Seyfarth Synopsis: Plaintiffs’ lawyers routinely invoke Labor Code provisions to conduct pre-litigation discovery by seeking employment records. For employers that scramble to comply with these often burdensome demands, we offer some practical tips on how to utilize the protections the law provides for employers and for the (perhaps) unsuspecting employees on whose purported behalf the request is made.

Have you received a lawyer’s letter containing a seemingly endless list of employment records demanded on behalf of a current or former employee? If so, count yourself in the majority. It is now commonplace for plaintiffs’ attorneys to bombard employers with demands for employment records before they launch a legal action against the company. The letter may also list a long series of alleged statutory violations, in search of a quick settlement and a big pay day.

This blog highlights some protections that employers have and shares some creative ways to respond the next time you receive a pre-litigation document demand.

A Quick Recap of the Law

Labor Code §§ 1198.5 and 226 are the two statutes most commonly used to seek employment records. Section 1198.5 entitles an employee, former employee, or her representative (usually an attorney) to inspect or receive a copy of personnel records relating to the employee’s performance or any grievance concerning the employee. The DLSE’s non-exhaustive list of examples of covered documents includes these items: applications for employment, performance reviews, commendations, warnings, disciplinary actions, and complaints about the employee.

Section 226 entitles an employee or an employee’s representative to seek the employee’s wage statement records. Employers responding to a Section 226 request may provide “a computer-generated record” in lieu of actual wage statement copies, provided that record contains all nine specified items of information, such as all hourly rates, hours worked, gross wages earned, etc. And, as of January 1, 2019, employers must provide the employee a copy of the wage statements or computer-generated record upon request, rather than just providing an opportunity for an “inspection.”

Employer must provide responsive documents within certain time limits—personnel records within 30 days and wage statement records within 21 days. A failure to timely respond to these requests could lead to penalties, civil litigation, and, in some cases, criminal liabilities.

We’ve previously written an in-depth analysis of these provisions and how to comply with record requests under them.

Is There Anything I Can Do Before Producing the Records?

Before blindly complying with requests and producing all the responsive documents, employers should consider verifying the identity of the person seeking the records and whether the individual is truly entitled to obtain them. Sections 1198.5 and 226 both expressly permit a company to take “reasonable steps” to verify the identity of the employee or the representative seeking the employment records. Under Section 1198.5(e), the employer “may take reasonable steps to verify the identity of a current or former employee or his or her authorized representative.” Under Section 226(b), the employer “may take reasonable steps to ensure the identity of a current or former employee.”

Why Should I Seek Verification Before Producing the Records?

There are several reasons to implement a verification process:

  • Employment records often contain sensitive and private information, such as social security numbers, financial data, and contact information. With the burgeoning threat of identity theft, employers should be mindful about producing sensitive employment records to strangers who claim to be the employee or the employee’s representative.
  • Employment record requests often put companies in a time crunch to compile and respond. By seeking verification, the company develops a basis for an argument that it should have more time to gather the requested information and complete its review of responsive documents.
  • The verification process helps ensure there is an existing relationship between the attorney and the current or former employee and that the employee has authorized the attorney to get the records on her behalf.
  • The verification process forces the attorney making the demand to re-engage with the client. In some cases, the employee may develop a change of heart and no longer wish to sue the company. When that happens, the attorney who claims to represent the employee cannot complete the verification request, and the company may never hear back from the attorney (or the employee) again.

So the next time you receive a letter from an employment lawyer, consider taking a moment to consider the best approach for your response. Because each request should be examined and evaluated on a case-by-case basis, please make sure you seek proper legal advice from a qualified employment lawyer.

If you would like assistance or have questions about the strategies for responding to employment records requests, please contact the authors or your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Several bills of concern to California employers failed to receive the house of origin blessing and passage by the June 1 deadline, including this year’s attempts at PAGA reform, criminal history inquiries, and medical marijuana accommodations, while a boatload of others, most notably sexual harassment-related bills, sail on. The measures being passed to their opposite house for consideration are described below. 

Friday, June 1, marked the deadline for the state Senate and Assembly to pass bills introduced in their respective houses to the other house. Several employment-related bills (see links at the end of this post) failed to make it out of the house of origin. Many others, detailed below, continue their onward progress toward possible enactment into law. Most notable in number and publicity are the many pending sexual harassment bills. Here’s what is still alive, that we are watching:

Sexual Harassment

AB 1867 would require employers with 50 or more employees to retain records of all internal employee sexual harassment complaints for ten years, and would allow the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) to seek an order compelling non-compliant employers to do so. The bill, which would add Section 12950.5 to the Government Code, is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on June 13.

SB 1300 would amend the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to require a plaintiff who alleges the employer failed to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment to show: (1) the employer knew the conduct was unwelcome, (2) the conduct would meet the legal standard for harassment or discrimination if it increased in severity or became pervasive, and (3) the employer failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the same or similar conduct from recurring.

This bill would also (a) prohibit an employer from requiring a release of claims or rights under FEHA, or a nondisclosure agreement or other agreement not to disclose unlawful acts in the workplace, in exchange for a raise or a bonus or as a condition of employment or continued employment, (b) require employers, with five or more employees, to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training, including bystander intervention training, within six months of hire and every two years thereafter to all California employees—not just supervisors, and (c) prohibit a prevailing defendant from being awarded fees and costs unless the court finds the action was frivolous, unreasonable, or totally without foundation when brought or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.

