California Peculiarities

By Colleen M. Regan

Over the past decade, plaintiffs have filed hundreds of class actions alleging that California employers have failed to “provide” meal breaks.  The California Supreme court finally handed down some rules in 2012, in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 4th 1004: 

  • An employer may not employ a person for more than 5 hours in a day without providing a meal break of at least 30 minutes, or more than 10 hours without providing a second 30 minute meal break. 
  • An employer must relieve the employee of all duty for a required meal break, but the employer need not ensure that the employee does no work:  “The employer satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30–minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.”  Brinker, 53 Cal. 4th at 1040. 
  • Absent a waiver by the employee, a first meal break must begin no later than the start of an employee’s sixth hour of work.
  • Absent a waiver by the employee, a second meal break must begin no later than the start of the 11th hour of work, but the second meal break may begin later than 5 hours after the end of the first meal period.

But, you may ask, does the government mandate over employee eating schedules know no bounds?  Are there no exceptions?
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By: Emily Schroeder 

In a recent blog post, we discussed how recent California judicial court decisions may erode the once-solid foundation of traditional incentive pay systems. Specifically, Armenta v. Osmose and Bluford v. Safeway held that while a piece rate compensated employees for their “productive time”—time spent actually working on piece-rate tasks—the piece rate

By John R. Giovannone and Hayley E. Macon

While its administrative and executive siblings often get more publicity, the “outside sales exemption” presents unique challenges for California employers, particularly those that employ large sales teams (even setting aside the administrative challenges surrounding cell phone and other business expenses).

California’s rationale for exempting outside sales personnel from overtime and similar wage-related requirements is straightforward:  “Outside sales[people] have historically been exempt ‘because ‘it’s very difficult to control their hours and working conditions. They set their own time, and they’re on the road, they call on their customers . . . . [R]arely do you know what they are doing on an hour-by-hour basis.’” DLSE Op. Ltr. (September 8, 1998).

But although the outside sales exemption reflects the difficulty of tracking hours in connection with sales activity, California still requires employers to know what hard-to-track sales employees are doing “on an hour-by-hour basis” to defend the application of that exemption.

Who is an exempt outside sales person?

Federal law:  Employees whose “primary duty” is making sales and who regularly work away from the employer’s place of business may be exempt from minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. 20 CFR § 541.500(a). This federal rule is often described as being a  “qualitative” test.

California law:  The California version of the outside sales exemption (Lab. Code § 1171) is peculiar, by federal standards. Like the federal rule, California’s exemption covers sales people who regularly work away from the employer’s place of business. But California imposes an additional “quantitative” requirement: the employee must spend most of the work day away from the employer’s place of business, engaged in sales activities. California also limits the exemption to sales people who sell tangible or intangible items, or obtain orders or contracts for products, services, or use of facilities. IWC Wage Order 1-2001(2)(j). As a result, California’s outside sales exemption is narrower than the federal exemption.

Why is the California definition problematic?
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By Jonathan L. Brophy

Employees are often shocked to learn that employers are not required to provide paid vacations. But it’s true. Legal guarantees of paid leave abound in other advanced economies, but not in the United States, and not even in California. Indeed, the effect of California law is to discourage employers from voluntarily providing paid vacation, because California peculiarly mandates that if the employer offers paid vacation, then the vacation pay must be deemed to vest, with any unused portion being due when employment ends. So “use it or lose it” policies, for example, are not enforceable in California.

In response to this annoying California peculiarity, some employers have considered adopting “no vacation” policies, and “unlimited time off” policies for exempt employees. Below is a quick primer on such policies and some issues to consider before changing existing policies.
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By Michele Haydel Gehrke

In a decision significant for employers with Bring Your Own Device (“BYOD”) policies, a California Court of Appeal held in Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service that employees who must use personal cell phones for work are entitled to reimbursement for “some reasonable percentage” of the personal cell phone bill, irrespective of

By Michael Kopp and Sarah Hamilton

In a simpler world, only the time an employee spent working would count as “hours worked.”  In the world we live in, the employer may need to keep the pay clock running to track time that might be regarded as off duty, such as time spent sleeping, traveling, on call, or at rest. With a rising number of lawsuits now seeking to recover pay for idle time, let’s review some main issues.

The big picture: it is employer control, not employee productivity, that matters. California’s Wage Orders uniformly define “hours worked” as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.” So the key question often is not whether the employee is actually working during the time in question, but whether the employee merely is subject to the employer’s control.

When do I need to pay employees for not (really) working?

  • When can sleeping on the job be “hours worked”? In California, the final answer remains to be seen. Federal law allows employers and employees to agree to exclude up to 8 hours of a 24-hour shift as unpaid sleep time, as long as: (1) the employer provides adequate sleeping facilities, (2) the employee has at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, (3) the employee agrees to the sleep deduction, and (4) sleep-time deductions are only permitted from a 24-hour shift.  California courts traditionally followed the federal approach. See Monzon v. Schaefer Ambulance Serv., Inc., 224 Cal. App. 3d 16 (1990). But stay tuned—whether California will continue to permit such agreements, and on what terms, is the central issue pending before the California Supreme Court in Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions, Inc. We will keep you updated here at CalPecs with new developments!
  • Are rest and recovery breaks “hours worked”?  California’s Wage Orders provide that the 10-minute rest breaks mandated for every 4 hours of work (or major portion thereof) are counted as  “hours worked.” That means they must be paid for and counted in determining whether the employee worked overtime.

But did you know there are other potentially paid breaks?  Required lactation breaks can be compensable time, to the extent those breaks coincide with the standard 10-minute rest periods mandated by the Wage Orders. (But lactation breaks taken outside of or in excess of the standard 10-minute rest periods are, to that extent, not compensable time.)  Also, for employers with outdoor places of employment, mandated “cool down” recovery time, for the purpose of heat illness prevention, is compensable time. See our previous article here for more details.

