In July, the California Supreme Court announced that various provisions of the Labor Code and the IWC Wage Orders did not incorporate the de minimis doctrine. According to that doctrine, some alleged wrongs are so trivial or hard to measure that courts will disregard them. The de minimis doctrine applies to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, so under that law, employers can disregard small amounts of time (a few minutes) in calculating what employees are owed. The California Supreme Court announced, however, that that was not the case under corresponding state laws.

On August 29, 2018, the court slightly modified its earlier opinion, stating that:

“The opinion herein is modified as follows: The final paragraph of the opinion … is modified to read: We hold that the relevant California statutes and wage order have not incorporated the de minimis doctrine found in the FLSA. We further conclude that although California has a de minimis rule that is a background principle of state law, the rule is not applicable to the regularly reoccurring activities that are principally at issue here. The relevant statutes and wage order do not allow employers to require employees to routinely work for minutes off the clock without compensation. We leave open whether there are wage claims involving employee activities that are so irregular or brief in duration that employers may not be reasonably required to compensate employees for the time spent on them. The petition for rehearing is denied.” (emphasis added)

The reference to “reoccurring activities” and employees “routinely” working for minutes off the clock indicates that the court is addressing situations where employees are required to perform some off-the-clock work on a repeated or regular basis, such as closing shop or shutting down systems. So a different rule may apply to activities that are more irregular or isolated. In fact, the court said as much in its earlier version of the opinion by noting that there may be employee activities “where compensable time is so minute or irregular that it is unreasonable to expect the time to be recorded.” The more recent modification simply clarifies that that is still the case. 

Our recommendations for employers remain the same:

  1. Do everything possible to ensure that employees don’t clock out until they’ve completed all work-related tasks. This includes security checks, closing shop, and exiting the work premises.
  2. If you use fixed time clocks, locate them as close as practicable to the exits. Or better yet, look at more advanced systems that employees can operate remotely, The court specifically referred to “advances in technology … shaping our understanding of what fractions of time can be reliably measured.”
  3. Ensure that whatever policy you use to round off workers’ time entries is facially neutral (i.e., you’re just as likely to round up as to round down).
  4. Require non-exempt employees to report any time they work after hours. Seemingly trivial tasks like checking e-mail or an online schedule could be compensable.
  5. Train managers on how and when to communicate with non-exempt staff after hours.
  6. If employees do after-hours work without authorization, discipline them, but pay for the time.

Is this modification good news for employers? No. But it may be slightly less awful than it was before.

I was in court last week for a status conference in a wage-and-hour class action, and was talking to my opposing counsel, an active litigator in this arena.  I asked him if the new California Supreme Court case rejecting the de minimis standard was going to be big business for him.

His candid response surprised me, so I thought I’d share it.  He opined that it really isn’t hard to prevent class action lawsuits in California and the de minimis argument really isn’t necessary.  All an employer has to do is:

  • Pay per actual time punches; don’t round at all.
  • Require a 45 minute or one hour meal break; don’t bother with 30 minutes.
  • Provide meal breaks at the 4th hour (always way before the end of the 5th hour worked).
  • Have a fully compliant rest break policy and a strict policy against working off the clock.

To his list I would add:

  • Don’t schedule 6-hour shifts with a 6-hour or less meal wavier; schedule 5 hour shifts or just schedule the meal break.
  • Don’t rely on-duty meal waivers.
  • Update your handbooks every year, it really is cost effective in the long run.
  • Train your managers not to mess things up (even inadvertently), and keep records of that training.

He said that an employer who consistently does all of these things makes taking a class action case very un-interesting for plaintiff’s attorneys like him.

58097900 – class action, 3d rendering, rough street sign collection

Easy enough, right?  Well, it sounds a little bit expensive to me, and it also might create some employee relations issues.  But then again, it might  be worth a try….

Thermometer and pills on paper marked with Sick Leave labelAs employers know all too well, it is no small task keeping up with California’s State and Local Sick Leave laws. Just as frustrating are California’s many paystub requirements under Labor Code section 226. One paystub requirement that often gets forgotten is the need to include employees’ accrued sick time on paystubs.