SB 1343, which closely resembles SB 1300, would require employers with five or more employees—including temporary or seasonal employees—to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training to all employees by 2020 and then once every two years thereafter. SB 1343 would also require the DFEH to develop (or obtain) and publish on its website a two-hour interactive online training course on prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. The bill would also require the DFEH to make the training course, as well as posters, and fact sheets, available in multiple languages (i.e., English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean and any other language spoken by “a substantial number of non-English speaking people”).

AB 3080 would prohibit (1) a person from, as a condition of employment or as a condition of entering into a contractual agreement, prohibiting a job applicant, an employee, or independent contractor from disclosing to any person instances of sexual harassment suffered, witnessed, or discovered in the work place; (2) mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims; and (3) retaliation against an applicant or an employee who refuses to sign an arbitration agreement. Governor Brown vetoed AB 465 in 2015, which would have prohibited the use of mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. In his veto message, Governor Brown said he was “not prepared to take the far-reaching step proposed by this bill” and that this sort of blanket ban on mandatory arbitration “has been consistently struck down in other states as violating the Federal Arbitration Act” (FAA). Supporters of AB 3080 have attempted to “preemptively” address such arguments: Floor Analyses cite the ACLU as citing the California Supreme Court’s 2000 Armendariz decision, as well as Civil Code sections 1668 and 3513, to argue that the FAA does not exempt arbitration clauses from general principles that apply to all contracts, and that contracts attempting to exempt people from fraud or illegal activity are unenforceable and against public policy.

AB 3081 would: (1) extend Labor Code prohibitions on discrimination against employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to include employees who are victims of sexual harassment, as well as employees who take time off to assist a family member who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment or stalking; (2) create a rebuttable presumption of unlawful retaliation against an employee if any adverse job action occurs within 90 days of reporting sexual harassment, participating in an investigation, or similar acts; (3) increase the time an employee has to file a complaint with the DLSE for violation of Labor Code section 230 (provides protected time off for jury duty and victims) from one year to three years; (4) require an employer, at the time of hiring and regularly on an annual basis thereafter, to provide to each employee a written notice that includes prescribed information about sexual harassment; and (5) require an employer with 25 or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all nonsupervisory employees at the time of hire and once every two years thereafter. The bill would also require the Labor Commissioner to create a means for employees to report sexual harassment or assault that occurs in the workplace.

AB 3082 would require the state Department of Social Services (DSS) to develop a policy addressing sexual harassment of in-home supportive services (IHSS) providers and to provide the Legislature with a summary by September 30, 2019. AB 2872 would require the DSS to adopt a peer-to-peer training course for IHSS providers and to ensure that every authorized provider has received at least two hours of peer-to-peer training by December 31, 2019. Beginning January 1, 2020, the bill would require all new or returning IHSS providers to receive at least two hours of peer-to-peer training within their first year of employment.

SB 1038 would make an employee who intentionally retaliates against a person who has filed a complaint, testified, assisted in any proceeding, or opposed any prohibited practice, under FEHA, jointly and severally liable, regardless of whether the employer knew or should have known of that employee’s retaliatory conduct. Previous versions of this bill would have extended personal liability for retaliation, similarly to the liability that already exists for harassment.

AB 2770 would include as “privileged” communications for: (1) complaints of sexual harassment made without malice by an employee to an employer based upon credible evidence; (2) communications between the employer and “interested persons” made without malice regarding the complaint; and (3) non-malicious statements made to prospective employers as to whether a decision to not rehire would be based on a determination that the former employee had engaged in sexual harassment. The bill is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Judiciary on June 12.

AB 1870 would extend the time an employee has to file an administrative charge with the DFEH alleging an unlawful practice under the FEHA, including, but not limited to, allegations of a sexual harassment, from one year to three years from the alleged incident.

SB 820, the “Stand Together Against Non-Disclosure” (STAND) Act, would make void as a matter of law and public policy provisions in settlement agreements, entered into on or after January 1, 2019, that prevent the disclosure of factual information related to cases involving sexual assault, sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and failure to prevent sex-based harassment and discrimination. The bill would, however, allow such a confidentiality provision to be included upon the request of the claimant unless the opposing party is a government agency or public official; and would allow a provision requiring the monetary settlement payment be kept confidential. Senator Leyva thanked her colleagues when this bill passed the Senate on May 21: “SB 820 shreds the curtain of secrecy that has forced victims to remain silent and empowers them to speak their truth so that we can hopefully protect other victims moving forward.” SB 820 would build on AB 1682, signed into law in 2016, which prohibits confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements in cases involving child sexual abuse or sexual assault against an elderly or dependent adult.

AB 3109 would make void and unenforceable a provision in a contract or settlement agreement, entered into on or after January 1, 2019 that: either (1) waives a party’s right to testify regarding an alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment by the other party to the contract or agreement in an administrative, legislative, or judicial proceeding; or (2) substantially restrains a party’s right to seek employment or reemployment in any lawful occupation or industry, unless the other party to the contract or agreement is the current or prior employer (except for public employers and a private employer that “so dominates the labor market” so as to effectively restrict the employee from being able to secure employment). The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on Judiciary on June 17.

SB 224 would extend liability for claims of sexual harassment where a professional relationship exists between a complainant and an elected official, lobbyist, director, or producer. This bill (a two year bill introduced in February 2017) has been held at the Assembly desk since January 23, 2018. AB 2338 would require talent agencies to provide to employees and artists, and the Labor Commissioner to provide minors and their parents (prior to issuing the minor a work permit), training and materials on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation, nutrition, reporting resources, and eating disorders. This bill would authorize the Labor Commissioner to charge up to a $25 fee to train each minor, and to impose a $100 fine each time a talent agency fails to provide training, education, or fails to retain specified records. The bill would require a talent agency to request and retain a copy of the minor’s work permit prior to representing a minor.