  • The daily commute: is heading to work also work?  Generally, the daily work commute (home-to-work and work-to-home) is not compensable as “hours worked” under either federal and California law. But if the employee performs work during the commute, such as reviewing reports while on the train, that time may be compensable.

Are there any other potential commuting pitfalls for the unwary employer?  Yes. California courts have held that employer-provided shuttles to work can convert this daily commuting time into “hours worked,” where the employer requires employees to use the employer-provided transportation. Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal. 4th 575 (2000). In contrast, commuting on truly optional employer-provided work shuttles need not be compensated. Overton v. Walt Disney Co., 136 Cal. App. 4th 263 (2006).

By Geoffrey C. Westbrook and Joshua M. Henderson

Just when one might have thought California employment law couldn’t get any stickier for employers, in January 2014 the California Legislature turned up the heat by expanding meal and rest break penalty provisions. Now there’s a new penalty for failure to provide “cool-down,” or recovery, periods to prevent heat illness.

Before, heat illness prevention laws were enforced only by the limited resources of Cal-OSHA. Now, newly amended Labor Code Section 226.7 authorizes private enforcement through class, individual, and multi-plaintiff actions, as well as by the DLSE. Monetary incentives, in addition to ambiguities on many aspects of the law, will likely trigger increased Cal-OSHA enforcement and new litigation, just as the remedies for meal and rest break violations have produced a heat wave of class action litigation. Talk about a scorcher!

But What is a “Cool-down” Period? California employers with “outdoor places of employment” must implement a heat illness prevention program, including allowing and encouraging employees to take a “cool-down rest in the shade for a period of no less than five minutes at a time when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating.” During these periods, employees must get continuous access to shade and drinking water.

While these obligations existed for almost a decade under Cal-OSHA’s oversight, private enforcement officially began January 1, 2014 with the amendment to Labor Code Section 226.7. Now, “an employer shall not require an employee to work during a meal or rest or recovery period” required by law. As a penalty, employers must pay non-exempt employees one additional hour of pay for each workday in which a meal or rest or recovery period is not provided. Penalties are cumulative, meaning it is now theoretically possible under Section 226.7 for an employer to incur three penalties in a given workday for each affected employee.

So, What are “Outdoor Places of Employment?” This term, not defined in the regulations, may seem self-evident. “Outdoor” really means “out of doors” in an open air environment. But how much time must one spend out of doors to make it a “place” of employment? Reasonable minds could differ here: is 50% of a workday spent outdoors sufficient to trigger the law, or will a mere 25% suffice?

Recovery Periods: A “Hotbed” for Litigation? There are no published decisions yet on cool-down periods, and the law is rife with ambiguities that only litigation will resolve. These uncertainties, and the prospect of penalties that will be very large when considered on a cumulative basis, may prompt private litigants to initiate civil actions against unsuspecting employers in industries with some outdoor work that haven’t traditionally been the focus of enforcement initiatives. These industries may include engineering, warehousing, carwash, outdoor recreation, automotive sales, security, country clubs, valets, summer camps, and janitorial businesses.

The following are areas where employers may face “cooling down” challenges:
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By Pam Devata and Dana Howells

Previously in this three-part series, we discussed employer obligations concerning background checks furnished by investigative consumer reporting agencies.  In this third and final segment, we highlight the requirements for California employers who do their own background checks without utilizing the services of a consumer reporting agency. 

Public Records Searches and Disclosure Obligations.  In the Internet age, many types of public records are instantly searchable. Employers who do their own public records searches (either on-line or using old fashioned techniques) must beware of a little-known California law.  Civil Code Section 1786.53(a)  provides broadly that any person who uses personal background information—even information that is a matter of public record—for employment purposes must provide that information to the consumer within 7 days.  “Public records” are defined as records documenting an arrest, indictment, conviction, civil judicial action, tax lien or judgment.

Here’s the most peculiar twist:  the obligation to provide the public records exists regardless of whether the employer obtained actual copies of  public records or simply obtained a verbal summary of the contents.  

  • For example, an in-house researcher may give a verbal report that an applicant has convictions instead of obtaining hard copies of the court records.  Does the employer have any disclosure obligations?
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By Pam Devata and Dana Howells

Both federal and California law impose additional requirements on the users of “background checks” over and above the requirements for “consumer credit reports.” California’s  most significant peculiarity is that it regulates not only background checks done by a consumer reporting agency, but also background checks done by employers in-house.  In this second part of a three-part series, we focus on California background checks done by an investigative consumer reporting agency.

Employers who use agencies to conduct background checks need a disclosure and authorization under both state and federal law.  However, California’s imposes additional burdens on employers.    

Disclosure Requirements.

Federal Law:  The federal Fair Credit  Reporting Act (the FCRA) imposes requirements on users of “investigative consumer reports.”  Investigative consumer reports are defined by federal law as containing information obtained through personal interviews of neighbors, friends, and other associates about character, general reputation, personal characteristics and mode of living.  

California’s definition is broader.

California Law:  The California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act’s (“ICRRA’s”) more expansive definition of “investigative consumer report” includes all third party collection of information about character obtained through “any means,” not just personal interviews with acquaintances. This broad definition would  include reference checks performed by a third party.  An employee could argue that any type of background check—other than a pure credit check—is covered by the ICRRA.  In several recent lawsuits, courts have found the ICRRA unconstitutionally vague because criminal background checks concern both credit-worthiness and character.  Therefore, it is unclear whether ICRRA or the less severe California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act is the governing law.

Under California’s ICRRA, employers seeking authorization to procure an investigative consumer report must disclose:
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