2014 Cal-Peculiarities

Our readers will be happy to see the end of 2014, from an employment law point of view. With the exception of the Iskanian case, in which the California Supremes finally agreed that most workplace disputes can be subject to mandatory arbitration, employers had little to cheer about. This past year the Golden State brought us a new crop of employee entitlements—also known as employer mandates—requiring significant changes in how companies hire, schedule labor, monitor hours of work, and give employees time off.

Clothed in the language of worker rights and positive societal goals (e.g., the “Healthy Workplaces/Healthy Families Act”), the new laws increasingly cover areas that traditionally have been the subject of collective bargaining (e.g., mandatory paid time off and rates of pay). There is also a trend toward preventing job loss that might result from personal life circumstances, such as requiring paid time off for an employee to seek help for domestic violence, and forbidding questions about an applicant’s criminal or credit history. In short, government protectionism is alive and well in California.

What were the biggest headlines of the year?  Let’s focus on three:
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By Jason Allen 

Those who spent some time with us last week already know that Bay Area voters took to the polls with an eye toward employees this year. But it wasn’t just with regard to pay. They also ventured into the oh-so-complicated world of sick leave and flexible schedules.

Sick Leave 

As we have

By Jason Allen 

As the year winds down, we thought it wise to look back at what California’s busiest locality has done in developing local employment law. The folks in the Bay Area have been so busy flexing their employment law muscles that we’ve split this summary into two easily digestible posts to provide what

By Cassandra Carroll

Earlier this year, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have functioned to ban “pay secrecy” policies in the workplace and prohibit retaliation against employees for disclosing compensation information, languished in Congress. President Barack Obama then sidestepped the Congress and signed Executive Order 13665: Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information. EO 13665 includes the same pay secrecy prohibitions previously set forth in the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, but its scope is far more limited, as it applies only to federal contractors. Similar anti-pay secrecy protections have existed, under an interpretation of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. And California employers have their own peculiar version of anti-pay secrecy rules to worry about.

California Labor Code section 232—banning pay secrecy policies and prohibiting discipline on the basis of wage disclosure—emerged on the scene way back in 1985. (That was when Marty McFly first introduced the “hover board”; you’re so late to the party, Tony Hawk.) Although Section 232 has rarely been litigated, President Obama’s hard push for anti-pay secrecy laws has raised employee consciousness of this issue, and we expect an uptick of related claims in this area.

Section 232 states that an employer must not:
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By Kristina M. Launey

Speculate no more: the wait is over. No, we don’t know the details of the new Star Wars movie. Nor do we know the gender of the second royal baby. But we do have the Labor Commissioner’s just-issued FAQs, which can help guide employers in navigating California’s new Paid Sick Leave Law (AB 1522).

These FAQs come on the heels of the LC’s issuance of the highly anticipated Poster and Wage Theft Notice Template.

Of particular significance, the FAQs provide the following guidance and clarifications:
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By Duwayne A. Carr and Laura J. Maechtlen

Last week, we blogged that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors tentatively and unanimously passed the Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights, which requires certain employers to (a) offer additional hours of work to current part-time employees before hiring new employees or subcontracting, (b) retain employees for 90

By Kristina Launey and Ann Marie Zaletel

Just over a month before the January 1, 2015 effective date of AB 1522, the Labor Commissioner has issued two advisories of immediate interest to California employers.  One is a template poster for employer compliance and the other is a revised Wage Theft Notice.  

Employers may

By Duwayne A. Carr and Laura J. Maechtlen

We previously blogged about pending legislation in San Francisco titled the “Retail Workers Bill of Rights,” a comprehensive set of policies introduced as two separate pieces of legislation (here and here) by San Francisco Supervisors Eric Mar and David Chiu

We learned that the Board of Supervisors tentatively—and unanimously—passed both  pieces of proposed legislation this week.  A confirmation vote is scheduled to occur on November 25, 2014, and, if the legislation passes at that time, the ordinances will become law in San Francisco 180 days after the effective date. 

