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.

I received a few questions this week that I have not heard asked in a while: In what manner do employers need to keep time records?  Can they be kept electronically, or do they have to be written?  A follow-on question was: Do employers need to have a computerized timekeeping system to comply with their requirements under California law?  With technological advances, it is hard to remember that just 10 years ago these questions were on top of everyone’s mind, but today it is sometimes assumed that it must be legal to keep these records electronically.  However, these inquiries raise good questions about employers’ obligations under the Labor Code to create and maintain time records.  Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly depending on your views on how slow the law is in adapting to technological advances), the Labor Code does not address this issue right on point.  Yet, there are some governing principles employers can review in making the decision on what practices are best for their business. This Friday’s Five covers five key obligations employers should consider when setting up time keeping systems:

 1. Are employers required to use a particular type of timekeeping system?

 California law does not require the use of any electronic type of timekeeping system or time clocks.  Employers may elect to use paper and pen in recording an employee’s time.  As explained below, the records should be “indelible,” meaning that the time entries cannot be erased, removed, or changed.  However, even with just a handful of employees, many employers find it more efficient to use an electronic timekeeping system.  Moving towards an electronic time keeping system can reduce mistakes in the recording and calculation of time worked, make it easier to track changes, and could make a review of the time entries easier should there ever be a challenge by the employee about their pay.  Most timekeeping software today will also help monitor meal break compliance and will automatically flag any violations for a manager’s review.

 2. Can time records be kept electronically?

 California Wage Orders require that employers maintain the employees time records “in the English language and in ink or other indelible form.”

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) issued an Opinion Letter on July 20, 1995 stating that “storage of records by electronic means meets the requirements of California law if the records are (1) retrievable in the State of California, and (2) may be printed in an indelible format upon request of either the employee or the Division.”

The DLSE issued another Opinion Letter on November 10, 1998 advising employers that the electronic time record data could be maintained outside of the State of California “as long as a hard copy of the records was maintained at a central location within California.”  While the DLSE’s opinion letters are not binding legal precedent, they are given pervasive authority in court.  Thus, employers need to be careful about relying too heavily on these opinions.  In addition, these two Opinion Letters contradict each other.  As set forth below, the Wage Orders require time records “shall be kept on file by the employer for at least three years at the place of employment or at a central location within the State of California.”  Therefore, employers should consider maintaining a copy of employee time records, either electronically or on paper, within the State of California.

Similar language is also found in Labor Code section 226 pertaining to the information required to be provided to employees on pay stubs:

The deductions made from payments of wages shall be recorded in ink or other indelible form, properly dated, showing the month, day, and year, and a copy of the statement or a record of the deductions shall be kept on file by the employer for at least three years at the place of employment or at a central location within the State of California.

On July 6, 2006, the DLSE issued an Opinion Letter permitting employers to issue electronic pay stubs to employees if certain requirements were met.  The DLSE stated:

The Division in recent years has sought to harmonize the “detachable part of the check” provision and the “accurate itemized statement in writing” provision of Labor Code section 226(a) by allowing for electronic wage statements so long as each employee retains the right to elect to receive a written paper stub or record and that those who are provided with electronic wage statements retain the ability to easily access the information and convert the electronic statements into hard copies at no expense to the employee.

The DLSE approves electronic wage statements as long as the employer incorporates the following features:

  1. An employee may elect to receive paper wage statements at any time;
  2. The wage statements will contain all information required under Labor Code section 226(a) and will be available on a secure website no later than pay day;
  3. Access to the website will be controlled by unique employee identification numbers and confidential personal identification numbers (PINs).  The website will be protected by a firewall and is expected to be available at all times, with the exception of downtime caused by system errors or maintenance requirements;
  4. Employees will be able to access their records through their own personal computers or by company-provided computers.  Computer terminals will be available to all employees for accessing these records at work.
  5. Employees will be able to print copies of their electronic wage statements at work on printers that are in close proximity to the computer or computer terminal.  There will be no charge to the employee for accessing their records or printing them out.  Employees may also access their records over the Internet and save it electronically and/or print it on their own printer.
  6. Wage statements will be maintained electronically for at least three years and will continue to be available to active employees for that entire time.  Former employees will be provided paper copies at no charge upon request.

