With the fires effecting large portions of Southern California and Los Angeles this week, it is a good time to review some of the obligations employers have in regards to pay and leave issues during times of natural disasters.  The picture above is one I took showing the smoke covering the northern part of Los Angeles on a flight to Napa on Thursday night.  It was just a couple of months ago I wrote about this topic when Napa faced the same situation of wild fires in October.  So for regular readers of the blog, this article will be a refresher course, but I thought it would be important to cover this topic again in today’s Friday Five:

1. Reporting time pay obligations

California law requires an employer to pay “reporting time pay” under the applicable Wage Order.  This requires that when an employee is required to report for work and does report, but is not put to work or is furnished less than half said employee’s usual or scheduled day’s work, the employee shall 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.

In addition, if an employee is required to report to work a second time in any one workday and is furnished less than two hours of work on the second reporting, he or she must be paid for two hours at his or her regular rate of pay.

California’s Labor Commissioner provides the following example:

For example, if an employee is scheduled to report to work for an eight-hour shift and only works for one hour, the employer is nonetheless obligated to pay the employee four hours of pay at his or her regular rate of pay (one for the hour worked, and three as reporting time pay). Only the one-hour actually worked, however, counts as actual hours worked.

Employers must remember, when an employee is scheduled to work, the minimum two-hour pay requirement applies only if the employee is furnished work for less than half the scheduled time.

2. Time paid as reporting time pay does not trigger overtime pay

Reporting time pay for hours in excess of the actual hours worked is not counted as hours worked for purposes of determining overtime.

3. Reporting time pay and meetings

There has been significant litigation over reporting time pay that is owed when employees are called in for meetings.  If an employee is called in on a day in which he is not scheduled, the employee is entitled to at least two hours of pay, and potentially up to four hours if the employee normally works 8 hours or more per day. See Price v. Starbucks.

However, if the employer schedules the employee to come into work for two hours or less, and the employee works at least one half of the scheduled shift, the employer is only required to pay for the actual time worked and no reporting time is owed.  See my prior post on Aleman v. AirTouch for a detailed discussion.

4. Exceptions to the reporting time requirements – “Acts of God”

The Wage Orders provide that employers are not required to pay overtime pay during the following circumstances:

  1. When operations cannot begin or continue due to threats to employees or property, or when civil authorities recommend that work not begin or continue; or
  2. When public utilities fail to supply electricity, water, or gas, or there is a failure in the public utilities, or sewer system; or
  3. When the interruption of work is caused by an Act of God or other cause not within the employer’s control, for example, an earthquake.

5. What if the employee voluntarily leaves early?

Employers are not required to pay reporting time pay if the employee voluntarily leaves work early.  For example, if the employee becomes sick or must attend to personal issues outside of work and leaves early, then the employer is not obligated to pay reporting time pay (however, this may trigger paid sick leave or other legal obligations for the employer).

Happy Thanksgiving.  I hope everyone is getting some time to relax and enjoy some time with their families.  Entering the holiday season, it is a good time to review employer’s obligations to accommodate requests for time off for holidays and best pay practices during holiday leaves.  This Friday’s Five covers five reminders for employers about holiday leaves and pay:

1. California employers are not required to provide employees time off for holidays.

There is no requirement that California employers provide time off (except for religious accommodations – see below) for holidays. California’s DLSE’s website states the following:

Hours worked on holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays are treated like hours worked on any other day of the week. California law does not require that an employer provide its employees with paid holidays, that it close its business on any holiday, or that employees be given the day off for any particular holiday.

2. California employers are not required to pay for time off for holidays, nor are they required to pay additional wages if employees work on holidays.

Likewise, there is no requirement that employers pay employees extra pay or “holiday pay” for work performed on holidays. Employers can voluntarily agree to pay employees extra pay for work that is required during holidays, but these terms would be governed by policy set forth by the employer. Therefore, employers are urged to make sure their holiday pay policies are clearly set forth.

California’s legislature has proposed bills that would require certain employers to pay employees double time for work done on Thanksgiving, but none of these bills have become law.  For example, the “Double Pay on the Holiday Act of 2016” proposed to require an employer to pay at least 2 times the regular rate of pay to employees at retail and grocery store establishments on Thanksgiving. None of these attempts by the legislature have been successful yet in requiring California employers to pay any extra “holiday pay.”

3. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees who cannot work on certain holidays due to religious observances.

Employers need to be aware of any religious observances of their employees since employers need to provide reasonable accommodations for employees due to religious reasons. The analysis of reasonable accommodation is required is a case by case analysis based on the company’s type of business and the accommodation requested by the employee. If the employer’s operations require employees to work during normally recognized holidays, such as a restaurant, then this should be communicated to employees in the handbook or other policies and set the expectation that an essential function of the job requires work during normal holidays.

4. If an employer does pay for time off during holidays, the employer does not have to allow employees to accrue holiday paid time off.

If an employee leaves employment before the holiday arrives, the employer is not required to pay the employee for the day off.  But the employer’s policy regarding holiday pay must be clearly set out and be clear that this type of benefit does not accrue to employees and that they must be employed during the specific holidays to receive the holiday pay.  Often the employer will also require that the employee works the days leading up to and following the holiday in order be eligible for the holiday pay.

5. If a pay day falls on certain holidays, and the employer is closed, the employer may process payroll on the next business day.

If an employer is closed on holidays listed in the California Government Code, then the employer may pay wages on the next business days.  The DLSE’s website explains this, and other considerations, for the timing requirements for payroll.  The holidays listed in the Government Code are as follows:

  • January 1 — New Year’s Day
  • Third Monday in January — Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 12 — Lincoln’s Birthday
  • Third Monday in February — Washington’s Birthday
  • Last Monday in May — Memorial Day
  • July 4 — Independence Day
  • First Monday in September — Labor Day
  • Second Monday in October — Columbus Day
  • November 11 — Veterans Day
  • Fourth Thursday in November — Thanksgiving Day
  • Day after Thanksgiving
  • December 25 — Christmas
  • Other days appointed by the governor for a public fast, thanksgiving or holiday

The DLSE’s website provides the definition of “holiday” here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Potential benefits of arbitration agreements for California employers

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

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

4. Potential drawbacks of arbitration agreements in California

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

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

5. Impact on employers

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

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

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

1. Timing of breaks.
Meal Breaks
The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court that employers need to give an employee their first meal break “no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.” Here is a chart to illustrate the Court’s holding:

Rest Breaks
As for of rest breaks, the Court set forth that, “[e]mployees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.” This rule is set forth in this chart:

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

2. Rule regarding waiver of breaks.
Meal Breaks
Generally meal breaks can only be waived if the employee works less than six hours in a shift. However, as long as employers effectively allow an employee to take a full 30-minute meal break, the employee can voluntarily choose not to take the break and this would not result in a violation. The Supreme Court explained in Brinker (quoting the DLSE’s brief on the subject):

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

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

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

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

5. Implementing a policy of paying employees for missed breaks and recording these payments.
Employers should show that in addition to the complaint procedure mentioned above, that the company has a system in place to correct any violations. If during an investigation, the employer confirms that the employee in fact missed the break because of the rush of business or some other factor, the company should pay the employee the one hour “premium pay” penalty at the employee’s regular rate of pay. Also, the company should record these payments made to employees in case it needs to prove later on that it has an effective remedial process in place to address missed breaks.

California employers cannot forget about detailed employment provisions such as reporting time pay.  Given the natural disasters facing California recently, I was interviewed on public radio about employer’s obligations during times of emergencies and natural disasters.  So I thought this Friday’s Five would be a good reminder about when employers need to pay reporting time pay to employees:

1. What is reporting time pay?

California law requires an employer to pay “reporting time pay” under the applicable Wage Order.  This requires that when an employee is required to report for work and does report, but is not put to work or is furnished less than half said employee’s usual or scheduled day’s work, the employee shall 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.

In addition, if an employee is required to report to work a second time in any one workday and is furnished less than two hours of work on the second reporting, he or she must be paid for two hours at his or her regular rate of pay.

California’s Labor Commissioner provides the following example:

For example, if an employee is scheduled to report to work for an eight-hour shift and only works for one hour, the employer is nonetheless obligated to pay the employee four hours of pay at his or her regular rate of pay (one for the hour worked, and three as reporting time pay). Only the one-hour actually worked, however, counts as actual hours worked.

Employers must remember, when an employee is scheduled to work, the minimum two-hour pay requirement applies only if the employee is furnished work for less than half the scheduled time.

