The experience of litigation is foreign to a lot of people, and the different stages of litigation can require different strategies and points of reference from the parties.  Mediation is one of the aspects of litigation that can be confusing for parties in a lawsuit, but there are few ground rules to understand about the process that can make it a lot less daunting.  Mediation is a non-binding meeting where the parties in a lawsuit hire an independent third party (a retired judge or lawyer) to try to reach a settlement.  Here are five concepts all parties should understand about the mediation process:

1. The mediator’s role is to make you uncomfortable (but in a good way).

As I wrote in a prior post, a mediator’s only role is to get the case settled.  He or she is not there to be your friend, not to tell you what they feel the case is worth, or to protect your opponent’s position.  Their role is to get a settlement.  Put yourself in the mediator’s shoes, and you have two adversarial parties who hate each other and believe they will win if their case goes to trial.  How, as a mediator, do you get the parties to move off their respective beliefs?  You must attack both sides’ theory of the case by pointing out the weaknesses of each position.

So don’t take the attacks personally, or think that the mediator is only attacking your position.  If the mediator is persuasive about how weak your case is, she is equally persuasive to other side.  Understand also, that the attacks are not personal, it is not about you as a person, but instead about the facts of the case and weaknesses of the case.

2. Understand when being cooperative will help you get a better deal.

A party involved in a mediation must understand that there are two parts to a mediation: (1) the process and (2) the content.  The process is how you interact with the other party being negotiating against.  Are you cordial?  Do you make small talk?  The content is the subject being negotiated, such as the dollar amounts.  A party that is cooperative about the process and competitive about the content will do better overall in a mediation than compared to a party that is competitive on both the process and content.

Think about how you interact with someone that is simply being a jerk to you on ever little issue, even issues that do not impact the subject being negotiated.  When dealing with the hyper-competitive negotiator, your guard goes up and the negotiation turns more personal.  This is a bad combination for attempting to reach a reasonable settlement.

3. If you make a last, best and final offer, make it your last best and final offer.

Parties’ statements made during a mediation must have credibility.  If you make a “last, best and final offer” during a mediation, and the other side rejects the offer, but you continue to negotiate, you have lost credibility with the other party and the mediator.  As a result, even if you continue to negotiate and truly reach your last, best and final offer, the other side (and the mediator) will not believe that is your final number and will continue to push you beyond this number.  There are occasions to make a last, best and final offer, but if you qualify your offer as such, be ready to walk out of the mediation if the offer is rejected.

4. Bracketing.

Ralph Williams, a mediator with ADR Services, explains bracketing as follows:

Negotiation “bracketing” is the process of making a conditional offer linked to an expected response from the other side.  For example, plaintiff states, “I will demand $500,000 if the defendant offers $200,000.”  Defendant responds by accepting the bracket or proposing a different bracket (Defendant will offer $100,000 if plaintiff demands $400,000) or offering an absolute number.  Plaintiff then replies with one of the same three options.  Using negotiation “bracketing,” the parties send clear signals about their expectations, save time and avoid the stress of the negotiating dance that starts with a $1 million demand and a $10,000 offer.

In addition, brackets are conditional offers.  Therefore, unless the other side accepts the proposed bracket, the party making the offer is not committed to those numbers.  This allows parties to potentially make larger moves without the fear of having those moves held against them later in the mediation or in the case.

The use of bracketing during negotiations can add another layer of complexity to the settlement negotiations.  However, with advice from counsel about how to negotiate using brackets, they are an effective tool in resolving cases.  Understanding the concept of bracketing before a mediation – even at a very basic level – will help save time during a mediation and allow you keep your focus on the negotiation.

5. Enter the mediation prepared with a bottom walk-away number, but also a number that represents a goal.

It is important to know what your last best and final number is prior to going into the mediation.  Steve Pearl, a mediator with ADR Services, explains:

Experienced negotiators will set not only the walkaway numbers beyond which they will not move, but also goals that are better than those walkaway numbers. Parties who set “shoot for” numbers as their reference points typically do better than those who only formulate walkaway numbers.