AB 2079—the “Janitor Survivor Empowerment Act”—would: (1) prohibit the Division of Industrial Relations (DIR) from approving a janitorial service employer’s registration or a renewal that has not fully satisfied a final judgment for certain unlawful employment practices; (2) require the DIR to convene an advisory committee to develop requirements for qualified organizations and peer trainers that janitorial employers must use to provide sexual harassment prevention training; (3) require the DIR maintain a list of qualified organizations and qualified peer trainers and employers to use a qualified organization from the list; and (4) require employers, upon request, to provide an employee a copy of all training materials. AB 2079 builds upon AB 1978 (2016)—the Property Services Workers Protection Act, effective July 1, 2018—which established requirements to combat wage theft and sexual harassment for the janitorial industry.

AB 1761 would require hotel employers to: (1) provide employees with a free “panic button” to call for help when working alone in a guest room that the employee may use, and allow the employee to cease work, if the employee reasonably believes there is an ongoing crime, harassment, or other emergency happening in the employee’s presence; (2) post a notice on the back of each guestroom door informing guests of the panic buttons entitled, “The Law Protects Hotel Housekeepers and Other Employees from Sexual Assault and Harassment”; and (3) provide an employee subjected to an act of violence, sexual harassment or assault, upon request, with time off to seek assistance from law enforcement, legal or medical assistance, and/or reasonable accommodation. The bill would prohibit employers from taking action against any employee who exercises the protections afforded by this bill, and impose a $100 per day penalty, up to $1,000, for a violation of these proposed provisions.

Pay Equity

SB 1284, as presently drafted, is a less onerous version of last year’s effort to mandate annual reporting of pay data a la EEO-1. The bill would require, on or before September 30, 2019, and each year thereafter, that private employers with 100 or more employees submit a pay data report to the DIR. If enacted, the law would require employers to include in the report the following for each establishment, and a consolidated report for all establishments:

  1. The number of employees by race, ethnicity, and sex in the following categories: all levels of officials and managers, professionals, technicians, sales workers, administrative support workers, craft workers, operatives, laborers and helpers, and service workers; and
  2. The number of employees by race, ethnicity and sex whose earnings fall within each of the pay bands used by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation Employment Statistics Survey, determined by each employee’s total earnings for a 12-month look-back period, including total hours worked by each employee for part-time/partial-year employment.

Employers that are required to submit the EEO-1 Report could instead submit that report to the DIR. The DIR would maintain the reports for 10 years and make the report available to the DFEH upon request. Non-compliant employers would be subject to a $500 civil penalty for the initial violation and $5,000 for each subsequent violation as well as citation by the Labor Commissioner. The bill would prohibit the DIR and DFEH from publicizing any individually identifiable information obtained through this process but authorize the DIR or the DFEH to develop and publicize aggregate reports based on the information received that are reasonably calculated to prevent association of any data with any business or person.

This year’s Fair Pay Act bill, AB 2282, attempts to clarify some ambiguities in Labor Code sections 432.3 and 1197.5 created by prior pay equity legislation, AB 1676 (2016) and AB 168 (2017). AB 2282 would clarify that “pay scale” means a “salary or hourly wage range,” that “reasonable request” by an employee for a position’s pay scale means “a request made after an applicant has completed an initial interview with the employer,” and that “applicant” or “applicant for employment” means an individual who is seeking employment with the employer and is currently not employed with that employer in any capacity or position. The bill provides that nothing in section 432.3 prohibits an employer from asking an applicant about his/her salary expectation, and that nothing in section 1197.5 should be interpreted to prohibit an employer from making a compensation decision based on a current employee’s existing salary as long as any wage differential resulting from that compensation decision is justified by one or more of the factors specified in the statute. AB 2282 is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on June 13.

Pay Statements: SB 1252 would amend Labor Code section 226 to grant employees the right “to receive” a copy of (not just inspect) their pay statements. This bill is scheduled for hearing on June 20 in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.

Port Drayage Carriers: SB 1402 would require the DLSE to create and post a list on its website of “bad actor” port drayage motor carriers, i.e., companies with any unsatisfied judgments or assessments, or any “order, decision, or award” finding illegal conduct as to various wage/hour issues, including independent contractor misclassification and derivative claims. This bill would extend joint and severable liability to those companies’ customers for future wage violations of the same nature by those drayage motor carriers. This bill is part of a very broad and multi-pronged attack on port drayage motor carriers serving the LA and Long Beach ports, mainly regarding alleged independent contractor misclassification of drivers.

Lactation Accommodations: AB 1976 would ensure employers’ already-required reasonable efforts to provide a room or location for lactation consists of providing something other than a toilet stall or bathroom (by deleting “toilet stall” and inserting “bathroom” in the statute). This bill is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on June 13. SB 937 would more substantively change existing lactation accommodation requirements, by requiring a lactation room to be safe, clean, and free of toxic or hazardous materials, contain a surface to place a breast pump and personal items, contain a place to sit, and have access to electricity. The bill would exempt employers with fewer than 50 employees that can show that the requirement would impose an undue hardship by causing significant expense or operational difficulty when considered in relation to the employer’s size, financial resources, or structure.  SB 937 would allow employers to designate a temporary lactation location, instead of providing a dedicated room, due to operational, financial, or space limitations. SB 937 would require employers to develop and implement a new lactation accommodation policy describing an employee’s right to a lactation accommodation, how to request an accommodation, the employer’s obligation to respond to the request, and the employee’s right to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner. The bill would also require employers to maintain accommodation request records for three years and to allow the Labor Commissioner access to the records. The bill would require the DLSE to create and make available a model lactation policy and model lactation accommodation request form on the DLSE website, as well as lactation accommodation best practices. The bill would deem a denial of reasonable break time or adequate lactation space a failure to provide a rest period in accordance with Labor Code section 226.7.