Inclusion of sick time on paystubs is not governed by Labor Code section 226.  Instead, it is Labor Code section 246(i) which requires employers to list an employee’s accrued sick time on their wage statements or in a separate writing.  Luckily for employers, violations of this particular subdivision also do not trigger Labor Code section 226’s dreaded penalties.

The enforcement of the provisions from the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 is governed by Labor Code section 248.5.  Section 248.5 makes clear that there is no private right of action to enforce the Act’s provisions.  Only the Labor Commissioner or Attorney General may bring a civil action against the employer for alleged violations.  Further, the section explicitly makes clear that “any person or entity enforcing this article on behalf of the public as provided for under applicable state law shall, upon prevailing, be entitled only to equitable, injunctive, or restitutionary relief, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.”  (Labor Code section 248.5(e))  Thus, individual employees cannot collect penalties for themselves, or for others pursuant to a dreaded PAGA claim.

Since employees cannot sue to collect individual penalties and cannot sue to collect PAGA penalties, is there any risk to employers who do not include accrued sick time on paystubs?  The answer is yes.  Even though an individual cannot seek penalties, the California Labor Commissioner can take action to recover penalties in the amount of $50 for “each employee or person whose rights under this article were violated for each day or portion thereof that the violation occurred” with a cap of $4,000.  Further, a claim for injunctive action still allows for recovery of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

Businessman handing over paycheck at desk in officeSo California employers, check those paystubs.  In addition to ensuring that they include all of the information required under Labor Code 226, add accrued sick time to the list of necessary information provided to your California employees.

 

An ancient maxim of jurisprudence states that “the law disregards trifles.” Or in Latin: De minimis non curat lex. The underlying principle is that some alleged wrongs are so trivial or hard to measure that courts don’t want to be bothered with them. At least, that’s true of most courts. In an opinion issued today, the California Supreme Court said that the “de minimis” doctrine is not part of California wage and hour Law.

The opinion arose from a federal case in which a class-action plaintiff claimed that nonmanagers were shortchanged for the time between when they clocked out and when they left the store. The evidence showed that, had the plaintiff been paid for this time, he would have earned an additional $102.67 over a 17-month period (or approximately 29¢ per workday). The federal court granted summary judgment for the employer based on the de minimis doctrine and plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to advise it as to whether California applied the de minimis doctrine to wage claims.

In today’s decision, the court answered the question in the negative, stating that there is no convincing evidence that California wage and hour laws incorporate the de minimis standard. That should be a surprise to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, whose Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual and opinion letters expressly adopted the standard. But the court explained that those aren’t binding. In knee-jerk fashion, the court again trotted out the principle that the Labor Code and wage orders must be construed liberally to protect employees and issued a unanimous opinion that should have plaintiffs’ class action lawyers celebrating all over the state. The court left open the possibility that there may be employee activities that are so brief or irregular that they don’t require compensation, but the four to ten minutes at issue in this case didn’t fit into that category.

What should employers do now?

  1. Do everything possible to ensure that employees don’t clock out until they’ve completed all work-related tasks. This includes security checks, closing shop, and exiting the work premises.
  2. If you use fixed time clocks, ensure that they are as close as possible to the exits. Or better yet, look at more advanced systems that employees can operate remotely, The court specifically referred to “advances in technology … shaping our understanding of what fractions of time can be reliably measured.”
  3. Ensure that whatever policy you use to round off workers’ time entries is facially neutral (i.e., you’re just as likely to round up as to round down).
  4. Require non-exempt employees to report any time they work after hours. Seemingly trivial tasks like checking e-mail or an online schedule could be compensable.
  5. Train managers on how and when to communicate with non-exempt staff after hours.
  6. If employees do after-hours work without authorization, discipline them, but pay for the time.
  7. Stop being surprised when the California Supreme Court rejects seemingly well-established legal principles on the basis that it needs to protect the most thoroughly protected employees on the planet.

Tyreen Torner has again updated this Chart Summarizing CA State and Local Paid Sick Leave Rules. It summarizes the Paid Sick Leave laws for California, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, Berkeley, Santa Monica, and Emeryville.

Man lying with a broken leg in a cast on a sofaAre you curious about how the accrual cap rules in Oakland (where the Golden State Warriors are today celebrating their third NBA title in four years) compare to the accrual cap rules in Los Angeles (where the Lakers weren’t even the champions of LA)? Just look it up. It’s all there. Right at your fingertips. Thank you Tyreen!