However, just like almost every negotiation “rule” there are drawbacks in setting a walk-away numbers.  Pearl explains that sometimes parties may have to shift their reference points to resolve the case.  So, parties should have clear numbers set going into the mediation, but must also have a mechanism to reevaluate these goals if the case will not settle within these predetermined numbers.

The hot weather facing southern California has also brought a flurry of developments for California employers.  The beginning of July 2018 has been busy, and there is a lot of new developments potentially impacting California employers.  This Friday’s Five focuses on current topics facing California employers this past week:

 1. California’s new data privacy law.

While not directly employment law related, it is important enough to mention.  California enacted a sweeping new law to protect the data privacy of its citizens.  The law requires companies to comply with new regulations regarding how they obtain and share personal information.  Companies must comply with the new law by 2020, and there is a likelihood that the law will be modified prior to its implementation date.  Fast Company has a good overview for some of the impacts of the new law.  The entire bill can be read here.

Employers should continue to watch to see if this law is amended or if other similar laws are proposed that apply to employee information specifically.  As written about previously, biometric data is only regulated by three states, Illinois, Texas, and Washington state, which have laws requiring a notice and voluntary consent before biometric information is collected by private companies.  California’s new law will likely lead to many other states or the federal government to begin to regulate obligations companies have with respect to this information.

2. Parts of California’s new 2018 immigration laws put on hold by Federal District Court.

As previously written about on this blog, employers were put in a precocious position between the federal government’s position on immigration enforcement on one hand, and California’s position on immigration enforcement on the other hand.  Any misstep by employers could expose them to penalties on either side of the equation.  A Federal District Court recognized the difficult position facing employers under both laws, and put a temporary hold on California’s ability to enforce portions of new laws that private employers had to comply with as of January 1, 2018.  The court explained:

This Motion presents unique and novel constitutional issues. The Court must answer the complicated question of where the United States’ enumerated power over immigration ends and California’s reserved police power begins.  The Court must also resolve the issue of whether state sovereignty includes the power to forbid state agents and private citizens from voluntarily complying with a federal program.

The court enjoined California from enforcing Labor Code sections 7285.1 and 7285.2.  Therefore, for now (but subject to change), California employers cannot be prosecuted for consenting to immigration enforcement agents’ access to nonpublic areas or employment records.  The court also enjoined California from enforcing section 1019.2, which prohibited employers from re-verifying the employment eligibility of current employees.  This ruling is very early in the case based on the United States’ motion for preliminary injunction against the State of California.  The court will review the issues and made a final determination later in the case, so employers need to follow any developments.

The opinion in The United States of America v. State of California, can be read here.

3. Juarez v. Wash Depot Holding, Inc. – Holding that arbitration agreement is unenforceable.

This ruling (link to opinion here) is a good reminder to employers who implement arbitration agreements to have the agreements reviewed by counsel on a periodic basis and to ensure that any translations of the document are accurate.  Plaintiffs challenged the enforceability of the arbitration agreement in this case because it prohibited the employee from bringing a claim under California’s Private Attorney General Act (PAGA).  The English version of the arbitration agreement provided that the PAGA waiver was severable from the handbook if it was found to be invalid, but the Spanish version of the arbitration agreement provided that the PAGA waiver was not severable.  Based on these facts, the court held that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable as written.

4. Twitter defeats class certification in gender bias case.

Plaintiff Tina Huang sought to certify a class action lawsuit against Twitter on behalf of 135 women who worked at the company.  In applying the standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (2011), the court held that the plaintiff failed “to demonstrate that Twitter’s managers employed a ‘common mode of exercising discretion’ or that Twitter had a ‘uniform employment practice’ that affected the way managers exercised discretion and resulted in disparate impact on women….”  The Dukes case set forth that in a disparate impact case, an employer’s policy of allowing managers discretion over promotion decisions cannot satisfy the commonality requirement for class certification, unless there is a “common mode of exercising discretion” or a “uniform employment practice” that serves as the “glue” for all of the class members’ claims.

