Expense reimbursement may seem like a small issue in comparison with the other areas of liability facing California employers, but the exposure 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 2019 IRS mileage rate is as follows:

  • 58 cents per mile for business miles driven, up 3.5 cents from 2018
  • 20 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, up 2 cents from 2018; and
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

2. Mileage reimbursement rates do not necessarily have to be set at the IRS rate, but use caution

The California Supreme Court 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.

3. Employees who challenge a mileage reimbursement amount set by the employer bear the burden in establishing their actual costs

If the employee challenges a predetermined amount set by the employer and agreed to by the employee, but then challenges the amount set later on, 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.

4. There are different methods employers can use to reimburse mileage

The Count in Gattuso explained that there are three different methods employers may use to reimburse employees mileage:

Actual expense method

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.

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.

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 under Labor Code section 2802. 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.

 

With the start of 2019, I’m writing a series of posts covering employment law areas that employers should audit on a routine basis.  The first two articles covered hiring practices and records retention practices.  This post covers five wage and hour considerations that every California employer should review on a routine basis:

1. Payroll

  • Are the company’s 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?
  • Is vacation properly documented and tracked?

2. Wages

  • 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, required cell phone use, work equipment and miles driven for work?
  • Are employees provided their final wages according to California requirements?  For example, employees terminated must receive their wages (including all accrued and unused vacation) at the time of termination.  More information on the timing requirements for final paychecks can be read here.

3. Employee Classifications

  • 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?

4. Timekeeping

  • 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 timekeeping system round employee’s time?
    • If so, is the rounding policy compliant with the law?

5. Meal and rest breaks

  • Are meal and rest period policies set out in handbook and employees routinely reminded of policies?
    • Are meal and rest breaks provided on a timely basis?
    • 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?

The next article in this series will addresses end of employment issues.  Have a great weekend.

The beginning of 2019 brought substantial employment case settlements and verdicts.  This Friday’s Five reviews the settlements and verdicts that should catch the attention of all employers, as well as a review of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new ruling on arbitration agreements for transportation workers:

1. Restaurant settles claim with Labor Commissioner for $4 million covering approximately 300 employees.

The restaurant chain in the San Francisco bay area, Rangoon Ruby, settled a Labor Commissioner claim involving more than 300 employees for $4 million.  The damages included payments for unpaid overtime wages, minimum wages, split shift premiums, liquidated damages, waiting time penalties, and failure to provide accurate itemized wage statements.

2. ABM Industries settles class action lawsuit for $5.4 million for required used of cell phones.

In the case, Castro v. ABM Industries, Inc., plaintiffs alleged that the employer required its employees to use their cell phones for business purposes and were not reimbursed for the costs associated with the cell phone use as required under Labor Code section 2802.  Plaintiffs contended they were required to use their cell phones to clock in and out for work and to communicate with their supervisors.

Employers need to be careful regarding requiring employees to use certain apps or their cell phones for work purposes.  As new work-related apps find their way into the workplace, employers need to be careful of claims that the use of their personal cell phone for work purposes was required.  Apps used in the workplace for timekeeping, scheduling, and reporting complaints to employers could be susceptible to these types of allegations.

Indeed, it is a good reminder for employers that employers are still required to reimburse employees for the expense of cell phone use even though the employee did not pay additional cell phone fees for using their cell phone for work purposes.  See prior post on holding in Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service here.

Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement can be found here.

3. Virgin America flight attendants awarded $77 million in wage and hour class action.

A federal judge awarded a class of flight attendants the money after entering summary judgment against the airline for California flight attendants that were not paid for all hours worked, overtime premiums, missed meal and rest breaks, and inaccurate wage statements.  The court also found the airline liable for waiting time penalties under Labor Code section 203 and awarded derivative penalties under California’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”).  The case is Bernstein v. Virgin America Inc.

4. California Senate settles harassment claim for $350,000.

The Senate settled the lawsuit in November 2018, but was recently reported by the Los Angeles Times.  The lawsuit alleged that a former staffer was terminated in retaliation for reporting being raped by an Assembly legislative aide in December 2016.  On a similar note, the California legislature passed many new #metoo laws in 2018.

