My firm is conducting a webinar on Thursday June 19, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. for a mid-year update on emerging employment law issues and the newly enacted LLC statute effecting most California Limited Liability Companies. 

For more information and to register, please complete the form below:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1LU6GudLKMnb4yt4qpvQTagUj9OlxJmaR13JQs79urKI/viewform?embedded=true

 

In See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court the court addressed whether an employer’s policy of rounding  employee’s time clock entries to the nearest tenth of an hour.  See’s Candy’s policy rounded employees’ time entries either up or down to the nearest tenth of an hour in its Kronos time keeping system. For example, if an employee clocked in at 7:58 a.m., the system rounds the time to 8:00 a.m., and if the employee clocked in at 8:02 a.m., the system rounds down the entry to 8:00 a.m.

Plaintiffs challenged this rounding policy by arguing that this policy prevented employees from receiving all of their wages twice a month as required by California law. The court noted that even though California employers “have long engaged in employee time-rounding, there is no California statue or case law specifically authorizing or prohibiting this practice.” See’s Candy argued that given this lack of clear authority on the issue, courts should adopt the federal standard, which is also used by California’s Division Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”), which allows rounding.

The court agreed that time entry rounding is permissible under California law:

Relying on the DOL rounding standard, we have concluded that the rule in California is that an employer is entitled to use the nearest-tenth rounding policy if the rounding policy is fair and neutral on its face and ‘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.’ (29 C.F.R. § 785.48; see DLSE Manual, supra, §§ 47.1, 47.2.)

See’s Candy presented evidence that across all of its employees the rounding policy actually resulted in a total gain of 2,749 hours for the class of employees involved in the litigation. Therefore, the court held that the rounding policy that rounded both up and down from the midpoint of every six minutes did not result in a loss to the employees.

It is important to note the limitation of this holding. This case involved clear evidence, presented in the form of an expert witness, establishing the effect on the total time paid to the employees did not result in a loss to the employees. Also, the rounding policy would round both up and down. Had the policy only rounded in favor of the employer, that would have violating the rule established in this case. Employers utilizing rounding for payroll must still do so with caution. For example, there should be periodic audits to ensure the effect of rounding does not favor the employer over a period of time. The opinion can be read here: See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court.

The scenario is common: employers have policies in place to protect the employees and the company, but getting employees to comply with the policies is difficult. For example, a company has a policy that employees have to be on-the-clock for during all of the time they are working, but there is one or two employees who habitually forget to clock-out at the end of the day. In addition to the administrative hassles this creates, there are legal issues of how much time the employer should pay the employee for.

Generally, employers are required to pay for all time that the company knows or should have known the employee was working. But legally what can employers do to ensure that employees are complying with company policy?

Starting with what employers cannot do: withhold wages from the employee. The employer cannot use withholding or deductions from wages as a disciplinary measure. This is well settled under California law.

Three Steps Employers Should Take To Have Employees Comply With Policies

1. Have well written policies.

It goes without saying, the policies need to be legal and clearly written so that employees and managers can easily understand the policies.

2. Train managers so that they understand the policies and know how what to enforce.

Managers who do not understand what they should be requiring of employees, or worse, misinterpret a company policy when enforcing it, can create a lot of legal liability for the company. Routine training for managers on common issues that arise in the workplace can do a lot to prevent litigation.

3. Discipline employees for failure to comply with the policies.

While employers cannot withhold wages as a form of discipline, employers may still write up employees who violate company policies. For example, if an employee is either intentionally or otherwise not properly recording their time, they should be counseled and written up for the violations. They also need to be warned that if the problem continues, they could be terminated. There is another benefit to having this documentation. If the company is sued in a wage and hour class action for off-the-clock work, the plaintiffs need to prove that there is a company-wide policy that permits or encourages off-the-clock work. If the company has the records of disciplining employees who were abusing the time clock system, it will be strong evidence that the company actively prohibited off-the-clock work from occurring.

