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

1. Establish and communicate a time keeping policy

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

2. Rounding

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

(1) Do they have a rounding policy?

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

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

3. De minimis time

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

4. Record meal breaks

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

5. Time records

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

Fingerprint scans, facial recognition, and retinal scans only a few years ago sounded like farfetched futuristic technology, but given the quickly advancing technology, these items are being used more and more in the workplace.  Today’s Friday’s Five discussed five items California employers should know about their legal obligations regarding the employee’s biometric information obtained during employment:

1. California Labor Code section 1051 – prohibition on employers from sharing biometric information with third parties.

This little known Labor Code section prohibits California employers of obtaining fingerprints or photographs from employees and then sharing this information to a third party.  Violation of the section is a misdemeanor.  Therefore, employers are not prohibited from collecting fingerprint information from employees, but are restricted from sharing this information with an outside third party.

2. Biometrics in timekeeping systems.

While there is no prohibition in using biometrics such as finger prints or hand prints in time keeping systems to verify an employees’ identity, employers must use caution in implementing these types of systems.  As discussed above, Labor Code section 1051 prohibits employers from sharing this information with a third party.  Therefore employers must take steps to ensure the vendor providing the technology does not have access to the biometric information.  Moreover, employers that obtain this information must be careful to protect the information from inadvertent disclosures to third parties.  Disclosures from from being hacked or unintentional inadvertent disclosure by the employer would likely be actionable under Labor Code section 1051 and California’s constitutional right to privacy.

3. Cost of photographs for employment must be paid for by employer.

Labor Code section 401 prohibits employers from requiring employees to submit a photograph from an applicant or an employee without paying for the cost of the photograph.  Obviously employers cannot discriminate against applicants based on race, gender, age, or other protected categories, but just as this information could be learned from a photograph, it would likewise be learned by the employer during a face-to-face interview.  Therefore, other than having to pay for the costs of the photograph, employers may ask for or take photographs during the hiring process as long as all prohibitions against discrimination are likewise followed.

4. Use of photographs of employees.

California Civil Code Section 3344, prohibits the use of a person’s “name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness” in advertising or selling a product without the person’s prior consent.  Penalties under this section are the greater of $750 or actual damages suffered by the person as a result of each unauthorized use, any profits that are attributable to each unauthorized use, and attorneys’ fees and costs.  Punitive damages are also available to the prevailing party.  Therefore, employers who use the employee’s likeness in any advertising materials should consider obtaining written consent from employees to use their likeness in any marketing or advertising literature.

5. Employers must be careful to comply with other states’ biometric laws.

Facebook, Google and other technology companies are quickly learning about the intricacies of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).  The companies have been subject to litigation for alleged violation of the Illinois’ law on the grounds that Facebook and other tech companies’ using facial recognition in pictures stored to its software do not comply with the notice and consent requirements of the BIPA.  The law, passed in 2008, requires anyone gathering biometric information to provide certain notifications to the person whose data is being collected, and written permission to collect the information.  Facebook, for example, has asked for the case to be dismissed since its terms of service establishes that California law applies to any dispute.  Therefore, Facebook is arguing that because California does not have a similar law to Illinois’ BIPA, the case should be dismissed.  So far, that argument has not been successful and the case is proceeding against Facebook.  Employers operating in multiple states should pay careful attention to state statutes to ensure they are compliant with any applicable laws.  It is also likely that more and more states will enact similar laws to Illinois’ BIPA in the near future given the quickly advancing technology.

Photo: Toshiyuki IMAI

In 2015 the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed increasing the salary employees must receive in order to be classified as exempt.  The DOL finalized the rules and the changes are pending before the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.  If approved, it is likely that the final rules would take effect late summer or early fall of 2016.  Here are five action items employers should take now in order to comply with the pending DOL regulations:

1.     Understand how California differs from Federal regulations in regards to the exempt status of employees.

It is very dangerous for an employer to read a few legal updates from lawyers and a few articles from the internet and assume that they have a full understanding the requirements and the analysis that goes into properly classifying employees as exempt or non-exempt.  At risk of sounding like a lawyer, it is a very detailed analysis, and California’s requirements differ from the Federal requirements in many ways.  Therefore, it is imperative that employers understand which laws apply to their employees, and that they are following the correct laws.  The set of rules that provides the employee with more rights is usually the law that governs the particular situation.  As an example, California law sets forth requirements specific for an employee to qualify as a computer professional, while Federal law does not have a separate set of rules for this position.

2.     Take time to evaluate workforce and make any reclassifications when new regulations are issued. 

Employers should use the DOL’s change in regulations as an opportunity to audit their workforce to determine if there are some employee classifications that should be changed.  It would be an ideal time when the DOL’s regulations take effect to reclassify employees as nonexempt without raising the question of why is the reclassification taking place.

3.     Update timekeeping system and policies.

If the DOL regulations are implemented as drafted, it would significantly raise the level of pay required to meet the white collar exemption to $50,440 salary per year in 2016.  Currently, California employers must pay the higher amount of twice the state minimum wage for employees to meet one of the white collar exemptions.  As of April 2016, the state minimum wage is $10 per hour, and therefore employers must pay an annual salary of $41,600 for an employee to meet the salary basis test for a white collar exemption.  The increase in the salary level proposed by the DOL will likely result in many employers reclassifying employees as nonexempt.  Therefore, with more employees needing to clock in an out for the start and stop times (in addition to tracking the start and stop times for meal breaks as required under California law), employers need to ensure their timekeeping system is up-to-date and compatible with their workforce.

4.     Ensure the company’s policy prohibiting off the clock work is effective and enforced in addition to policies designed to limit the amount of overtime worked. 

If reclassifying employees as nonexempt as a result of the DOL regulations, employers need to ensure they take steps to protect themselves off-the-clock work claims.  Employers should have an effective timekeeping policy and train their managers about how prevent off-the-clock work.  In addition, employers need to develop and train managers on the correct policies to control unauthorized overtime worked.  Managing overtime costs requires effective policies and training of managers to ensure all wage and hour laws are complied with.

5.     Keep current on when the DOL rules go into place. 

Employers should not analyze employee exemption issues now and delay taking any action until later this summer.  It is likely that the DOL regulations will take effect soon, and employers cannot get caught in not updating and reclassifying employees once the relations are implemented.  Now is the time to start the analysis.  In the unlikely chance that the DOL regulations are not implemented, employers can chalk up the work done as a wage and hour audit to ensure compliance with the current obligations.

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.