Employers should remember to take time to review their employee documentation, retention policies, and how this information is being saved on a periodic basis.  Beginning 2019 it is a great time to review these items to ensure compliance with the law and to make the best defense against litigation.  The first article in this series of posts covered hiring practices audit for 2019, this post deals with records.  The next post will cover topics for a wage and hour audit.  Five record retention issues employers should audit at the beginning of 2019:

1. Are employee time records maintained for at least four years?

The statute of limitations can reach back four years in wage and hour class actions under California law, and time records will be the primary issues in most cases.  California law requires employers to track start and stop times for hourly, non-exempt employees. The law also requires employer to track the start and stop times for the employee’s thirty-minute meal periods. The time system needs to be accurate.  Employer needs to be involved in the installation and setup of the system and not simply use the default settings for the hardware and software. Understand what the system is tracking and how it is recording the data.  Employers should also have a complaint procedure in place and regularly communicate the policy to employees in order to establish an effective way to remedy any issues.

2. Are pay stubs and schedules backed-up and saved by the employer? 

Under Labor Code section 226, employers are required to provide employees with pay stubs “semimonthly or at the time of each payment of wages.”   Section 226 requires that employers keep a copy of the pay stubs for “at least three years.”  Section 226(a).  As mentioned above, because the statute of limitations for labor code violations can extend back four years, many employers retain these records for a four-year period.

In addition, employers should also review where and how the pay stubs are being saved.  Electronic copies of the pay stubs are permitted under section 226 as long as the electronic backup accurately shows all of the information required to be on the pay stubs.

Employers should not rely upon their payroll company to retain copies of these documents.  First, the obligation falls on the employer do retain these, and many payroll companies do not necessarily save this information.  Second, if the company changes payroll companies, it may be difficult to access the payroll information from the former payroll company.

Often overlooked, but critical in defending wage and hour lawsuits are employee schedules.  Given the four-year statute of limitations for wage claims, many employers are also maintaining copies of employee schedules for four years.

3. Are employee files maintained confidentially and for at least four years?

California law does not define the terms “personnel records” or “personnel file,” and this creates considerable ambiguity about what documents should be keep in an employee’s personnel file.
While not legally binding on employers, there is some guidance from the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement(“DLSE”) expressing the following view:

Categories of records that are generally considered to be “personnel records” are those that are used or have been used to determine an employee’s qualifications for promotion, additional compensation, or disciplinary action, including termination. The following are some examples of “personnel records” (this list is not all inclusive):
1. Application for employment
2. Payroll authorization form
3. Notices of commendation, warning, discipline, and/or termination
4. Notices of layoff, leave of absence, and vacation
5. Notices of wage attachment or garnishment
6. Education and training notices and records
7. Performance appraisals/reviews
8. Attendance records

Employers should also consider placing the following documents in personnel files:

  • Signed arbitration agreements
  • Sexual harassment compliance records for supervisors
  • Sign acknowledgements of policy by employee (for example, confidentiality/proprietary information agreements, meal and rest break acknowledgments, handbook acknowledgments)
  • Wage Theft Protection Act notice for non-exempt employees
  • If commissioned employee, written commission agreement signed by both the employer and employee beginning January 1, 2013.
  • Warnings and disciplinary action documents.
  • Performance reviews
  • Documents of any grievance concerning the employee
  • Documents pertaining to when the employee was hired
  • Records pertaining to last day of work and documenting reason for departure from employment

4. Are Forms I-9 being maintained long enough and in a manner easily retrievable?

Employers must keep I-9 forms for three years from the employee’s date of hire, or one year after termination, whichever is longer. Employers have at least three business days to produce Forms I-9 during an inspection.  More information about the Form I-9 can be read here.

5. Are managers and supervisors trained about the company’s forms/documents available to them, what must be documented, and who is responsible for saving the documents?

Even if the employer has valid policies about document retention, it is irrelevant if the managers and supervisors are not also trained about the policies:

    • Do supervisors understand which forms are available to them to document discipline, employee absences, and other routine issues?
    • Who is involved in reviewing disability accommodation requests and how are these documented?
    • Do the managers have standard forms for the following:
      • Employee discipline and write-ups.
      • Documenting employee tardiness.
    • How are employee absences documented?
    • How is the employee documentation provided to Human Resources or the appropriate manager?
    • Who is responsible for saving the document in the paper file or electronically?

California employment law is a mind field that carries huge exposure for employers not proactively monitoring legal developments and potential legal issues.  There are some statements employers in California should never make, and this Friday’s Five reviews misaligned statements that can create significant liability for an employer.

1. My company has employment practices liability insurance, so there cannot be much exposure from employment lawsuits.

In California, it is very common for insurance companies to exclude wage and hour claims from the employment practices liability (EPLI) coverage.  This applies to single plaintiff and class action claims and representative claims under California’s Private Attorney General Act (PAGA).  This is a significant area of potential exposure for employers, and therefore, the costs and benefit analysis of an EPLI policy must take these considerations into account.

Moreover, under California law an insured cannot buy insurance to cover willful acts.  See Insurance Code section 533.  Therefore, if the employment lawsuit alleges willful acts, it is also likely not going to be covered by insurance.

