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.

On Fox’s Immigration View blog, partner Alka Bahal provides a detailed exploration of the I-9 inspection process, in the wake of a recent surge in I-9 audits carried out by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. All employers in the United States are required to have a Form I-9 on file for all employees to verify their identity and authorization to work in the United States.

We invite you to read Alka’s information-packed post addressing concerns facing employers:

Employers Beware: ICE Is Ramping Up I-9 Audits to Record Levels

E-Book Cover: Employment Compliance in the Age of Legalized MarijuanaThough cannabis is illegal under federal law, at least 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical use and nine states, as well as D.C., have legalized it for recreational use—a dichotomy that presents a unique and complex challenge for employers. In a new e-book, Fox attorneys Joseph A. McNelis III, Lee Szor, William Bogot and Joshua Horn provide an overview of federal and state marijuana laws, discuss specific aspects of the employment relationship affected by the legalization of marijuana in certain states, and offer practical guidance for employers on how to navigate this new and developing area of the law.

We invite you to download a PDF of the e-book.

Maybe Governor Jerry Brown read my January blog post on references because, last week, he signed AB 2770 into law.  Effective January 1, 2019, employers are protected by an expanded privilege when giving an employment reference.  The privilege protects employers from defamation claims when advising a prospective employer that the applicant was the subject of a credible sexual harassment claim.

The claim must be “without malice” and based on credible evidence in order to be covered by the privilege.

Employers are currently protected from non-malicious references regarding the job performance or qualifications of an applicant for employment. Existing law also authorizes an employer to answer whether or not the employer would rehire an employee.  However, many employers don’t use their privilege to speak out against bad actors in their workplace. The primary concerns in opting not to give a substantive reference is fear of a defamation lawsuit or tortious interference with a business opportunity claim under Labor Code section 1050.  In failing to give a truthful reference, we have created a system where alleged harassers (and other terminated employees) get to move on and become someone else’s (client’s) problem.

Now, employers who want to ensure alleged harassers don’t continue their bad behavior at their next employer can feel more secure in speaking up about employee performance and policy violations when the next reference check call comes in.

Since this is a blog about California employment law, we don’t often write about immigration. Sure, we define California employment law broadly enough to include stuff about gorillas and monsters. But usually not so broadly to include immigration. That’s covered beautifully by our friends at Immigration View.

Still, there are some California employment law aspects of last week’s ruling in United States of America v. State of California that deserve attention. In that case, the federal government is arguing that certain state laws impermissibly intrude on the federal government’s authority over immigration. The US sought a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of a number of those provisions, arguing that immigration is exclusively a federal issue. California opposed the injunction arguing that it was well within its rights to regulate employers. (And we know how California loves to regulate employers!)

Judge John A. Mendez of the US District Court for the Eastern District of California granted the injunction in some respects, but denied it in others. For example, he upheld the state’s right to inspect and report on facilities where immigrants are detained. He also upheld a requirement that companies notify workers within 72 hours if the employer learns that ICE is inspecting its Form I-9s.

Two aspects where he granted the injunction are noteworthy. First, Assembly Bill 450, among other things, prohibits employers from consenting to an immigration enforcement agent entering nonpublic work areas or accessing employee records. The court was troubled by the position this puts employers in. On the one hand, the employer has a federal agency seeking access to its workplace. On the other, you have the state saying it’s illegal to consent to that search. The court found these two positions incompatible and enjoined enforcement of that portion of the law. 

The court similarly refused to enforce portions of California Labor Code § 1019.2, which imposes an up to $10,000 civil penalty on employers who re-verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the US when not required by law to do so. Again, it places employers in an unreasonable position. On one hand, they have a continuing legal duty not to employ unauthorized immigrant workers. If they believe that a worker has become ineligible to work in the US, they’re obligated to stop employing that person. At the same time, if they check to see if they’re complying with that federal requirement, the state can subject them to penalties. The court granted the injunction against enforcement of that provision, as well.