5. New national origin regulations and local minimum wage increases took effect on July 1, 2018. 

New California regulations impact employment practices such as English-only policies, height and weight requirements, and documents applicants or employees may be required to provide for employment.  More information can be found here.

Many local cities and counties increased their minimum wage effective July 1, 2018.  More information can be found here.

 

Hope you are staying cool this weekend.

I published this post the last couple of years just before the Fourth.  Hopefully I’ll be able to keep publishing it for many years to come.  Wishing you a great Fourth, and hope you have some time to put aside your work for a bit and enjoy some time with your family.  Happy Fourth!

Five things I’m thankful for this Fourth of July:

1.     For the great risk and sacrifice our Founding Fathers took to establish the country. 

When learning about the Founding Fathers in high school history class I did not have a perspective about the risks the Founders took in establishing the country.  Only now that I have a business, a family, and am relatively successful, can I realize the huge risks the Founders took.  By all means, they were the establishment, the elite of the American society, and if anyone had an interest in preserving the status quo, it was them.  Their sacrifices of life (theirs and their family members) and their fortunes helped build the foundation we benefit from today.

2.     The ability to speak freely and practice or not practice any religion I want.

It is great being able to freely speak your mind and believe in whatever you want.  It is also great be free to practice (or not) any religion you want.  We live in a very tolerant society, and it is even better when the government is not telling you how to live your life.  It is important to remember that throughout history, this has been the exception for how a government normally behaves.

3.     Our Country’s ability to attract creative people.

People that like creating things and being productive want to practice their trade where the government will basically leave them alone and provide a good environment to protect their gains derived from their hard effort (see item #5 below).  The U.S. provides this environment, and that is why so many people come to the U.S. to create a business or to practice their trade.  It is also important to recognize how lucky we are to have been born in the U.S.

4.     My right to practice any profession and access to unlimited resources to learn the required skills.

No one is dictating what students need to be after they graduate high school or college.  Everyone is free to pursue their interest, and the market decides the value of the effort.  With basically any information freely available on the Internet, anyone can learn almost any skill, and like no other time in human history individuals have an almost free method to sell their services or products over the Internet.  In your mid-40’s and want to make a career change?  Perfect, and you don’t even need to go back to school as the information is freely available on the Internet.  Didn’t finish college and are 20 years old with an idea?  Perfect.  Venture capitalists don’t care about your pedigree, they are only interested if you work hard and don’t give up.

5.     Our legal system.

Yes, it sounds trite.  But while I don’t think our legal system is perfect by any means, it is the best system established in the history of mankind.  Everyone living in the U.S. presently is very lucky to have this benefit.  It is a foundation for many of the items I mentioned above.  Because people have a good basis for predicting the outcomes of their actions, such as being able to retain property legally obtained, and knowing if someone breaches a contract there will be repercussions, it creates an environment that attracts hard effort and the best talent from around the world.  This is why the U.S. has been the leader in ideas and new businesses.  However, just because the system is established it does not mean our work is done.  We have to be vigilant not to lose the fairness, reasonableness, and lack of corruption in legal system.

Happy Fourth of July.  I have to go start the grill.

This Friday’s Five is a reminder of the free resources I’ve published that you’re probably not utilizing:

1) Subscribe to my Youtube channel here: http://bit.ly/2MxDueG

2) Subscribe to my blog, the California Employment Law Report here: http://bit.ly/2lHK1Io

3) Download White Papers:

4) Subscribe to receive notices of upcoming seminars/webinars: http://bit.ly/2N8tY2E

5) Subscribe to receive notices of new episodes of my podcast: http://eepurl.com/dzxRib

Have a great weekend.

