I received a few questions this week that I have not heard asked in a while: In what manner do employers need to keep time records?  Can they be kept electronically, or do they have to be written?  A follow-on question was: Do employers need to have a computerized timekeeping system to comply with their requirements under California law?  With technological advances, it is hard to remember that just 10 years ago these questions were on top of everyone’s mind, but today it is sometimes assumed that it must be legal to keep these records electronically.  However, these inquiries raise good questions about employers’ obligations under the Labor Code to create and maintain time records.  Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly depending on your views on how slow the law is in adapting to technological advances), the Labor Code does not address this issue right on point.  Yet, there are some governing principles employers can review in making the decision on what practices are best for their business. This Friday’s Five covers five key obligations employers should consider when setting up time keeping systems:

 1. Are employers required to use a particular type of timekeeping system?

 California law does not require the use of any electronic type of timekeeping system or time clocks.  Employers may elect to use paper and pen in recording an employee’s time.  As explained below, the records should be “indelible,” meaning that the time entries cannot be erased, removed, or changed.  However, even with just a handful of employees, many employers find it more efficient to use an electronic timekeeping system.  Moving towards an electronic time keeping system can reduce mistakes in the recording and calculation of time worked, make it easier to track changes, and could make a review of the time entries easier should there ever be a challenge by the employee about their pay.  Most timekeeping software today will also help monitor meal break compliance and will automatically flag any violations for a manager’s review.

 2. Can time records be kept electronically?

 California Wage Orders require that employers maintain the employees time records “in the English language and in ink or other indelible form.”

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) issued an Opinion Letter on July 20, 1995 stating that “storage of records by electronic means meets the requirements of California law if the records are (1) retrievable in the State of California, and (2) may be printed in an indelible format upon request of either the employee or the Division.”

The DLSE issued another Opinion Letter on November 10, 1998 advising employers that the electronic time record data could be maintained outside of the State of California “as long as a hard copy of the records was maintained at a central location within California.”  While the DLSE’s opinion letters are not binding legal precedent, they are given pervasive authority in court.  Thus, employers need to be careful about relying too heavily on these opinions.  In addition, these two Opinion Letters contradict each other.  As set forth below, the Wage Orders require time records “shall be kept on file by the employer for at least three years at the place of employment or at a central location within the State of California.”  Therefore, employers should consider maintaining a copy of employee time records, either electronically or on paper, within the State of California.

Similar language is also found in Labor Code section 226 pertaining to the information required to be provided to employees on pay stubs:

The deductions made from payments of wages shall be recorded in ink or other indelible form, properly dated, showing the month, day, and year, and a copy of the statement or a record of the deductions shall be kept on file by the employer for at least three years at the place of employment or at a central location within the State of California.

On July 6, 2006, the DLSE issued an Opinion Letter permitting employers to issue electronic pay stubs to employees if certain requirements were met.  The DLSE stated:

The Division in recent years has sought to harmonize the “detachable part of the check” provision and the “accurate itemized statement in writing” provision of Labor Code section 226(a) by allowing for electronic wage statements so long as each employee retains the right to elect to receive a written paper stub or record and that those who are provided with electronic wage statements retain the ability to easily access the information and convert the electronic statements into hard copies at no expense to the employee.

The DLSE approves electronic wage statements as long as the employer incorporates the following features:

  1. An employee may elect to receive paper wage statements at any time;
  2. The wage statements will contain all information required under Labor Code section 226(a) and will be available on a secure website no later than pay day;
  3. Access to the website will be controlled by unique employee identification numbers and confidential personal identification numbers (PINs).  The website will be protected by a firewall and is expected to be available at all times, with the exception of downtime caused by system errors or maintenance requirements;
  4. Employees will be able to access their records through their own personal computers or by company-provided computers.  Computer terminals will be available to all employees for accessing these records at work.
  5. Employees will be able to print copies of their electronic wage statements at work on printers that are in close proximity to the computer or computer terminal.  There will be no charge to the employee for accessing their records or printing them out.  Employees may also access their records over the Internet and save it electronically and/or print it on their own printer.
  6. Wage statements will be maintained electronically for at least three years and will continue to be available to active employees for that entire time.  Former employees will be provided paper copies at no charge upon request.

