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 Court. In 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.