2. Time paid as reporting time pay does not trigger overtime pay.

Reporting time pay for hours in excess of the actual hours worked is not counted as hours worked for purposes of determining overtime.

3. Reporting time pay and meetings.

There has been significant litigation over reporting time pay that is owed when employees are called in for meetings.  If an employee is called in on a day in which he is not scheduled, the employee is entitled to at least two hours of pay, and potentially up to four hours if the employee normally works 8 hours or more per day. See Price v. Starbucks.

However, if the employer schedules the employee to come into work for two hours or less, and the employee works at least one half of the scheduled shift, the employer is only required to pay for the actual time worked and no reporting time is owed.  See my prior post on Aleman v. AirTouch for a more detailed discussion.

4. Exceptions to the reporting time requirements – “Acts of God”.

The Wage Orders provide that employers are not required to pay overtime pay during the following circumstances:

  1. When operations cannot begin or continue due to threats to employees or property, or when civil authorities recommend that work not begin or continue; or
  2. When public utilities fail to supply electricity, water, or gas, or there is a failure in the public utilities, or sewer system; or
  3. When the interruption of work is caused by an Act of God or other cause not within the employer’s control, for example, an earthquake.

5. What if the employee voluntarily leaves early?

Employers are not required to pay reporting time pay if the employee voluntarily leaves work early.  For example, if the employee becomes sick or must attend to personal issues outside of work and leaves early, then the employer is not obligated to pay reporting time pay (however, this may trigger paid sick leave or other legal obligations for the employer).

AB 168 was approved by Governor Brown on October 12, 2017 which prohibits employers from seeking or taking into consideration an applicant’s prior compensation and benefits when determining whether to hire the applicant, and in setting the applicant’s compensation and benefits.  The new law creates Labor Code section 432.3.  This Friday’s Five covers five issues of the new law that employers must understand:

  1. The law applies to all employers, regardless of size, effective January 1, 2018.
  2. Employers may not rely on salary history information of an applicant in determining whether to offer employment and in determining the about of compensation to offer.
  3. Employers may not seek salary history information, which includes compensation and benefits, about the applicant.
  4. Upon a reasonable request, an employer must provide the “pay scale” for the position to an applicant.
  5. Nothing in the law prohibits employees from voluntarily disclosing salary history to a prospective employer.

Employers should start taking steps to comply with the new law by the beginning of the new year to ensure compliance.  Some steps to consider include:

  • Train hiring managers about new law and that they are not to seek information from applicants regarding prior salary and benefits history.
  • Remove any requests or questions about salaries at prior employment on applications or other documents provided to candidates.
  • Prepare a set “pay scale” for the positions the employer is hiring for. The law does not set forth what information must be included on the pay scale.  In addition, the law does not explicitly require that this information must be provided in writing to the applicant.  However, employers should consider whether the pay scale should be done in writing in case there is a dispute about whether the pay scale was provided to the applicant and what information was conveyed to the applicant.

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

1. Establish and communicate a time keeping policy

Employers should establish and regularly communicate a time keeping policy to employees.  The policy should set forth that employees always have an open door to complain to their supervisors and other managers or human resources about missed meal and rest breaks, unpaid wages, or unpaid overtime.  If employees routinely acknowledge that they understand the time keeping policy and are agreeing to record their time through the employer’s system, this can go a long way in defending any off-the-clock claims.

2. Rounding

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

(1) Do they have a rounding policy?

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

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

3. De minimis time

Employers need to review if they are compensating employee for all time worked.  The de minimis doctrine may permit employers a defense for claims by employees that they were not compensated for very small amounts of time that are difficult to track.  The de minimis doctrine holds that “alleged working time need not be paid if it is trivially small: ‘[A] few seconds or minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours … may be disregarded.’” Troester v. Starbucks Corporation (this decision is currently under appellate review).   More information about the de minimis doctrine can be read here.  While this defense may be available to California employers, employers should not rely upon the defense when it is known the employee is working time that is not compensated.

