Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  I hope everyone is spending some quality time with family members.  In part to give me a bit of a break from creating entirely new content, this holiday edition of Friday’s Five is five recent videos from my YouTube channel:

1. Holiday leave policies:

2. Understanding the mediation process:

3. Meal and rest break update for 2018:

4. 5 key concepts California managers need to understand:

5. Strategies for defending a labor commissioner claim:

Wishing you and your family the best during the holidays!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great weekend.

coffee breakCalifornia Labor Code section 226.7 provides that employees are entitled to receive premium wages in the form of one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for a missed meal or rest break.

An employee who works more than three and one-half hours per day must be permitted to take a paid 10-minute rest period — during which the employee shall not be required “to work” — per every four hours of work or major fraction thereof.  An employee who works at least five hours must also be given a 30-minute unpaid meal break, during which the employee must be “relieved of all duty” if the meal period is not to be counted as time worked.

As the California Supreme Court recognized in Augustus v. ABM Security Services (2016), employers how cannot provide the required meal or rest breaks to employees have various options to comply with the law.  The Court stated:

Several options nonetheless remain available to employers who find it especially burdensome to relieve their employees of all duties during rest periods — including the duty to remain on call. Employers may (a) provide employees with another rest period to replace one that was interrupted, or (b) pay the premium pay set forth in Wage Order 4, subdivision 12(B) and section 226.7. (See Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1039.)

As recognized by the Supreme Court, employers may consider voluntarily paying premium wages when it is questionable if an employee did not receive a compliant break or if they in fact missed the break.  Here are five issues employers should understand about the option of paying premium pay voluntarily1.

1. Employers potentially only owe two premium pay hours for each day worked.

The court in United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Superior Court (2011) concluded that the employer is liable up to two hours of premium wages – one hour for a missed meal break and one hour for a missed rest break – per day.  Even if the employee missed two rest breaks and one meal break in one day of work, the employee would only be entitled to one hour of premium pay for the missed rest breaks, and one hour of pay for the missed meal break, for a total of two hours of premium pay for that day.

2. Voluntarily making premium payments establishes that employer has effective open door policy.

By paying premium pay to employees who are not able to take breaks or complain that they have not been able to take breaks establishes that the company has an effective complaint procedure employees should utilize when any problems arise.  This presents an effective argument against any claims by employees after-the-fact that they were unable to take their breaks, and assert claims against the employer well after their employment ended.

3. Voluntary payment reduces potential liability.

The premium pay mentioned above is the penalty that is provided to the employee if they miss any of their required breaks.  Therefore, if the employer voluntarily pays the premium when the employee did not receive proper breaks, this will reduce the total potential liability owed to employees if sued.

4. Establishes that employer understands its legal obligations.

In making premium payments to employees who are arguably not able to take meal and or a rest break, establishes to any governmental agency or a plaintiff’s counsel that the company understands it obligations under the law and treats the obligations seriously.

5. If paid, it should be listed separately on employees’ paystubs to record payments.

It goes without saying that if the employer is taking this affirmative step, it needs to record the payments in a manner that makes it clear to the employee that the premium pay is being paid when breaks are missed.  In addition, the employer needs to have a record to establish all premium paid that could possibly be asserted by an employee has been paid out.

Happy New Year!  This Friday’s Five consists of five new video’s taken from a recent presentation I conducted on new employment laws facing California employers in 2016.  Wishing everyone the best in 2016.

2016 Update: California’s new equal pay protections:

2016 Update: Meal and rest break considerations:

2016 Update: Minimum wage increases state and locally:

2016 Update: Employers may cure some PAGA violations on pay stubs

2016 Update: California’s new requirements for piece rate pay employees:

If you find these updates useful, please email me (anthony [dot] zaller [at] yahoo.com) if you are interested in attending any of my future presentations or webinars on California employment law.

You’ve set up a successful company and begin hiring employees. To be a successful operator in California, a company’s management needs to be familiar with the critical legal concepts in order to successfully navigate California’s complex employment laws. You never wanted to go to law school, but time to hit the, ahem, books (or the Internet).  Here are a five fundamental legal concepts that every employer should understand:

1. At-will employment. Under California law, it is presumed that all employment is terminable at-will. California Labor Code section 2922 provides: “An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other.” The at-will doctrine means that the employment relationship can be terminated by either party at any time, with or without cause, and with or without advanced notice. There are some major exceptions to this rule, see item #3 below for example, but generally California law recognizes that employers and employees may, at any time, and for any legal reason, terminate the employment relationship.

