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.

Plaintiff Jacob Davis brought a putative class action against International Coffee and Tea, LLC (the company that operates Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf) alleging that the company’s tip pooling policy violated California’s Labor Code section 351.  The trial court sustained Coffee Bean’s demurrer to plaintiff’s second amended complaint without leave to amend.  Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision, and the California Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s ruling effectively dismissing the case.  While the appellate court’s decision is unpublished and uncitable as binding precedent, the opinion provides great reminders to California employers about tip pools under California law, and gives me more content for this Friday’s Five.

Some background facts of the case before I get to the five reminders.  Coffee Bean provided a “tip jar” for customers at the stores to leave tips.  At the close of business each day, a shift supervisor collected the tips in the jar and placed the tips in a deposit box in the store safe. The Company did not require the supervisors to count the amount of tip money collected each day, and it did not require them to count or segregate the tips collected during each of the three daily shifts. It was only at the end of each week that the supervisor would count the tips collected throughout the week and distributes the tips to tip-eligible employees. This resulted in the combining tip money from 21 different shifts. Each tip-eligible employee received a pro rata share of the tips based on the number of hours he or she worked that week.

The Plaintiff alleged that certain days and shifts collected more tips than others, and because the Company failed to count and distribute those tips on busy shifts or days, the practice amounted to taking tips from employees who worked those busy shifts or days and giving those tips to the employees who worked the less profitable shifts.

1. Tip pooling explained

The court in International Coffee and Tea explained that tip pooling is permitted under California law:

Tip pooling is the “practice by which tips left by patrons at restaurants and other establishments are shared among employees.” (Etheridge v. Reins Internat. California, Inc. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 908, 910.)  In the restaurant business, employer-mandated tip pooling is a long-standing practice, “which, through custom and usage, has become an industry policy or standard.” (Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, Ltd. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 1062, 1067 (Leighton ).) It permits employers “to ensure an equitable sharing of gratuities in order to promote peace and harmony among employees and provide good service to the public.” (Id. at p. 1071.)

2. Tip pooling is permitted under California law

The court explained that since the first published court opinion from 1990, tip pooling has been allowed under California law:

The first published decision to discuss tip pooling relative to section 351 was Leighton, which considered a policy requiring the restaurant server to share 15 percent of her tips with the busser and 5 percent with the bartender. (Leighton, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at pp. 1606–1067.) Leighton determined that, so long as the employer or its agents are not sharing in tips left for employees, section 351 does not proscribe tip pooling. (Leightonsupra, at p. 1071.)

3. “Shift Supervisors” who work along other employees may participate in tip pools under certain circumstances

The court provided a good summary of the facts and holding in Chau v. Starbucks, which held that shift supervisors may participate in tip pools under certain facts without violating Labor Code section 351:

And, in Chau, the court held shift supervisors at Starbucks could share in the tip pool with baristas, even if shift supervisors could be considered agents of the employer. (Chau,supra, 174 Cal.App.4th at pp. 691, 696.) Starbucks’s tip pooling was like the tip pooling in our case. Customers could place tips in a collective tip box near the cash register. (Id. at p. 692.) At the end of the day, an employee would securely store the tips, and once a week, each tip-eligible employee would receive a pro rata share of tips, based on the number of hours he or she worked that week. (Id. at pp. 692–693, 697.) The plaintiffs did not challenge the formula for dividing the tip pool, only the inclusion of shift supervisors as tip-eligible employees. (Id. at p. 697.) The shift supervisors performed basically the same work as baristas and the employees worked as a team. (Id. at pp. 698–699.) Section 351, therefore, did not prohibit supervisors from taking a share of the tips left in a collective box for all service employees. (Chausupra, at p. 699.)

4. Labor Code section 351 protects employers from taking or forcing employees to give tips that were left for the employee.

The court in International Coffee and Tea explained the intent behind section 351:

The Legislature intended “to ensure that employees, not employers, receive the full benefit of gratuities that patrons intend for the sole benefit of those employees who serve them.” (Leightonsupra, at p. 1068; accord, Chau v. Starbucks Corp. (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 688, 699 (Chau ) [“[S]ection 351 was enacted to prevent an employer from pressuring an employee to give the employer tips left for the employee.”].)