It has been a week now since the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. I’ve been getting a lot of questions, and have spoken on the topic a few times, and thought a couple of charts illustrating the Court’s holding would assist in understanding the decision. For a more general discussion of the Brinker decision, please see my previous article.

 

Meal Periods

The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker that employers need to give an employee their first meal break “no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.” The Court said that contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, there are no additional timing requirements for the meal breaks.

I’ve created this chart to help illustrate this point:

 

If an employee begins work at 8:00 a.m., the employee must start his break by 12:59, which is before the end of the 5th hour of work.

Another issue in the case was Brinker’s policy of “early lunching.” Early lunching is when employers allow the employees to take their meal break within the first hour or two of arriving for work. Once the employee is given this first meal period, then they would continue to work for six, seven, eight, or more hours without an additional meal break. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that this policy violated the law. The Plaintiff argued that the law required employers had a duty to provide meal breaks on a “rolling five” hour basis, or every five hours.

Here is a chart that provides an example of an early lunching practice:

 

Before employers begin to employ an early lunching policy, they should do so with caution and some guidance. As Court cautioned employers that: “in the context of an eight-hour shift, ‘[a]s

a general matter,’ one rest break should fall on either side of the meal break. Shorter or longer shifts and other factors that render such scheduling impracticable may alter this general rule.”

Rest Breaks

As for of rest breaks, the Court set forth that, “[e]mployees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.” The Court’s holding can be summarized as follows:

 

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

Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum) was finally decided by the California Supreme Court. The decision was anxiously awaited by many due to its clarifications of California employment laws regarding the duties employers have regarding offering meal and rest breaks, and when the breaks need to be taken.  The primary holding of the case is that employers do not need to ensure that no work is performed during meal breaks.  The Court, however, cautioned employers that they cannot undermine formal policies by pressuring employees to work during breaks.  Also of interest, as explained below, the Court provided a clarification of the rate that employees accrue rest breaks, which varies from how most employers interpreted the rest break requirement. 

Meal Periods
Employers Have No Duty To Ensure Meal Breaks Are Taken

The Plaintiff in the case argued that Brinker had to “ensure that work stops for a the required thirty minute[]” meal period. Alternatively, Brinker argued that under California law employers only had to provide meal periods and would not incur any liability if the employee did not take the break. The Court explained:

[Plaintiff] Hohnbaum contends an employer is obligated to “ensure that work stops for the required thirty minutes.” Brinker, in a position adopted by the Court of Appeal, contends an employer is obligated only to “make available” meal periods, with no responsibility for whether they are taken. We conclude that under Wage Order No. 5 and Labor Code section 512, subdivision (a), an employer must relieve the employee of all duty for the designated period, but need not ensure that the employee does no work.

The Court clarified that employers do not need to ensure that employees do not perform any work during their break:

The difficulty with the view that an employer must ensure no work is done—i.e., prohibit work—is that it lacks any textual basis in the wage order or statute. While at one time the IWC’s wage orders contained language clearly imposing on employers a duty to prevent their employees from working during meal periods, we have found no order in the last half-century continuing that obligation. Indeed, the obligation to ensure employees do no work may in some instances be inconsistent with the fundamental employer obligations associated with a meal break: to relieve the employee of all duty and relinquish any employer control over the employee and how he or she spends the time.

The Court also provided further clarification as to what meal period obligations employers have:

[T]he wage order’s meal period requirement is satisfied if the employee (1) has at least 30 minutes uninterrupted, (2) is free to leave the premises, and (3) is relieved of all duty for the entire period.

Therefore, the Court held:

To summarize: An employer’s duty with respect to meal breaks under both section 512, subdivision (a) and Wage Order No. 5 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. What will suffice may vary from industry to industry, and we cannot in the context of this class certification proceeding delineate the full range of approaches that in each instance might be sufficient to satisfy the law.
On the other hand, the employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed. Bona fide relief from duty and the relinquishing of control satisfies the employer’s obligations, and work by a relieved employee during a meal break does not thereby place the employer in violation of its obligations and create liability for premium pay under Wage Order No. 5, subdivision 11(B) and Labor Code section 226.7, subdivision (b).

