It is important for employers in California to make sure that their front-line managers dealing with employees on a day-to-day basis are knowledgeable about different employment issues that routinely come up in the employment context.  This week’s Friday’s Five covers five areas that employers should review with their managers to ensure they inform the appropriate executives about any potential issues in the workplace:

1. At-will employment

Under California law, it is presumed that all employment is terminable at-will. California Labor Code section 2922 provides: “An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other.” The at-will doctrine means that the employment relationship can be terminated by either party at any time, with or without cause, and with or without advanced notice. There are some major exceptions to this rule, but generally California law recognizes that employers and employees may, at any time, and for any legal reason, terminate the employment relationship.  Of course managers should consult with human resources or the appropriate executive before terminating an employee, but managers need to understand that they can terminate employees with or without cause and should be trained on the legal parameters of at-will employment.

2. Anti-harassment, discrimination and retaliation

California employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide at least two hours of classroom or other effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment to all supervisory employees who are employed as of July 1, 2005, and to all new supervisory employees within six months of assuming a supervisory position.  All covered employers must provide sexual harassment training and education to each supervisory employee once every two years.  In 2015, California requires that a portion of the training also address “abusive conduct.”  More information about what topics must be covered in the training, who qualifies to provide the training, as well as other requirements about the training can be found here.

Managers should also be trained about the employer’s obligation to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

3. Timekeeping requirements

California law requires employers to track start and stop times for hourly, non-exempt employees. The law also requires employer to track the start and stop times for the employee’s thirty minute meal periods. The time system needs to be accurate, and the employer needs to be involved in the installation and setup of the system. Do not simply use the default settings for the hardware and software. Understand what the system is tracking and how it is recording the data. Since the statute of limitations for California wage and hour violations can extent back four years, it is recommended that employers take steps to keep these records at least four years.  Employers should also have a complaint procedure in place and regularly communicate the policy to employees in order to establish an effective way to remedy any issues.

4. Meal and rest break requirements

As I’ve written about many times previously, employers must have a compliant meal and rest break policy.  Indeed, given the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Augustus v. ABM Security Services in December 2016, employers should review their rest beak policy to ensure it complies with this ruling.

5. Responding to requests for records and legal notices

There are many different Labor Code provisions that obligate the employer to provide current and former employees with a copy of their personnel files and/or payroll records.  For example, Labor Code section 432 permits employees to obtain a copy of any document they signed, Labor Code section 1198.5 allows current and former employees to obtain copies of their personnel records, and Labor Code section 226(c) permits employees to inspect or copy payroll records within 21 days after making a request to do so.

Managers need to be trained to immediately inform management or Human Resources about any requests to obtain these records by current and former employees.  In addition, managers should be trained to immediately report receiving any legal notices, including the following:

Regular readers of the blog probably know about my YouTube channel for the Employment Law Report.  This Friday’s Five focuses on recent popular videos I’ve published covering employment law updates, best practices, and an interview with a restaurant consultant.  Hope you enjoy the videos, and please subscribe to the channel to make sure you don’t miss any future updates.

1. 5 Huge Misconceptions About California Employment Law

2. California’s Paid Sick Leave – Quick Update

3.California’s New ABC Test For Independent Contractors

4. My Five Free Resources for California Employers

5. My interview with Salar Sheik from Savory Hospitality

I am not sure of the cause, but my office has seen an increase in Labor Commissioner claims filed over the last two months.  Employers need to prepare and plan on how to defend these claims, and with some planning, the process is a lot less daunting.  Here are five effective strategies in defending Labor Commissioner claims:

1. Understanding the claims made by the employee.

Employers usually become aware of a complaint to the Labor Commissioner when they receive a Notice of Claim and Conference from the Labor Commissioner’s office.  Employers are not required to file any paperwork in response to the notice of conference, but the employer or an employer’s representative is required to appear at the conference at the date and time indicated on the notice.  The conference is not the actual hearing on the matter, rather the conference is structured as a non-binding settlement conference during which the Labor Commissioner discusses the various allegations, the employer’s response, and will attempt to mediate a resolution between the parties.