This same analysis would likely apply to the time records employers are required to maintain under California law.  However, employers need to approach this issue with advice from counsel, as there are no clear court decisions that have approved of the DLSE’s position.

3. Length of time electronic records should be kept

Employers should also note that the statute of limitations for many wage and hour class actions in California can extend back to four years under Business and Professions Code section 17200; and, therefore should consider keeping wage statements and other documentation required to defend against claims going back the previous four years.

4. Items time records must report (be careful, it is more than just start and stop times)

The Wage Orders require that California employers keep “[t]ime records showing when the employee begins and ends each work period. Meal periods, split shift intervals and total daily hours worked shall also be recorded. Meal periods during which operations cease and authorized rest periods need not be recorded.”  IWC Wage Order 5-2001(7)(a)(3).

Additionally, Labor Code section 1174 requires employers to keep time records showing the hours worked daily and the wages paid, number of piece-rate units earned by, and the applicable piece rate paid.

5. Records must be maintained in California

These records must be maintained in the state or at the “plants or establishments at which employees are employed.”  The records must be kept for at least three years.  Labor Code section 1174(d).

The Wage Orders likewise require that employers keep records “at the place of employment or at a central location within the State of California.” As mentioned above, if employers have electronic records, a copy of the electronic data should be maintained within the state just as a precaution.

The statute of limitations for wage claims can extend back to four years, so employers generally keep the records for four years.  Employers need to ensure that the data being saved is the actual time records of the employees, and can be reproduced in format that is accurate and easy to read, should the records ever be requested or needed to defend litigation.

(Special thanks to Rick Reyes, a summer associate at my firm, for edits to this post.)

Chipotle had an $8 million verdict against it in a California court last week for a wrongful termination claim.  The verdict is a surprising huge amount and it should be a clear warning to employers about how important it is to document employee conduct, and then store and be able to access that evidence if ever needed to defend a lawsuit.  I posted my thoughts in the video below on Instagram:

I’ve started posting these shorter videos and thoughts on Instagram, so be sure to follow me at:

https://www.instagram.com/anthonyzaller/

On May 8, 2018, the court in Ibarra v. Wells Fargo Bank entered an order awarding Plaintiffs who filed a class action against the bank $97.2 million for rest break violations.  The original complaint alleged various wage and hour violations, and after the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, all but the rest break claims were dismissed.  The claims were brought under Labor Code section 226.7 and derivative claims under California’s Unfair Competition Law (Business & Professions Code section 17200).  This Friday’s Five reviews five lessons employers should learn from this costly ruling for Wells Fargo:

1. Rest break obligations

As a review, in 2012 the California Supreme Court issued its monumental decision regarding meal and rest breaks under the California Labor Code in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior CourtIn terms of rest breaks, the Brinker Court held 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.”

This rule is set forth in this chart:

Regarding when rest breaks should be taken during the shift, the Court held that “the only constraint of timing is that rest breaks must fall in the middle of work periods ‘insofar as practicable.’” The Court in Brinker stopped short of explaining what qualifies as “insofar as practicable”, and employers should closely analyze whether they may deviate from this general principle.

2. Use caution on how to compensate piece-rate workers and activity based compensated employees for rest breaks

The California Wage Orders require employers to count “rest period time” as “hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.”  (See 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.)

In Vaquero v. Stoneledge Furniture LLC, 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.  The court set out in Stoneledge that Wage Orders apply “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 compensation structure at issue in Wells Fargo involved advances against monthly draws, commissions, and other incentive bonuses.

3. Penalty for rest break violations

“If an employer fails to provide an employee a … rest … period[,] … the employer shall pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that the … rest … period is not provided.” Cal. Lab. Code § 226.7(c); see also IWC Wage Order 4-2001 § 12(B).