The court recognized that there is some flexibility on how tip pools distribute tips and rejected Plaintiff’s theory that the tips collected during all of the shifts during the course of a week which were then distributed based on how many hours the employee worked during the week violated Labor Code section 351.  The court state that Section 351 was established “to protect employees against the employer,” and “[n]othing in section 351 precludes the sharing of tips between employees.”  Plaintiff argued that Section 351 provides that tips “’are the sole property of the employee or employees’ for whom they are left,” and therefore the tips left for the particular employees during that shift cannot be combined with tips left for employees working during other shifts.  The court rejected this argument, citing Budrow v. Dave & Buster’s Of California, Inc.: “Given that restaurants differ, there must be flexibility in determining the employees to whom the tip was ‘paid,’ ‘given,’ or ‘left.’ A statute should be interpreted in a reasonable manner.”  The court held, “In short, we see nothing in section 351 that prohibits the tip-pooling arrangement here – that is, sharing tips on a pro rata, weekly basis as opposed to a shift-by-shift basis.”

5. Tip pools may include back of the house employees

The court explained that California courts have permitted tip pools to include back of the house employees:

Thus, the courts have concluded tips are “left” for all manner of service employees, whether the employees are front of the house, back of the house, directly serving a customer, or merely in the chain of service.

(Citing Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 1062, 1068–1071; Etheridge v. Reins Internat. California, Inc. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 908 at pp. 921–923; Budrow v. Dave & Buster’s Of California, Inc., (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th at pp. 878–879, 883–884.)

As recently written about in prior posts, on March 23, 2018, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 signed by President Trump changed federal law on this issue and allows employers to share tips with back of the house employees.

As a reminder, the decision, Davis v. International Coffee and Tea, LLC (2018 WL 1602255) was not officially published and is not binding precedent.  However, the court’s clear summary of the legal issues in that case still provide good reminders to California employers about issues to be mindful of when implementing tip pooling policies.  It is also important for employers to seek qualified legal counsel on the issue to ensure their particular policy complies with the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, that employment arbitration agreements that bar class actions are enforceable.  The vote was 5 to 4 in upholding the use of arbitration agreements in the workplace.

The plaintiff in the case argued that employees could not waive their rights in an agreement to be a part of a class action to pursue employment claims because this waiver violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) because these types of claims are “concerted activities” protected by § 7 of the NLRA.  This section guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively . . ., and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

The Court disagreed with plaintiff’s reading of § 7, and held: “The NLRA secures to employees rights to organize unions and bargain collectively, but it says nothing about how judges and arbitrators must try legal disputes that leave the workplace and enter the courtroom or arbitral forum. This Court has never read a right to class actions into the NLRA – and for three quarters of a century neither did the National Labor Relations Board.”

In 2011, the Supreme Court issued a decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, upholding the enforceability of class action waivers in the consumer context, such as with cell phone providers, cable providers or services provided by internet companies.  The plaintiff in Epic Systems argued that the employment context was different because of the rights guaranteed to employees under the NLRA.  While many employers were using arbitration agreements with class action waivers, the ruling in Epic Systems confirms the enforceability of these agreements between employees and employers.

This decision resolves a split in authority between the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ernst & Young v. Morris), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc.), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis).

See my prior post for additional background on the case and impact on California employers.

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.

 

The California Supreme Court issued a monumental ruling this week regarding the test used in determining whether a worker can be classified as an independent contractor.  In the case, Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, the plaintiff brought a class action complaint alleging five causes of action arising from Dynamex’s alleged misclassification of employees as independent contractors: two counts of unfair and unlawful business practices in violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200, and three counts of Labor Code violations based on Dynamex’s failure to pay overtime compensation, to properly provide itemized wage statements, and to compensate the drivers for business expenses. Here are five key issues California employers must understand about the ruling:

1. The determination of whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee is inherently difficult.

The determination of whether an employee is an independent contractor or employee has been a difficult issue that does not provide a bight line in many cases.  The California Supreme Court recognized this in Dynamex, stating:

As the United States Supreme Court observed in Board v. Hearst Publications (1944) 322 U.S. 111, 121:  “Few problems in the law have given greater variety of application and conflict in results than the cases arising in the borderland between what is clearly an employer-employee relationship and what is clearly one of independent, entrepreneurial dealing.  This is true within the limited field of determining vicarious liability in tort.  It becomes more so when the field is expanded to include all of the possible applications of the distinction.”

2. The ABC Test: Part A: Is the worker free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact?

In making the determination of whether a worker is properly considered the type of independent contractor for which the wage order does not apply, the California Supreme Court adopted the “ABC” test.  This test is used in other jurisdictions in a variety of contexts to distinguish employees from independent contractors.