2. Meal and rest break obligations. Employers cannot employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of at least thirty minutes. This break may be waived if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, with the mutual consent of both the employer and employee. A second meal period of at least thirty minutes is required if an employee works more than ten hours per day, except that if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours. The second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and employee only if the first meal period was not waived. Rest periods are based on the total hours worked daily and a full ten minute consecutive break must authorized and permitted for each four hour work period, or major fraction thereof. I’vewritten about these obligations before, and the DLSE’s website provides many details regardingmeal periods and rest breaks.

3. Protected categories. Under the at-will doctrine employers may decide to terminate an employee based on any reason, just as long as it is not an illegal reason. An illegal reason would be one based upon an employee’s protective category, such as their race, gender, national origin, disability, age, or sexual orientation for example. California law even protects employees who are perceived to be in a protected category, associated with someone who is in a protective category, or even a sympathizer of someone in a protected category. In addition, the DLSE provides that the following activities are also protected:

The engaging in or exercising of a right that is protected by law. Some examples of “protected activity” under the Labor Code include: 1. Filing or threatening to file a claim or complaint with the Labor Commissioner. 2. Taking time off from work to serve on a jury or appear as a witness in court. 3. Disclosing or discussing your wages. 4. Using or attempting to use sick leave to attend to the illness of a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or child of the domestic partner of the employee. 5. Engaging in political activity of your choice. 6. For complaining about safety or health conditions or practices.

4. The difference between exempt and non-exempt. Employers need to understand which positions are legally entitled to overtime and other protections of the Labor Code, and the position that are “exempt” from these requirements. Here is a list of common exemptions under California law. It is important to note that employers and employees cannot simply make the determination and agree to be exempt on their own (the right to overtime cannot be waived, see non-waivable rights below). The employer has the burden of establishing that the employee meets all of the required elements of a particular exemption in order for the employee to be legally classified as exempt. 5. Understanding that certain Labor Code provisions cannot be waived by employees. Employees cannot waive their rights to certain protections offered by the California Labor Code. For example, employees cannot waive their rights to minimum wage, overtime, expense reimbursements for out of pocket expenses incurred for business purposes, right to participate in PAGA representative actions, and the right to receive non-disputed wages. You can read more about these rights here. So before a decision is made because the employee willingly agrees to the terms, or may even ask for certain employment terms, employers need to be sure that the employee can actually agree to those terms under the law. Photo courtesy of Janet Lindenmuth

Happy New Year.  I started the Friday’s Five articles at the beginning of last summer, and the interest in the articles has been astounding, so I appreciate everyone who has read them and provided comments and feedback. If you have any topics you would like me to address, please let me know. With that said, here is a list of five resolutions for California employers in 2015:

1. Relax–make sure your employees are taking their meal and rest breaks.

2. Train – your supervisors to comply with California’s required sexual harassment prevention training for employers with 50 or more employees.

As of 2015 this training now must also discuss bullying in the workplace to be legally compliant.

3. Read – and update employment handbook policies on a yearly basis.

2015 has a few new laws that should be addressed the employee handbook and new hire packets.

4. Run. Sorry, no play on words with this one, you just need to get outside and run a bit.

5. Organize – and keep employment files, time records and wage information for at least the length of any applicable statute of limitations.

Employers should review their systems to ensure there is a process in place on how to organize and maintain employment information for the required time periods, it is required under the law and can help defend the company should litigation ensue.

Ok – one more bonus resolution:
Learn – more by attending my webinars on California employment laws to stay up to date.

In February, I will be presenting on what documents should be in new hire packets to employees. Date is still to be determined, but drop me an email if you are interested and I will forward you information as we set the date.

Let me start with the lawyer’s disclaimer up-front: this Friday’s Five list has no scientific or statistical backing whatsoever, I generated it based on the cases I’ve been litigating in 2014. My experience may be (and probably is) skewed a bit, but nevertheless California employers should pay attention to the following areas of potential litigation.