To keep employers guessing, not only does the state minimum wage increase every year, but many cities do as well. Currently, California’s minimum wage is $11 per hour (or $10.50 for employers with up to 25 employees).

Red balloons on blue sky spelling "Guess"While state minimum wage goes up in January, some cities like to keep things complicated by increasing their minimum wage as of July 1st.  One such city is Santa Monica, where the minimum wage goes up to $13.25 on July 1st.  The $13.25 rate also applies to Los Angeles as of July 1st for employers with 25 or more employees; those with under 25 employees must pay $12.00.

To keep things really confusing, certain hotel workers in Santa Monica and Los Angeles get even higher rates; on July 1st hotel workers in those cities get an increase to $16.10 per hour.

Yes, California likes to keep employers guessing.  Thankfully you have this blog to keep the guesswork out of your wage and hour compliance.

 

Employers are still reeling from last week’s decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, in which the California Supreme Court said that employers (and even a state agency that protects workers) were using the wrong standard to distinguish employees and independent contractors under the state’s Wage Orders. A month before that, in Alvarado v. Dart Container Corporation of Californiathe same court announced a more employee-friendly way of calculating overtime for employees who receive bonuses.

These cases share two things. First, they put big smiles on the faces of lawyers who file wage and hour class actions. Second, both cases premised their decisions in part on California’s goal of protecting workers. In Dynamex, the court relied on the “general principle that wage orders are the type of remedial legislation that must be liberally construed in a manner that serves its remedial purposes.” The court in Alvarado noted that one of the “overarching interpretive principles” to guide its analysis was that “the state’s labor laws are to be liberally construed in favor of worker protection.” No mention was made of the fact that California workers have more far-reaching protections than workers in any other state.

While Dynamex and Alvarado provide examples from the last 45 days, the courts have been interpreting employee protections liberally for many decades. During that time, workers’ rights keep expanding further and further. I am certainly not suggesting that workers should not be protected from unscrupulous employers. But does anyone pay attention to the principle that employers who make every effort to follow the law shouldn’t be subjected to potentially ruinous litigation exposure each time the courts reinterpret the law in a new direction?

Determining whether a California worker is an independent contractor or an employee has always been difficult. Judges deciding the issue have complained that the test used by California courts “provides nothing remotely close to a clear answer.” Then there was the nail salon that was told by one state agency that its workers were employees and by another that they were independent contractors. So there’s no question that the law in this area has been messy.

On Monday, it got considerably messier. That’s when the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court. For years — even decades — judges, government agencies, and lawyers have interpreted the law to say that the key to distinguishing between employees and independent contractors was whether the company had the right to control the manner and means by which the worker accomplished the desired result. So if drivers for a gig-economy car service decided what days to work, when to start work on a particular day, where to work, what to wear, when to take breaks and for how long, and when to quit for the day, there was an excellent chance that they’d be considered independent contractors,

Under the California Wage Orders, which guarantee employees a minimum wage, maximum hours, overtime compensation, meal and rest breaks, and more, that is no longer the case. Now, according to the California Supreme Court, companies must meet a three-prong test to establish independent contractor status (“the ABC test”).

  • A) The company must not be able to control or direct what the worker does, either by contract or in actual practice. This is similar to the test used in the past.
  • B) The worker must perform tasks outside of the hiring entity’s usual course of business. So if you’re a driver for a ride service, a delivery person for a delivery service, or a seamstress for a clothing company, you can’t be an independent contractor no matter how little control the company has over you.
  • C) The worker must be engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business. It’s not enough that the company doesn’t prohibit the worker from having his own business or working for others. Instead, the court will look at factors such as whether the business is incorporated or licensed, whether it’s advertised, and whether it offers services to the public or other potential customers.

It is the employers burden to satisfy all three prongs to establish that the worker is an independent contractor. If it fails to establish one, the worker is entitled to be treated as an employee under the Wage Orders. (The Wage Orders themselves are not particularly helpful in this regard. For example, they circularly define “employee” as ” any person employed by an employer.”)

