California Employment Law

Defense and attack .fatBy David Kadue

The traditional posture of California employers apprehensive about “gotcha” wage and hour claims is to hunker down and wait for the next lawsuit. But a few brave souls have taken the offensive. We celebrate two examples here. We cannot guarantee the success of their efforts, but we applaud their courage.

Declaratory relief action against California Labor Commissioner

One annoying peculiarity of California employment law is the Bluford doctrine, announced in a 2013 Court of Appeal decision called Bluford v. Safeway Inc. The Bluford case announced that truck drivers—already paid handsomely by mileage rates and by hourly rates for specified tasks and situations—were entitled to additional, separate pay for each rest period, under a notion that “employees must be compensated for each hour worked at either [1] the legal minimum wage or [2] the contractual hourly rate.” The court found it immaterial that the truck drivers earned, on an hourly average, far more than the minimum wage. Although Bluford was a controversial decision, the California Supreme Court declined to grant the employer’s petition for review.

OK. Fair (or unfair) enough. Then came the California Labor Commissioner and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, to rub salt in the Bluford wound. The DLSE determined that employers who pay on a piece-rate basis not only must separately pay for rest periods, but also must pay for those periods at a rate higher than the minimum wage or a contractual wage. According to the DLSE, an employer must pay piece-rate workers for rest periods at a rate equal to their average hourly piece-earning rate (which would vary on a continuous basis and which could greatly exceed the minimum wage). The DLSE announced this determination in a November 2013 internal memorandum, developed without the benefit of a rule-making process. The resulting “underground regulation” robs piece-rate paying employers of the certainty of paying rest periods at a fixed, pre-determined hourly rate.

Certain agricultural employers, heavily reliant on piece-rate labor, got mad as heck and decided not to take it anymore. In April 2015, in a case entitled Ventura County Agricultural Association v. Su, employer associations sued the government. They brought a petition for writ of mandate and a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in Sacramento County Superior Court. They argue that the DLSE has issued an unlawful regulation and one that is contrary to Bluford. We wish them well.

Making a federal case out of compelling a plaintiff to arbitrate PAGA claims
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April the first, Fool's day, on table calendarBy our source in Sacramento

Emergency legislation promises to revitalize the California economy and place our state in the forefront of jurisdictions promoting economic growth and employment opportunity.

The California’s Open for Business—Really!—Act (“COBRA”), AB 666, effective April 1, works the following reforms in California employment law.

PAGA repeal. Article I of COBRA repeals the

By Nick Geannacopulos and Emily Barker

With the election upon us, political expression at work likely has intensified and at times may have led to disharmony. We all understand that political speech receives the highest protection in the civil arena—but how far does that protection extend in the California workplace? What if your at-will employee goes on the radio to assert a political stance directly adverse to your company’s interests? Can you stop the company-wide email that asks for contributions to the local independent candidate? Can you require your nostalgic baby boomer to take down his “Nixon’s The One” poster in his office?

A reasonable employer might think that it can regulate, or stop entirely, potentially disruptive workplace conduct that occurs on company premises. But let’s remember once again that California is peculiar: employers here must navigate around strong protections for political activities that apply both in and outside the workplace. Specifically, California Labor Code sections 1101 and 1102 prevent private employers from controlling or attempting to restrict employees from participating in political actions or activities.

Now let’s revisit the examples we mentioned above:
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By Kristina Launey and Christie Jackson

On August 30, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown commented on the Legislature’s passage of a bill entitled the “Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014”: “Tonight, the Legislature took historic action to help hardworking Californians. This bill guarantees that millions of workers – from Eureka to San Diego – won’t lose their jobs or pay just because they get sick.”  The bill, which he signed into law September 10, will require employers statewide to provide paid sick leave.

Though the requirement that employees receive paid sick leave under the Act does not kick in until July 1, 2015, the Act already has employers sweating the law’s myriad of new provisions, mindful of the compliance headaches the new law’s vagaries are certain to bring. If only there were a vaccine… For now, as is often the case, the only sure cure is prevention. Awareness and proactive preparation is the only way to weather the worst of this latest legislative virus.

Employees May Earn 24 Hours of Paid Sick Leave Per Year: The Act grants a right to earn paid sick days to employees who—on or after July 1, 2015—work in California for 30 or more days within a year. Paid sick days will accrue at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. The employee may use the accrued sick days beginning on the 90th day of employment. Exempt employees’ accrual is based on a presumed 40 hour-workweek; except that an exempt employee whose normal workweek is fewer than 40 hours will accrue paid sick days based on that employee’s normal workweek.

An employer can limit use of paid sick days to 24 hours or three days in each year of employment. No accrual or carry over is required if the full amount of leave is received at the beginning of each year. The Act does not require extra paid sick days to be paid by employers whose paid time off policies already provide as many sick days as the Act now requires.

Qualifying Reasons for Use: 
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Just in time for International Workers’ Day (May 1), on April 30, 2014, the California Labor Commissioner announced a new statewide public awareness campaign to educate workers about their rights.  Messaging in multiple media (website, print and radio spots) will include information about minimum wage, overtime and meal and rest break laws.  The campaign,

While the Stakes At Issue In Actions Before the DLSE Continue to Grow, So Do The Deterrents And Obstacles to Pursuing Appeals of DLSE Orders in Court

By John R. Giovannone

Last week, the DLSE dropped a bomb.  On April 3, 2014 the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) issued a News Release on its website with the tag line “California Labor Commissioner orders Southern California Company to return over $336,000 to janitorial workers for unpaid wages.”  The order, which also imposed over $33,000 in penalty assessments, addressed claims of wage and meal/rest break violations on behalf of roughly 115 hourly workers over a three year period.  Setting aside the merits of the action, a liability finding of that magnitude in court would ordinarily result in the employer running to appeal.  But, the chances of an appeal are considerably lower here because the liability finding was issued by the DLSE.     

Why don’t more employers appeal adverse DLSE Decisions?  Historically, employers facing adverse orders, decisions, or awards of from the DLSE wouldn’t appeal those decisions in court for reasons that have little to do with the merits of their would-be de novo appeal, such as:
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As loyal Cal Pecs Blog readers, you probably know of our signature book Cal-Peculiarities:  How California Employment Law Is Different, which we update on an annual basis.  The 2014 edition will be ready for release next week.

This edition is the most comprehensive to date.  It highlights the most recent court decisions and legislative developments

By Laura Maechtlen and Kristen Verrastro

During onboarding, it would not be unusual for an employer to ask a new hire to give written authorization for deductions from their final paycheck if the employee does not return employer provided uniforms, tools, or equipment.  It also would not be unusual for employers to ask employees to supply their own equipment and tools, or clothing as a uniform when reporting for work.

In California, however, written authorization executed during the onboarding process will not suffice for reimbursement deductions at the time of termination.  Additionally in California, employers cannot require employees to supply certain clothing, tools, and equipment without reimbursement.

Uniforms

When it comes to uniforms, federal law differs from California law:

Federal law:  Federal law may allow employers to pass the costs of providing or maintaining uniforms to employees, as long as the employee’s pay would not drop below minimum wage in doing so.

California law:  California law requires that employers pay for or reimburse nonexempt employees for all costs associated with uniforms, regardless of the employees’ compensation.

What is a “Uniform”?
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