1. Meal and rest break litigation.

Meal and rest break class action litigation is still very prevalent in California. While employers are becoming more sophisticated in ensuring compliance with their obligations, the litigation has turned to more nuanced issues, such as the employer’s failure to record meal breaks or provide a full 30 minutes for the meal break. Meal and rest break policies and procedures should always been under review by employers to ensure compliance.

2. Rounding policies.

There have been a number of cases I’ve litigated this year involving time rounding policies. It is important for employers to simply no use the default settings provided by their time keeping software, but instead ensure that the rounding complies with California law.
The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) provides the following guidance for California employers in regard to time rounding:

…the federal regulations allow rounding of hours to five minute segments. There has been practice in industry for many years to follow this practice, recording the employees’ starting time and stopping time to the nearest 5 minute s, or to the nearest one-tenth or quarter of an hour. Presumably, this arrangement averages out so that the employees are fully compensated for all the time they actually work. For enforcement purposes this practice of computing working time will be accepted by DLSE, provided that it is used in such a manner that it will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked. (See also, 29 CFR § 785.4 8(b))

3. Private Attorneys General Act claims.

In 2014, the California Supreme Court held that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable. Click here to read more about the holding, Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC. This holding provided a tool for employers to reduce their class action liability by entering into arbitration agreements with their employees. However, Plaintiffs continually challenge class action waivers on numerous grounds, and it is critical employers’ arbitration agreements are properly drafted and up-to-date. In addition, while courts will uphold class action waivers, the California Supreme Court held that employee may still bring representative actions under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). PAGA claims are limited to specific penalties under the law, and have a much shorter one year statute of limitations compared to potentially a four year statute of limitations for most class actions. Given that the California Supreme Court found that the arbitration agreements could not have employees waive their rights to bring “representative actions” under PAGA, the PAGA claims are more prevalent and being litigated harder by both plaintiffs and defendants.

Click here to read more about PAGA and what do to in response to receiving a Private Attorney Generals Act notice.

4. Required information on pay stubs/itemized wage statements.

Employers are cautioned to rely on their payroll companies for compliant itemized wage statements, as these companies often times do not understand the legal requirements. Ensuring the required information is properly listed on the itemized wage statements is an item that employers should review at least twice a year for compliance.

Labor Code Section 226(a) requires the following information to be listed on employees’ pay stubs:

1. Gross wages earned
2. Total hours worked (not required for salaried exempt employees)
3. The number of piece-rate units earned and any applicable piece rate if the employee is paid on a piece rate basis
4. All deductions (all deductions made on written orders of the employee may be aggregated and shown as one item)
5. Net wages earned
6. The inclusive dates of the period for which the employee is paid
7. The name of the employee and the last four digits of his or her social security number or an employee identification number other than a social security number
8. The name and address of the legal entity that is the employer
9. All applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period, and the corresponding number of hours worked at each hourly rate by the employee

Here is an example of an itemized wage statement published by the DLSE:

Also, do not forget that with California’s paid sick leave law taking effect July 1, 2015, employers will have additional reporting information regarding employees’ accrued paid sick leave and usage. Employers must show how many days of sick leave an employee has available on the employee’s pay stub or a document issued the same day as a paycheck.

5. Off the clock claims.

Litigation alleging that employees were not paid for all time worked was continuing strong in 2014. This claim arises in various scenarios. The basic claim is that the employee clock out from work and was required to or voluntarily continued to work. This type of claim is usually very difficult to have certified as a class action because the employer’s liability for not paying for off the clock work is whether the employer knew or should have known that the work was being performed and that the employee was not compensated for the work. Anther common scenario given rise to an off the clock claim is when employees have to do some task before or after clocking or out for their work. While the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that security screenings of employees at the end of their shifts to ensure they were not stealing product was not compensable time, employers need to review their practices to avoid these types of situations in their workplace.

An appellate court upheld a trial court’s denial of class certification in a case brought against Walgreens. The appellate court’s decision provides a few good lessons for employers defending class action allegations.