This same analysis would likely apply to the time records employers are required to maintain under California law.  However, employers need to approach this issue with advice from counsel, as there are no clear court decisions that have approved of the DLSE’s position.

3. Length of time electronic records should be kept

Employers should also note that the statute of limitations for many wage and hour class actions in California can extend back to four years under Business and Professions Code section 17200; and, therefore should consider keeping wage statements and other documentation required to defend against claims going back the previous four years.

4. Items time records must report (be careful, it is more than just start and stop times)

The Wage Orders require that California employers keep “[t]ime records showing when the employee begins and ends each work period. Meal periods, split shift intervals and total daily hours worked shall also be recorded. Meal periods during which operations cease and authorized rest periods need not be recorded.”  IWC Wage Order 5-2001(7)(a)(3).

Additionally, Labor Code section 1174 requires employers to keep time records showing the hours worked daily and the wages paid, number of piece-rate units earned by, and the applicable piece rate paid.

5. Records must be maintained in California

These records must be maintained in the state or at the “plants or establishments at which employees are employed.”  The records must be kept for at least three years.  Labor Code section 1174(d).

The Wage Orders likewise require that employers keep records “at the place of employment or at a central location within the State of California.” As mentioned above, if employers have electronic records, a copy of the electronic data should be maintained within the state just as a precaution.

The statute of limitations for wage claims can extend back to four years, so employers generally keep the records for four years.  Employers need to ensure that the data being saved is the actual time records of the employees, and can be reproduced in format that is accurate and easy to read, should the records ever be requested or needed to defend litigation.

(Special thanks to Rick Reyes, a summer associate at my firm, for edits to this post.)

When hiring an employee, employers need to be mindful that any tests of the employee’s skills during the hiring process does not cross the line to become actual work that the applicant must be paid for.  Employers sometimes will ask applicants to demonstrate their food preparation skills in a restaurant setting, handling tools in a manufacturing setting, or typing skills in the office setting.  This Friday’s Five covers five issues employers should review to make sure that “try out” time or “staging” does not become work must be paid for:

1. As long as the time is not training the applicant, but is truly testing their skills the time does not need to be paid.

California Wage Orders define “hours worked” as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer.” Cal.Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11040(2)(K). This includes “the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work….” Id.  Therefore, as long as the employer is only using the time to determine the skills of the applicant it does not need to be paid.

2. If there is no productivity derived from the work performed by the applicant, the time does not have to be paid.

3. The period of time testing the employee is “reasonable under the circumstances.”

4. Each case is different, and the amount of time to test an employee will depend on the position.

The DLSE states in the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and Interpretations Manual that, “the period of time to test skills of a sewing machine operator will be much less than that needed to test the skills of a computer programmer.”  (See DLSE Manual § 46.7.)  Employers need to evaluate the position, the skills being tested, and the overall context of the interview in making the determination of whether the try out or testing becomes time that needs to be paid.

5. When in doubt, compensate the applicant for the time.

If the testing takes a significant amount of time, or if the product made by the applicant is used or sold to customers, such time could be considered productive time that must be compensated by the employer.

I just posted a new video on my YouTube channel about the issues facing employers with the state and local minimum wage increases in 2018 (embedded below).  At the end of the first quarter in 2018, it is a good time to review compliance with the state and local minimum wage laws, and to start to prepare for the local minimum wage increased on July 1, 2018.  For example, Los Angeles city and county minimum wage rates will increase to $13.25 per hour from the current $12.00 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees on July 1.  In addition to my regular blog posts, I’ll be featuring more videos on my channel as well, so please subscribe to both.

IMG_4751 (1)Mid-way through 2017 and the California legislature is busy and, as expected, there are a number of employment law bills making their way through the legislature.  This Friday’s Five reviews five bills that could have a major impact upon California employers if passed:

1. AB 168 – Prohibition of asking salary history when hiring employees.

This bill prohibits employers from seeking salary history information from applicants and requires employers to set pay scale for positions and to provide this information to applicants.

2. AB 1008 – Statewide “Ban the Box” (limiting any questions by employers about criminal histories on applications).

Los Angeles and San Francisco have already passed regulations prohibiting employers for asking about criminal histories before a job is offered to employee.  This bill would apply similar requirements on employers state-wide.

3. AB 1565 – Increasing the required salary threshold to $47,472 annually ($3,965/month) for white collar exempt employees.