2. Ensure the claims alleged by the employee can be heard by the Labor Commissioner.

The Labor Commissioner can only hear disputes for “any action to recover wages, penalties, and other demands for compensation.”  Labor Code section 98(a).  Therefore, the Labor Commissioner cannot adjudicate any other types of employment claims, such as harassment or discrimination.  Likewise, if the employer has a counter claim against the employee, it cannot be heard by the Labor Commissioner, but must be filed in court.

Likewise, if the employee has an arbitration agreement with the employer, the employer can compel arbitration of the claim and remove jurisdiction from the Labor Commissioner.

3. Decide if legal representation is required during the Labor Commissioner complaint process.

Neither the employee and the employer are required to have an attorney during any stage of the Labor Commissioner process.  Whether or not an employer decides to have legal representation during the process depends on how comfortable the employer is with handling these issues and how well they understand the law in order to articulate the appropriate defenses available to them.  Also, many employers attend the settlement conference (discussed below) without legal representation if they are comfortable with the issues, and if the case does not settle and is set for a hearing, then the employer has an attorney assist with the hearing.

4. Understanding strengths and weaknesses of case going in to settlement hearing.

Although it is not mandatory, most Labor Commissioner offices will often set the matter for a settlement conference.  Employers often misunderstand the purpose of the initial settlement conference.  The settlement conference is not the hearing on the matter in which the Labor Commissioner takes sworn testimony and makes a decision.  While this step is not the actual hearing that will determine who should prevail, employers should prepare evidence and documents that will be persuasive during the settlement conference to establish defenses to the employee’s claims.  It is also good to listen to the employee’s facts and learn what they are claiming, what evidence they may have, and who may be witnesses.  It is important to learn this information in the event that the case does not settle and is set for a formal hearing.

It is important for employers to review the paperwork provided from the Labor Commissioner’s office to ensure that they gather and bring the required paperwork to the settlement conference.

Usually the Labor Commissioner requires the following background information from the employer:

  1. Completion of the DLSE’s Report of Workers’ Compensation Insurance
  2. City business license
  3. Articles of information filed with the Secretary of State
  4. Any documentation that may be applicable to the employee’s claims: payroll records, time sheets, handbook and applicable policies, correspondence with the employee, etc.…

The employer should also review the employee’s allegations in the notice of claim and prepare an outline of defenses and facts that support their position.

Employers should also understand the arguments in support of their defenses so that those can be articulated to the employee and Labor Commissioner.  The more persuasive the employer’s case is, the more likely that the case can be resolved for a nominal amount during the settlement conference.

Employers should be prepared to negotiate during the settlement conference and be prepared with a range of how much they would be willing to settle the case. An experienced employment law attorney can help address the strengths and weaknesses of the claims and can help advise on the appropriate settlement offer, if any, that could be made.

5. Preparing for hearing.

If the case does not settle at the settlement conference, or if there was never a settlement conference set, the Labor Commissioner will set the matter for a hearing pursuant to Labor Code section 98(a).  The hearings are often referred to as “Berman” hearings after the name of the legislator who sponsored the bill creating this procedure.  The basic idea behind Berman hearings is to provide a relatively fast way to resolve wage disputes.  However, with the state budget constraints, the hearings are usually set for about one year from the date that the settlement conference takes place.

The hearing takes place in the Labor Commissioner’s office, and is usually in a conference room.  The Labor Commissioner will tape record the hearing, and all witnesses’ testimony is provided under oath, just like it would be if they were testifying in court.  The Labor Commissioner can issue subpoenas compelling the attendance of parties at the hearing, as well as compelling parties to produce documents at the hearing.