4. Record meal breaks

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

5. Time records

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

This Friday’s Five sets out five resources that are free for California employers that are published by the state of California.  Employers need to understand that while these publications are made available by the state of California, the agencies publishing the resources are only expressing their opinion about the current status of the law, but this is not necessarily binding on employers or the current state of the law.  While it is important to always seek legal counsel, these resources can help employers understand some of the issues that they may face, and they provide a good starting point into researching obligations.  Here are five free resources available for employers published by the state of California:

1. Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) information about meal periods

The DIR’s website provides a good overview of meal break obligations, including:

  • When the breaks must be provided
  • On-duty meal breaks and written agreement required for these
  • When meal breaks must be paid
  • Penalties for failure to provide meal breaks

2. DIR’s information about rest periods

The DIR’s website also provides an explanation of the common issues regarding rest breaks, including:

  • timing of rest breaks
  • How much time must be provided for rest breaks
  • The need for employers to provide suitable resting facilities available for employees during working hours in an area separate from the bathrooms

3. California Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s (DFEH) information about sexual harassment in the workplace

The DFEH’s website sets forth parameters of what constitutes sexual harassment under California law.  The website also explains the training requirements for California employers, which employees need to attend sexual harassment training, and how the training must be conducted to comply with California law.

4. Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual

The DLSE’s Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual is very detailed and can be a bit daunting for employers.  However, the manual addresses many potential issues regarding compensation under California law and the DLSE’s opinion on these issues.  It is a great starting point to begin research into more difficult wage and hour issues facing employers.

5. DIR’s information about independent contractor classification

This web page sets out the factors under California law that can be considered when determining if a worker has been properly classified as an independent contractor.  This resource is a great review for any employers who have independent contractors and audit the classification to ensure that the workers’ classification can withstand scrutiny.  Misclassification of workers as independent contractors when they should have been treated as an employee can open employers up to many forms of penalties, including back payroll taxes and tax penalties, unpaid minimum wages, unpaid overtime, missed meal and rest breaks, and unpaid final wages, among other damages.

California’s state legislature is nearing the end of its term, and employers are beginning to glimpse some of the laws that could apply in 2018.  There are multiple proposed bills that prohibits employers’ ability to rely upon or seek information about applicant’s previous wages to set the employee’s pay.  This Friday’s Five reviews the current law – California’s Fair Pay Act, the proposed bills on disclosure of wages, and San Francisco’s local ordinance that recently passed.

1. Current law – California’s Fair Pay Act (Labor Code section 1197.5)

Existing law generally prohibits an employer from paying an employee at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work for work performance that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility that are performed under similar working conditions.  Effective as of January 1, 2017, AB 1676 amended California’s Fair Pay Act, found in Labor Code section 1197.5, prohibiting employers from relying on an employee’s prior salary, by itself, to justify any disparity in compensation.  It is important to note the bill was modified to take out language that would have prohibited employers from obtaining an applicant’s prior salary.

2. Proposed State Bill – AB 1209 – Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act

This bill has been sent to the Governor’s desk during the week of September 11, 2017 to be signed into law or vetoed.  The bill, if signed by the Governor, would require employers with at least 500 employees to calculate the difference between the wages of male and female exempt employees in California by each job classification or title.  The employer would also have to do the same for all board members who are located in California.  The employer would need to report the difference in pay, which would be published on the Internet by the Secretary of State.  Governor Brown has until October 15, 2017 to sign or veto the bill.

3. Proposed State Bill – AB 168 – Salary Information

This bill prohibits employers from replying upon or seeking salary history from applicants.  In addition, employers would be required to provide the pay scale for a position to an applicant.

4. San Francisco local ordinance: Parity in Pay Ordinance

San Francisco passed a local law that prohibits employers from asking job applicants to disclose their salary history.  It also prohibits employers from considering an applicant’s pay history as a factor in determining the level of pay to offer.  The law is effective July 1, 2018, so San Francisco employers have some time to review hiring practices to comply.

5. Proposed State Bill – AB 46 – Wage Discrimination

This bill amends the California Fair Pay Act to make clear that the law applies to both public and private employers.