5. Supreme Court narrows enforceability of arbitration agreements for transportation workers.

Plaintiff filed a wage and hour class action against New Prime, a trucking company.  New Prime filed a motion to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act.  Plaintiff countered that the employer could not enforce its arbitration agreement with him because §1 of the FAA exempts from arbitration disputes involving “contracts of employment” of certain transportation workers.  New Prime argued that the question of §1’s applicability in this case is for the arbitrator to decide, and even if the court could decide the issue, plaintiff in this case was an independent contractor.  Therefore, §1’s exclusion from arbitration would not apply in this case.

The Supreme Court framed the two issues as follows:

When a contract delegates questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator, must a court leave disputes over the application of §1’s exception for the arbitrator to resolve? And does the term “contracts of employment” refer only to contracts between employers and employees, or does it also reach contracts with independent contractors?”

The Supreme Court answered the first issue in explaining that “a court should decide for itself whether §1’s ‘contracts of employment’ exclusion applied before ordering arbitration.”  The Supreme Court answered the second issue in explaining that the Federal Arbitration Act’s term “contracts of employment” referred to agreements to perform work, which would also include agreements with independent contractors.  Therefore, the Court held that §1 of the FAA precluded New Prime from compelling arbitration of the plaintiff’s claims in this case.  The case is New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira.

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 policies 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:

 

Also, in case you missed it, my Podcast is live:

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUbLzjwuUao&t=2s

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/zaller-talk/id1405859405?mt=2

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/6zpZovQKMeZ5l2DYL0nh3q?si=KggpsQ6pSIGf1-PCMdM8dw

Have a great weekend.

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 policies 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.

Employers that utilize interns, or who provide training to individuals that may lead to employment run the risk of having these individuals qualify as an employee, which would require the employer to comply with Labor Code requirements such as minimum wage, meal and rest breaks, and overtime pay.  The analysis is very difficult, and fact intensive, and employers should approach this issue with caution.  Once again, I cannot keep Friday’s Five to five items, but such is the nature of California.

The Division Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) take that position that in order to determine whether training time is compensable under California law, the following eleven factors would be taken into consideration:

  1. The training, even if it is at the employer’s business and includes operation of the employer’s resources, is similar to that which is given in a vocational school;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees or students, not the employer;
  3. The trainees or students do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;
  4. The employer that provides the training receives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees or students and, the employer’s operations my even be impeded;
  5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to ta job at the conclusion of the training period;
  6. The employer and trainees or students understand that the trainees or students are not entitled to wages for time spent training;
  7. Any clinical training is part of an educational curriculum;
  8. The trainees or students do not receive employee benefits;
  9. The training is general, so as to qualify the trainees or students for work in any similar business, and not specifically for a job with the employer offering the program;
  10. The screening process for the program is not the same as for employment, and does not appear to be for that purpose, but involves only criteria relevant for being accepted into the program;
  11. Advertisements for the program specify clearly that the program is for training or education, not employment.  However, employers can specify that qualified graduates will be considered for employment.

The DLSE has opined is part of the analysis is that the employee does not have to be paid for voluntary attendance at training programs.  Examples the DLSE cites are English language instruction or literacy training.

Who is responsible for costs of training programs?

The DLSE takes the position that there is generally no requirement that an employer pay for training leading to licensure or the cost of licensure for an employee.  While the license may be a requirement of the employment, it is not the type of cost the employers are required to pay for under Labor Code § 2802.  The DLSE states that the most important consideration of the licensure is that it is required by the state or locality as a result of public policy:  “It is the employee who must be licensed and unless there is a specific statute which requires the employer to assume part of the cost, the cost of licensing must be borne by the employee.”  However, if an employer requires an employees to undergo training that is specific only to that employer, then the employer would usually need to bear the training costs.