New California regulations impact employment practices such as English-only policies, height and weight requirements, and documents applicants or employees may be required to provide for employment.  California’s Fair Employment and Housing Council’s new regulations focused on preventing national origin discrimination go into effect July 1, 2018.  Employers should carefully review the new regulations to ensure policies are compliant and managers are following the new requirements.  It is also a good reminder for employers to review handbooks and policies at this mid-year point.  This Friday’s Five focuses on obligations created under the new FEHC regulations:

1. Regulations clarify definition of “national origin” and other terms.

The regulations set forth that “national origin” includes, but is not limited to, the individual’s or ancestors’ actual or perceived:

  • physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics associated with a national origin group;
  • marriage to or association with persons of a national origin group;
  • tribal affiliation;
  • membership in or association with an organization identified with or seeking to promote the interests of a national origin group;
  • attendance or participation in schools, churches, temples, mosques, or other religious institutions generally used by persons of a national origin group; and
  • name that is associated with a national origin group.

The regulations also define “national origin groups” to include, but are not limited to, ethnic groups, geographic places of origin, and countries that are not presently in existence.

“Undocumented applicant or employee” means an applicant or employee who lacks legal authorization under federal law to be present and/or to work in the United States.

2. New regulations on English-only policies.

The FEHC regulations make it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to adopt or enforce a policy that prohibits the use of any language in the workplace, such as an English-only rule, unless:

(A) The language restriction is justified by business necessity;

(B) The language restriction is narrowly tailored; and

(C) The employer has effectively notified its employees of the circumstances and time when the language restriction is required to be observed and of the consequence for violating the language restriction.

A “business necessity” means an overriding legitimate business purpose, such that:

(A) The language restriction is necessary to the safe and efficient operation of the business;

(B) The language restriction effectively fulfills the business purpose it is supposed to serve; and

(C) There is no alternative practice to the language restriction that would accomplish the business purpose equally well with a lesser discriminatory impact.

It is not sufficient that the employer’s language restriction merely promotes business

convenience or is due to customer or co-worker preference.  In addition, English-only rules violate these rules unless the employer can prove the elements listed above.

Finally, the regulation makes it clear that English-only rules are never lawful during an employee’s non-work time, such as during breaks, lunch, unpaid employer-sponsored events.

3. Height and weight requirements may be discriminatory.

The FEHC believes that an employer’s requirement that certain positions in a company must meet certain height and weight requirements may have the effect of creating a disparate impact on members of certain national origins. The regulations explain that if an adverse impact is established, such requirements are unlawful, unless the employer can demonstrate that they are job related and justified by business necessity. Where such a requirement is job related and justified by business necessity, it is still unlawful if the applicant or employee can prove that the purpose of the requirement can be achieved as effectively through less discriminatory means.  As a side note, earlier in 2018 a California court held that obesity can qualify as a disability under California law as set forth in my prior article here.

4. Employers cannot require applicants or employees to present driver’s license unless certain exceptions apply.

Under the regulations, employers may only require an applicant or employee to “hold or present” a license issued under the Vehicle Code only if (1) the possession of a driver’s license is required by state or federal law, or (2) if the possession of a driver’s license is “otherwise permitted by law.”  The regulations set forth that an employer’s policy requiring applicants or employees to present driver’s license that is not applied uniformly to all employees or is inconsistent with a legitimate business reason would violate the law.  For example, if the possession of a driver’s license is not needed to perform an essential function of the position.

5. Anti-retaliation provisions.

The regulations explain that it is an unlawful employment practice to retaliate against any individual because the individual has opposed discrimination or harassment on the basis of national origin, has participated in the filing of a complaint, or has testified, assisted, or participated in any other manner in a proceeding in which national origin discrimination or harassment has been alleged.

Cheesecake Factory restaurants in Southern California were cited for $4.57 million for wage and hour violations and penalties by the Labor Commissioner earlier this week.  What may come as a surprise to many is that the citation was based on alleged wage violations for employees of contractors hired by Cheesecake Factory, not its own employees.  The investigation focused on the janitorial subcontractors who performed work at the restaurants.  The Labor Commissioner found that the janitorial employees were not paid for all minimum wage, overtime, not provided meal and rest breaks, and not paid for split shifts.