In Wells Fargo, the court found that the company had not provided paid rest breaks for its employees, and therefore faced liability under California Labor Code section 226.7 and California Business & Professions Code section 17200 of one additional hour of pay per workday for the number of shifts in excess of 3.5 hours during the class period.  In Wells Fargo’s case, this amounted to 1,880,003 qualifying work shifts.

4. How to determine employees’ regular rates of pay

The major issue for the parties in the Wells Fargo litigation turned on the proper method of calculating the employees’ “regular rate of compensation” for rest break violations.  Wells Fargo maintained that this should only be calculated using the employee’s hourly rate that was listed on the employee’s wage statements.  If the court adopted this method, it would have resulted in damages of approximately $24.5 million.

Plaintiffs on the other hand argued that the “regular rate of compensation” should not only be the employee’s hourly rate, but should also include the employees’ commissions and other non-discretionary pay earned during the pay period.  The Plaintiffs argued that this total should then be divided by the total hours worked during the pay period.  According to this methodology, the damages equaled approximately $97.2 million.

In agreeing with the Plaintiffs, the court noted that the employees’ “normal compensation was not comprised solely or even primarily of pay calculated at an hourly rate. By definition, it included hourly pay, incentive pay, and overtime premiums, and the hourly pay was stated to be only an advance on commissions.”

5. But there is a disagreement among courts on how to calculate the “regular rate” for purposes of rest break violations

The court in Wells Fargo noted that other courts have come to the different conclusion that based on the language in Labor Code section 226.7 that items like commissions should not be included in the “regular rate” when calculating damages for rest break violations.  The court noted the following cases, but declined to follow their reasoning: Brum v. MarketSource, Inc., 2:17-cv-241-JAM-EFB, 2017 WL 2633414, at *3-5 (E.D. Cal. June 19, 2017); Wert v. U.S. Bancorp, No. 13-cv-3130-BAS (BLM), 2014 WL 7330891, at *3-5 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 18, 2014), reconsideration denied, 2015 WL 3617165 (S.D. Cal. June 9, 2015); Bradescu v. Hillstone Rest. Grp., Inc., No. SACV 13-1289-GW (RZx), 2014 WL 5312546, at *7-8 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 8, 2014), tentative ruling confirmed as final, 2014 WL 5312574 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 10, 2014).

Given the split in decisions, Wells Fargo is reported to have plans to appeal the ruling.

 

The California Supreme Court issued a monumental ruling this week regarding the test used in determining whether a worker can be classified as an independent contractor.  In the case, Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, the plaintiff brought a class action complaint alleging five causes of action arising from Dynamex’s alleged misclassification of employees as independent contractors: two counts of unfair and unlawful business practices in violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200, and three counts of Labor Code violations based on Dynamex’s failure to pay overtime compensation, to properly provide itemized wage statements, and to compensate the drivers for business expenses. Here are five key issues California employers must understand about the ruling:

1. The determination of whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee is inherently difficult.

The determination of whether an employee is an independent contractor or employee has been a difficult issue that does not provide a bight line in many cases.  The California Supreme Court recognized this in Dynamex, stating:

As the United States Supreme Court observed in Board v. Hearst Publications (1944) 322 U.S. 111, 121:  “Few problems in the law have given greater variety of application and conflict in results than the cases arising in the borderland between what is clearly an employer-employee relationship and what is clearly one of independent, entrepreneurial dealing.  This is true within the limited field of determining vicarious liability in tort.  It becomes more so when the field is expanded to include all of the possible applications of the distinction.”

2. The ABC Test: Part A: Is the worker free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact?

In making the determination of whether a worker is properly considered the type of independent contractor for which the wage order does not apply, the California Supreme Court adopted the “ABC” test.  This test is used in other jurisdictions in a variety of contexts to distinguish employees from independent contractors.