To illustrate the first part of the ABC test, the Part A control test, the Court provided the following examples:  In Western Ports v. Employment Sec. Dept. the company “failed to establish that truck driver was free from its control within the meaning of part A of the ABC test, where the company required driver to keep truck clean, to obtain the company’s permission before transporting passengers, to go to the company’s dispatch center to obtain assignments not scheduled in advance, and could terminate driver’s services for tardiness, failure to contact the dispatch unit, or any violation of the company’s written policy.”  Alternatively, in Great N. Constr., Inc. v. Dept. of Labor a construction company “established that worker who specialized in historic reconstruction was sufficiently free of the company’s control to satisfy part A of the ABC test, where worker set his own schedule, worked without supervision, purchased all materials he used on his own business credit card, and had declined an offer of employment proffered by the company because he wanted control over his own activities.”

3. Part B: Does the worker perform work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business?

To illustrate the point, the Court provided the following analysis:

Workers whose roles are most clearly comparable to those of employees include individuals whose services are provided within the usual course of the business of the entity for which the work is performed and thus who would ordinarily be viewed by others as working in the hiring entity’s business and not as working, instead, in the worker’s own independent business.

The Court set forth a few examples: When a retail store hires an outside plumber to repair a leak in a bathroom on its premises or hires an outside electrician to install a new electrical line, the services of the plumber or electrician are not part of the store’s usual course of business and the store would not reasonably be seen as having suffered or permitted the plumber or electrician to provide services to it as an employee.

Alternatively, when a clothing manufacturing company hires work-at-home seamstresses to make dresses from cloth and patterns supplied by the company that will then be sold by the company, or when a bakery hires cake decorators to work on a regular basis on its custom-designed cakes, the workers are part of the hiring entity’s usual business operation it would be reasonable to view these workers as employees.

4. Part C: Is the worker customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity?

The Court held that the term “independent contractor,” “ordinarily has been understood to refer to an individual who independently has made the decision to go into business for himself or herself.”  (See, e.g., Borello, supra, 48 Cal.3d at p. 354 [describing independent contractor as a worker who “has independently chosen the burdens and benefits of self-employment”].)  Such an individual generally takes the usual steps to establish and promote his or her independent business….”  Evidence of this will be the workers’ own business incorporation, licensure, advertisements, offering to provide services to the general public or other potential customers.  Alternatively, a worker is not engaged in an independent established trade usually if the hiring company unilaterally designates the worker as an independent contractor.  In addition, “[t]he fact that a company has not prohibited or prevented a worker from engaging in such a business is not sufficient to establish that the worker has independently made the decision to go into business for himself or herself.”

The hiring entity’s failure to prove any one of these three parts of the ABC test will be result in a finding that the worker is an employee and not an independent contractor for purposes of the California wage orders.

5. Employers bear the burden of proof in establishing workers are independent contractors.

Employers had the burden prior to the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Dynamex, but the court reinforced that the employer bears the burden of proof when establishing a worker as an independent contractor.  Employers must be careful in making the determination that workers are independent contractors, as there are many wage and hour penalties for unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, and missed meal and rest breaks, in addition to the large civil penalties under Labor Code section 226.8, which is a fairly recent law which added penalties from $5,000 up to $25,000 for each violation.

As I wrote about recently, on March 23, 2018, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 signed by President Trump changed federal law on the issue of tip pools and allows employers to share tips with back of the house employees.  In connection with the new law, the Department of Labor issued a memorandum this week further explaining the law.  Of importance to California employers, the DOL’s memo sets forth that:

In the meantime, given these developments, employers who pay the full FLSA minimum wage are no longer prohibited from allowing employees who are not customarily and regularly tipped—such as cooks and dishwashers—to participate in tip pools. The Act prohibits managers and supervisors from participating in tip pools, however, as the Act equates such participation with the employer’s keeping the tips.

The full Field Assistance Bulletin NO. 2018-3 can be read here.

My prior article setting forth common issues for California employers in regards to tip pools can be read here.

In addition, I recently posted a video explaining some tip pooling issues facing California employers:

In a huge development in the last couple of weeks, a change in federal law now permits California employers to include back of the house employees in tip pools.  This week’s post is an update and a general discussion about issues facing restaurants, hotels, and other industries where tipping and gratuities are left for employees.  This simple concept is surprisingly complex for employers.  Here are five issues employers should understand about tips in California.

1) Who owns a tip?

California law is clear that voluntary tips left for an employee for goods sold or services performed belong to the employee, not the employer. Labor Code section 351 provides, “No Employer or agent shall collect, take or receive any gratuity or a part thereof that is paid, given to, or left for an employee by a patron…. Every gratuity is hereby declared to be the sole property of the employee or employees to whom it was paid, given, or left for.”