The subcontractor janitorial company was Americlean Janitorial Services Corp., a Minneapolis company doing business as Allied National Services, Inc. The workers were managed by a San Diego-based company, Magic Touch Commercial Cleaning.  The Labor Commissioner alleged that the workers had to work additional hours when asked to complete tasks or wait for approval of their work by the Cheesecake Factory managers.  This Friday’s Five focuses on key takeaways for California employers from the Labor Commissioner investigation and citation:

1. Cheesecake Factory is being held jointly liable for the subcontractor’s wage violations under Labor Code section 2810.3.

Effective January 1, 2015, Labor Code section 2810.3 expanded the liability of “client employers” that obtain workers through temporary agencies or other labor contractors.  The law requires that the client employer who obtains the workers through the agency must share in the liability for any wage and workers compensation issues.  The law also provides that a client employer cannot shift all of the liability for wage and workers’ compensation violations.  However, the law does provide that the client employer can seek indemnity from the labor contractor for violations.  Therefore, it is important for employers who are covered by Labor Code section 2810.3 and who obtain workers through a labor contractor to ensure the labor contractor is meeting all wage and workers compensation requirements.  The hiring company should also consider negotiating an indemnity provision in the contact with the labor contractor to protect itself should any liability arise.

2. Companies contracting for services need to ensure the subcontractors follow all applicable wage and hour laws and pay the employees properly.

With the joint liability created by Labor Code section 2810.3, companies contracting for labor at their establishments need to take steps to ensure that the contractors are following wage and hour laws.  This may entail reviewing the contractor’s pay practices, and negotiating a contract with the company providing that the contractor indemnifies the hiring company for any wage and hour violations.  The hiring company should also ensure that there are some assets or potential insurance that would be available should indemnity be required.

3. Review split shift policies to ensure compliance.

The Labor Commissioner found that the janitorial employees worked split shifts without being paid the split shift pay.  A split shift is defined in the California IWC Wage Orders as:

…a work schedule, which is interrupted by non-paid non-working periods established by the employer, other than bona fide rest or meal periods.

See Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11040, subd. 2(Q). If the employee works two shifts separated by more than a rest or meal period, they are entitled to receive one hour’s of pay at the minimum wage rate in addition to the minimum wage for that work day. See Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, §11040, subd. 4(C). Any additional amounts over minimum wage paid to the employee can be used to offset the split shift pay due to an employee.  Additional information about split shifts can be read here.

4. Review meal break policies to ensure compliance.

The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court that employers need to provide 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 following chart illustrates the timing requirements for meal breaks:

Meal breaks must be recorded.  Generally, meal breaks can only be waived if the employee works less than six hours in a shift. However, as long as employers effectively allow an employee to take a full 30-minute meal break, the employee can voluntarily choose not to take the break and this would not result in a violation. In Brinker, the Supreme Court explained that:

The employer that refuses to relinquish control over employees during an owed meal period violates the duty to provide the meal period and owes compensation [and premium pay] for hours worked. The employer that relinquishes control but nonetheless knows or has reason to know that the employee is performing work during the meal period, has not violated its meal period obligations [and owes no premium pay], but nonetheless owes regular compensation to its employees for time worked.

Employers should also establish a complaint procedure and provide that the company has a system in place to correct any violations. If during an investigation, the employer confirms that the employee in fact missed the break because of the rush of business or some other factor, the company should pay the employee the one hour “premium pay” penalty at the employee’s regular rate of pay. Also, the company should record these payments made to employees to be able to establish it has a complaint procedure in place to address missed breaks.  The employee is entitled to receive up to two hours of premium pay per day – one hour for missed meal breaks and one hour for missed rest breaks.  If the employee missed two meal breaks in one day, they would only be entitled to one hour of premium pay.  The same applies to rest breaks.  See UPS v. Superior Court.