While amendments might be considered prior to the final confirmation vote, we summarize the notable aspects of the two pieces of legislation here, in anticipation of that vote.  Of particular note to employers, the legislation provides a private right of action.  Any person aggrieved by a violation of the ordinance, any entity a member of which is aggrieved by a violation, or any other person or entity acting on behalf of the public, may bring a civil action in court against an employer for violating the ordinance.

Board of Supervisors File No. 140880:  Hours and Retention Protections for Formula Retail Employees

This proposed ordinance would apply to Formula Retail employers with 20 or more employees in the City.  “Formula Retail” establishments are defined for purposes of the new legislation as businesses with at least 20 retail sales establishments located worldwide. 

The proposed ordinance would require employers to:
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By John R. Giovannone and Aaron Lubeley

“Let me get this straight. To the delight of our workers, we’ve been providing free meals. But now someone is claiming that I owe unpaid overtime to account for the value of the free meals? Really??” 

We have been hearing this kind of exasperated response from clients with more frequency, as many employers have made the business choice to provide their employees with lunch at no cost. Many of these same employers are being accused of underpaying overtime by failing to incorporate the value of free food in calculating the regular, overtime, and double-time rates of pay. Talk about a funny way to give thanks!

Companies provide free food to employees for many legitimate business reasons: to help limit lunch breaks to 30 minutes, to encourage employees stay close to the job site during lunch breaks in case of emergencies, to avoid food waste and related disposal costs in industries where more food is prepared than the customers will consume (i.e., menu options), and to build workforce camaraderie by encouraging employees to take their lunch breaks together. This just a small sampling of reasons an employer might decide to feed its workforce. And not all free food needs to be considered in the computation of overtime.  But sometimes companies enact such free lunch policies without due consideration of the rules and possible legal ramifications.

As the plaintiffs’ bar clearly understands, California defines wages as “all amounts for labor performed by employees.” California overtime and double time are computed based on an employee’s regular rate of pay, which includes cash and other types of remuneration. Labor Code §§ 200, 510.

Increasingly, employers are seeing complaints that argue, essentially, if an employee earns $9 an hour and gets a free turkey sandwich for lunch, the sandwich is part of the “amounts for labor performed.” Therefore, plaintiffs argue, the value of the food should be factored into the employee’s regular rate, so that the corresponding rate of payment for any overtime worked should be increased by the per-hour value of a couple slices of turkey and bread! For example, if the value of the sandwich is $4.00, and is provided five days a week, the employee is getting an extra $20 per week in “other remuneration” that, plaintiffs argue, would make the regular rate for overtime computation not just $9/hour, but something more (depending on the number of hours worked in the week).

Unfortunately, this is no Thanksgiving prank. Free food regular rate miscalculation cases have actually been around in California since the Seventies (e.g., Marshall v. Valhalla Inn, 9th Cir. 1979: “The regular remuneration … consisted of the wages … plus the value of the meal provided … . The amount of such payments must therefore be included in determining the overtime rate.”). But this “gotcha” category of lawsuits, which defy common sense, have recently come into vogue. Worse still, theoretically similar claim types have evolved in response to similar food-related company policies.

Some lawsuits, for example, attack the practice of giving employees a discount on cafeteria food, claiming that the value of the discount should be included in calculating overtime rates (“If you charge me $1 for a $4 sandwich, that’s $3 more to my regular rate computation.”).

Other lawsuits claim that employers miscalculate overtime when they incorporate the employer’s cost of the food provided into the overtime calculation rather than incorporating the fair market value of the food provided to the employee into the overtime calculation.

These lawsuits actually work against the interests of employees, as they inspire an unsurprising employer response: cancellation of free and discounted meal policies. Are there effective alternatives to the drastic cancel-the-policy solution to this problem? Yes, but only careful consideration of each employer’s relevant facts and circumstances, coupled with careful drafting of free-lunch policies and procedures, will avoid liability for miscalculating overtime and double time rates:
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