To qualify as an executive, administrative, or professional employee exemption, employers bear the burden of establishing that the employee is paid a salary the equivalent of two times the state minimum wage and that the employee spends more than 50% of their time on exempt duties.  With the state minimum wage at $10.50 per hour for large employers as of January 1, 2017 the currant salary level that must be paid in order to qualify for the white collar exemptions is $43,680/year.  On January 1, 2018, the state minimum wage increases to $11 per hour for large employers, raising the salary required for exempt employees to $45,760/year.  This bill proposes to increase the salary required to be paid to employees to meet the white collar exemptions since the Department of Labor’s attempt to do this on a federal level stalled at the end of last year.

4. AB 1209 – Internet publication of wages based on gender. This bill would require employers to publish information about “pay gender differentials” on a website open to the public. 

The bill would apply to employers who are required to file a statement of information with the Secretary of State and who have 250 or more employees to collect specified information on gender pay differentials. The bill would require an employer to annually update, publish, and submit the information.

5. SB 63 – Require small businesses to provide parental leave.

Currently, employers with 50 or more employees are required to comply with the California Family Rights Act and provide parental leave of up to 12 weeks to bond with a new child within one year of the birth.  This bill would lower the number of employees for covered businesses to 20 employees in a 75-mile radius.  The bill would also prohibit an employer from refusing to maintain and pay for coverage under a group health plan for an employee who takes this leave.

 

Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill – AB 450 – that would put employers between the federal government and the state of California in the immigration debate.  Basically, the bill imposes penalties on employers who cooperate or do not notify the state of federal immigration actions taking place at their locations.  As set out in a statement issued by Assemblymember Chiu, the bill does the following:

  • Protecting workers from being wrongfully detained in their workplace by requiring employers to ask for a judicial warrant before granting ICE access to a worksite.
  • Preventing employers from sharing confidential employee information, such as a social security number, without a subpoena.
  • Requiring employers to notify the Labor Commissioner and employee representative of a worksite raid. Employers must also notify the Labor Commissioner, employees, and employee representatives of an I-9 audit.
  • Preventing employers from retaliating against employees who report labor claims by enabling workers crucial to a labor claim investigation to receive certification from the Labor Commissioner. This certification would both protect the worker and aid in successfully adjudicating labor violations.

The current version of the bill creates the following obligations for employers:

  • prohibit an employer from providing a federal immigration enforcement agent access to a place of labor without a properly executed warrant and would prohibit an employer, or a person acting on behalf of the employer, from providing voluntary access to a federal government immigration enforcement agent to the employer’s employee records without a subpoena
  • require an employer to provide an employee, and the employee’s representative, a written notice containing specified information, in the language the employer normally uses to communicate employment information, of an immigration worksite enforcement action to be conducted by a federal immigration agency at the employer’s worksite, unless prohibited by federal law
  • require an employer to provide to an affected employee, and to the employee’s representative, a copy of the written federal immigration agency notice describing the results of an immigration worksite enforcement audit or inspection and written notice of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the action
  • require an employer to notify the Labor Commissioner of a federal government immigration agency immigration worksite enforcement action within 24 hours of receiving notice of the action and, if the employer does not receive advance notice, to immediately notify the Labor Commission upon learning of the action, unless prohibited by federal law
  • require an employer to notify the Labor Commissioner before conducting a self-audit or inspection of specified employment eligibility verification forms, and before checking the employee work authorization documents of a current employee, unless prohibited by federal law

Failure to meet any of the obligations would create liability for employers of not less than $10,000 and not more than $25,000 for each violation.  This creates a potential legal conundrum for employers who have a responsibility to comply with federal immigration laws.  Under this proposed bill employers could face fines under state law for not following these requirements, but on the other hand employers face penalties for not complying with federal immigration laws.  The bill makes employers responsible for these difficult legal determinations in interpreting state and federal obligations, in addition to requiring them to become legal experts in determining if the federal government has a “properly executed search warrant” for example.

Plaintiff Victoria Ztwick worked as a correctional office for the County of Yolo. See Zetwick v. County of Yolo.  She sued thekids hugging County and her supervisor, Sheriff Edward Prieto alleging that the supervisor’s conduct over a 12-year period created a hostile work environment.  She alleged the harassment consisted of Prieto hugging her on more than one hundred occasions and kissed her at least once.