Employers should seek coverage counsel to assist in reviewing the exclusions and limitations of any EPLI policies prior to purchasing in order to completely understand the coverage that is being purchased for the cost of the policy.

2. I’m busy right now, can you tell me about your workplace complaint tomorrow?

California employers have a legal obligation to conduct workplace investigations.  California Government Code section 12940(j) provides that it is “unlawful if the entity, or its agents or supervisors, knows or should have known of this conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.”  The law also provides that employers are liable if they “fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring.”  Gov. Code section 12940(k).  If the employer fails to take the preventative measures, they can be held liable for the harassment between co-workers.  If the harassment occurs by a manager, the company is strictly liable for the harassment.  If the harassment occurred by a non-management employee, the employer is only liable if it does not take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment once it learns about the harassment.  Investigations must follow certain parameters in order to be deemed adequate under the law.  Click here for more information about conducting adequate investigations.

3. There is no need for our company to record meal breaks, all of the employees know that they can take breaks whenever they want.

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.  For more information about meal and rest break obligations, see my previous article.

4. Our company’s handbook is current, it was updated four years ago.

Any California employer can attest, the employment legal landscape changes on a yearly (if not more often basis).  Employers should have someone well versed on employment law reviewing the employee handbook on at least a yearly basis.

5. I’m sure my payroll company is issuing compliant pay stubs.

Employers are cautioned not to rely on their payroll companies for compliant itemized wage statements, as these companies often times do not understand the legal requirements of the Labor Code. 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 under California’s paid sick leave law that went into effect on July 1, 2015 employers 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.

Companies are ultimately liable for these violations, so it is best to double check your payroll company’s work to ensure compliance.

Many cities and counties across California are set to increase their minimum wages in July 2017, and employers need to start preparing now.  For example, Los Angeles City and County are increasing the minimum wage for employers with 26 or more employees to $12 per hour on July 1, 2017 (currently at $10.50 per hour). This Friday’s Five video covers five issues that employers should start to review in order to comply with these increases in the minimum wage.

For more information about the local minimum wages in place throughout California:

San Diego: http://www.californiaemploymentlawrep…

Los Angeles: http://www.californiaemploymentlawrep… and http://www.californiaemploymentlawrep…

Southern California overview of various minimum wage requirements: http://www.californiaemploymentlawrep…

Sample model pay stub: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/PayStub.pdf

 

As we approach the close of 2015, employers should take the time to review their employment law policies and practices.  I’m often asked where should the process start?  Here are five areas employers can focus on to start the audit process:

1.      Employee handbooks

Employers need to ensure their policies are up to date, and a few areas that saw updates that may need attention in regards to employee handbooks are the revisions to California’s paid sick leave, the enforceability of arbitration agreements that contain class action waivers, and equal pay protections.

Employers should review new laws taking effect in 2016 to ensure compliance.

2.      Ensure compliance with minimum wage increases

California minimum wage increases to $10 per hour effective January 1, 2016.

Employers need to remember that the state minimum wage also sets the salary basis for exempt employees, and therefore the minimum salary that must be paid to exempt employees will also be increasing.

3.      Wage and hour issues

There are so many wage and hour areas that employers need to ensure compliance with, but here are few to help start the audit process:

4.      Meal and rest breaks

Even though it is widely known by employers of their obligations to provide meal and rest breaks, there is still substantial litigation over this issue.  Therefore, employers should continually review their meal and rest break policies and practices to ensure compliance with the law.  To start, here is a link to a previous article about five things California employers should not forget about meal and rest breaks.

5.      Correct information is listed on employee pay stubs and new requirements for piece-rate employees

Employers should ensure their pay stubs provided to employees comply with the requirements of Labor Code section 226.  The DLSE provides a sample of what information a compliant pay stub should list for an hourly employee, but don’t forget about the requirement to report an employee’s accrued paid sick leave.

Employers should especially conduct this review if they paid employees on a piece-rate basis.  A new law, AB 1513, adds various Labor Code sections and places new requirements on employers who pay on piece-rate basis.  The law now mandates that employers pay piece-rate employees separately for the following activities:

  • Rest breaks
  • Recovery periods (for employees who work outside)
  • Non-productive time (defined by the law)

The law requires employers to calculate the regular rate of pay for each workweek, and then pay the piece-rate employees the higher of this regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage for rest break time.  The law also requires employers to pay piece-rate employees for “nonproductive time” which is defined as “time under the employer’s control, exclusive of rest and recovery periods, that is not directly related to the activity being compensated on a piece-rate basis.”  The nonproductive time is required to be paid at a rate no less than the applicable minimum wage rate.  Employers paying employees on a piece rate basis should review the new obligations with an employment law attorney to ensure compliance.

Today’s Friday’s Five is a short video about five employment law considerations employers should review at the end of 2015.  As mentioned in the video, I will be conducting a webinar on December 2, 2015 for employers to understand and comply with new employment laws taking effect in 2016.  I will also discuss new case law developments from 2015 including paid sick leave and enforceability of arbitration agreements and class action waivers.  There will also be a discussion about businesses’ obligations under Proposition 65 postings at their establishments.

Registration and more information is here (http://elr.io/vtzyt2016).  Hope you can join us for the webinar.