The Court spent 80+ pages explaining its rationale. Nowhere in that lengthy analysis was any recognition of the upheaval this opinion will cause. Millions of workers in the state that were considered independent contractors will now be deemed employees. This will require employers who have done everything they could to follow the law as it was then understood to reevaluate the nature of the relationship with many of their workers and either modify the relationship or provide them the pay and treatment required by the Wage Orders. They also face litigation, including potential class actions, from workers complaining that they were misclassified. And since this case only addresses the wage order definition, they need to apply different standards (which can lead to different conclusions) in deciding how to characterize workers for purposes such as workers compensation and payroll taxes. As I said, a messy situation just got messier.

If you are an employer in California, you are likely well aware of Labor Code § 226 and the many items that our state requires to be on employee paystubs: gross wages, legal name of employer, inclusion dates for the pay period, etc. (Labor Code § 226) Failure to adhere to all of Labor Code § 226’s paystub requirements can result in penalties owed to the employee, and worse still, the possibility of a dreaded PAGA action. It is no surprise then that vigilant employers have kept a close eye on their paystubs to ensure inclusion of all the necessary information.

Businessman handing over paycheck at desk in officeBut what about the paychecks themselves? Often forgotten is Labor Code § 212 which imposes certain requirements on employers who pay employees with traditional paychecks (as opposed to direct deposit). A traditional paycheck must be “payable in cash, on demand, without discount, at some established place of business in the state, the name and address of which must appear on the instrument…” Labor Code § 212(a). The point being that employees must have the opportunity to know where they can cash their paycheck and receive their wages immediately, without paying a fee.

Does this mean an employer must pick out one specific location where an employee can cash their paycheck and then list the location and its address on the check? Lucky for employers and employees, the answer is no. As long as the drawee of the check is a bank, the bank’s address need not appear on the paycheck itself. In other words, if the employer uses a bank with branches in California for its payroll checks, the employer need only list the name of the bank, so long as the check can be cashed immediately without a fee to the employee at any of the bank’s branches.

Failure to comply with Labor Code § 212 can result in minor penalties to an individual if they can establish that they were denied the opportunity to immediately obtain their wages. However, a purely facial violation on the check, and nothing more, could potentially result in a much larger PAGA lawsuit.

Although many workplaces find that the vast majority of employees receive their pay through direct deposit, there are still many employees who receive their wages in the form of a traditional paycheck. Accordingly employers should examine their paychecks and ensure the following:

  1. Paychecks should list the name of a national or state bank that has conveniently located branches where employees can cash their paychecks; and
  2. Employers should confirm with the bank used for its paychecks that all employees can cash their paychecks immediately at any of the bank’s locations without a fee (even if the employee does not otherwise bank there).

The Fair Labor Standards Act now permits back-of house employees to participate in mandatory tip pools, provided no tip credit is taken against minimum wage.  The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 budget bill effectively amends the FLSA to clarify two important points: back of house employees MAY participate in certain tip pools however supervisor/manager/owners MAY NOT participate in tip pools.

How does that affect employers doing business in California?

Labor Code section 351 permits mandatory tip pooling for an employee who provides “direct table service” or who is in the “chain of service.”  In 2009, the court in Etheridge v. Reins International California, Inc. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 908, 922 held that kitchen staff contribute to the “chain of service” and could receive tips under section 351.

In 2011, the DOL issued a regulation prohibiting back of house employees from participating in tip pools regardless of whether a tip credit was taken.  There was litigation over whether the DOL had authority to issue such a regulation, however the Ninth Circuit in Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association v. Perez, 816 F.3d 1080 (9th Cir. 2016) held that the DOL acted within the scope of their power, effectively invalidating Etheridge and Cumbie v. Woody Woo, Inc., 596 F.3d 577 (9th Cir. 2010).

Now that the DOL regulations have been reversed by the recently passed budget bill and FLSA amendment, it seems as though the holdings of Etheridge and Woody Woo are back, clearing the way for back of house employee inclusion in tip pools.

But, we are exercising caution before advising clients to change their tip pools.  Still pending is an appeal to the Supreme Court in the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association case as well as a still valid DLSE Opinion Letter from September 8, 2005 that does not include kitchen staff as part of the “chain of service.”  Making changes to your California tip pool at this juncture seems premature as we don’t want you to be the test case.