To illustrate the first part of the ABC test, the Part A control test, the Court provided the following examples:  In Western Ports v. Employment Sec. Dept. the company “failed to establish that truck driver was free from its control within the meaning of part A of the ABC test, where the company required driver to keep truck clean, to obtain the company’s permission before transporting passengers, to go to the company’s dispatch center to obtain assignments not scheduled in advance, and could terminate driver’s services for tardiness, failure to contact the dispatch unit, or any violation of the company’s written policy.”  Alternatively, in Great N. Constr., Inc. v. Dept. of Labor a construction company “established that worker who specialized in historic reconstruction was sufficiently free of the company’s control to satisfy part A of the ABC test, where worker set his own schedule, worked without supervision, purchased all materials he used on his own business credit card, and had declined an offer of employment proffered by the company because he wanted control over his own activities.”

3. Part B: Does the worker perform work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business?

To illustrate the point, the Court provided the following analysis:

Workers whose roles are most clearly comparable to those of employees include individuals whose services are provided within the usual course of the business of the entity for which the work is performed and thus who would ordinarily be viewed by others as working in the hiring entity’s business and not as working, instead, in the worker’s own independent business.

The Court set forth a few examples: When a retail store hires an outside plumber to repair a leak in a bathroom on its premises or hires an outside electrician to install a new electrical line, the services of the plumber or electrician are not part of the store’s usual course of business and the store would not reasonably be seen as having suffered or permitted the plumber or electrician to provide services to it as an employee.

Alternatively, when a clothing manufacturing company hires work-at-home seamstresses to make dresses from cloth and patterns supplied by the company that will then be sold by the company, or when a bakery hires cake decorators to work on a regular basis on its custom-designed cakes, the workers are part of the hiring entity’s usual business operation it would be reasonable to view these workers as employees.

4. Part C: Is the worker customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity?

The Court held that the term “independent contractor,” “ordinarily has been understood to refer to an individual who independently has made the decision to go into business for himself or herself.”  (See, e.g., Borello, supra, 48 Cal.3d at p. 354 [describing independent contractor as a worker who “has independently chosen the burdens and benefits of self-employment”].)  Such an individual generally takes the usual steps to establish and promote his or her independent business….”  Evidence of this will be the workers’ own business incorporation, licensure, advertisements, offering to provide services to the general public or other potential customers.  Alternatively, a worker is not engaged in an independent established trade usually if the hiring company unilaterally designates the worker as an independent contractor.  In addition, “[t]he fact that a company has not prohibited or prevented a worker from engaging in such a business is not sufficient to establish that the worker has independently made the decision to go into business for himself or herself.”

The hiring entity’s failure to prove any one of these three parts of the ABC test will be result in a finding that the worker is an employee and not an independent contractor for purposes of the California wage orders.

5. Employers bear the burden of proof in establishing workers are independent contractors.

Employers had the burden prior to the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Dynamex, but the court reinforced that the employer bears the burden of proof when establishing a worker as an independent contractor.  Employers must be careful in making the determination that workers are independent contractors, as there are many wage and hour penalties for unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, and missed meal and rest breaks, in addition to the large civil penalties under Labor Code section 226.8, which is a fairly recent law which added penalties from $5,000 up to $25,000 for each violation.

Earlier this week I attended Restaurant Day at the State Capitol with the California Restaurant Association.  It is great to work with restaurant owners and operators in communicating the issues and realities of running a business in California.  If you have never participated in meeting with your local, state, or federal legislator, I highly recommend doing so.  It is a great learning experience, and even though the legislator may not agree with your position, it is a great process to engage your representative and to support your positions.  Given the recent experience, this Friday’s Five focuses on five proposed bills on employment that California businesses must be aware of (and a link at the bottom on how to contact your state representative):

1. AB 2841 (Gonzalez Fletcher) proposes to increase paid sick leave from 24 hours/3 days to 40 hours/5days of paid time off.

California currently requires employers to provide at least 24 hours/three days of paid sick leave to employees (click here for a prior article about California’s paid sick leave requirements).  This proposed bill would increase the amount of paid sick leave days to 5 days/40 hours of paid sick leave. Also, don’t forget about local county and city requirements that may differ from the state requirement.

2. AB 2613 (Burk) proposes to make employers and officers personally liable for additional penalties for wage violations.

