California employers need to routinely need to review their policies and practices to make sure they are complying with intricacies that may arise in their work place.  In law school, attorneys-to-be are taught to “issue spot,” and the unfortunate litigation landscape that faces California employers, business owners and their supervisors must also “issue spot” and make sure the unique aspects of California employment law are being complied with to avoid liability.  This Friday’s Five covers five issues employers should issue spot on a routine basis to help ensure compliance and reduce liability:

1. Reporting time pay

Reporting time pay is triggered when an employee is required to report for work, but is not put to work or is furnished less than half their usual or scheduled day’s work.  If this occurs, the employee needs to be paid for half the usual or scheduled day’s work, but in no event for less than two (2) hours nor more than four (4) hours, at the employee’s regular rate of pay, which cannot not be less than the minimum wage.

It is important for employers to train managers and supervisors about this requirement, so that they understand the need to pay reporting time pay, or report the instance to HR to ensure the employee receives reporting time pay if they are sent home before one-half of their shift is worked.

2. Split shift pay

A split shift is a work schedule that is interrupted by a non-paid, non-working period established by the employer that is other than a meal or rest break.  So if the employee is required to work a shift, but then asked to report to a second shift over later in the same day, the employer may be obligated to pay a split shift premium.  Again, this issue is one that front-line managers and supervisors need to be trained on to ensure that split shifts are being reported to HR or other appropriate management in the company to ensure any split shift pay obligations are being paid.

3. Expense reimbursement issues

Under Labor Code section 2802, employers need to reimburse employees for any business expenses they incur in the course of completing their work for the employer.  This basic concept sounds easy in principle, but given the technology used in today’s workplaces, there can be many areas that expose employers to liability.  For example, if employees are required to work at home, have access to the internet, print reports, or send and receive faxes, the costs for completing this work should be reimbursed by the employer.  Other areas that are often litigated are cell phone reimbursement, mileage reimbursement, and reimbursement for the costs of uniforms and safety equipment.

4. Off-the-clock claims

Employers can be held liable for unpaid wages if they knew or should have known that employees were working and not being paid for the work.  Employers should establish and regularly communicate a time keeping policy to employees and supervisors.  The policy should set forth that employees always have an open door to complain to their supervisors and other managers or human resources about missed meal and rest breaks, unpaid wages, or unpaid wages.  If employees routinely acknowledge that they understand the time keeping policy and are agreeing to record their time through the employer’s system, this can go a long way in defending any off-the-clock claims.

5. On-Call time

Even though employees are traveling to a work site or even sleeping, if the employee is under the control of the employer, the employer may have to pay them for being on-call.  For example, the California Supreme Court held that security guards who were required to reside in a trailer provided by the employer at construction worksites would still need to be paid for the time they slept while on-call.  In that case, during weekdays the guards were on patrol for eight hours, on call for eight hours, and off duty for eight hours.  On weekends, the guards were on patrol for 16 hours and on call for eight hours.  The Court held that the employer was not permitted to exclude the time guards spent sleeping from the compensable hours worked in 24-hour shifts.  See Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions, Inc.

Likewise, in Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., the California Supreme Court held that, “we conclude the time agricultural employees are required to spend traveling on their employer’s buses is compensable under Wage Order No. 14-80 because they are ‘subject to the control of an employer’ and do not also have to be ‘suffered or permitted to work’ during this travel period.”  Generally, travel time is considered compensable work hours where the employer requires its employees to meet at a designated place and use the employer’s designated transportation to and from the work site.

This week’s Friday’s Five covers five huge misconceptions about California employment law that can land employers into huge legal trouble:

1. Meal and rest breaks seem so trivial.

The topic may seem trivial for companies that have not faced this litigation before, or for out of state employers who wrongly believe California cannot be much different than federal requirements.  However, with the penalty owed to employees of one hour of pay for each missed meal or rest break (i.e., up to two hours of penalty pay per day) these violations add up to significant amounts of liability very quickly.  A verdict against Wal-Mart for $172 million is a good example of the liability that even small employers face in this regard.

2. My payroll company understands the laws about wages and itemized pay statements.

Payroll companies are not law firms and they will not notify you if you are not paying your employees properly, calculating overtime correctly, tracking and reporting paid sick leave appropriately, or even ensure that the paystubs they generate for your employees comply with the law.  It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the employment laws are being complied with, and it is wise to have an experienced employment lawyer review these practices and audit the practices of the payroll company.

3. The employee’s title determines if they are owed overtime.

An employee’s title is not determinative of whether they qualify as an exempt employee and do not need to receive overtime pay.  See my previous article on the various exemptions that employees may qualify for, and the requirements necessary for employees to meet those exemptions.