1. Meal break cases are harder to certify as class actions after the Brinker decision.
The California Supreme Court held in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court that employers had to make meal breaks available to employees, and had no obligation to ensure that employees took the meal break. The court in Walgreens acknowledged this, and explained by the make available standard set forth in Brinker makes it hard to certify meal break claims as a class action:

One important difference between the make available standard and the ensure standard has to do with ease of proof. The ensure standard can make it easier for plaintiffs to prove employer meal break violations, while the make available standard can make it harder. Here is why. Employers generally require employees to record hours worked by clocking in and clocking out, a process that typically generates centralized and computerized time records. It is simple to use computer records to determine if each employee checked out on time for a full 30-minute meal break. Meal break classes thus are relatively easy to certify under the ensure test: each missed break automatically equals an employer violation. Meal break classes are harder to certify under a make available test because the fact of a missed break does not dictate the conclusion of a violation (and thus employer liability). Rather, under the make available standard you additionally must ask why the worker missed the break before you can determine whether the employer is liable. If the worker was free to take the break and simply chose to skip or delay it, there is no violation and no employer liability. This make available test thus can make analysis of break violations more complex than under the ensure standard.

2. There is not a presumption against the employer if the employer’s records show no meal period was taken.
Plaintiff argued that because Walgreens’s records did not show that meal breaks were being taken, or taken on a timely basis, that there was a rebuttable presumption created against Walgreens that the breaks had not been taken. Plaintiff argued that Justice Werdegar’s concurring opinion in Brinker supported this analysis. However, in this case, the court did not find this was binding analysis, as a majority of the justices did not agree with this rebuttable presumption and because “concurring opinions are not binding precedent.”

3. After Brinker, an expert witness’ job becomes much more difficult.
The plaintiff utilized an expert witness in the case to attempt to prove that the case was suitable for class certification. However, Plaintiff’s expert witness “incorrectly assumed there was a Labor Code violation every time a worker did not take a timely break. [The expert] thus incorrectly assumed Walgreens must ensure employees took their breaks. This assumption is legally unsound under Brinker’s holding….”

4. It is a good idea to test the truthfulness of the declarations submitted by Plaintiff’s counsel of current or former employees.
In this case, it does not appear that the employees made up facts about their breaks, but instead the plaintiff’s counsel took some liberties with the facts. Usually, plaintiff’s counsel will submit written declarations from current and former employees to support their theories for class certification.  In this case, it appears that the declarations were all very similar, and when the employees who signed the declarations were deposed by the defendant, the employees recanted their declarations and stated that the declaration drafted by plaintiff’s counsel included statements that they never made during the interview by plaintiff’s counsel.  The appellate court noted:

The trial judge repeatedly said these declarations “appalled” him, and he told [plaintiff’s] counsel, “You know better.”
The trial court was “especially troubled” that, once deposed, so many witnesses recanted their declarations.
Form declarations present a problem. When witnesses speak exactly the same words, one wonders who put those words there, and how accurate and reliable those words are.
There is nothing attractive about submitting form declarations contrary to the witnesses’ actual testimony. This practice corrupts the pursuit of truth.
It was not error for the trial court to give these unreliable declarations no weight.

Defendants should take the opportunity to depose the individuals who submitted declarations drafted by plaintiff’s counsel.  You never know what may turn up. 

5. Emails and other documentation reminding managers to provide meal breaks will help the company’s defense against class certification.

In the Walgreens case, plaintiff counsel argued that the following email (and apparently similar emails) by Walgreens to its managers established meal break violations:

Just an FYI . . . if anyone is on this list, they did not receive a lunch. Please, you must talk to the assistant managers and find out why. . . . please make a big deal about this . . . remind employees that it is their job to ask for a break or lunch if they did not receive it, but also remind the Managers on duty that they must have a break schedule created for every shift . . . there is no negotiation about this . . . there is no excuse not to give a break or lunch . . . look at your schedule and make sure you have the right people at the right time. Two of the people received a lunch, but it was after the 5 hour mark and both did not take a 30 minute lunch. Please. . . Please address in every store. . . . This is one day in the district . . . but this is occur[r]ing in every store! Thank you for your complete follow through on this. If you have any questions, please let me know. I will be sending out some guidelines to help you succeed on making sure everyone gets a 30 minute break within 5 hours of their shift. Thank you.