  • Direct examination questions for the employer’s witnesses
  • Cross-examination questions for claimant, and potential cross-examination questions for any witnesses that claimant may bring to the hearing
  • Prepare key exhibits. Prepare to have documents that support the employers case ready to present at the hearing (generally it is good to have multiple copies of the exhibits so that they can be handed out during the hearing and everyone has a copy to refer to).  Handbook policies, meal and rest break policies and acknowledgments, timekeeping policies, and time records are generally the types of exhibits that an employer would rely on in establishing that the employee was permitted to take breaks and was paid for all time worked.
  • Prepare witnesses that support defense. Employers can bring in witnesses that support the employer’s defense.  For example, evidence can be submitted through managers or supervisors that are able testify to the fact that the employee was always clocked-in when they were working or had the ability to take meal and rest breaks.  Also, co-workers who worked with the claimant are also good witnesses to establish that they always saw the claimant take breaks and never saw them working off the clock.

Generally, employers need to be prepared but flexible for how the hearing will proceed.  The Labor Commissioner conducting the hearing has a lot of flexibility on how the parties are to present witnesses and conduct cross-examinations.  The rules of evidence are not controlling in the proceeding, but the Labor Commissioner generally has discretion to control the evidence presented during the hearing.  The Labor Commissioner can, and usually will, ask questions of their own to get a better understanding of certain issues.

After the hearing, the Labor Commissioner will issue a written order that must be served on all parties.  Unless this order is appealed, it is a binding judgment against the parties, and a certified copy of the order is filed with the superior court and judgment is entered.

Last Sunday was the deadline for Governor Brown to sign any new bills into law, and I was fielding a lot of questions about the bills that were signed by the Governor (as well as the bills that were vetoed) this week.  So, I thought it would be appropriate for this Friday’s Five to be a round up of my recent content across various social media platforms California employers should not miss:

1. My article on the new employment bills signed by Governor Brown that will impact employers as well as the major bills that were vetoed by the Governor.

2. I published a new episode on my podcast discussing in a bit more detail the new employment bills signed by Governor Brown.

Listen and subscribe my podcast available on Spotify (link here) or iTunes (link here).

3. I’ve also been publishing a few thoughts on Instagram.

4. My recent Facebook post on wage and hour issues that employers need to understand.

5. Portion of a recent panel I moderated on how California employers manage meal and rest breaks in California (on YouTube or available below):

Have a great weekend.

How is it Friday already, and summer is coming to a close quickly?  Time for another Friday’s Five, and this week I cover five reminders about meal break waivers in California:

1. Meal break timing obligations.

An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than thirty minutes.  A second meal period of not less than thirty minutes is required if an employee works more than ten hours per day. Labor Code Section 512.

The California Supreme Court held in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, that:

We conclude that, absent waiver, section 512 requires a first meal period 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.

See my previous post on when employers must authorize employees to take meal breaks.

2. Employer’s duty to authorize meal breaks.

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 the employer would not owe the employee the additional hour of pay in the form of premium pay for a violation. The Supreme Court explained in Brinker:

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.

While employees may voluntarily work through meal breaks, if the employer knows or should have known that the employee working during this time, the employer must ensure that the employee is paid for the time working.

3. Employees may waive meal breaks for shifts less than 6 hours or shifts less than 12 hours.

If the total work period per day for an employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.  Likewise, if the if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and employee only if the first meal period was not waived.  Labor Code Section 512.

 4. Meal break waivers for shifts less than six hours and less than 12 hours are not required to be in writing, but should be.

Labor Code section 512 does not require an employee’s waiver of their meal breaks for shifts less than six hours or shifts less than 12 hours to be in writing.  However, in order to avoid any potential disputes and to be able to defend against any potential claims by disgruntled employees, it is always a good practice to have the voluntary waivers documented and signed by employees.

5. Don’t confuse “on-duty” meal agreements with meal period waivers.

On-duty meal period agreements are different than meal period waivers.  The Wage Orders provide for an “on duty” meal period that is an exception to the required meal break if the following requirements are met:

An “on duty” meal period shall be permitted only when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and when by written agreement between the parties an on-the-job paid meal period is agreed to. The written agreement shall state that the employee may, in writing, revoke the agreement at any time.