2) Is employer mandated tip pooling legal?

Yes. In the seminal 1990 case on tip-pooling, Leighton v. Old Heidelberg, Ltd., the court held that an employer’s practice of tip pooling among employees was not prohibited by section 351 because the employer did not “collect, take, or receive” any part of a gratuity left by a patron, and did not credit tips or deduct tip income from employee wages. The court relied upon the “industry practice” that 15% of the gratuity is tipped out to the busboy and 5% to the bartender, which was “a house rule and is with nearly all Restaurants.” However, owners, managers, or supervisors of the business cannot share in the tip pool.  Employers need to be careful to exclude any employees who direct the work of other employees from tip pools, as lead shift supervisors, floor managers, and others who do not have the authority to hire or fire may still be considered a supervisor for tip pooling purposes.

There must be a reasonable relationship between tip pooling arrangements.  The following examples of mandatory tip pooling percentages have been approved by a court, the DLSE or DOL:

  • A policy in which 80 percent of tips were allocated to waiters, 15 percent to busboys and five percent to bartenders
  • A policy in which cocktail service must give one percent of tips to bartender
  • The Department of Labor responsible for enforcing Federal law has stated that a policy that requires servers to share 15 percent of their tips with other employees is presumptively reasonable
  • A policy in which a server contributes 15 percent to a tip pool, and other employees in the chain of service receive a portion of these tips based on the amount of hours they worked

The following examples were tip pooling policies disapproved by courts or the DLSE and therefore employers cannot legally establish them:

  • A policy providing 90 percent of tips to hostesses who spend only a small amount of time seating customers
  • A policy requiring food server to share 10 percent of tips with floor managers

3) When do tip tips left on credit cards have to be paid, and can a deduction made for processing the credit card transaction?

If a patron leaves a tip on their credit card, the employer may not deduct any credit card processing fees from the tip left for the employee. Moreover, tips left using a credit card must be paid to employees no later than the next regular payday following the date the credit card payment was authorized. See Labor Code § 351.

4) Can California employers have back of the house employees share in a tip pool?

On March 23, 2018, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 signed by President Trump changed federal law on this issue and allows employers to share tips with back of the house employees.  Therefore, as of March 24, 2018, California employers may include back of the house employees in any tip pooling arrangements.  Prior to President Trump’s approval on the new law, this was not the case, as a Court in Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association v. Perez, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers California, held in February 2016 that the Department of Labor’s regulations about who can participate in tip pools applies to states like California which do not permit tip credits.  The DOL had issued regulations that under the FLSA a tip pool is only valid if it includes employees who “customarily and regularly” receive tips, such as waiters, waitresses, bellhops, counter personnel who service customers, bussers and service bartenders.  According to the DOL past rule, a valid tip pool “may not include employees who do not customarily and regularly receive[] tips, such as dishwashers, cooks, chefs, and janitors.”  The Plaintiffs in Oregon Restaurant filed a petition for review to the United State Supreme Court.  Given the new law that took effect, the Supreme Court’s review of the case is not necessary.

While some states provide the employer with a “tip credit”, California law does not allow this. However, with the recent passage of the increase in California’s minimum wage, there is more discussion of examining whether a tip credit should be considered in California. However, current law does not allow employers to “credit” an employee’s tips towards the minimum wage requirement for each hour worked.

A service charge added to a customer’s bill is not a tip or gratuity and remains the property of the employer.  Therefore, the employer may distribute the service charge to its employees, including back of the house employees as it wishes.  However, if a service charge is distributed to employees, it is considered wages and effects the employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime purposes as discussed below.

5) Do tips change an employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime calculations?

No. Because tips are voluntarily left by customers to employees, tips do not increase an employee’s regular rate of pay used to calculate overtime rates.

However, if an employer implements mandatory service charges and shares these service charges with employees, the service charges must be considered wages for overtime and tax purposes.  Therefore, the employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime purposes will be higher when mandatory service charges are distributed to the employees.  To calculate an employee’s regular rate of pay, the employer must divide all compensation for the week by the total number of hours worked by the employee.