5. Review rest break policies to ensure compliance.

In terms of rest breaks, the California Supreme Court held in Brinker 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 following chart sets forth the number of rest breaks employees are entitled to based on the number of hours worked:

The Wage Orders generally require that employers must provide a 10-minute rest period per every four hours worked and the break should, whenever practicable, fall in the middle of the work period. (See Wage Order 4, subd. 12(A).  The rest period must also be paid, and the law does not require that employers record when the employee takes the rest period (unlike an employer’s obligation to record when 30-minute meal breaks are taken).  The California Supreme Court made it clear in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. that employers must relieve employees of all work-related duties and they must be free from control of the employer during the rest breaks.  For more information about rest breaks, see my prior post here.

This Friday’s Five provides a few reminders about documenting employee performance. While good documentation is hard to gather at the time, it is critical in communicating clear objections to employees for better performance. Also, should a dispute arise that results in litigation, how well the employee’s performance was documented can be the different in winning or losing the litigation. You’ve probably heard these before, but these five reminders are a must for documenting employee performance:

1. Get employee feedback during counseling.

Employees are more likely to ultimately accept critical performance reviews if their feedback is heard. This does not mean that the employer must agree with the employee’s feedback, but just that the employer is considering their feedback in the decision-making process and the employee is not being pre-judged. A good example on how obtaining the employee’s feedback avoided a potentially embarrassing situation and harming a relationship with the employee was noted in an article by SHRM (“How to Create Bulletproof Documentation”). The article recalled a situation when a manager wanted to discipline an employee for being late to her new position in the company. But prior to issuing the discipline, the HR manager asked the manager to seek clarification from the employee about why she was late. The manager followed the advice, and it turned out that the employee’s tardiness was a result of employee providing training to the replacement at her prior position in the company.

2. Set clear consequences.

Employers need to be clear in their documentation of performance with employees. Set out clear benefits and consequences for the employee’s success or failure going forward. The documentation should not forget to document the positives if the employee improves. Likewise, while sometimes difficult to confront employees with the consequences for their failure to improve, it is critical to be clear. The documentation should be clear, such as: “Failure to improve performance as set forth in this review may result in further disciplinary actions, up to and including termination.”

3. Avoid vague language like “bad attitude” or “failure to get along with other employees.”

One of the hardest issues as a litigator is defending a wrongful termination claim when the documentation provided to the employee contains vague criticisms of the employee’s performance. Managers should avoid at all costs performance reviews that the employee has a “bad attitude.” If litigation ensues, and the company is forced to defend its decision to terminate the employee, and vague statements like this do not clearly establish the reasons for the termination. Instead a creative plaintiff’s lawyer can spin this language as evidence to support their allegation that the reason was based on the employee’s complaint, race, gender or age. A good practice is to use concrete examples in the performance review, such as:

  • You were 25 minutes late today.
  • Your conduct towards your coworker was unacceptable today when you informed Mr. Jones that “it was not your job to help him and he should know how to do these tasks by now.” You are expected to assist others in all aspects of their job, and to the extent they need additional help, you need to provide assistance to ensure that the customer’s needs are met.
  • You did not provide adequate customer service last Tuesday when you ignored the customer’s request for help in retrieving a different size three times.

4. Employees do not need to sign written performance warnings.

While it is a good practice to have employees sign performance reviews to avoid any disputes that they were never shown the performance review, it is no legal requirement to have the employee sign the document. Employees often object to signing documents criticizing their performance. There are two potential responses to this objection: 1) have the employee’s acknowledgment clearly state that the employee’s signature is only acknowledging receipt of the document, not agreeing with the content, or 2) if the employee simply refuses to sign, have the manager or a witness sign and date the document with a notation that the document was provided to the employee and he or she refused to sign.

Also, another misconception: there is no legal requirement that employees must be given three warnings prior to being terminated (as long as the company has maintained the employee’s at-will status).

5. Remember that write-ups and documentation do not have to be on any “official” forms.

Managers sometimes feel that they must wait until they can officially document an employee’s performance on the company’s official form. However, managers need to be trained on how to document performance and it must be made clear to them that while the company’s forms are preferred, documentation can be done on many formats, such as: e-mail to oneself or to HR, the manager’s log, any paper available, or even electronically on any other company device. I personally like when managers send emails to themselves documenting conversations with employees. Given the data associated with e-mails, such as time and date created, e-mails are excellent documentation of a manager’s conversation with an employee about performance issues. Managers should also be reminded that they need to document verbal warnings in some manner – if the verbals are not documented, it is as if they never occurred.

