffs and defendants.

Click here to read more about PAGA and what do to in response to receiving a Private Attorney Generals Act notice.

4. Required information on pay stubs/itemized wage statements.

Employers are cautioned to rely on their payroll companies for compliant itemized wage statements, as these companies often times do not understand the legal requirements. Ensuring the required information is properly listed on the itemized wage statements is an item that employers should review at least twice a year for compliance.

Labor Code Section 226(a) requires the following information to be listed on employees’ pay stubs:

1. Gross wages earned
2. Total hours worked (not required for salaried exempt employees)
3. The number of piece-rate units earned and any applicable piece rate if the employee is paid on a piece rate basis
4. All deductions (all deductions made on written orders of the employee may be aggregated and shown as one item)
5. Net wages earned
6. The inclusive dates of the period for which the employee is paid
7. The name of the employee and the last four digits of his or her social security number or an employee identification number other than a social security number
8. The name and address of the legal entity that is the employer
9. All applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period, and the corresponding number of hours worked at each hourly rate by the employee

Here is an example of an itemized wage statement published by the DLSE:

Also, do not forget that with California’s paid sick leave law taking effect July 1, 2015, employers will have additional reporting information regarding employees’ accrued paid sick leave and usage. Employers must show how many days of sick leave an employee has available on the employee’s pay stub or a document issued the same day as a paycheck.

5. Off the clock claims.

Litigation alleging that employees were not paid for all time worked was continuing strong in 2014. This claim arises in various scenarios. The basic claim is that the employee clock out from work and was required to or voluntarily continued to work. This type of claim is usually very difficult to have certified as a class action because the employer’s liability for not paying for off the clock work is whether the employer knew or should have known that the work was being performed and that the employee was not compensated for the work. Anther common scenario given rise to an off the clock claim is when employees have to do some task before or after clocking or out for their work. While the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that security screenings of employees at the end of their shifts to ensure they were not stealing product was not compensable time, employers need to review their practices to avoid these types of situations in their workplace.

Employers can receive requests for employment records of current and former employees though different ways. It is important for employers to first carefully review the request to understand what is being requested. It is important to understand who is making the request? Is the request only seeking a personnel file? Is the request only seeking payroll records? It is possible that a third party, such as a governmental agency or a party in litigation is seeking employment records for an employee. In this case, it is important for the employer to understand its obligations in protecting the privacy interest of the employee in connection with the rights of third parties to obtain these records.

The following are five ways that employers may have to provide copies of employment records or make employment records available for inspection.

1. Request under Labor Code Section 432, which provides employees with a right to receive a copy of any signed document upon request by the employee.

2. Request under Labor Code section 1198.5, which provides for the right of current and former employees to inspect and receive a copy of personnel records.

A few guidelines regarding requests under section 1198.5:

  • Employers must comply no later than 30 days from when the request is received.
  • If employee asks for copy of file, employer may charge actual costs of coping to employee.
  • Employers may take reasonable steps to ensure identity of the current or former employee.
  • Employers may redact the names of any nonsupervisory employees contained in the personnel file.
  • Employees have no right to inspection under this section if lawsuit has already been initiated.
  • Failure to comply with this section can result in a $750 penalty.

3. Request under Labor Code section 226(b), which allows current and former employees to inspect or copy records pertaining to their employment.

A few guidelines regarding requests under section 226(b):

  • Employers can take reasonable steps to ensure the identity of a current or former employees, and that they are actually making the request.
  • Actual costs of reproduction may be charged by the employer.
  • Employers must comply within 21 days of request.
  • Failure to comply with this section can result in a $750 penalty.

4. Public agencies, such as the Department of Labor or California Labor Commissioner, have the right to inspect records and workplaces under limited circumstances.

For example, under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Department of Labor (DOL) has certain permissions to investigate and gather date about wages, hours worked, and other working conditions at workplaces. The FLSA also provides the DOL limited permission to enter employers’ premises, review records, and even potentially question employees about employment practices. Upon receiving a request from any public agency, such as the DOL or the California Labor Commissioner, an employer should immediately review what obligations and rights it has in responding to the request.

5. Requests for records through subpoenas.

Employers can also receive subpoenas from third parties seeking employment records. The “custodian of records” is responsible for responding to the requests and producing employment records in certain circumstances. California law requires that a request for a personnel file include a “Notice to Consumer” notifying the employee that such records are being sought, and providing the individual an opportunity to object to the disclosure of the information. If the employee or former employee has not been notified, or objects to the production of the requested records, the employer should not produce the information requested unless and until a court orders otherwise, or the affected employee agrees to the production. If the subpoena seeks the disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, you should contact an attorney to see if the company has an obligation to move to quash the subpoena or seek an appropriate protective order to preserve the confidentiality of the information sought.

Employers should not produce requested documents before they are due and without being satisfied that the proper subpoena procedures and notice requirements, if applicable, have been met. Employers do have a duty to maintain the privacy rights of current and former employees.

The DOL is pushing for regulations to require employers to provide more information about how employee’s paychecks are calculated. This week, the Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said that the Department of Labor is backing a proposal that would require employers to provide more information to employees in order help stop wage and hour violations. Bloomberg reported that the proposal “would require companies to give employees a report explaining how their pay and hours are set and is aimed at ensuring companies compensate workers for overtime.”

Many states already require certain information to be provided to the employees on their paystubs. For example, California Labor Code section 226(a) has specific requirements of the type of information that must be provided on employee wage statements. That section provides:

Every employer shall semimonthly, or at the time of each payment of wages, furnish each of his or her employees either as a detachable part of the check, draft, or voucher paying the employee’s wages, or separately when wages are paid by personal check or cash, an itemized statement in writing showing: (1) gross wages earned; (2) total hours worked by each employee whose compensation is based on an hourly wage; (3) all deductions; provided, that all deductions made on written orders of the employee may be aggregated and shown as one item; (4) net wages earned; (5) the inclusive dates of the period for which the employee is paid; (6) the name of the employee and his or her social security number; and (7) the name and address of the legal entity which is the employer.

Many California employers, as well as out-of-state employers, often are unaware of this requirement, which can expose them to substantial penalties, even for minor, technical violations of this section.