Ztwick alleged Prieto created a sexually hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), CAL. GOV’T CODE § 12900 et seq.  Defendants argued that that such conduct was not objectively severe or pervasive enough to establish a hostile work environment under the law.  Defendants maintained that the activity was innocuous, socially acceptable conduct.  The lower trial court agreed with defendants’ arguments and granted their motion for summary judgment.  However, the Ninth Circuit court of Appeals overturned the trial’s court’s order and remanded the case to the lower court for trial.  This Friday’s Five focuses on five lessons employers should take away from the Zetwick v. County of Yolo case.

1. Hugging can create a hostile work environment

Defendants maintained that most of the hugs were during parties involving sheriff’s office employees, award banquets, GED graduations for prisoners, and some training sessions or meetings, but never when Prieto and the plaintiff were alone.  Plaintiff admitted that there was only one incident that Prieto kissed her at an awards ceremony.  He kissed plaintiff to congratulate her on her recent marriage, and plaintiff alleged that the kiss was partially on the lips because she turned her head.  She alleges she complained to her supervising lieutenants, but they did not forward the complaint for any investigation or resolution.

Plaintiff alleges that she also saw Prieto hug and kiss other female employees, but never saw him hug male employees.  Defendants argued that even Plaintiff herself described the hugs as ones that friends or relatives give each other.  In addition, defendants contended that plaintiff simply never saw when Prieto would hug male co-workers and that the hugs were not only directed towards plaintiff or females.

To succeed in proving hostile work environment harassment, a plaintiff must prove “(1) that he was subjected to verbal or physical conduct of a harassing nature, (2) that this conduct was unwelcome, and (3) that the conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.”

The appellate court held that there was enough evidence presented by plaintiff to at least have a trial:

We hold that, giving the record proper consideration, a reasonable juror could conclude that the differences in hugging of men and women were not, as the defendants argue, just “genuine but innocuous differences in the ways men and women routinely interact with members of the same sex and of the opposite sex.”

2. To be illegal, harassment must be both objectively offensive to a reasonable person and subjectively offensive in that the victim felt it was offensive

The appellate court set forth the standard required for a victim to allege harassment:

To be actionable under Title VII, a sexually objectionable environment must be both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, and one that the victim in fact did perceive to be so.” Geo Grp., Inc., 816 F.3d at 1206 (internal quotation marks omitted).

The appellate court found that given the testimony that Prieto hugged plaintiff more than one hundred times over a 12-year period, hugged female employees more often than male employees, and as plaintiff observed Prieto only hugging females, that plaintiff met the subjective and objective showing requirement.  This evidence was sufficient to establish the possibility that a reasonable jury could find in plaintiff’s favor.

3. Hugging could be outside of the “ordinary workplace socializing”

In rejecting defendants’ argument that the hugs in this case were “ordinary workplace socializing” that could not be the basis of a sexual harassment lawsuit, the court explained:

[W]hile it may appear that Prieto’s hugs were “common” in the workplace, and that some other crossgender hugging occurred, neither of those things demonstrates beyond dispute that Prieto’s hugging was within the scope of “ordinary workplace socializing.” A reasonable juror could find, for example, from the frequency of the hugs, that Prieto’s conduct was out of proportion to “ordinary workplace socializing” and had, instead, become abusive. See Geo Grp., Inc., 816 F.3d at 1206 (citing factors relevant to the determination of whether the environment was sufficiently hostile or abusive, including the “frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

4. There is no set number of harassing incidents that results in liability

The court was clear in the case that there is no “magic number of harassing incidents’ that would give rise to liability.”  The totality of the circumstances are taken into account in determining whether a reasonable juror would find the types of hugs and the number of hugs created a hostile environment.  This is why it is so important for employers to continually counsel employees who do not act professionally in the workplace.

5. Alleged supervisory harassment is taken more seriously

The appellate court also held the trial court erred by “completely overlook[ing] legal recognition of the potentially greater impact of harassment from a supervisor and, indeed, the highest ranking officer in the department. The Supreme Court has recognized that ‘acts of supervisors have greater power to alter the environment than acts of co-employees generally.’”  Like it or not, the appellate court looked at the fact that the accused harasser was a supervisor in this case as one of the circumstances it considered in holding that the plaintiff presented enough evidence that a reasonable jury could agree with.

