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.

Many cities and counties across California are set to increase their minimum wages in July 2017, and employers need to start preparing now.  For example, Los Angeles City and County are increasing the minimum wage for employers with 26 or more employees to $12 per hour on July 1, 2017 (currently at $10.50 per hour). This Friday’s Five video covers five issues that employers should start to review in order to comply with these increases in the minimum wage.

For more information about the local minimum wages in place throughout California:

San Diego: http://www.californiaemploymentlawrep…

Los Angeles: http://www.californiaemploymentlawrep… and http://www.californiaemploymentlawrep…

Southern California overview of various minimum wage requirements: http://www.californiaemploymentlawrep…

Sample model pay stub: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/PayStub.pdf