Plaintiff Jacob Davis brought a putative class action against International Coffee and Tea, LLC (the company that operates Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf) alleging that the company’s tip pooling policy violated California’s Labor Code section 351.  The trial court sustained Coffee Bean’s demurrer to plaintiff’s second amended complaint without leave to amend.  Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision, and the California Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s ruling effectively dismissing the case.  While the appellate court’s decision is unpublished and uncitable as binding precedent, the opinion provides great reminders to California employers about tip pools under California law, and gives me more content for this Friday’s Five.

Some background facts of the case before I get to the five reminders.  Coffee Bean provided a “tip jar” for customers at the stores to leave tips.  At the close of business each day, a shift supervisor collected the tips in the jar and placed the tips in a deposit box in the store safe. The Company did not require the supervisors to count the amount of tip money collected each day, and it did not require them to count or segregate the tips collected during each of the three daily shifts. It was only at the end of each week that the supervisor would count the tips collected throughout the week and distributes the tips to tip-eligible employees. This resulted in the combining tip money from 21 different shifts. Each tip-eligible employee received a pro rata share of the tips based on the number of hours he or she worked that week.

The Plaintiff alleged that certain days and shifts collected more tips than others, and because the Company failed to count and distribute those tips on busy shifts or days, the practice amounted to taking tips from employees who worked those busy shifts or days and giving those tips to the employees who worked the less profitable shifts.

1. Tip pooling explained

The court in International Coffee and Tea explained that tip pooling is permitted under California law:

Tip pooling is the “practice by which tips left by patrons at restaurants and other establishments are shared among employees.” (Etheridge v. Reins Internat. California, Inc. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 908, 910.)  In the restaurant business, employer-mandated tip pooling is a long-standing practice, “which, through custom and usage, has become an industry policy or standard.” (Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, Ltd. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 1062, 1067 (Leighton ).) It permits employers “to ensure an equitable sharing of gratuities in order to promote peace and harmony among employees and provide good service to the public.” (Id. at p. 1071.)

2. Tip pooling is permitted under California law

The court explained that since the first published court opinion from 1990, tip pooling has been allowed under California law:

The first published decision to discuss tip pooling relative to section 351 was Leighton, which considered a policy requiring the restaurant server to share 15 percent of her tips with the busser and 5 percent with the bartender. (Leighton, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at pp. 1606–1067.) Leighton determined that, so long as the employer or its agents are not sharing in tips left for employees, section 351 does not proscribe tip pooling. (Leightonsupra, at p. 1071.)

3. “Shift Supervisors” who work along other employees may participate in tip pools under certain circumstances

The court provided a good summary of the facts and holding in Chau v. Starbucks, which held that shift supervisors may participate in tip pools under certain facts without violating Labor Code section 351:

And, in Chau, the court held shift supervisors at Starbucks could share in the tip pool with baristas, even if shift supervisors could be considered agents of the employer. (Chau,supra, 174 Cal.App.4th at pp. 691, 696.) Starbucks’s tip pooling was like the tip pooling in our case. Customers could place tips in a collective tip box near the cash register. (Id. at p. 692.) At the end of the day, an employee would securely store the tips, and once a week, each tip-eligible employee would receive a pro rata share of tips, based on the number of hours he or she worked that week. (Id. at pp. 692–693, 697.) The plaintiffs did not challenge the formula for dividing the tip pool, only the inclusion of shift supervisors as tip-eligible employees. (Id. at p. 697.) The shift supervisors performed basically the same work as baristas and the employees worked as a team. (Id. at pp. 698–699.) Section 351, therefore, did not prohibit supervisors from taking a share of the tips left in a collective box for all service employees. (Chausupra, at p. 699.)