I can hear the questions already, just five new laws taking effect on January 1, 2016?  No, there are many more, as I have previously written about, but here are five additional new laws employers need to understand going into 2016.

1.     Family members of whistleblower are granted protections and some employers are excluded from the joint employer liability enacted in 2015

AB 1509 – Effective January 1, 2016, this bill prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who is a family member of an employee who made a protected complaint.  The bill extends the protections to an employee who is a family member of a person who engaged in, or was perceived to engage in, the protected conduct or make a complaint protected the law.  This bill also amends Labor Code section 2810.3 to exclude certain household goods carrier employers from the joint liability imposed between the client employer and a labor contractor.

2.     Labor Commissioner Provided Increased Enforcement Authority Over Local Ordinances and the Ability to Issue Awards For Expense Reimbursement

AB 970 – Effective January 1, 2016, provides the Labor Commissioner with authority to investigate and at the request of the local government, to enforce local laws regarding overtime hours or minimum wage provisions.  The Labor Commissioner has authority to issue citations and penalties for violations, but cannot issue violations if the local entity has already issued a citation for the same violation.  The bill also authorizes the Labor Commissioner to enforce Labor Code section 2802 which requires employers to pay for business related costs that the employee directly incurs in discharging their duties for the employer.

 3.     Labor Commissioner Provided Increased Judgment Collection Authority

SB 588 – Amends the Labor Code to provide the Labor Commissioner many more rights in collecting judgments against employers who are found liable for unpaid wages.  The Labor Commissioner has authority to issue a lien against on an employer’s property for the amount of the judgment.  Also, the law also imposes personal liability for employers in adding Labor Code section 98.8(f):

 Any person who is noticed with a levy pursuant to this section and who fails or refuses to surrender any credits, money, or property or pay any debts owed to the judgment debtor shall be liable in his or her own person or estate to the Labor Commissioner in an amount equal to the value of the credits, money, or other property or in the amount of the levy, up to the amount specified in the levy.

Also, if an employer has a judgment entered against it, and it is not paid within 30 days after the time to appeal the judgment, the employer is required to obtain a bond in order to continue to do business in California. Effective January 1, 2016

 4.     Employee’s Permitted Time Off From Work Expanded

SB 579 – Existing law prohibits an employer who employs 25 or more employees working at the same location from discharging or discriminating against an employee who is a parent, guardian, or grandparent having custody of a child in a licensed child day care facility or in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12, inclusive, for taking off up to 40 hours each year for the purpose of participating in school activities, subject to specified conditions.  The law is amended to provide these protections for employees under a broader “child care provider”, and applies these protections to employees who are a stepparent, foster parent, or who stands in loco parentis to a child.

The bill also amends California’s Kin Care law set forth in Labor Code section 233 to require employers to allow employees to use “an amount not less than the sick leave that would be accrued during six months” for family members as defined in the Healthy Workplaces, Heathy Family Act of 2014, otherwise known as California’s paid sick leave law.  The Kin Care law is amended under this bill to provide that employers must allow employees to use up to one-half of their sick leave to attend to victims of domestic violence or the diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition of, or preventive care for, the employee or the employee’s family member.  Family member definition is broadened from the existing definition under the law (a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner) to also include grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings.  Effective January 1, 2016.

  5.     Limits Placed on Employer’s Use of E-Verify

AB 622 – Effective January 1, 2016, this bill adds Labor Code section 2814 which expands the definition of an unlawful employment practice to include an employer or any other person or entity using the E-Verify system when not required by federal law to check the employment authorization status of an existing employee or an applicant who has not received an offer of employment, as required by federal law, or as a condition of receiving federal funds. The bill also requires an employer that uses the E-Verify system to provide to the affected employee any notification issued by the Social Security Administration or the United States Department of Homeland Security containing information specific to the employee’s E-Verify case or any tentative nonconfirmation notice “as soon as practicable.”  The bill provides for a civil penalty of $10,000 for an employer for each violation of its provisions.

It is a good time to review employee policies and handbooks to ensure they are compliant with the new requirements.