Paid Family Leave: 2017 legislation effective January 1, 2018, removed the seven-day waiting period before an eligible employee may receive family temporary disability benefits (under the paid family leave program, which provides wage replacement benefits to workers who take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a minor child within one year of birth or placement). AB 2587 would remove the requirement that up to one week of vacation leave be applied to the waiting period, consistent with the removal of the seven-day waiting period for these benefits.  This bill is scheduled for hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on June 13.

Criminal History: SB 1412, the sole criminal history bill of four still alive, would allow employers to inquire into a job applicant’s particular conviction, regardless of whether that conviction has been judicially dismissed or sealed, under these specified conditions: (1) the employer is required by federal law, federal regulation, or state law to obtain information about the particular conviction, (2) the job applicant would carry or use a firearm as part of the employment, (3) the job applicant with that particular conviction would be ineligible to hold the position sought, or (4) the employer is prohibited from hiring an applicant who has that particular conviction.

Mediation Confidentiality: SB 954 would require that, except in the case of a class action, before engaging in a mediation or mediation consultation, an attorney representing a client participating in a mediation or a mediation consultation must provide the client with a written disclosure containing the mediation confidentiality restrictions provided in the Evidence Code. The bill would require the attorney to obtain a written acknowledgment signed by the client stating that the client has read and understands the confidentiality restrictions. However, an agreement prepared during a mediation would remain valid even if an attorney fails to comply with the disclosure requirement. The bill would also add to the mediation privilege of Evidence Code section 1122 any communication, document, or writing that is to be used in an attorney disciplinary proceeding to determine whether an attorney has complied with the above requirements, and does not disclose anything said or done or any admission made in the course of the mediation.

Immigration Status: AB 2732 would make it illegal—and subject to a $10,000 penalty—for an employer to knowingly destroy or withhold any real or purported passport, other immigration document, or government identification, of another person, in the course of committing trafficking, peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, a coercive labor practice, or to avoid any obligation imposed on the employer by the Labor Code. This bill would require an employer to post a workplace notice stating the rights of an employee to maintain custody of the employee’s own immigration documents, that the withholding of immigration documents by an employer is a crime, and “If your employer or anyone is controlling your movement, documents, or wages, or using direct or implied threats against you or your family, or both, you have the right to call local or federal authorities, or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.”. Further, the bill would require an employer to provide employees with the “Worker’s Bill of Rights,” to be developed by the DIR by July 1, 2019, which would inform employees of the same rights.  Employers would be required to have employees sign the “Worker’s Bill of Rights” and maintain the records for at least three years.

SB 785, which the Governor signed and went into effect immediately May 17, 2018 (to sunset on January 1, 2020), prohibits the disclosure of an individual’s immigration status in open court in a civil or criminal action unless the party wishing to disclose the information requests a confidential in camera hearing and the judge deems the evidence relevant and admissible.

Bills that failed… for now:

The following bills did not survive the house of origin deadline or were struck down prior to the deadline. See our prior legislative update for summaries of these bills.

AB 2016 (PAGA); AB 2482 (Flexible Work Schedules); AB 2946 (DLSE Complaints extension); AB 2366 (Victims of Sexual Harassment); AB 1938 (Familial Status Inquiries); AB 2223 and AB 2613 (Wage Statements); AB 2069 (medical marijuana reasonable accommodation); AB 2841 (paid sick leave increase); AB 2680, SB 1298, AB 2647 (criminal history inquiries).

Stay tuned for our next Legislative update coming around the August 31st deadline for bills to pass both houses and make their way to the Governor’s office.

Seyfarth Synopsis: There are many different ways to pay employees in California. What is the scoop behind paying commissions? What are commission agreements and how have courts deciphered their coded mysteries? Read on for the most current intelligence from the SIA (Seyfarth Intelligence Agency).

Rogue Nation: The Rough Terrain Surrounding Commissions

What are commissions? Labor Code Section 204.1 defines a commission as a wage earned from either a sale of a product or a service when the wage depends proportionately on the amount or value of the goods or services sold. Deciphering whether a pay plan is truly commission-based can be a hard code to crack.

While sometimes confused with bonuses or piece-rate pay, commissions are neither. As stated above, they are wages earned by selling a product or a service, rather than by performing a particular task or service. The Labor Code protects commission pay just as it protects other types of wages.

Commissions are not profit-sharing plans, unless the employer has offered to pay a fixed percentage of company sales or profits as pay for work performed.

Paying commissions at termination. Labor Code Section 201(a) provides that earned commissions—like wages generally—are due as soon as employment ends. A DLSE Opinion Letter, however, states that a commission may not actually be earned until the employer has all the information needed to calculate the commission. Payment at separation is subject to this same rule—meaning that calculating wages owed and when they are due to a terminated commissioned employee can be complicated.

The Commission Ultimatum: You Need a Commission Agreement

Under Labor Code Section 2751, employers must provide most commissioned employees with a written agreement detailing how their commissions will be calculated and paid. This duty applies even if only some of the employee’s wages are in the form of commissions. Employers must give each such employee a signed copy of the commission agreement and obtain from the employee a signed receipt.