4. Labor Code section 351 protects employers from taking or forcing employees to give tips that were left for the employee.

The court in International Coffee and Tea explained the intent behind section 351:

The Legislature intended “to ensure that employees, not employers, receive the full benefit of gratuities that patrons intend for the sole benefit of those employees who serve them.” (Leightonsupra, at p. 1068; accord, Chau v. Starbucks Corp. (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 688, 699 (Chau ) [“[S]ection 351 was enacted to prevent an employer from pressuring an employee to give the employer tips left for the employee.”].)

The court recognized that there is some flexibility on how tip pools distribute tips and rejected Plaintiff’s theory that the tips collected during all of the shifts during the course of a week which were then distributed based on how many hours the employee worked during the week violated Labor Code section 351.  The court state that Section 351 was established “to protect employees against the employer,” and “[n]othing in section 351 precludes the sharing of tips between employees.”  Plaintiff argued that Section 351 provides that tips “’are the sole property of the employee or employees’ for whom they are left,” and therefore the tips left for the particular employees during that shift cannot be combined with tips left for employees working during other shifts.  The court rejected this argument, citing Budrow v. Dave & Buster’s Of California, Inc.: “Given that restaurants differ, there must be flexibility in determining the employees to whom the tip was ‘paid,’ ‘given,’ or ‘left.’ A statute should be interpreted in a reasonable manner.”  The court held, “In short, we see nothing in section 351 that prohibits the tip-pooling arrangement here – that is, sharing tips on a pro rata, weekly basis as opposed to a shift-by-shift basis.”

5. Tip pools may include back of the house employees

The court explained that California courts have permitted tip pools to include back of the house employees:

Thus, the courts have concluded tips are “left” for all manner of service employees, whether the employees are front of the house, back of the house, directly serving a customer, or merely in the chain of service.

(Citing Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 1062, 1068–1071; Etheridge v. Reins Internat. California, Inc. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 908 at pp. 921–923; Budrow v. Dave & Buster’s Of California, Inc., (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th at pp. 878–879, 883–884.)

As recently written about in prior posts, on March 23, 2018, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 signed by President Trump changed federal law on this issue and allows employers to share tips with back of the house employees.

As a reminder, the decision, Davis v. International Coffee and Tea, LLC (2018 WL 1602255) was not officially published and is not binding precedent.  However, the court’s clear summary of the legal issues in that case still provide good reminders to California employers about issues to be mindful of when implementing tip pooling policies.  It is also important for employers to seek qualified legal counsel on the issue to ensure their particular policy complies with the law.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis this week, I thought it would be a good time to review the pros and cons of arbitration agreements in the workplace.  This this Friday’s Five is a video in which I cover five things you want to know about arbitration agreements, but were afraid to ask:

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, that employment arbitration agreements that bar class actions are enforceable.  The vote was 5 to 4 in upholding the use of arbitration agreements in the workplace.

The plaintiff in the case argued that employees could not waive their rights in an agreement to be a part of a class action to pursue employment claims because this waiver violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) because these types of claims are “concerted activities” protected by § 7 of the NLRA.  This section guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively . . ., and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

The Court disagreed with plaintiff’s reading of § 7, and held: “The NLRA secures to employees rights to organize unions and bargain collectively, but it says nothing about how judges and arbitrators must try legal disputes that leave the workplace and enter the courtroom or arbitral forum. This Court has never read a right to class actions into the NLRA – and for three quarters of a century neither did the National Labor Relations Board.”

In 2011, the Supreme Court issued a decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, upholding the enforceability of class action waivers in the consumer context, such as with cell phone providers, cable providers or services provided by internet companies.  The plaintiff in Epic Systems argued that the employment context was different because of the rights guaranteed to employees under the NLRA.  While many employers were using arbitration agreements with class action waivers, the ruling in Epic Systems confirms the enforceability of these agreements between employees and employers.

This decision resolves a split in authority between the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ernst & Young v. Morris), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc.), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis).

See my prior post for additional background on the case and impact on California employers.