The recent settlement creating a $228 million fund by Federal Express in a multistate class action brought in 2005 alleging that drivers were misclassified as independent contractors.  However, the parties are encountering some reluctance from the court in obtaining court approval of the settled.  This case is a good example that entering into a settlement with the opposing party does not necessarily end the case.  Parties in a class action must still obtain court approval of the settlement.  This Friday’s Five provides a list of five items to understand about the settlement process of class actions.

1.      The judge must approve the settlement to protect the interests of absent class members

The judge is tasked with the roll of protecting the absent class members who will be impacted by the settlement.  The judge will review the claims asserted by the plaintiffs, how strong the claims are, and the likelihood of success on the claims in reviewing the terms of the settlement.  Therefore, it is usually contingent upon plaintiffs’ counsel to set out a detailed evaluation of the claims and potential risks in continued litigation when seeking the court’s approval.  Judicial approval requires the judge to review the judgment of experienced counsel and make a determination that the agreement is “fair, adequate and reasonable” in context with the risks and delay of continued litigation.

2.      Notice to the absence class members must be given

The California Rules of Court provide that, in the event the court grants preliminary approval and certifies a settlement class, “notice of the final approval hearing must be given to the class members,” which shall “contain an explanation of the proposed settlement and procedures for class members to follow in filing written objections to it and in arranging to appear at the settlement hearing and state any objections to the proposed settlement.”  The court will likely require notice to be provided to as many of the class members as possible, and that the notice is sent to each individual class member if practicable.

3.      Court will review plaintiff’s attorneys fees and the incentive awards provided to the named plaintiffs

It is likely that the named plaintiffs will seek an incentive award, which is a payment beyond the payment they will receive with the other class members.  Courts approve these payments for the named plaintiffs’ work in bringing the case and participating in the litigation.  As for the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, the court will look to the monetary and nonmonetary results achieved for the class members.  Plaintiffs’ fees are usually based upon a percentage of the total recovery for the class members, with “lodestar” cross-check.  The lodestar method cross-check examines the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ reasonable hours spend on the case multiplied by a reasonable rate per hour.

4.      The court ensures the settlement was not collusive

In determining whether a class action settlement is fair, the court will look to whether the settlement was reached through “arm’s-length” negotiations.  Therefore, if an independent mediator was involved in helping the parties reach the settlement, the parties will explain the mediation process to the court.  The court will also look to whether plaintiffs’ counsel conducted sufficient investigation and discovery into the claims in order to make a reasonable determination of the strengths and weaknesses of the case.  The experience of the class counsel is also taken into account by the court.  Finally, the judge will review the number of objectors to the settlement in addition to how many of the class members opted out of the settlement in evaluating the fairness of the settlement.

5.      After preliminary approval, the court holds a final fairness hearing

Once the court has preliminarily approved the class action settlement, notice has been provided to all of the class members, the class members have the opportunity to file an opt-out or objection to the settlement, the court will hold one last fairness hearing.  At this point in time, the parties can submit to the court all of the information pertaining to how many class members participated in the settlement, how many opted out of the settlement, and if there were any objectors.  Objectors also have the ability to appear at the fairness hearing.  Managing Class Action Litigation: A Pocket Guide for Judges, explains:

If objectors and unrepresented class members appear at the fairness hearing, it is important to permit them to fully voice their concerns. For class members who feel strongly enough about their injuries to appear, the fairness hearing is their “day in court.” Judges in settlements involving tort claims such as the Agent Orange and silicone gel breast implant litigation held multiple days of hearings to accommodate the interests of class members.

The Federal Express case illustrates that the process of obtaining court approval may take multiple attempts to cure issues the court has with any number of the items set forth above.  Indeed, the FedEx settlement is only at the initial preliminary approval stage, and the court has set the final fairness hearing to take place on March 24, 2016.  What is the lesson to learn from this case?  The work is not done once a settlement is reached, the parties still have to obtain the court’s approval.

Photo: Rob Young