The law has to define certain terms and categories of people in order to make legal concepts predictable so people and happy birthdaycompanies can adjust their actions accordingly.  However, after turning 40 years old this month, the definition of “old” hits home with me.  According to the law, I’m old.  Moving on quickly, this Friday’s Five focuses on age related issues:

1. People 40 years old and older are in a protected category

Both Federal law, Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) 29 USC section 621, et sec. and California state law, Cal. Gov. Code Section 12926(b), protect employees who are 40 years old or older.

2. Even if worker over 40 is terminated and replaced by another worker who is over 40, there could still be an age claim if the difference in age is “substantial”

The United States Supreme Court held in O’Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp. that the ADEA prohibits discrimination because of an employee’s age, not class membership.  Therefore, if one employee who is over 40 is terminated and replaced by another employee who is also over 40, the terminated employee may still assert an age claim if they can prove that the determining factor was age.  However, if the person was replaced by another who is close in age, this would cut against any argument that the reason for the termination was based on age.

3. When employers can use age as a factor in an employment decision: the bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ)

To establish a BFOQ, the employer must prove

First, the employer must demonstrate that the occupational qualification is ‘reasonably necessary to the normal operation of [the] particular business.’ Secondly, the employer must show that the categorical exclusion based on [the] protected class characteristic is justified, i.e., that ‘all or substantially all’ of the persons with the subject class characteristic fail to satisfy the occupational qualification.

Johnson Controls, Inc. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com., See 2 Cal. Code Regs section 7286.7(f).  This is a narrow defense for employers, and they still also must prove that the nature of the operation of the business could not be rearranged in order to reduce the BFOQ impact.

4. Layoffs based on high salary could possibly constitute age discrimination

If salary is used as the basis for conducting terminations or layoffs, this could constitute age discrimination if older employees as a group are adversely impacted because of this factor.  Cal. Gov. Code section 12941.

5. Release of age claims require additional steps – approach with caution

The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) provides additional rights to workers.  The OWBPA prohibits any waiver of a right under the ADEA, unless certain requirements are met.  Some of these requirements include that the employee is advised to consult with an attorney, the waiver is easily understood, the individual is given at least 21 days to consider the agreement; and the individual is given at least 7 days following the execution of the agreement to revoke the agreement. The 21 day consideration period can be waived by the employee, but the seven day revocation period after the agreement is signed cannot be waived by the employee. Therefore, it is important to consider potentially not paying any money until after the seven day revocation period expires. If the employer is offering the release to a group or class of employees a longer consideration period and other requirements apply. It is highly recommended that employers receive the assistance of counsel to ensure that employees 40 years old or older effectively waive any rights under the OWBPA. For more information, the EEOCs’ website provides a good explanation and some examples.

Happy Friday.

Often the threat of the plaintiff’s potential ability to recover attorney’s fees is greater than the actual damages that they can prove.  This can be frustrating for employers defending wage and hour claims, in both the individual and class action context.  Indeed, an employer must understand the potential damages and exposure of fees they may have to pay if a case proceeds to trial or arbitration, as well as the potential to recover fees against the plaintiff.  This Friday’s Five addresses common attorney’s fees issues facing employers in wage and hour litigation.

1. When are attorney’s fees recoverable in wage and hour cases?  And can a defendant recover fees if they prevail? 

 Attorney’s fees in wage-and-hour cases are covered by two sections of the Labor Code:  sections 218.5 and 1194.  Aleman v. AirTouch Cell., 209 Cal. App. 4th 556, 579 (2012).  “Sections 218.5 and 1194 cover similar, though functionally exclusive subjects.”  Id.  Section 218.5 covers, among other things, claims “for the nonpayment of wages,” except those claims subject to Section 1194.  Section 1194, in turn, covers claims for failure to pay minimum wage or overtime.  Fees are assessed on a claim-by-claim basis.  Id. at 584.

Section 218.5 allows for “two-way” fee shifting – i.e., to the prevailing party, whether employee or employer – while Section 1194 only permits a prevailing employee to recover fees.  Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc., 53 Cal.4th 1244, 1248 (2012).  For an employer to recover fees under Section 218.5, the claim must have been made in “bad faith.”  Cal. Lab. Code § 218.5(a).