However, the Court also provided a warning to employers that, “On the other hand, an employer may not undermine a formal policy of providing meal breaks by pressuring employees to perform their duties in ways that omit breaks.”

Meal Period Timing Requirements

The Court also clarified when meal periods must be provided. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that Brinker’s policy of “early lunching” violated the Labor Code. Early lunching is which is when employers allow employees to take their meal break within the first hour or two of arriving to work, and then have the employees continue to work to the end of their shift without taking another meal period. The Plaintiff argued that the Labor Code requires that employees take a meal period every five consecutive hours of work. In rejecting the Plaintiff’s argument, the Court stated:

Hohnbaum contends section 512 should be read as requiring as well a second meal period no later than five hours after the end of a first meal period if a shift is to continue. The text does not permit such a reading.

The Court explained the timing requirements of meal periods as follows:

We conclude that, absent waiver, section 512 requires a first meal period 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.

 

Rest Periods
Rate Rest Periods Accrue To Employees

The Court began its explanation of the rate at which rest breaks must be given to employees by examining Wage Order No. 5. The Court focused in on subdivision 12(A) of the wage order, which provides:

Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. The authorized rest period time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of ten (10) minutes net rest time per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof. However, a rest period need not be authorized for employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one-half (3½) hours.

The Court explained that “major fraction thereof” as applied to the four hour period referenced in the Wage Order means “any amount of time in excess of two hours – i.e., any fraction greater than half.” Therefore, by applying this calculation under the wage order, the Court held:

Employees 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.

Timing Of Rest Breaks

The Court disagreed with the Plaintiff’s argument that rest breaks had to occur before meal breaks under the law. The Court held that the only “constraint on timing is that rest breaks must fall in the middle of work periods ‘insofar as practicable.’” The Court explained:

Hohnbaum asserts employers have a legal duty to permit their employees a rest period before any meal period. Construing the plain language of the operative wage order, we find no such requirement and agree with the Court of Appeal, which likewise rejected this contention.

 

Either the rest period must fall before the meal period or it must fall after. Neither text nor logic dictates an order for these, nor does anything in the policies underlying the wage and hour laws compel the conclusion that a rest break at the two-hour mark and a meal break at the four-hour mark of such a shift is lawful, while the reverse, a meal break at the two-hour mark and a rest break at the four-hour mark, is per se illegal.

 

The entire decision can be read from the Supreme Court’s website here (PDF) (WRD).  I will definitely have more thoughts on this decision in the near term, and will be reviewing it in further detail over the weekend in preparation for the webinar my partner, Dan Turner and I will be conducting next Wednesday addressing the full impact the Brinker decision will have on employers.

It is not often that the California Employment Law Report can opine outside of the boundaries of the state of California, but I am going out on a limb on this one. I came across what I would recommend to every employer as a way to reduce litigation. In the book, End Malaria, a new book published by the Domino Project, the chapter, Three Words From Ann Landers, written by Scott Stratten of UnMarketing, has the following recommendation:

Take these three words that Ann Landers recommended as a test and try them with your team for one day (I dare you):

Good.True.Helpful.

If what you’re about to say or email to someone doesn’t meet two out of those three criteria, reword it or don’t say it at all.

Instead of saying “Late again, eh?” you can say “Mike, you’re a valuable member of this team, and when you’re late it hold up everyone’s progress. What can I do to help you?

Scott says that people using his recommendation don’t even need to use all three criteria – just two. Companies spend so much time thinking about what type of messages they send their customers through marketing and sales campaigns, but do they spend even 10% of that effort into thinking about how to communicate with its own employees? Give it a try, and I bet the payoff will show up in higher employee retention, higher morale, and less lawsuits.