The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on October 2, 2017 in Epic System Corp. v. Lewis.  And while the case may not make headline news, it has very important ramifications for employers across the country.  At issue is whether employers can legally compel employees to enter into arbitration agreements which contain class action waivers.  The decision is likely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this December.  Below are five issues regarding the Supreme Court’s decision and the impact it may have on employer’s businesses going into 2018:

1. There is a split in Circuit Courts regarding if arbitration agreements with class action waivers are enforceable

Many courts have been upholding arbitration agreements that contain class action waivers, including the California Supreme Court in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC.  That case held that class action waivers are enforceable, following the standards set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.

However, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Morris v. Ernst & Young holding that a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement is unenforceable because the class action waiver is contrary to the rights provided to employees under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  The arbitration agreements in the Morris case were mandatory, and they contained a “concerted action waiver” clause preventing employees from bringing a class action.  Plaintiffs claimed that the “separate proceedings” clause contravenes the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 151 et. seq.  The Ninth Circuit held:

This case turns on a well-established principle: employees have the right to pursue work-related legal claims together. 29 U.S.C. § 157; Eastex, Inc. v. NLRB, 437 U.S. 556, 566 (1978). Concerted activity—the right of employees to act together—is the essential, substantive right established by the NLRA. 29 U.S.C. § 157. Ernst & Young interfered with that right by requiring its employees to resolve all of their legal claims in “separate proceedings.” Accordingly, the concerted action waiver violates the NLRA and cannot be enforced.

This holding is contrary to the holdings in the Second, Fifth, and Eight Circuits that have concluded that the NLRA does not invalidate collective action waivers in arbitration agreements.  This split in circuit courts will be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Epic System Corp. v. Lewis.

2. U.S. Department of Justice changed its position to support class action waivers

Under the Obama Administration, the DOJ supported the position taken by the NLRB that class action waivers found in arbitration agreements violated Section 7 of the NLRA.  However, under the Trump Administration, the DOJ has changed its view and in the summer of 2017 filed an amicus brief explaining it now does not believe class action waivers violate the NLRA.  This further adds to the split in authority that will be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Epic System Corp. v. Lewis.

3. Potential benefits of arbitration agreements for California employers

There are a number of benefits for California employers to have arbitration agreements.  One major benefit is the class action waiver discussed above.  For large employers this can be an effective bar from employees bringing class actions.  However, in California, employees still have rights to pursue “representative actions” under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) as discussed below.  Moreover, the arbitration process can proceed faster than civil litigation, saving a lot of time and attorney’s fees in the process.  For example, often the discovery process moves faster in arbitration, and if there are any disputes, the parties can raise them with the arbitrator telephonically, instead of the lengthy and formal motion process required to resolve disputes in civil court.

The arbitration process is also confidential, so if there are private issues that must be litigated, these issues are not filed in the public records of the courts. The parties also have a say in deciding which arbitrator to use in deciding the case, whereas in civil court the parties are simply assigned a judge without any input into the decision. This is very helpful in employment cases, which often involves more complex issues, and it is beneficial to the parties to select an arbitrator with experience in employment law.

4. Potential drawbacks of arbitration agreements in California

While there are many benefits of arbitration agreements, they do not come without a few drawbacks. The primary drawback is that in California, the employer must pay all of the arbitrator’s fees in employment cases. Arbitration fees can easily be tens of thousands of dollars – a cost that employers do not need to pay in civil cases. However, if the company values the confidentiality and speed of process provided in arbitration, and potentially limiting class action liability exposure, this extra cost may well be worth it.

In addition, even if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of employers in Epic System Corp. and upholds the use of class action waivers, the California Supreme Court held that employees may still bring representative actions under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). Even though PAGA claims are limited to specific penalties under the law, and have a much shorter one-year statute of limitations than compared to potentially a four-year statute of limitations for most class actions brought for unpaid wages under the Labor Code, the potential penalties under PAGA can still be substantial for employers.

5. Impact on employers

Employers who utilize arbitration agreements will need to monitor the Supreme Court’s decision in Epic System Corp.  If the Supreme Court rules that class action waivers violate Section 7 of the NLRA, employers will need to review and potentially modify any arbitration agreements with class action waivers.  Such a ruling could spur many more class actions.  With that said, employers should always be auditing their wage and hour policies and practices to ensure compliance with Federal and state laws.

