Best Practices For California Employers

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.

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:

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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.

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.