The bill proposes to make employers and their officers personally liable for an additional penalty of $200 per employee, per pay period for wages that are not paid on time.  The bill makes it clear that these proposed penalties “are in addition to, and entirely independent and apart from, any other damages or penalties provided for under this code.”

3. AB 2069 (Bonta) proposes to make medical marijuana card holders a protected class under the Fair Employment and Housing Act

This proposed bill would make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person if the discrimination is based upon the person’s status as a qualified patient or person with an identification card entitled to the protections of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 or the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

The bill makes the medical use of marijuana a protected disability under state law: “When used to treat a known physical or mental disability or known medical condition, the medical use of cannabis by a qualified patient or person with an identification card, as those terms are defined in Section 11362.7 of the Health and Safety Code, shall be subject to reasonable accommodation, including the use of the interactive process.”

Many employers are concerned that providing protections to employees who use marijuana will lead to safety issues at work whereby employees under the influence hurt other employees, customers, or by standards.  Currently, the use of marijuana is not a protected category, as it is still illegal to use under federal law.

4. AB 3080 (Gonzalez Fletcher) proposes to ban employers from restricting employees from disclosing any sexual harassment settlements and bars the use of arbitration agreements in the employment context.

AB 3080 would prohibit employers from entering into contracts that do not allow the employee from disclosing “an instance of sexual harassment that the employee “suffers, witnesses, or discovers in the workplace.”

The bill also prohibits the use of mandatory arbitration agreements in the workplace.  Many employers are utilizing arbitration agreements as a quicker and less costly method of resolving workplace disputes.  The bill, in its current form, would still allow the use of voluntary arbitration agreements.  However, opponents to the bill argue that banning the use of arbitration agreements would run afoul of the Federal Arbitration Act, would be preempted by this federal law.

5. SB 1284 (Jackson) proposes to require companies to disclose pay data reports to the state.

SB 1284 would require employers with 100 or more employees to submit a pay data report to the Department of Industrial Relations.  The report would need to include information such as the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and sex listed by their job categories, and the number of employees “whose annual earnings fall within each of the pay bands used by the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Occupation Employment Statistics survey.”

There are other employment law bills being debated, but I thought these were the top five that employers should be aware of as of April 2018.  Please check back for updates.

Click here for information about how to locate and contact your state representative.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job unless it would cause an undue hardship on the employer. Common reasonable accommodations include changing job duties for the position, allowing a leave of absence for medical care, modifying work schedules, or providing mechanical or electrical aids.

An employer may discharge an employee with a physical disability or medical condition where the employee, because of that physical disability or medical condition, “is unable to perform his or her essential duties even with reasonable accommodations, or cannot perform those duties in a manner that would not endanger his or her health or safety or the health or safety of others even with reasonable accommodations.” (Gov. Code § 12940, subds. (a)(1), (a)(2).)

The issue in many reasonable accommodation and disability cases involves a dispute over what duties are “essential functions” of a job.   This Friday’s Five sets forth five critical aspects of the analysis used to determine the essential functions of a position:

1. The function may be essential because the reason the position exists is to perform that function.

2. The function may be essential because of the limited number of employees available among whom the performance of that job function can be distributed.

3. The function may be highly specialized, so that the individual in the position is hired for his or her expertise or ability to perform the particular function.

4. Evidence reviewed in making the determination of whether a function is essential includes:

(A) The employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential.

(B) Written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job.

(C) The amount of time spent on the job performing the function.

(D) The consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function.

(E) The terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

(F) The work experiences of past incumbents in the job.

(G) The current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.

5. Job descriptions are essential.

In making this determination the the job advertisement and the job description for the position at issue will also be reviewed.  Job descriptions should be carefully drafted and updated on a regular basis so that they can be utilized in establishing the essential duties of a job in disability litigation.

I just updated my Facebook settings to prohibit the software company from conducting facial recognition scans on my photos today due to a notification from Facebook that its software would be analyzing my likeness to automatically recognize me in photos posted on Facebook.  This was a coincidence because today I spoke at the American Bar Association’s National Symposium on Technology in Labor and Employment Law on the topic of biometrics in the workplace.  As I’ve written about previously, Facebook has been sued for violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) for the analysis it performs on individual’s images that are uploaded to Facebook, and indeed other companies are dealing with legal issues arising from Illinois BIPA.  This Friday’s Five consists of my five ruminations about biometrics use in the workplace.