Wage Order No. 4-2001(a)(emphasis added). Unfortunately, the definition of the “nature of the work” is not clear, and has been construed very narrowly against employers.  For example, the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) has issued an opinion letter addressing whether a shift manager in a fast food restaurant working the night shift would be allowed to take a “on duty” meal period.  The DLSE concluded that based on the facts presented in the situation of the fast food restaurant, the nature of the work in the restaurant should not prevent the shift manager from being relieved of all duties for 30 minutes, and therefore the on-duty meal period would not be valid in this context. Click here to download the opinion letter.

Click here for more information about on-duty meal period agreements. Implementing an on-duty meal period agreement in California needs to be approached with caution, and should only be done with assistance from knowledgeable counsel.

I’m moderating a panel discussion on best practices for how to hire and retain good employees at the Western Food Service and Hospitality Expo (WFHE).  The panelists are Joseph Pitruzelli owner of Wurstküche, Francis Drelling General Counsel at Specialty Restaurants Corporation, Naz Moin former director of Human Resources at PizzaRev, and Madelyn Alfano owner of Maria’s Italian Kitchen.  It is on Monday, August 20 at 4 p.m. in the Education Theater (session number S127.  Hope you join us if you are attending the Expo.

In addition, in connection with the California Restaurant Association (CRA), my firm is offering a special an in-person training session that will comply with all the requirements outlined in the regulations regarding California’s Mandatory Sexual Harassment Prevention Training for supervisors (AB 1825) . Supervisors for large employers are required to take this training every two years.  As a bonus, Sexual Harassment Prevention registrants will gain complimentary access to the WFHE show floor, valid day of training (Tuesday, 8/21/18).  The training is at the LA Convention Center, and will take place from 9 to 11:30 a.m. (the show starts at 11 a.m.).  This training is offered to CRA members for FREE and $25 for non-members. Both members and non-members will need to register online here before the day of the training.  Click here for more details about the training and to register.

My firm will have a booth at the show again this year, so if you attend the show, be sure to stop by and say hello.  We are at Booth #1543 (across the aisle from the California Restaurant Association’s booth).  The Expo runs from August 19 to 21 and is at the LA Convention Center.

Also, please stop by our booth and say hi to us if you are attending.  We have some nice swag for readers of the blog!

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

1. Reporting time pay

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

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

2. Split shift pay

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

3. Expense reimbursement issues

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

4. Off-the-clock claims

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

5. On-Call time

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

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

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

1. Meal and rest breaks seem so trivial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Cheesecake Factory restaurants in Southern California were cited for $4.57 million for wage and hour violations and penalties by the Labor Commissioner earlier this week.  What may come as a surprise to many is that the citation was based on alleged wage violations for employees of contractors hired by Cheesecake Factory, not its own employees.  The investigation focused on the janitorial subcontractors who performed work at the restaurants.  The Labor Commissioner found that the janitorial employees were not paid for all minimum wage, overtime, not provided meal and rest breaks, and not paid for split shifts.

The subcontractor janitorial company was Americlean Janitorial Services Corp., a Minneapolis company doing business as Allied National Services, Inc. The workers were managed by a San Diego-based company, Magic Touch Commercial Cleaning.  The Labor Commissioner alleged that the workers had to work additional hours when asked to complete tasks or wait for approval of their work by the Cheesecake Factory managers.  This Friday’s Five focuses on key takeaways for California employers from the Labor Commissioner investigation and citation:

1. Cheesecake Factory is being held jointly liable for the subcontractor’s wage violations under Labor Code section 2810.3.

Effective January 1, 2015, Labor Code section 2810.3 expanded the liability of “client employers” that obtain workers through temporary agencies or other labor contractors.  The law requires that the client employer who obtains the workers through the agency must share in the liability for any wage and workers compensation issues.  The law also provides that a client employer cannot shift all of the liability for wage and workers’ compensation violations.  However, the law does provide that the client employer can seek indemnity from the labor contractor for violations.  Therefore, it is important for employers who are covered by Labor Code section 2810.3 and who obtain workers through a labor contractor to ensure the labor contractor is meeting all wage and workers compensation requirements.  The hiring company should also consider negotiating an indemnity provision in the contact with the labor contractor to protect itself should any liability arise.

