By 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  the legal minimum wage or  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