Knowing that he won’t have the last word on some of these issues, Judge Mendez spells out his reasoning in considerable detail. He ends his order by joining “the ever-growing chorus of Federal Judges in urging our elected officials to set aside the partisan and polarizing politics dominating the current immigration debate and work in a cooperative and bi-partisan fashion toward drafting and passing legislation that addresses this critical political issue. Our Nation deserves it. Our Constitution demands it.”

A few days ago, many companies celebrated ‘Take Your Dog To Work Day’.  At an increasing number of companies, employees take their pets to work every day.  At other companies, in the ever-changing quest to be the cool kid on the block offering the latest and greatest benefits, the newest perk appears to be puppy playtime.  Google, Aetna and Intel are among the companies that have partnered with a non-profit that brings trained pets into the workplace to reduce employee stress levels for a few hours a week, while Amazon, Google, Ticketmaster, Etsy and Salesforce allow employees to bring their pets to work on a routine basis.

Photo credit: Bruin Suddleson

Pets in the workplace has been a hot topic in various forms for a few years. The issue of therapy or service dogs specifically garnered attention from the DFEH in its 2016 amended regulations requiring businesses to individually assess whether allowing a support animal at work is a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee. The regulations define a “support animal” as “one that provides emotional, cognitive, or other similar support to a person with a disability, including, but not limited to, traumatic brain injuries or mental disabilities, such as major depression.” Anecdotally, we’ve also had an increase in hospitality clients who have questions about service dogs in restaurants and hotels. Given the media coverage and public trend of pet-friendly workplaces, businesses may face an uphill battle in establishing that allowing a support animal at work would be an undue hardship, which is the threshold for denying an accommodation. However, because I’m an employment lawyer, before opening your doggy doors to your employees’ four-legged friends, consider the arguments against a pet-friendly workplace which include potential liability for asthma-related disabilities, stress-related disabilities for those who may have a fear of pets, and even potential workers’ compensation claims for pet-related injuries. If you’re considering adopting a pet-friendly workplace culture, be sure to consider these risks and to implement thoughtful guidelines around the privilege to bring a pet to work, whether as an everyday occurrence or as a reasonable accommodation.

Do you want to know the secret of achieving pay equity in the workplace (at least in the long term)?  Well, it is really about the dads. Yes, that’s right.  The more paid time off given to fathers, the more likely it is the a company will achieve long term pay equity.  Why you ask?

Because when time off for babies and kids becomes a parental issue, and not a women’s issue, then women stop being punished (whether directly or indirectly) for taking time off to give birth and raise kids.  And if you are wondering if women really are set back by being pregnant or active parents, then read this recent article in the New York Times.  Women are set back.  Having kids can be a career killer. There is a documented motherhood penalty.

This is why parental leave policies, as opposed to maternity and paternity leave policies, are the wave of the future.  If your business has not revised its time off policies for all parents (whether female/male, gay/straight, birth parent/non-birth parent), then it is time to consider it.  Otherwise, you just could be the next company in the news (and not in a good way).

Oh, and by the way, having a policy is one thing.  But actually encouraging dads to use it is (instead of punishing them for it, whether overtly or covertly) is another critical step.

Happy father lying on sofa holding baby girl and playingIn honor of Father’s Day (albeit a week late), let’s hear it for the dads! Especially if it ultimately helps the moms get paid the same as those dads!

Whenever a celebrity dies, everyone glorifies their accomplishments. So the eulogies for Koko the talking gorilla aren’t surprising in the least. But those eulogies tend to overlook that Koko’s many accomplishments include having been the first gorilla to be accused of sexual harassment.

As we explained in the story linked to above, two women sued the Gorilla Foundation in 2004 claiming that they were pressured to expose themselves to “indulge Koko’s nipple fetish.” Is it just me or does it sound far-fetched for someone to claim to be sexually harassed by a gorilla? The case settled for undisclosed terms.

Rest in Peace, Koko. It would have been an honor to defend you. I’m sorry that you never got your day in court. Were you even deposed?