2. Companies contracting for services need to ensure the subcontractors follow all applicable wage and hour laws and pay the employees properly.

With the joint liability created by Labor Code section 2810.3, companies contracting for labor at their establishments need to take steps to ensure that the contractors are following wage and hour laws.  This may entail reviewing the contractor’s pay practices, and negotiating a contract with the company providing that the contractor indemnifies the hiring company for any wage and hour violations.  The hiring company should also ensure that there are some assets or potential insurance that would be available should indemnity be required.

3. Review split shift policies to ensure compliance.

The Labor Commissioner found that the janitorial employees worked split shifts without being paid the split shift pay.  A split shift is defined in the California IWC Wage Orders as:

…a work schedule, which is interrupted by non-paid non-working periods established by the employer, other than bona fide rest or meal periods.

See Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11040, subd. 2(Q). If the employee works two shifts separated by more than a rest or meal period, they are entitled to receive one hour’s of pay at the minimum wage rate in addition to the minimum wage for that work day. See Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, §11040, subd. 4(C). Any additional amounts over minimum wage paid to the employee can be used to offset the split shift pay due to an employee.  Additional information about split shifts can be read here.

4. Review meal break policies to ensure compliance.

The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court that employers need to provide an employee their first meal break “no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.”  The following chart illustrates the timing requirements for meal breaks:

Meal breaks must be recorded.  Generally, meal breaks can only be waived if the employee works less than six hours in a shift. However, as long as employers effectively allow an employee to take a full 30-minute meal break, the employee can voluntarily choose not to take the break and this would not result in a violation. In Brinker, the Supreme Court explained that:

The employer that refuses to relinquish control over employees during an owed meal period violates the duty to provide the meal period and owes compensation [and premium pay] for hours worked. The employer that relinquishes control but nonetheless knows or has reason to know that the employee is performing work during the meal period, has not violated its meal period obligations [and owes no premium pay], but nonetheless owes regular compensation to its employees for time worked.

Employers should also establish a complaint procedure and provide that the company has a system in place to correct any violations. If during an investigation, the employer confirms that the employee in fact missed the break because of the rush of business or some other factor, the company should pay the employee the one hour “premium pay” penalty at the employee’s regular rate of pay. Also, the company should record these payments made to employees to be able to establish it has a complaint procedure in place to address missed breaks.  The employee is entitled to receive up to two hours of premium pay per day – one hour for missed meal breaks and one hour for missed rest breaks.  If the employee missed two meal breaks in one day, they would only be entitled to one hour of premium pay.  The same applies to rest breaks.  See UPS v. Superior Court.

5. Review rest break policies to ensure compliance.

In terms of rest breaks, the California Supreme Court held in Brinker that, “[e]mployees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.”  The following chart sets forth the number of rest breaks employees are entitled to based on the number of hours worked:

The Wage Orders generally require that employers must provide a 10-minute rest period per every four hours worked and the break should, whenever practicable, fall in the middle of the work period. (See Wage Order 4, subd. 12(A).  The rest period must also be paid, and the law does not require that employers record when the employee takes the rest period (unlike an employer’s obligation to record when 30-minute meal breaks are taken).  The California Supreme Court made it clear in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. that employers must relieve employees of all work-related duties and they must be free from control of the employer during the rest breaks.  For more information about rest breaks, see my prior post here.

On May 8, 2018, the court in Ibarra v. Wells Fargo Bank entered an order awarding Plaintiffs who filed a class action against the bank $97.2 million for rest break violations.  The original complaint alleged various wage and hour violations, and after the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, all but the rest break claims were dismissed.  The claims were brought under Labor Code section 226.7 and derivative claims under California’s Unfair Competition Law (Business & Professions Code section 17200).  This Friday’s Five reviews five lessons employers should learn from this costly ruling for Wells Fargo:

1. Rest break obligations

As a review, in 2012 the California Supreme Court issued its monumental decision regarding meal and rest breaks under the California Labor Code in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior CourtIn terms of rest breaks, the Brinker Court held that, “[e]mployees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.”