If the Supreme Court holds that arbitration agreements with class action waivers do not violate Section 7 of the NLRA, it is likely that employers can continue to implement the agreements with employees.  However, as mentioned above, California employers still must remain vigilant about their wage and hour practices, as there is still substantial liability under representative actions under PAGA.

It has been a few years that the California Supreme Court issued its groundbreaking ruling in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court.  With the end of the year approaching and employers preparing for the new year and the new legal obligations that come with it, now is a good time for employers to audit meal and rest break policies and practices. Regular readers of the blog are familiar with these issues, but it is always a good practice to review these issues at least once a year and audit meal and rest break policies and practices.  This Friday’s Five covers five issues employers should not forget regarding about meal and rest breaks.

1. Timing of breaks.
Meal Breaks
The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court that employers need to give 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.” Here is a chart to illustrate the Court’s holding:

Rest Breaks
As for of rest breaks, the Court set forth 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:

In regards to 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 stopped short of explaining what qualifies as “insofar as practicable”, and employers should closely analyze whether they may deviate from this general principle.

2. Rule regarding waiver of breaks.
Meal Breaks
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. The Supreme Court explained in Brinker (quoting the DLSE’s brief on the subject):

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.

Rest Breaks
Rest breaks may also be waived by employees, as long as the employer properly authorizes and permits employees to take the full 10-minute rest break at the appropriate times.

3. Timekeeping requirements of meal breaks.
Meal breaks taken by the employees must be recorded by the employer. However, there is no requirement for employers to record 10-mintute rest breaks.

4. Implementing a procedure for employees to notify the company when they could not take a break.
If employers have the proper policy and practices set up for meal and rest breaks, the primary issue then becomes whether the employer knew or should have known that the employee was not taking the meal or rest breaks. Therefore, many allegations that the employer was not providing the required breaks can be defended on the basis that the employer had an effective complaint procedure in place to inform the employer of any potential violation, but failed to inform the employer of these violations.

5. Implementing a policy of paying employees for missed breaks and recording these payments.
Employers should show that in addition to the complaint procedure mentioned above, 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 in case it needs to prove later on that it has an effective remedial process in place to address missed breaks.

Happy Friday.  Through my defense of wage claims this year, I found that employers need to establish and periodically review issues pertaining to employees’ timekeeping.  This Friday’s Five is a list of the top five timekeeping issues that employers should routinely audit:

1. Establish and communicate a time keeping policy

Employers should establish and regularly communicate a time keeping policy to employees.  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 overtime.  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.

2. Rounding

Employers need to review whether their time keeping system or payroll company is rounding employees’ time.  While rounding can be legal under California law, employers must still meet certain requirements to have a compliant rounding practice.  In See’s Candy Shops Inc. v. Superior Court, a California court held that the employer’s rounding policy that rounded both up and down from the midpoint of every six minutes was permitted under California law.  The employers’ policy did not result in a loss to the employees overtime.  Therefore, the court found it to be lawful.  Employers need to review:

(1) Do they have a rounding policy?

(2) If they do round, is the policy compliant with the law?

(3) Is a rounding policy necessary or is it easier to pay the exact time the employee clocks in and out?

3. De minimis time

Employers need to review if they are compensating employee for all time worked.  The de minimis doctrine may permit employers a defense for claims by employees that they were not compensated for very small amounts of time that are difficult to track.  The de minimis doctrine holds that “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.’” Troester v. Starbucks Corporation (this decision is currently under appellate review).   More information about the de minimis doctrine can be read here.  While this defense may be available to California employers, employers should not rely upon the defense when it is known the employee is working time that is not compensated.

4. Record meal breaks

In addition to recording the start and stop times for employee’s work, employers are required to record when employees take meal breaks.  The Wage Orders require that California employers keep “[t]ime records showing when the employee begins and ends each work period. Meal periods, split shift intervals and total daily hours worked shall also be recorded. Meal periods during which operations cease and authorized rest periods need not be recorded.”  IWC Wage Order 5-2001(7)(a)(3).