The conditions determining when a commission is “earned” must be defined in the commission agreement. The employer has a range of options in describing those conditions, so long as they are clear. For example, a commission can be earned when a customer executes a sale agreement, or not until the customer actually completes payment for the item or service. See Koehl v. Verio, Inc. (Cal. Ct. App. 2016) (commissions are earned when the employee has perfected the right to payment: when all the contractual conditions for requiring payment have been met).

Commission agreements can also give an employee advances on commissions, to provide the employee some cash flow before a commission is earned. These advances can act as loans, which the employee must re-pay if not earned, depending on the specific agreement in place.

Bridge of Lawsuits

Unfortunately, the open and customizable nature of commission agreements has led to litigation and trouble for employers down the road.

As commission agreements are contracts, much of the litigation surrounding their enforcement and interpretation has depended on how they are drafted. California courts will not enforce unlawful or unconscionable terms and will construe any ambiguities against the drafter of the commission agreement—usually the employer. See Aguilar v. Zep Inc. (N.D. Cal. 2014) (finding it impermissible to deduct from commissions such items as credit card fees and costs of samples).

Conflicts can also arise if employers misclassify as exempt an employee who earns some wages in the form of commission. Under California’s “commissioned sales exemption,” employees covered by Wage Order 4 or Wage Order 7 qualify as commissioned employees exempt from overtime-pay requirements only if: they earn at least 1.5 times the minimum wage and earn more than one-half of their income from commissions. This exemption applies only when conditions are met during a set pay period, which can mean that a regularly paid employee may be exempt during one pay period and not exempt during another pay period, when the employee has earned less commission. See Peabody v. Time Warner Cable Inc. (Cal. 2014) (an employer may not attribute commission wages paid in one pay period to other pay periods in order to show the minimum earnings needed to establish the commissioned employee exemption). Note also that the federal FLSA limits its own exemption for commissioned employees to those working for retail or service establishments. See 29 C.F.R Section 779.412.

Workplace Solutions: Searching for a “Safe House”?

Thinking of paying your “agents” by commission? Wondering if your commission agreements are a potentially deadly affair? Your friendly SIA Agent here at Seyfarth is happy to provide back-up.

Seyfarth Synopsis: New statutory obligations for California employers in 2018 will include prohibitions on inquiries into applicants’ salary and conviction histories, expanding CFRA to employees of smaller employers, expansion of mandatory harassment training to include content on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, and new immigration-related restrictions and obligations.

California Governor Jerry Brown spent his last day to sign bills in this Legislative Session, October 15, approving and rejecting a number of employment-related bills. Below is our annual summary of those bills that will have—or would have had—the greatest impact on California employers. All approved bills become effective January 1, 2018, unless stated otherwise. Watch this blog for in-depth pieces on the bills below that will pose the most challenges for employers.

APPROVED

Salary Inquiry Ban. After two unsuccessful attempts, AB 168 received the Governor’s approval to make it unlawful in California law for employers, including state and local governments, to ask applicants about their prior salary, compensation, and benefits. The employer may consider prior salary information the applicant voluntarily and without prompting discloses, in setting pay. Don’t forget that Labor Code section 1197.5 already prohibits an employer from using an applicant’s salary history, by itself, to justify a pay disparity. AB 168 will also require employers to provide the position’s pay scale to a job applicant upon reasonable request. Read our in-depth piece on AB 168, and practical implications, here. Adds Section 432.3 to the Labor Code.

Meanwhile, yesterday the Governor vetoed the other pay equity bill we were watching, Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act, AB 1209. More on that bill below.

Ban-the-Box: Prior Conviction History of Applicants. With the approval of AB 1008, the Governor and California Legislature have created yet another protected class of individuals entitled to sue employers under the Fair Employment and Housing Act: applicants denied employment because of their conviction history, where the employer is unable to justify relying on that conviction history to deny employment. AB 1008 makes it unlawful for an employer to include questions seeking disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history on any employment application, inquire or consider the conviction history of an applicant before extending a conditional offer employment, or consider or distribute specified criminal history information in conducting a conviction history background check. If an employer intends to deny a position solely or in part because of the applicant’s prior conviction, the employer must make an individualized assessment of whether the applicant’s conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship with the duties of the job, consider certain topics, and allow the applicant to dispute the accuracy of the conviction history. Read our in-depth analysis, implications, and tips, of the “Scarlet Letter Act” here. Adds Section 12952 to the Government Code, and repeals Section 432.9 of the Labor Code.

New Parent Leave Act and Parental Leave DFEH Mediation Pilot Program. SB 63 extends CFRA’s protections to smaller employers (with at least 20 employees within 75 miles) and prohibits those employers from refusing to allow employees—with more than 12 months and at least 1,250 hours of service—to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. An employer employing both parents who both are entitled to leave for the same child does need not give more than 12 weeks of leave total to the employees (which may be granted simultaneously if the employer chooses). Further, an employer can recover the costs of maintaining the health plan for employees that do not to return to work after their leave exhausts because of a reason other than a serious health condition or other circumstances beyond the employee’s control. Beginning January 1, 2018 and ending January 1, 2020, the DFEH, after receiving funding from the Legislature, will create a parental leave mediation pilot program under which an employer may request all parties to participate in mediation within 60 days of receiving a right-to-sue notice. This bill prohibits an employee from pursuing any civil action under these provisions (and tolls the statute of limitations) until the mediation is complete, meaning when either party elects not to participate, withdraws from mediation, or notifies the DFEH that further mediation would be fruitless. Adds Section 12945.6 to the Government Code.