**Additional issue: Pay attention to other requirements under local ordinances regulating service charges.

For example, Santa Monica’s minimum wage ordinance requires employers to “distribute all Service Charges in their entirety to the Employee(s) who performed services for the customers from whom the Service Charges are collected.”  Santa Monica Municipal Code § 4.62.040.  “Service Charge” is defined as “any separately-designated amount charged and collected by an Employer from customers, that is for service by Employees, or is described in such a way that customers might reasonably believe that the amount is for those services or is otherwise to be paid or payable directly to Employees…under the term ‘service charge,’ ‘table charge,’ porterage charge,’ ‘automatic gratuity charge,’ ‘healthcare surcharge,’ ‘benefits surcharge,’ or similar language.”  Santa Monica Municipal Code § 4.62.010(g).

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.

Employers need to understand their rights and obligations when they receive notice of a complaint through the Labor Commissioner.  The process can seem daunting, but with a little preparation it can be managed effectively.  This  Friday’s Five post sets out a brief explanation of the five steps that most Labor Commissioner proceedings follow:

Step one: Notice of claim

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.  Here is typical notice of claim that is sent to employers in most cases:

https://www.scribd.com/document/372844865/Sample-Notice-of-Claim-and-Conference-California-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.

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.

Step two: Preparing for the settlement conference

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.

Step three: Settlement conference

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.

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.

Step four: 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.

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.

For some additional tips about preparing for and attending a Labor Commissioner hearing, see my prior post here.

Step five: Potential appeal

Both the employee and the employer have the right to appeal the Labor Commissioner’s order within 10 days after it is served.  The order must be a written order, and will normally be served on the employer through the mail.  If the employer appeals the order, the appeal moves the case to the appropriate superior court.  The appeal is a de novo appeal, meaning that the case starts from the beginning in superior court and the Labor Commissioner’s order is given no weight.  Employers wishing to appeal the Labor Commissioner’s order must also post a bond in the full amount that was awarded in the order.  Given the short 10-day deadline to file an appeal, employer wishing to appeal Labor Commissioner orders must seek counsel immediately once they receive the order from the Labor Commissioner.

Employee terminations and resignations must be planned for in advance to avoid common pitfalls for California employers.  I’ve recently written about go-to hiring practices for employers, so I thought it would be appropriate to follow that post up with this list of go-to termination practices.  This Friday’s Five focuses on critical management and legal considerations for employers during the separation process:

1. Documentation of the reason for termination

What is the reason for termination? Is there a company policy that was violated? [Note: Is the company policy in writing?  Has it been distributed to the employee?  Is there a signed acknowledgement of the policy in the employee’s file?]  Who was involved in termination decision? Review documentation for termination if “for cause” and ensure this documentation is maintained in personnel file.

2. Final pay and accounting

Employers need to prepare the employee’s final paycheck and ensure that any unused accrued vacation time is also included.

Final wages must be paid within certain time limits, including the following:

  1. An employee who is discharged must be paid all of his or her wages, including accrued vacation, immediately at the time of termination.
  2. An employee who gives at least 72 hours prior notice of quitting, and quits on the day given in the notice, must be paid all earned wages, including accrued vacation, at the time of quitting.
  3. An employee who quits without giving 72 hours prior notice must be paid all wages, including accrued vacation, within 72 hours of quitting.
  4. An employee who quits without giving 72-hours’ notice can request their final wage payment be mailed to them. The date of mailing is considered the date of payment for purposes of the requirement to provide payment within 72 hours of the notice of quitting.
  5. Final wage payments for employees who are terminated (or laid off) must be made at the place of termination. For employees who quit without giving 72 hours’ notice and do not request their final wages be mailed to them, is at the office of the employer within the county in which the work was performed.

Employers should also review if commissions, bonuses, or expense reimbursement owed to employee?  Obtain all expense reimbursement forms form employee.

Employers with multiple locations need to ensure that the final wages are made available.  The place of the final wage payment for employees who are terminated (or laid off) is the place of termination. The place of final wage payment for employees who quit without giving 72 hours prior notice and who do not request that their final wages be mailed to them at a designated address, is at the office of the employer within the county in which the work was performed. Labor Code Section 208.

 3. Company property and passwords

Obtain all company property from employee and reset passwords.  Also, has employee returned all company provided uniforms?  Have all company keys been returned?  The company should also develop a list of all passwords employee had access to and ensure the passwords are reset.

4. Final notices

Employers need to ensure that all required notices are provided to the employee.  For example, common notices include:

  • Notice to Employee as to Change in Relationship (download here)
  • For your Benefit (Form 2320) (download here)
  • COBRA and Cal-COBRA Notices from insurance provider
  • Notify insurance provider
  • Health Insurance Premium (HIPP) Notice (download here)

5. Retention of employee files

Employers need to take measures to secure and save employee’s file, wage, and time records.  For more information, see my prior post, Five best document storage and retention practices for California employers.