5. Time records

Under Labor Code section 1174, employers are required to keep time records showing the hours worked daily and the wages paid, number of piece-rate units earned by and applicable piece rate paid.  These records must be maintained in the state or at the “plants or establishments at which employees are employed.”  The records must be kept for at least three years.  Labor Code section 1174(d).  The statute of limitations for wage claims can extend back to four years, so employers generally keep the records for four years.

With the end of summer quickly approaching, this Friday’s Five (and next week’s post as well) covers broad topics employers should review periodically.  Today’s post covers five questions a company operating in California should be asking on a routine basis:

1. Has the company reviewed and updated the employee handbook and related policies?

As discussed in last weeks Friday’s Five about the new court decision on vacation pay in Minnick v. Automotive Creations, an employer’s policies are critical in defending claims.  Vague or out dated policies can create huge amounts of liability for employers. California’s requirements change throughout the year, and it is important that employers have a good relationship with employment counsel so that they are routinely communicating and reviewing the need to update policies based on new case law and legislation.

2. Does your company train supervisors and employees on its handbook and other policies, and does the company standby what it tells employees in these policies?

Legally drafted policies only get your company half of the way there.  Companies need to train managers and supervisors about what the policies mean and how they need to be implemented day-to-day.  Furthermore, the company needs to follow-through with what it tells supervisors, managers, and employees.  For examples, if the company maintains an open door policy, but none of the employees are utilizing the open door policy there could be a problem.  One solution is for the company to start pro-actively having open door sessions with employees to discuss their experience at the company (my post next week will discuss what should be asked during these open door sessions).

3. Has the company conducted a review of a local county and city laws that apply?

State, county and city laws regulating minimum wage and paid sick leave are numerous and California employers need to ensure they have closely reviewed they are complying with these requirements.  As Carl’s Jr. is finding out, noncompliance can have steep penalties.

4. When was the last time the company conducted an internal wage and hour audit internally? When was the last time an external lawyer or other professional reviewed wage and hour practices?

Many companies establish policies or simply continuing using policies from the past that have never been reviewed internally or externally by a lawyer or other professional.  I’ve published an HR audit list that covers a few of the essential areas that must be reviewed to lower a company’s legal exposure in California.

5. Is there an open line of communication with the employer’s payroll company and have specific wage and hour compliance issues been discussed?

The information that must be listed on employee’s pay stub is detailed, but easy to comply with.  A model pay stub published by the State Division of Labor Standards Enforcement can be found here (but note this only lists the state requirements – any other local county or city requirement will also apply).  The model pay stubs does not list paid sick leave, which employers must also remember to list on the employee’s pay stub or other writing provided to employees when they are paid.

Many payroll companies do not review the accuracy of the information listed on the pay stubs they generate, and this burden falls on the employer.  In addition to the California Labor Code requirements of the information that must be listed on pay stubs, the local requirements for reporting the amount of paid sick time available to employees must also be provided.  Employers need to proactively review and discuss these requirements with their payroll companies.

In this Friday’s Five I discuss:

  • new case decision on vacation pay and policies (Minnick v. Automotive Creations)
  • PAGA decision allowing contact information for other employees (Williams v. Superior Court),
  • new Form I-9 released and employers must start using by September 17, 2017 (download here)
  • new Notice of Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence/sexual assault/stalking required to be provided to California employees effective July 1, 2017 (download here), and
  • new law signed by Governor Brown prohibiting inquiries into litigant’s immigration status.

Expense reimbursement may seem like a small issue in comparison with the other areas of liability facing California employers, but the Old Carexposure for not appropriately reimbursing employees can be substantial. In Gattuso v. Harte-Hanks Shoppers, Inc., the California Supreme Court clarified the parameters of mileage reimbursement under California law, as well as the three different methods available for employers to reimburse employees for their mileage reimbursement.  This Friday’s Five post discusses five issues employers need to know about automobile and mileage reimbursement under California law.

1. Mileage reimbursement based on IRS mileage rate is presumed to reimburse employee for all actual expenses

The IRS publishes standard mileage rates each year (and sometimes adjusts these rates during the year). The 2017 IRS mileage rate is as follows:

  • 53.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, down from 54 cents for 2016
  • 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down from 19 cents for 2016
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

If the employee challenges the amount reimbursed, the employee bears the burden to show how the “amount that the employer has paid is less than the actual expenses that the employee has necessarily incurred for work-required automobile use (as calculated using the actual expense method), the employer must make up the difference.” Gattuso, at 479.