Contrary to plaintiff’s argument however, the court found that this email instead showed Walgreens’s efforts to provide its employees with meal breaks. The emails showed the company pressuring store managers to ensure that employees took meal breaks. Takeaway for employers: document the emphasis on the company’s actions to make meal breaks available for employees and routinely remind managers of the obligations to make breaks available.

The decision, In re Walgreen Co. Overtime Cases and be read here

As many California employers know, ignoring or failing to comply with the requirements of providing meal and rest breaks in California can create huge liability for companies. California law does allow for “on-duty” meal periods, whereby the employee takes a meal break, but while still working. Employers sometimes view this exception as an easy alternative to having employees clock out and leave the company’s premises for meal breaks. However, the on-duty meal break exception has been interpreted to apply only in a very limited set of circumstances, and needs to be carefully examined before implementing in a workplace.

Pursuant to Labor Code section 226.7 and the Wage Orders (for example Wage Order 4-2001, section 11(b)), each failure to provide the specified meal period entitles the employee to receive an additional compensation premium equal to one hour of pay.

The Wage Order provides for an “on duty” meal period that is an exception to the required meal break if the following requirements are met:

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

Wage Order No. 4-2001(a)(emphasis added). Unfortunately, the definition of the “nature of the work” is not clear, and the only real guidance California employers have on this issue is a Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) opinion letter. Click here to download the opinion letter.

In the opinion letter, the DLSE addressed the issue of whether a shift manager in a fast food restaurant working the night shift would be allowed to take a “on duty” meal period. The DLSE began its analysis in stating that the off duty meal period is the default requirement, and any exceptions to this requirement should be narrowly construed.

The DLSE set forth factors it considered in determining whether the nature of the work prevents the employee from taking an off-duty meal period. The factors included:

  • the type of work
  • the availability of other employees to relieve the employee during a meal period
  • the potential consequences to the employer if the employee is relieved of all duty
  • the ability of the employer to anticipate and minimize these staffing issues such as by scheduling employees in a manner that would allow the employee to take an off-duty meal break and
  • whether the “work product or process” would be destroyed or damaged if the employee were given an off-duty meal period.

The DLSE concluded that based on the facts presented in the situation of the fast food restaurant, the nature of the work in the restaurant should not prevent the shift manager from being relieved of all duties for 30 minutes, and therefore the on-duty meal period would not be valid in this context.
In the class action setting, the issue of on-duty meal breaks has resulted in varying opinions. For example, the Ninth Circuit appellate court in Abdullah v. U.S. Security Associates, Inc. upheld the lower court’s granting of class certification on whether a security guard company’s use of on-duty meal period agreements was valid. Alternatively, a California appellate court, in Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates, Inc., upheld the denial of class certification for a case also involving on-duty meal period agreements for security guards. Implementing an on-duty meal period agreement in California needs to be approached with caution, and should only be done with assistance from knowledgeable counsel.

In Muldrow v. Surrex Solutions Corp., the California Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s determination that the plaintiffs could not maintain a class action for proposed meal period class given the holding by the California Supreme Court in Brinker v. Superior Court (click here for additional information on the Brinker ruling). The appellate court had previously upheld the trial court’s denial of class certification, but the California Supreme Court granted review of the case pending its decision in Brinker. Once Brinker was decided, the Supreme Court transferred the case back to the appellate court for a decision applying the new analysis set forth in Brinker.

In Muldrow, the appellate court found that the trial court properly denied class certification for the meal break class.  It stated, “In Brinker, the Supreme Court held that an employer need only provide for meal periods, and need not ensure that employees take such breaks.”

In support of its conclusion that the trial court properly denied class certification as to the meal break claims, the court quoted the following language from the Brinker decision:

An employer’s duty with respect to meal breaks…is an obligation to provide a meal period to its employees. The employer satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.

Plaintiffs argued that they should now be able to present evidence that the employees were “discouraged” from taking meal breaks given the Brinker decision. The appellate court rejected this request as this was the first time plaintiffs raised the issue, and there were a number of cases that plaintiffs could have relied upon for this theory prior to the Brinker decision.