1.     Technology is developing faster than society’s perceptions of privacy and the law’s ability to keep up. 

 Technology is quickly developing rapidly on biometric gathering and analysis of the information.  As reported today, cameras will likely have the ability to gather data to understand how an individual is feeling and thinking.  We are not at the point of a Star Trek type of body scanner to determine in an individual is sick or injured, but it is not inconceivable that this will be possible in the near future. Current technology allows the collection of a lot of biometric information that most of the public probably does not know is possible, such as thermo-images, identification by your “ear print,” heartbeats and possibly EEGs. It raises the key question: is your ear print, heartbeat, heat signature, or EEG signals private information?

2.     Only 3 states have legislation regarding the collection and analysis of biometric information of individuals. 

A bit surprising to me, all but three states allow for the collection and analysis by employers or consumer companies of biometric information without any type of disclosures or notice to individuals. Illinois, Texas and Washington state have statues that require some type of notice and voluntary consent before biometric information is collected by a private company.  There is no restriction regarding law enforcement collection of biometric data.

On one hand it is not private – it is publicly shared and information that can be acquired through very unobtrusive means.  There does not have to be any contact (except for the EEG monitoring – which requires probes placed on the scalp) with the individual to obtain this information.  Indeed, this information can often be derived through taking a picture, with nothing more complicated than the camera found on most mobile phones.

On the other hand, the technology being developed can gather more intimate information about people beyond their identity.  Thermo-images, EEG scans, and carbon dioxide monitors can gather a lot more information than previously imaginable about an individual’s health and mood.  As this technology continues to develop, it will be able to derive even more detailed information about people’s health, propensities to become sick, likelihood of having cancer, or maybe even be able to detect cancer.

3.     Biometric information is useful in the employment context. 

Employers have already been using biometric information to track employees and for security issues, such as permitting access to certain areas based on fingerprint or retinal scans.  Employees are able to share passwords very easily to get around password safeguards, but it is harder (but not impossible) for them to share fingerprints or “earprints” (yes, you can be identified by your earprint, which are more reliable than fingerprints).

In the future, employers may be interested in tracking blood pressure, heartbeats, and the general anxiety level of employees for workers’ safety, workers comp claims, and productivity.  To the extent the employee asserts some accident or incident occurred on a certain day, it would be useful to have this biometric information for the same time period.  While it would be useful, does it violate an employee’s right to privacy?  While employees do have a reduced privacy rights a work as long as the employer provides notice to the employee that they may be monitored, California courts have also been clear in holding that employees do not forfeit all privacy rights while at work.

4.     If employers collect biometric information, is it simply creating a database that can be used by other third parties?

My libertarian tendencies cause an uneasy feeling in my stomach when realizing the current capabilities with biometric information.  This is partly while I opted out of Facebook’s facial recognition setting mentioned above.  I believe that many people have a concern that while an individual may consent that a company or an employer may collect and analyze their biometric information, it is unknown about what may happen to this information in the future.  This information is an asset that could be acquired by other companies through company purchases or mergers.  This would result in the individual’s biometric information being available to third-parties that the individual never anticipated would have access to the information.  There are currently no legal safeguards restricting who has access to biometric information, expect the couple of states mentioned above that have passed legislation on this issue.

5.     Once biometric data is hacked, it may be hard to identify people. 

Again, I recognize that employers and companies have legitimate uses for biometric information.  However, the type of information that is contained in biometric information under current technology and the information that will be able to be gathered by future technology is critical to an individual’s identity.  What if the data is hacked and used by a third-party to steal an individual’s identity?  How will one be able to prove that they are who they claim to be if their finger print data base has been changed by a hacker?  These are issues that will have to be resolved as this technology and area of the law are developing.