The California Supreme Court also held that the reimbursement rate can be negotiated by parties as long as it fully reimburses the employee, and the amount does not have to be set at the IRS mileage rate. The Court also warned that employee cannot waive the right to be fully reimbursed for their actual expenses:

We agree that, as with other terms and conditions of employment, a mileage rate for automobile expense reimbursement may be a subject of negotiation and agreement between employer and employee. Under section 2804, however, any agreement made by the employee is null and void insofar as it waives the employee’s rights to full expense reimbursement under [Labor Code] section 2802.

Gattuso, at 479.

2. Actual expense method of reimbursement

In examining the different methods of reimbursement, the Supreme Court held that the actual expense method is the most accurate, but it is also the most burdensome for both the employer and the employee. Gattuso, at 478. Under the actual expense method, the parties calculate the automobile expenses that the employee actually and necessarily incurred and then the employer separately pays the employee that amount. The actual expenses of using an employee’s personal automobile for business purposes include: fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, registration, and depreciation.

3. Mileage reimbursement method

The Court recognized that employers may simplify calculating the amount owed to an employee by paying an amount based on a “total mileage driven.” Gattuso, at 479.

Under the mileage reimbursement method, the employee only needs to keep a record of the number of miles driven for job duties. The employer then multiplies the miles driven by a predetermined amount that approximates the per-mile cost of owning and operating an automobile. The Court recognized that the mileage rate agreed to between the employer and employee is “merely an approximation of actual expenses” and is less accurate than the actual expense method. It is important to note that while this amount can be negotiated, the employee still is unable to waive their right to reimbursement of their actual costs as mentioned above.

4. Lump sum payment method

Under the lump sum method, the employee need not submit any information to the employer about work-required miles driven or automobile expenses incurred. The employer merely pays an agreed fixed amount for automobile expense reimbursement. Gattuso, at 480. This type of lump sum payment is often labeled as a per diem, car allowance, or gas stipend.

In Gattuso, the Court made it clear that employers paying a lump sum amount have the extra burden of separately identifying and documenting the amounts that represent payment for labor performed and the amounts that represent reimbursement for business expenses.

5. Don’t forget about other expenses incurred in the “course and scope” of working

In addition to mileage, employers may also have to reimburse employees for other costs they incurred in driving their personal cars for business. In making the determination about whether an employee’s actions are in the “course and scope” of their job, courts examine whether the expense being sought by the employee is “not so unusual or startling that it would seem unfair to include loss or expense among other costs of the employer’s business.” Employers need to be mindful about reimbursing employees for cell phone use, printing and office supplies (if employee is required to maintain a home office or use personal printer for work), and other work related expenses.

Happy Friday!  This Friday’s Five covers five areas that employers can start with in conducting an employment practices Checklistsaudit.  Coming up on the mid-point of the year, it is a good time to conduct an employment law practices audit to ensure that policies are compliant, managers are properly trained, and the company is maintaining the required records for the necessary length of time.  Here are five areas to start with in conducting an audit and a few recommended questions for each topic:

1. Hiring Practices

  • Are applications seeking appropriate information?
    • For example: Be careful about local ban the box regulations.
  • Are new hires provided with required policies and notices?
  • Are new hires provided and acknowledge recommended policies?
    • For example: meal period waivers for shifts less than six hours
  • Are hiring managers trained about the correct questions to ask during the interview?
  • Does the company provide new hires (and existing employees) with arbitration agreements with class action waivers?

 2. Records

  • Are employee files maintained confidentially and for at least four years?
  • Are employee time records maintained for at least four years?
  • Are employee schedules maintained for at least four years?
  • Do the managers have set forms for the following:
    • Employee discipline and write-ups
    • Documenting employee tardiness
  • How is the employee documentation provided to Human Resources or the appropriate manager?
  • Who is involved in reviewing disability accommodation requests?
  • How are employee absences documented?