4. Employees can be provided “comp time” instead of paid overtime.

While it is true employers may provide employee’s comp time in lieu of overtime, there are many technical restrictions that must be met in order for comp time plans to be legal under California law.  Labor Code section 204.3 only authorizes employers to provide nonexempt employees with compensated time off instead of paying for overtime if the following requirements are met:

  • Payment for comp time must be at the overtime rate of pay (i.e., not less than one and one-half hours for each hour of employment, or double time if applicable)
  • Must be in writing before work begins
  • Employees cannot accrue more than 240 hours of compensation time off
  • Employee has to make a written request for comp time in lieu of overtime
  • Employee must be scheduled to work at least 40 hours a week
  • Employee must be paid at rate of pay in effect at time of payment
  • Payment at termination must be at high of current or three-year average rate of pay
  • Employee must be permitted to use comp time within reasonable period
  • Employer must keep records of comp time accrued and used

5. My company does not need employment counsel to review our polices on a regular basis, we have it under control.

If you have been a reader of this blog for any time period, you understand that every employer in California needs to understand their legal duties when it comes to employing workers.  And with competent employment law counsel [:)] it is not hard to comply with the law, but it is difficult to keep current with the law and ensure all legal obligations are being met.  California employment law is regularly changing.  In addition, employers need to make sure they are complying with intricacies that may arise in their work place, such as:

 

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Douglas Troester filed suit alleging that Starbucks violated the California Labor Code by failing to pay him for short periods of time he spent closing the store.  He alleged that Starbucks failed to pay him for time spent walking out of the store after activating the security alarm, for the time he spent turning the lock on the store’s front door, and for the time he spent occasionally reopening the door so that a co-worker could retrieve a coat.  Based on these allegations, Troester filed a class action under the California Labor Code for failure to pay minimum and overtime wages, failure to provide accurate written wage statements, and failure to timely pay all final wages.  Over the 17-month period of his employment, Troester’s unpaid time totaled approximately 12 hours and 50 minutes. At the then-applicable minimum wage of $8 per hour, this unpaid time added up to $102.67, not including any penalties or other remedies.

In the lower court, Starbucks filed a motion for summary judgment asking the court to dismiss Plaintiff’s case based upon the de minimis doctrine.  The trial court agreed with Starbucks and dismissed the case, assuming that the additional time would be administratively difficult to capture.  However, this ruling was appealed to the California Supreme Court for review based on Plaintiff’s argument that the de minimis doctrine is not applicable under California law.  The Supreme Court’s decision has major ramifications for California employers.  For this week’s Friday’s Five, here are five issues about the Troester v. Starbucks Corp. holding and the de minimis doctrine employers must understand:

1. The de minimis doctrine: What is it?

The trial court, in granting Starbucks motion for summary judgment, explained the de minimis doctrine as follows:

Under this doctrine, alleged working time need not be paid if it is trivially small: “[A] few seconds or minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours … may be disregarded.” Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 692, 66 S.Ct. 1187, 90 L.Ed. 1515 (1946), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U.S. 21, 25–26, 126 S.Ct. 514, 163 L.Ed.2d 288 (2005).

The California Supreme Court explained the concept as follows:

The de minimis doctrine is an application of the maxim de minimis non curat lex, which means “[t]he law does not concern itself with trifles.” (Black’s Law Dict. (10th ed. 2014) p. 524.) Federal courts have applied the doctrine in some circumstances to excuse the payment of wages for small amounts of otherwise compensable time upon a showing that the bits of time are administratively difficult to record.

2. What factors do courts look to in determining whether time is de minimis?

The factors some other courts have look to in determining whether time is de minimis include (1) the practical administrative difficulty of recording the additional time; (2) the aggregate amount of compensable time; and (3) the regularity of the additional work.  The trial court in the Starbucks case noted that numerous courts have concluded that daily periods of about 10 minutes are de minimis.

3. Does the de minimum doctrine apply to California law?

The California Supreme Court held that the de minimis doctrine adopted under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not apply to California employers.  However, the Court left open the possibility of some narrower version of the doctrine to apply in wage and hour cases:

In other words, although California has not adopted the federal de minimis doctrine, does some version of the doctrine nonetheless apply to wage and hour claims as a matter of state law? We hold that the relevant wage order and statutes do not permit application of the de minimis rule on the facts given to us by the Ninth Circuit, where the employer required the employee to work “off the clock” several minutes per shift. We do not decide whether there are circumstances where compensable time is so minute or irregular that it is unreasonable to expect the time to be recorded.

We decline to decide whether a de minimis principle may ever apply to wage and hour claims given the wide range of scenarios in which this issue arises.

4. Legal and technical advances have limited the need for a de minimis doctrine in California.

The California Supreme Court refused to adopt the FLSA de minimis doctrine for a number of reasons, but specifically stated that the “modern availability of class action lawsuits undermines to some extent the rational behind a de minimis rule with respect to wage and hour actions.”  The Court explained that individual recoveries which are too small to be worth the individual’s or the court’s time can be aggregated to “vindicate an important public policy.”  “In this age of the consumer class action this maxim [de minimis non curat lex] usually has little value.”

Second, the California Supreme Court relied upon the “technical advances that enable employees to track and register their work time via smartphones, tablets, or other devices” that have made it easier to record employee’s time worked as an additional reason not to adopt the federal de minimis doctrine under California law.

Therefore, the Court held, “[a]n employer that requires its employees to work minutes off the clock on a regular basis or as a regular feature of the job may not evade the obligation to compensate the employee for that time by invoking the de minimis doctrine. As the facts here demonstrate, a few extra minutes of work each day can add up.”

5. The Supreme Court recognized some practical steps employers can take to address the “practical administrative difficulty of recording small amounts of time for payroll purposes.”

The Court held that employers are in a better position than employee to “devise alternatives that would permit the tracking of small amount of regularly occurring work time.”  The Court described some alternatives employers could implement include:

  • structuring work so that employees would not have to work before or after clocking out
  • using technology to have time tracking tools to more accurately record employee’s time
  • estimating the time it takes employees to perform work and to compensate employees for that time

The California Supreme Court’s decision, Troester v. Starbucks Corp., No. S234969, 2018 WL 3582702, at *2 (Cal. July 26, 2018) can be read here.  

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.