This rule is set forth in this chart:

Regarding when rest breaks should be taken during the shift, the Court held that “the only constraint of timing is that rest breaks must fall in the middle of work periods ‘insofar as practicable.’” The Court in Brinker stopped short of explaining what qualifies as “insofar as practicable”, and employers should closely analyze whether they may deviate from this general principle.

2. Use caution on how to compensate piece-rate workers and activity based compensated employees for rest breaks

The California Wage Orders require employers to count “rest period time” as “hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.”  (See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 11070, subd. 12(A), italics added.)  In Bluford v. Safeway Stores, Inc. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 864 the court interpreted this language to require employers to “separately compensate[ ]” employees for rest periods where the employer uses an “activity based compensation system” that does not directly compensate for rest periods.  (Id. at p. 872.)

In Vaquero v. Stoneledge Furniture LLC, the court explained that piece-rate compensation plans do not directly account for and pay for rest periods because the employee is not working during the rest period and therefore is not being paid.  The Wage Order requires employers to separately compensate employees for rest periods if an employer’s compensation plan does not already include a minimum hourly wage for such time.  The court set out in Stoneledge that Wage Orders apply “equally to commissioned employees, employees paid by piece rate, or any other compensation system that does not separately account for rest breaks and other nonproductive time.”

The compensation structure at issue in Wells Fargo involved advances against monthly draws, commissions, and other incentive bonuses.

3. Penalty for rest break violations

“If an employer fails to provide an employee a … rest … period[,] … the employer shall pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that the … rest … period is not provided.” Cal. Lab. Code § 226.7(c); see also IWC Wage Order 4-2001 § 12(B).

In Wells Fargo, the court found that the company had not provided paid rest breaks for its employees, and therefore faced liability under California Labor Code section 226.7 and California Business & Professions Code section 17200 of one additional hour of pay per workday for the number of shifts in excess of 3.5 hours during the class period.  In Wells Fargo’s case, this amounted to 1,880,003 qualifying work shifts.

4. How to determine employees’ regular rates of pay

The major issue for the parties in the Wells Fargo litigation turned on the proper method of calculating the employees’ “regular rate of compensation” for rest break violations.  Wells Fargo maintained that this should only be calculated using the employee’s hourly rate that was listed on the employee’s wage statements.  If the court adopted this method, it would have resulted in damages of approximately $24.5 million.

Plaintiffs on the other hand argued that the “regular rate of compensation” should not only be the employee’s hourly rate, but should also include the employees’ commissions and other non-discretionary pay earned during the pay period.  The Plaintiffs argued that this total should then be divided by the total hours worked during the pay period.  According to this methodology, the damages equaled approximately $97.2 million.

In agreeing with the Plaintiffs, the court noted that the employees’ “normal compensation was not comprised solely or even primarily of pay calculated at an hourly rate. By definition, it included hourly pay, incentive pay, and overtime premiums, and the hourly pay was stated to be only an advance on commissions.”

5. But there is a disagreement among courts on how to calculate the “regular rate” for purposes of rest break violations

The court in Wells Fargo noted that other courts have come to the different conclusion that based on the language in Labor Code section 226.7 that items like commissions should not be included in the “regular rate” when calculating damages for rest break violations.  The court noted the following cases, but declined to follow their reasoning: Brum v. MarketSource, Inc., 2:17-cv-241-JAM-EFB, 2017 WL 2633414, at *3-5 (E.D. Cal. June 19, 2017); Wert v. U.S. Bancorp, No. 13-cv-3130-BAS (BLM), 2014 WL 7330891, at *3-5 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 18, 2014), reconsideration denied, 2015 WL 3617165 (S.D. Cal. June 9, 2015); Bradescu v. Hillstone Rest. Grp., Inc., No. SACV 13-1289-GW (RZx), 2014 WL 5312546, at *7-8 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 8, 2014), tentative ruling confirmed as final, 2014 WL 5312574 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 10, 2014).

Given the split in decisions, Wells Fargo is reported to have plans to appeal the ruling.