3. Wage and Hour Issues

  • Does the company have its workweeks and paydays established?
  • Are paydays within the applicable time limits after the pay period as required under the law?
  • Are employees provided with compliant itemized wage statements?
  • Are employees provided a writing setting out their accrued paid sick leave each pay period?
  • Are employees properly classified as exempt or nonexempt?
    • For exempt employees, review their duties and salary to ensure they meet the legal requirements to be an exempt employee.
  • Any workers classified as independent contractors, and if so, could they be considered employees?
  • Are nonexempt employees properly compensated for all overtime worked?
  • Is off-the-clock work prohibited?
    • Policy in place?
    • Are managers trained about how to recognize it and what disciplinary actions to take if find employees working off-the-clock?
  • Does the company’s time keeping system round employee’s time?
    • If so, is the rounding policy compliant with the law?
  • Are meal and rest period polices set out in handbook and employees routinely reminded of policies?
    • Does the company pay “premium pay” for missed meal and rest breaks? If so, how is this documented on the employee pay stub?
    • Do employees record meal breaks?
    • Are managers trained on how to administer breaks and what actions to take if employees miss meal or rest breaks?
  • Is vacation properly documented and tracked?
  • Are all deductions from the employee’s pay check legally permitted? (use caution, very few deductions are permitted under CA law)
  • Are employees reimbursed for all business expenses, such as uniforms, work equipment and miles driven for work?

 4.End of Employment Issues

  • Are employees leaving the company provided their final wages, including payment for all accrued and unused vacation time?
  • Does the employer deduct any items from an employee’s final paycheck?
    • If so, are the deductions legally permitted?

5. Anti-harassment, discrimination and retaliation

  • Are supervisors provided with sexual harassment training every two years? (If employer has 50 or more employees, supervisors are legally required to have a two-hour harassment prevention training that complies with AB 1825 and amendments to this law).
  • Are supervisors and managers mentioning the open-door policy of the company to employees at routine meetings with employees? Is this being documented?

Please let me know if you have any other items your company considers during review of employment policies – it would be great to update this list to share with readers.  Have a great weekend.

The basics of tipsWelcome to another Friday’s Five. This week is a discussion about issues facing restaurants, hotels, and other industries where tipping and gratuities are left for employees.  This simple concept is surprisingly complex for employers.  Here are five issues employers should understand about tips in California.

1) Who owns a tip?

California law is clear that voluntary tips left for an employee for goods sold or services performed belong to the employee, not the employer. Labor Code section 351 provides, “No Employer or agent shall collect, take or receive any gratuity or a part thereof that is paid, given to, or left for an employee by a patron…. Every gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for.”

2) Is employer mandated tip pooling legal?

Yes. In the seminal 1990 case on tip-pooling, Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, Ltd., the court held that an employer’s practice of tip pooling among employees was not prohibited by section 351 because the employer did not “collect, take, or receive” any part of a gratuity left by a patron, and did not credit tips or deduct tip income from employee wages. The court relied upon the “industry practice” that 15% of the gratuity is tipped out to the busboy and 5% to the bartender, which was “a house rule and is with nearly all Restaurants.” However, owners, managers, or supervisors of the business cannot share in the tip pool.  Employers need to be careful to exclude any employees who direct the work of other employees from tip pools, as lead shift supervisors, floor managers, and others who do not have the authority to hire or fire may still be considered a supervisor for tip pooling purposes.

There must be a reasonable relationship between tip pooling arrangements.  The following examples of mandatory tip pooling percentages have been approved by a court, the DLSE or DOL:

  • A policy in which 80 percent of tips were allocated to waiters, 15 percent to busboys and five percent to bartenders
  • A policy in which cocktail service must give one percent of tips to bartender
  • The Department of Labor responsible for enforcing Federal law has stated that a policy that requires servers to share 15 percent of their tips with other employees is presumptively reasonable
  • A policy in which a server contributes 15 percent to a tip pool, and other employees in the chain of service receive a portion of these tips based on the amount of hours they worked

The following examples were tip pooling policies disapproved by courts or the DLSE and therefore employers cannot legally establish them:

  • A policy providing 90 percent of tips to hostesses who spend only a small amount of time seating customers
  • A policy requiring food server to share 10 percent of tips with floor managers

3) When do tip tips left on credit cards have to be paid, and can a deduction made for processing the credit card transaction?