I’m conducting a poll of the readers to see if they believe biometric information is private or not.  Please vote and share your comments here, and I will report back the data.

As I wrote about recently, on March 23, 2018, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 signed by President Trump changed federal law on the issue of tip pools and allows employers to share tips with back of the house employees.  In connection with the new law, the Department of Labor issued a memorandum this week further explaining the law.  Of importance to California employers, the DOL’s memo sets forth that:

In the meantime, given these developments, employers who pay the full FLSA minimum wage are no longer prohibited from allowing employees who are not customarily and regularly tipped—such as cooks and dishwashers—to participate in tip pools. The Act prohibits managers and supervisors from participating in tip pools, however, as the Act equates such participation with the employer’s keeping the tips.

The full Field Assistance Bulletin NO. 2018-3 can be read here.

My prior article setting forth common issues for California employers in regards to tip pools can be read here.

In addition, I recently posted a video explaining some tip pooling issues facing California employers:

Clients come to my firm often frustrated by California employment laws and their complexity, the raising costs of doing business in California (such as the higher minimum wage), and the legal system in general.  I have to agree that California poses one of the most difficult business environments businesses have to operate within, but I come back to thinking that many of the issues the clients voice frustration with can be managed if they are given the tools to do so.  This Friday’s Five lists five things every employment attorney should tell their California clients:

1. Litigation is expensive (and no, I’m not just talking about legal fees).

Two lessons here:  1) Don’t approach litigation with the attitude that you are fighting for principle (unless you have unlimited resources), and 2) focusing on human resources/policy development/legal compliance before litigation (see #5 below) can help prevent litigation and save resources.  For most businesses, litigation should be avoided, but to the extent it cannot be avoided, companies should usually view the transaction not as a personal vendetta, but as a business transaction.  Executives should weigh the costs of litigation versus the benefits just as they do in any other business decisions to determine whether to litigate the case or make an attempt at settlement.  But don’t approach this decision based on any attorney’s advice that litigation can be completed fast and inexpensively.  As there are defense costs, but as just or possibly costlier is the time and effort that the company and its managers and employees will have to spend defending the litigation instead of running the business.  This is often a hidden cost that must be taken into consideration.

2. Treating people with respect will likely result in less litigation.

I understand, it seems like California employment law is always adding new requirements on employers that are difficult to comply with.  However, with a small amount of time and attention, most of the issues that present the largest amounts of potential liability for employers can easily be managed.  But for the few occasions when it is legally unclear about what action the company should take, or if legal counsel cannot be reached in time for a decision where the law is not clear, employers that treat the employee with respect will usually avoid litigation.  I believe that, for the most part, employees understand that employers/managers/supervisors must make difficult decisions.  When the employee is treated with respect during a difficult employment decision, even though they might not like the decision, they will probably understand why it was made, and most likely will not hold a grudge against the company.

3. When in doubt, document.

As a litigator, the worse feeling I have is when the employer provides me with an employee personnel file for a problem employee, but the personnel file contains less than a few pages.  Employers’ primary defenses to many employment lawsuits will be won or lost on the documentation created and maintained by the employer.  The employee that believes they were wrongfully terminated will face a much tougher case if there were a dozen documented performance write-ups in their file setting for the date and examples of what the employee did or failed to do.  For additional information, see my prior post, Five best document storage and retention practices for California employers.

4. Train front line managers and supervisors.

A company’s managers and supervisors are the eyes and ears of the company.  They must be well trained about what issues can create legal liability for the company, as well as be trained in new developments in the law (for example, so they are not asking about criminal histories during the interview process since the beginning of 2018) and are trained about how to be managers (and treat people with respect).  This training for managers/supervisors is the difference between a good and a great company.

5. A small investment in human resources will provide a return.

As I wrote about last week, human resource departments need to have a more critical role in organizations and should be viewed on the same level as marketing and finance departments.  Giving HR managers budgets to proactively update policies, handbooks, and training sessions for managers will provide a positive return to the company.  Now it may not be an immediate net gain on the financials, but if one lawsuit is avoided because of the proactive measures put into place, this will be money well spent (see item #1).