Retaliation: Expanding The Labor Commissioner’s Authority. With the Governor’s October 3 approval of SB 306, the DLSE will be authorized to investigate an employer—with or without a complaint being filed—when, during a wage claim or other investigation, the Labor Commissioner suspects retaliation or discrimination. The bill will also allow the Labor Commissioner or an employee to seek injunctive relief (that the employee be reinstated pending resolution of the claim) upon a mere finding of “reasonable cause” that a violation of the law has occurred. That injunctive relief, however, would not prohibit an employer from disciplining or firing an employee for conduct that is unrelated to the retaliation claim. The bill also authorizes the Labor Commissioner to issue citations directing specific relief to persons determined to be responsible for violations and to create certain procedural requirements. Amends Section 98.7 and adds Sections 98.74, 1102.61, and 1102.62 to the Labor Code.

Immigration: Worksite Enforcement Actions. AB 450, the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” prohibits employers from allowing immigration enforcement agents to have access to non-public areas of a workplace, absent a judicial warrant, and prohibits immigration enforcement agents to access, review, or obtain employee records without a subpoena or court order, subject to a specified exception. This bill requires an employer to provide notice of an immigration agency’s inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records within 72 hours of receiving the federal notice of inspection—using a template created by the Labor Commissioner—to current employees; requires an employer to provide affected employees (i.e., those who may lack work authorization or whose documents have deficiencies) a copy of the inspection notice, upon reasonable request; and requires employers to provide affected current employees, and their authorized representative, a copy of the immigration agency inspection results and written notice of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the action. The bill grants exclusive authority to the Labor Commissioner or Attorney General to enforce these provisions and requires that any penalty recovered be deposited in the Labor Enforcement and Compliance Fund. Penalties for failure to satisfy these prohibitions and for failure to provide the required notices are: $2,000 up to $5,000 for a first violation, and $5,000 up to $10,000 for each further violation. The Labor Commission may recover up to a $10,000 penalty for each instance an employer re-verifies the employment eligibility of a current employee at a time or in a manner not required by federal law. Stay tuned for a detailed analysis of AB 450 coming soon. Adds Sections 7285.1, 7285.2, and 7285.3 to the Government Code; adds Sections 90.2 and 1019.2 to the Labor Code.

Harassment Training: Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sexual Orientation. SB 396 requires employers with 50 or more employees to add items to already mandated biennial supervisory training to prevent sexual harassment. The new content must include practical examples to address harassment based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Employers must also post a DFEH-developed poster regarding transgender rights. The bill also makes changes to the Unemployment Insurance Code. Amends Sections 12950 and 12950.1 of the Government Code.

VETOED

Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. AB 1209 would (as of July 2019) have required employers with at least 500 California employees to collect information on differences in pay between male and female exempt employees and between male and female Board members. The bill would have required employers to submit the information to the California Secretary of State by July 1, 2020, in a form consistent with Labor Code § 1197.5, and to provide an update to the Secretary of State every two years. The bill would have required the Secretary to publish the information on a public website if the Legislature provided it with sufficient funding. Yesterday the Governor vetoed the bill, stating—as many employers’ groups had pointed out—that the bill’s ambiguous wording made it unclear that the bill would “provide data that will meaningfully contribute to efforts to close the gender wage gap. Indeed, I am worried that this ambiguity could be exploited to encourage more litigation than pay equity.” He also cited the trust he has placed in his Pay Equity Task Force to provide guidance and recommendations to “assist companies around the state with assessing their current wage practices.” For more detail on implications of this bill had it passed, click through to our in-depth analysis on AB 1209.

Reproductive Health. The Governor vetoed AB 569 on October 15, stating that the FEHA “has long banned such [reproductive health-based] adverse actions, except for religious institutions. I believe those types of claims should remain within the jurisdiction of the [DFEH].” The bill would have added a provision to the Labor Code prohibiting an employer from taking adverse employment action against an employee or the employee’s dependents or family members for their reproductive health decisions, including the use of any drug, device, or medical service (e.g., birth control, abortions, or in vitro fertilization). An employer that violates this prohibition would have been subject to penalties under Labor Code § 98.6, as well as reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages and interest, and other appropriate compensation or equitable relief. This bill would have prohibited employers from attempting to contract out of these requirements, by making null and void any express or implied agreement waiving these requirements. The bill would have required employers to include a notice of these employee rights and remedies in their handbooks.

Employee Request: Injury and Illness Prevention Program. AB 978 would have required an employer to provide a free copy of the company’s injury prevention program to an employee, or their representative, within 10 days of receiving a written request. A representative would have included a recognized or certified collective bargaining agent, attorney, health and safety professional, nonprofit organization, or immediate family member. AB 978 would have allowed an employer to take reasonable steps to verify the identity or the person making the written request and authorized an employer to assert impossibility of performance as an affirmative defense against allegations of violations of these provisions. Governor Brown found this bill to be “unnecessary and duplicative” of current regulatory proposals sitting with the Cal-OSHA Standards Board and noted that their advisory committee would be “better suited to determine how to properly implement requirements of this kind.”

BILLS THAT FAILED TO MAKE THE LEGISLATIVE CUT

Opportunity to Work Act. The notorious AB 5 would have required employers with 10 or more employees in California to offer additional hours of work to existing nonexempt employees before the employer could hire additional or temporary employees. This bill piggy-backed on the San Jose voter-approved Opportunity to Work Ordinance that, effective March 2017, would have required employers to offer part-time employees additional hours before hiring new or temporary employees. Read more on what AB 5 would have implemented herehere, and watch here.