If a patron leaves a tip on their credit card, the employer may not deduct any credit card processing fees from the tip left for the employee. Moreover, tips left using a credit card must be paid to employees no later than the next regular payday following the date the credit card payment was authorized. See Labor Code § 351.

4) Can California employers have back of the house employees share in a tip pool?

No (as of April 2017), but this could change.  The Court in Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association v. Perez, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers California, held in February 2016 that the Department of Labor’s regulations about who can participate in tip pools applies to states like California which do not permit tip credits.  The DOL has issued regulations that under the FLSA a tip pool is only valid if it includes employees who “customarily and regularly” receive tips, such as waiters, waitresses, bellhops, counter personnel who service customers, bussers and service bartenders.  According to the DOL, a valid tip pool “may not include employees who do not customarily and regularly receive[] tips, such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors.”  The Plaintiffs in Oregon Restaurant filed a petition for review to the United State Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court will likely decide whether to hear the case in 2017.  Therefore, until any further clarification from the Supreme Court, it is best that restaurants use caution and not include back of the house employees who are not customarily and regularly tipped in tip pools.

While some states provide the employer with a “tip credit”, California law does not allow this. However, with the recent passage of the increase in California’s minimum wage, there is more discussion of examining whether a tip credit should be considered in California. However, current law does not allow employers to “credit” an employee’s tips towards the minimum wage requirement for each hour worked.

A service charge added to a customer’s bill is not a tip or gratuity and remains the property of the employer.  Therefore, the employer may distribute the service charge to its employees, including back of the house employees as it wishes.  However, if a service charge is distributed to employees, it is considered wages and effects the employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime purposes as discussed below.

5) Do tips change an employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime calculations?

No. Because tips are voluntarily left by customers to employees, tips do not increase an employee’s regular rate of pay used to calculate overtime rates.

However, if an employer implements mandatory service charges and shares these service charges with employees, the service charges must be considered wages for overtime and tax purposes.  Therefore, the employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime purposes will be higher when mandatory service charges are distributed to the employees.  To calculate an employee’s regular rate of pay, the employer must divide all compensation for the week by the total number of hours worked by the employee.

**Additional issue: Pay attention to other requirements under local ordinances regulating service charges.

For example, Santa Monica’s minimum wage ordinance requires employers to “distribute all Service Charges in their entirety to the Employee(s) who performed services for the customers from whom the Service Charges are collected.”  Santa Monica Municipal Code § 4.62.040.  “Service Charge” is defined as “any separately-designated amount charged and collected by an Employer from customers, that is for service by Employees, or is described in such a way that customers might reasonably believe that the amount is for those services or is otherwise to be paid or payable directly to Employees…under the term ‘service charge,’ ‘table charge,’ porterage charge,’ ‘automatic gratuity charge,’ ‘healthcare surcharge,’ ‘benefits surcharge,’ or similar language.”  Santa Monica Municipal Code § 4.62.010(g).

Welcome to another Friday’s Five video.  In this video I discuss five things every California employer needs to know about meal and rest breaks.  The items consists of a some reminders, but also new court decisions issued in December 2016 and the first quarter of 2017.  This is always a topic employers need to continually pay attention to in California.

Here are links to articles I’ve published as referenced in the video:
Timing requirements for meal and rest breaks

Rest break requirements when employees still subject to recall by employer

Commissioned and piece rate employees must be compensated separately for rest breaks

Happy Friday.  As always, please let me know if you have any suggestions for topics for future posts.

This week, in Vaquero v. Stoneledge Furniture LLC, a California appellate court issued a decision explaining employer’s obigations to separately compensate employees paid on a commission basis for rest breaks.

Plaintiffs worked as sales associates for Stoneledge Furniture, LLC, a retail furniture company doing business in California as Ashley Furniture HomeStores.  Stoneledge paid the sales associates on a commission basis.  The compensation agreement set out that if a sales associate failed to earn “Minimum Pay” of at least $12.01 per hour in commissions in any pay period, Stoneledge paid the associate a “draw” against “future Advanced Commissions.”  The commission agreement required that “[t]he amount of the draw will be deducted from future Advanced Commissions, but an employee will always receive at least $12.01 per hour for every hour worked.”