Two cases decided in the last two months have further clarified the scope of discovery and plaintiff’s ability to pursue damages in addition to individual damages under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA).  The holdings are a bit of a mixed bag for employers, but they offer some clarification into PAGA.  This Friday’s Five is a summary of five issues employers need to understand about PAGA and the new decisions setting out the rights plaintiffs have to pursue representative actions under the statute:

1. PAGA representative actions are different than class actions.

California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) was designed by the California Legislature to offer financial incentives for private individuals to enforce state labor laws. At the time PAGA became law, the state’s labor law enforcement agencies did not have enough resources or staffing necessary to keep up with the rapid growth of California’s workforce. Therefore, PAGA allows aggrieved employees to sue as a proxy or agent of California’s state labor law enforcement agencies in collecting civil penalties for Labor Code violations. The employee must give 75 percent of the collected penalties to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, and the remaining 25 percent is to be distributed among the employees affected by the violations.

First, because the plaintiff under PAGA is seeking penalties and not other forms of damages, a one year statute of limitations applies. This varies drastically from the four year statute of limitations that apply to most wage and hour class actions when a Business and Professions Code section 17200 cause of action is alleged.

Second, in Arias v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court held that a plaintiff does not have to certify a class under PAGA to recover damages on behalf of all the other employees in the representative action.  However, as set forth below, courts are still deciding the scope of PAGA representative actions in terms of discovery rights and manageability issues.

2. Arbitration agreements with class action waivers are enforceable, but representative actions brought under the Private Attorneys General Act are not subject to arbitration and cannot be waived.

Many courts have been upholding arbitration agreements that contain class action waivers, including the California Supreme Court in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC.  That case held that class action waivers are enforceable, following the standards set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.  However, in Iskanian, the California Supreme Court held that PAGA representative actions cannot be waived by employees and cannot be compelled to arbitration.  The Court held that, “we conclude that an arbitration agreement requiring an employee as a condition of employment to give up the right to bring representative PAGA actions in any forum is contrary to public policy.”

3. PAGA penalties are separate from individual damages.

In August 2017, a California appellate court held in Esparza v. KS Industries that PAGA representative actions can only seek “civil penalties” permitted by PAGA.  As set forth above, the civil penalties recovered by a PAGA claim 75 percent must be allocated to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and 25 percent to the aggrieved employees in the representative action.  The court found that PAGA civil penalties do not include unpaid wages sought by the individual plaintiff.

4. Employers defending PAGA claims must require plaintiffs to explicitly state whether they are pursuing individual damages (which must be arbitrated) or PAGA civil penalties (which cannot be arbitrated).

As the court noticed in Esparza, PAGA representative claims for civil penalties are not subject to arbitration, but claims for unpaid wages based on Labor code section 558 are not civil penalties and can be compelled to arbitration.

If the employee wants to pursue both, the employer should compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s individual claims and stay the PAGA case pending the resolution of the individual claims.

5. Employers facing PAGA cases must consider filing a motion to sequence discovery early in the case.

In Williams v. Superior Court, a case decided in July 2017, the plaintiff sought to obtain the contact information for fellow California employees who worked for defendant, Marshalls of CA, LLC.  Defendant refused to provide the contact information for the other employees, and plaintiff filed a motion to compel.  The trial court limited the ability of plaintiff to obtain contact information to the store where the plaintiff worked, but denied it as to every other California store, subject to change after plaintiff sat for his deposition and made a showing of some merit to the underlying action.

The California Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s ruling and required defendant to provide the contact information for all California employees:

Our prior decisions and those of the Courts of Appeal firmly establish that in non-PAGA class actions, the contact information of those a plaintiff purports to represent is routinely discoverable as an essential prerequisite to effectively seeking group relief, without any requirement that the plaintiff first show good cause.  Nothing in the characteristics of a PAGA suit, essentially a qui tam action filed on behalf of the state to assist it with labor law enforcement, affords a basis for restricting discovery more narrowly.

The Court was clear, however, that upon a defendant’s motion showing good cause, a trial court can ordered sequenced discovery.   The Court explained:

Marshalls reasons instead that the trial court’s imposition of a merits requirement can be justified under Code of Civil Procedure section 2019.020.  That provision sets out the general rule that the various tools of discovery may be used by each party in any order, and one party’s discovery “shall not operate to delay the discovery of any other party.”  (Id., subd. (a).)  However, if a party shows “good cause,” the trial court “may establish the sequence and timing of discovery for the convenience of parties and witnesses and in the interests of justice.”  (Id., subd. (b).)  But Marshalls did not file a section 2019.020 motion, and we thus have no occasion to decide what showing might suffice to warrant a court order sequencing discovery.