 2. Attorney’s fees are not available to plaintiff for prevailing on missed meal or rest break claims.

 In Kirby, the California Supreme Court considered the issue of whether a can a party recover fees and costs under Labor Code, section 218.5 or 1194 when it prevails only on a claim for meal or rest break premium pay.  The court determined that neither of these sections allow for fees, and neither party can recover fees based on a claim only for premium pay.  Id. at 1251-59.

First, the court held that by its plain terms, section 1194 applies only to claims within the usual meaning of minimum wage and overtime – i.e., failure to pay the minimum wage or overtime compensation set by statute.  Id. at 1251-55.

Second, the court found section 218.5 inapplicable because it only applies to claims for “nonpayment of wages.”  Id. at 1255-57.  The court noted that the basis of a section 226.7 claim is the failure to provide meal or rest breaks, rather than the non-payment of wages.  Id. at 1256-57 (“Nonpayment of wages is not the gravamen of a 226.7 violation.  Instead . . . section 226.7 defines a legal violation solely by reference to an employer’s obligation to provide meal and rest breaks.”)  Accordingly, while premium pay owed for missed meal or rest breaks is measured in terms of an hour’s pay, and deemed a “wage” for other purposes (such as the statute of limitations) this is only the statutory remedy.  Id.  The injury is not a failure to provide premium pay, but the failure to provide breaks, and therefore a prevailing plaintiff is not entitled to attorney’s fees under these provisions.

3. An employee cannot recover attorney’s fees for successfully winning waiting time penalties under Labor Code section 203. 

 In Ling v. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Inc., 245 Cal. App. 4th 1242, 1260-61 (2016), the court considered the issue where a plaintiff arbitrated her claims before JAMS and the arbitrator rejected plaintiffs’ primary theory of misclassification.  Id. at 1248-49.  Instead, the arbitrator awarded plaintiff $1,038 in break premium for her nine-week training period, which “received little attention at the hearing,” was raised by plaintiff only in post-hearing briefing, and where it was largely undisputed that the plaintiff was entitled to breaks.  Id. at 1248.  The arbitrator awarded $7,688 in waiting time penalties under section 203Id.

Among many other issues on appeal, the plaintiff claimed that the arbitrator erred in failing to award her attorneys fees on her successful claim under Labor Code section 203.  The Court of Appeal disagreed.  It noted that employee could not “transmute” a claim for missed breaks into one for unpaid wages by bringing a derivative claim for waiting time penalties.  Id. at 1261.  Just as under Kirby, while waiting time penalties are measured in wages, those penalties are—as Section 203 states expressly—“penalties” and not wages.  Accordingly, the court found that waiting time penalties should not have been awarded.  Id.  More importantly, however, the court further concluded that no fees could be awarded, because the waiting time claim was “purely derivative” of a claim for meal break premium pay.  Because the underlying claim did not involve a failure to pay earned wages, the court held that the waiting time claim did not either, so could not support a claim for fees on either side.  (Id. [“Because a section 203 claim is purely derivative of ‘an action for the wages from which the penalties arise,’ it cannot be the basis of a fee award when the underlying claim is not an action for wages.”])

4. Which party is entitled to fees is the verdict a split decision and the plaintiff does not win all of their claims? 

Where neither party secures a “complete, unqualified victory” on all claims, “it is within the discretion of the trial court to determine which party prevailed . . . or whether, on balance, neither party prevailed sufficiently to justify an award of attorney fees.”  (See Scott Co. of California v. Blount, Inc. (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1103, 1109.)  In exercising this discretion, the court is to “compare the relief awarded . . . with the parties’ demands on those same claims and their litigation objectives as disclosed by the pleadings, trial briefs, opening statements, and similar sources.”  (Hsu v. Abbara (1995) 9 Cal. 4th 863, 876.)  This rule applies where both parties effectively win on some claims but not others, including the Labor Code context.  (On-Line Power, Inc. v. Mazur (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 1079, 1087 [noting that where plaintiff brought action for breach of contract and Labor Code violations, and settled for $25,000 pursuant to statutory offer, it was the type of case where the court had discretion to determine the prevailing party].)