The issue addressed by the court was employees paid on a commission basis entitled to separate compensation for rest periods as required by California law, and if so, did Stoneledge’s draw-based compensation system pay for rest breaks?  This Friday’s Five addresses five takeaways from the court’s holding for California employers.

1. IWC wage orders

The appellate court explained that the legislature authorized the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) to regulate “the wages, hours, and working condition of various classes of workers to protect their health and welfare.”  The IWC has promulgated wage orders that set out regulations based on industries, and there are currently 18 wage orders.  The court explained: “As a consequence, ‘wage and hour claims are today governed by two complementary and occasionally overlapping sources of authority: the provisions of the Labor Code, enacted by the Legislature, and a series of 18 wage orders, adopted by the IWC.’”  Even though the IWC was defunded in 2004, the wage order are still in effect.  A list of the  Wage Orders for the various industries can be found here.

2. Rest periods

With respect to rest periods, Wage Order No. 7 provides:  “Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. The authorized rest period time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of ten (10) minutes net rest time per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof.  However, a rest period need not be authorized for employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one-half (3 1/2) hours.  Authorized rest period time shall be counted as hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.

Wage Order No. 7 requires employers to count “rest period time” as “hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.”  (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.)

3. Piece-rate workers must be paid for rest periods and non-productive time under Labor Code Section 226.2

Piece-rate workers are paid “according to the number of units turned out.”  For example, piece-rate workers are paid for the amount of produce harvested, the number of miles driven, or the yard of carpet installed.  Employers cannot deduct wages for rest periods from piece-rate workers, and therefore employers must separately compensate employees for rest periods.

Employers who paid employees on a piece rate basis must comply with Labor Code section 226.2.  Under Labor Code section 226.2, piece-rate workers must be paid for “rest and recovery periods and other nonproductive time separate from any piece-rate compensation.”  The law requires employers to calculate the regular rate of pay for each workweek, and then pay the piece-rate employees the higher of this regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage for rest break time.  The law also requires employers to pay piece-rate employees for “nonproductive time” which is defined as “time under the employer’s control, exclusive of rest and recovery periods, that is not directly related to the activity being compensated on a piece-rate basis.”  The nonproductive time is required to be paid at a rate no less than the applicable minimum wage rate.  In addition, employers who pay employees on a piece-rate basis need to report the pay for rest breaks, recovery periods, and nonproductive time separately on the employees’ pay stubs.

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.

4. The court in Stoneledge held that the requirement to separately pay for rest periods applies to employees paid on commission as well

The primary holding Stoneledge is that Wage Order No. 7 applies “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 court found that the commission agreement used by Stoneledge was “analytically indistinguishable from a piece-rate system in that neither allows employees to earn wages during rest periods.”  The court explained that “[w]hen an employer pays its employees by the piece… those employees cannot add to their wage during rest breaks; a break is not for rest if piece-rate work continues.” The court held that Labor Code Section 226.2, which requires piece-rate workers to be compensated for rest, recovery, and other nonproductive time, applies to commissioned employees as well.

5. Commission arrangements that advance wages that are offset against future commission earnings do not compensate employees for rest breaks

The court held that Stoneledge’s commission agreement did not properly compensate for rest periods taken by sales associates who earned a commission instead of the guaranteed minimum payment.

Stoneledge argued that under the compensation plan “all time during rest periods was recorded and paid as time worked identically with all other work time. . . .  Thus, Sales Associates are paid at least $12 per hour even if they make no sales at all.”  Even though Stoneledge deducted previous draws on commissions paid to the sales associates, Stoneledge argued that the “repayment [was] never taken if it would result in payment of less than the [Minimum Pay of $12.01 per hour] for . . . all time worked in any week.” Therefore, Stoneledge contended that the rest breaks were paid.

However, the court did not agree:

For sales associates whose commissions did not exceed the minimum rate in a given week, the company clawed back (by deducting from future paychecks) wages advanced to compensate employees for hours worked, including rest periods.  The advances or draws against future commissions were not compensation for rest periods because they were not compensation at all.  At best they were interest-free loans.

Piece-rate and commissioned based compensation structures must comply with very strict rules in California.  Employers are wise to have assistance from experienced counsel in drafting the compensation plans to ensure compliance.