5. Plaintiff’s attorney’s fees may be recovered for expense reimbursement claims under Labor Code section 2802.

Labor Code section 2802 provides that employers must pay for and reimburse employees for “all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence” of the employee’s job. Therefore, items like mileage reimbursement, even personal cell phone expenses, or other out-of-pocket expenditures employees make while performing their job must be reimbursed by the employer. Labor Code section 2802(c) provides that the employee is entitled to “attorney’s fees incurred by the employee enforcing the rights granted by this section.”

With the arrival of 2017, many employers are recognizing the difficulties in navigating the complex set of paid leave laws in Southern California.  For regular readers of the blog, this may seem like a repeat, but this post is five items employers need to remember about paid sick leave laws in Southern California.

1. The law – either state or local –  that provides the most generous benefits to the employees must be followed by the employer.

California’s paid sick leave law applies to all employers and provides employees with 24 hour or 3 days of paid sick leave.  As set forth below, many local cities and counties have implemented their own paid sick leave requirements.  Employers must comply with the law that provides the most benefits to employees.

2. Southern California cities and counties that have implemented paid sick leave laws

State/City Minimum Wage Paid Sick Leave
California $10/hr January 1, 2016; $10.50 January 1, 2017 for employers with 26 or more employees Current: 3 days or 24 hours
Los Angeles – City July 1, 2016: $10.50/hr; July 1, 2017 $12; July 1, 2018 $13.25; July 1, 2019 $14.25; July 1, 2020 $15.00 * July 1, 2016: 48 hours*
Los Angeles – County Same as LA City No specific requirement – CA law applies
San Diego July 2016: $10.50; January 1, 2017 $11.50; January 1, 2019 indexed to inflation 5 paid sick days (effective July 11, 2016)
Santa Monica $10.50 July 1, 2016; July 1, 2017 $12.00; July 1, 2018 $13.25; July 1, 2019 $14.25; July 1, 2020 $15.00* January 1, 2017: 32 hours for small businesses, 40 hours for large businesses; January 1, 2018: 40 hours for small business, 72 hours for large businesses*
Malibu $10.50 July 1, 2016* No specific requirement – CA law applies
Pasadena $10.50 July 1, 2016* No specific requirement – CA law applies
* Employers with 25 or fewer employees the implementation is delayed one year.

3. How to determine which law applies to your business operating in the County of Los Angeles

There is a lot of confusion about what law applies to businesses operating in Los Angeles County.  The County of Los Angeles’ ordinance only applies to unincorporated cities within the county.  Here is a list of the incorporated cities in the County of Los Angeles. If the employer is located in an incorporated city, the employer must comply with the incorporated city’s paid sick leave requirements, and if the city does not have any requirements, California’s paid sick leave law would apply.

4. Understand the difference between use cap and accrual caps

Under California state law, employers may apply an accrual cap at 48 hours or 6 days per year.  The employees must be allowed to accrue up to this amount and carry it over from year to year.

The accrual cap is different from the annual use cap.  The annual use cap allows employers to limit the amount of paid sick leave used by the employee within one year.  Under California state law, employers can also impose an annual use cap of 24 hours or 3 days (whichever is greater) each year.

Employers need to pay careful attention about the differences in the state and local laws that apply to their companies in this regard.  For example, under Santa Monica’s paid sick leave ordinance, the accrual cap is 40 hours for large employers in 2017.  However, because accrual cap is less than what is permitted under California law, employers must follow California’s more generous requirements of allowing accrual of up to 48 hours or 6 days per year) and 72 hours in 2018.

5. Can employers change accrual methods after one has been implemented?

Yes, there is nothing that prohibits employers from changing accrual methods (i.e., up-front grant or the accrual method).  However, as employers are already required to provide non-exempt employees with an individualized Notice to Employee as required under Labor Code section 2810.5 that sets forth the employer’s accrual method, employers should consult an employment attorney about how to provide advanced notice to employees prior to changing the policy and how to treat already accrued and unused paid sick leave under the old policy.

I’m starting 2017 off with videos taken from my recent webinar discussing local minimum wage issues, California’s new employment laws, Los Angeles’ ban the box ordinance, the new Form I-9 required in 2017, and potential impacts President-elect Trump may have on employment laws.  Happy New Year!

California state and local minimum wage and paid sick leave laws in 2017

California’s new wage discrimination laws in 2017

Los Angeles bans employers from asking about criminal background information

New Form I-9 required in 2017

President-elect Trump’s impact on California’s employment landscape