Rest Breaks. AB 817 would have created an exception to Labor Code section 226.7’s off-duty “rest period” requirement for employers providing emergency medical services to the public. The bill would have allowed EMS employers to require their employees to monitor and respond to emergency response calls during rest or recovery periods without penalty, so long as the rest period is rescheduled.

Retail Employees: Holiday Overtime. AB 1173 would have established an employee-selected overtime exemption that would have allowed a “retail industry” employee to work up to 10 hours per day with no overtime pay during the holiday season (November through January). Overtime paid at time and one-half of the employee’s regular pay rate would have applied to over 40 hours worked in a workweek or 10 in a work day; double time would have applied to work over 12 hours per day and over eight hours on the fifth, sixth, or seventh day in a workweek. The bill would have required employees to submit a written request for the flexible work schedule for approval by the employer. The authors of this bill did not specifically define what “retail industry” would have meant.

Overtime Compensation: Executive, Administrative, or Professional Employees. AB 1565 would have exempted an executive, administrative, or professional employee from overtime compensation if the employee earns a monthly salary of $3,956 or at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment, whichever is greater. This bill would have had California follow President Obama’s FLSA regulations increasing the yearly salary exempt threshold from $23,660 to $47,476 for executive, administrative, and professional workers. (Those regulations have been enjoined by a federal court.)

Health Professional Interns: Minimum Wage. AB 387 would have broadened the definition of employers required to pay minimum wage to include anyone who employs any person engaged in supervised work experience (i.e., students working clinical hours) to satisfy the requirements for licensure, registration, or certification as an allied health professional. This bill would have applied only to a work experiences longer than 100 hours and would not have applied to employers with fewer than 25 allied health professionals or a primary care clinic.

Resident Apartment Manager Wages. AB 543 would have extended an exemption from Industrial Welfare Commission orders allowing employers, who do not charge rent to a resident apartment manager pursuant to a voluntary agreement, to apply up to one-half of the apartment’s fair market value (no value cap) to meet minimum wage obligations to the apartment manager. This was up from the two-thirds previously provided but capped at $564.81 per month for singles, $835.49 for couples.

Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act. Both AB 353 and its almost identical twin AB 1477 hoped to revise FEHA’s existing Vietnam-Era veterans’ status provision but failed to make it out of both houses and out of the house of origin, respectively. The bills would have expanded a private employer’s authority to institute and uniformly grant a hiring preference for veterans regardless of where the veteran served. The bills stated that the hiring preference would not have violated FEHA or any local or state equal opportunity employment law or regulation. But the bill would have prohibited the use of a veterans’ preference policy for the purpose of discrimination on the basis of any protected classification.

Credit and Debit Card Gratuities. AB 1099 would have required an entity—defined as “an organization that uses online-enabled applications or platforms to connect workers with customers … including, but not limited to, a transportation network company” (e.g., Uber)—to accept tips by credit or debit cards if the entity allows customers to pay with credit or debit cards. The bill would have required that the tip be paid to the worker the next regular payday following the date the customer authorized the card payment. This bill made it out of the Assembly but the author canceled its hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations so we may see this bill again next year.

Labor Organizations: Compulsory Fee Payments. AB 1174 would have established the “California Right to Work Act of 2017” to prohibit a requirement that employees pay into a labor union, charity, or other third party as a condition of employment or continuing employment. This bill would have made California part of the list of 28 other Right to Work states in the nation.

Employer Liability: Small Business and Microbusiness. AB 442 would have prohibited Cal OSHA from bringing any “nonserious violation” against small business or microbusiness employers without first notifying the employer of the violation and the right to cure within 30 days. This safe harbor would not have applied to any willful violation. The impact of this bill would have been far reaching—nearly 70% of California employers employ only a handful of employees.

Good Faith Defense: Employment Violations. SB 524 would have allowed an employer to raise an affirmative defense that, at the time of an alleged violation, the employer was acting in good faith when relying upon a valid published DLSE opinion letter or enforcement policy. This bill would not have applied to the DLSE’s prosecution of payment of unpaid wages.

PAGA: 2017’s Three Failed Efforts. 

AB 281 attempted to reform PAGA by (1) requiring an actual injury for an aggrieved employee to be awarded civil penalties, (2) excluding health and safety violations from the employer right to cure provisions, and (3) increasing employers’ cure period to 65 calendar days, up from 33.

AB 1429 would have limited the violations an aggrieved employee can bring, required the employee to follow specific procedures prior to filing suit, limited civil penalties recoverable to $10,000 per claimant and excluded the recovery of filing fees, and required the superior court to review any penalties sought as part of a settlement agreement.

AB 1430 would have required the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”) to investigate alleged Labor Code violations and issue a citation or determination regarding a reasonable basis for a claim within 120 calendar days; and allow an employee private action only after the LWDA’s reasonable basis notification or the expiration of the 120 day period. Read our further analysis of the proposed PAGA amendments here.

Workplace Solutions.

For more information on how these new Peculiarities might affect your company, read our in-depth focus blogs and contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Governor Jerry Brown has till October 15 to approve bills the Legislature sent to his desk by its Friday, September 15, deadline, including bills that would require employers to ”show us the money” for certain employees and to make “mum be the word” for an applicant’s past conviction history.

The 2017 California Legislative Session kicked off on January 4, 2017, with lawmakers introducing over 2,200 bills. Of the many employment-related bills introduced, only a small handful made the Legislative cut. But some, addressed below, could have significant impacts on employers. Will the Governor sign or veto these possible new California peculiarities? We’ll know by his October 15 signing deadline. (Wondering what bills did not make the cut? We’ll include those in our post-October 15 wrap-up.)

Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. AB 1209—called by some the “public shaming of California employers” bill—would require employers with at least 500 California employees to, beginning July 1, 2019, collect information on differences in pay between male and female exempt employees, by job classification and title, and male and female Board members. The bill would require employers submit the information to the California Secretary of State by July 1, 2020, in a form consistent with Labor Code § 1197.5 (California’s fair pay statute), and, to provide an update to the Secretary every two years. The bill would require the Secretary to publish the information on a public website if the Legislature provides it with sufficient funding. For more detail, click through to our in-depth analysis on AB 1209.

Salary Inquiry Ban. AB 168 would prohibit employers from relying on an applicant’s salary history when deciding whether to offer employment and what salary to offer, and from seeking an applicant’s salary history. The bill expressly authorizes employers, in setting pay, to consider salary history that an applicant discloses voluntarily and without prompting, but affirms Labor Code § 1197.5’s prohibition against using salary history by itself to justify a disparity in pay. The bill would require an employer to provide a job applicant with the position’s pay scale upon reasonable request. The bill would apply to all employers but not to salary information available to the public pursuant to the California Public Records Act or the Freedom of Information Act. This bill comes on the heels of last year’s fair pay legislation AB 1676 and Governor Brown’s veto of AB 1017 (last year’s bill to prohibit salary history inquiries), which veto (he explained) was an effort to give SB 358 (the Fair Pay Act) a chance to work. The new bill also follows in the footsteps of similar legislation in San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia (stayed pending legal challenge), Delaware, Puerto Rico, Oregon and Massachusetts.

Prior Conviction History of Applicants. AB 1008, dubbed the “Scarlet Letter Act,” by Assembly Member Kevin McCarty on the Assembly Floor, would repeal existing Labor Code § 432.9 and add a section to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which would prohibit an employer with five or more employees from (1) including on any employment application a question seeking disclosure of a job applicant’s conviction history, (2) inquiring into or considering an applicant’s conviction history until after extending a conditional offer of employment, and (3) while conducting a conviction history background check in connection with an employment application, considering, distributing, or disseminating information related to (a) certain arrests not followed by a conviction, (b) referral to or participation in a pretrial or post trial diversion program, and (c) convictions that have been sealed, dismissed, expunged, or statutorily eradicated.

As to an employer that intends to deny employment to a job applicant because of the applicant’s conviction history, this bill would also require the employer to:

  • Make an individualized assessment of whether the conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job—considering the nature and gravity of the offense, the time passed since the offense and completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job held or sought.
  • Notify the applicant in writing of a preliminary decision to deny employment based on that individualized assessment, including disqualifying convictions forming the basis for rescission of the employment offer, a copy of the applicant’s conviction history report, and explanation of the applicant’s right to respond to the preliminary decision before it is final.
  • Allow the applicant specified periods of time to respond, then consider information submitted by the applicant before making a final decision, and then notify the applicant in writing of the final denial or disqualification, of any existing procedure the employer has for the applicant to challenge the decision, and of the right to file a complaint with the DFEH.

The bill’s provisions would not apply to positions with criminal justice agencies, state or local agencies required to conduct background checks, farm labor contractors, and employers required by state, federal, or local law to conduct background checks or restrict employment based on criminal history. The bill would also repeal (because this section would replace) a Labor Code provision prohibiting state or local agencies from asking an applicant for employment to disclose conviction history information.

Reproductive Health. AB 569 would add a provision to the Labor Code prohibiting an employer from taking adverse employment action against an employee or the employee’s dependents or family members for their reproductive health decisions, including the use of any drug, device, or medical service (e.g., birth control, abortions, or in vitro fertilization). An employer that violates this prohibition would be subject to penalties under Labor Code § 98.6, as well as reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages and interest, and other appropriate compensation or equitable relief. This bill would prohibit employers from attempting to contract out of these requirements, by making null and void any express or implied agreement waiving these requirements. The bill would require employers to include a notice of these employee rights and remedies in its handbook.

This bill is the Legislature’s response to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, to provide employees of religiously affiliated institutions the same benefits and protections as other California employees, unless the employee is the functional equivalent of minister, subject to a “ministerial exception” as developed in First Amendment case law. The Legislature agrees with Justice Alito, in his concurring opinion, that the ministerial exception should apply only to an “employee who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith.” Supporters of this bill cite cases of employees being fired for getting pregnant while unmarried. The bill’s author, Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, stated on the Assembly floor that this bill “[is] an issue of basic health, privacy and worker rights.” The bill expressly states that it supplements, and does not limit, any right or remedy available under FEHA.

New Parent Leave Act and Parental Leave DFEH Mediation Pilot Program SB 63, the “New Parent Leave Act” would—through a new section added to the California Family Rights Act—extend CFRA’s protections to smaller employers (with at least 20 employees within 75 miles). The bill would prohibit those employers from refusing to allow employees with more than 12 months and at least 1,250 hours of service to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. The bill would provide that an employer employing both parents who both are entitled to leave for the same child need not give more than 12 weeks of leave total to the employees (which may be granted simultaneously if the employer chooses). Further, an employer would be able to recover the costs of maintaining the health plan for employees who decide not to return to work after their leave exhausts because of a reason other than a serious health condition or other circumstances beyond the employee’s control.

SB 63 would also require the DFEH, when it receives funding from the Legislature, to create a parental leave mediation pilot program under which an employer may request all parties to participate in mediation within 60 days of receiving a right-to-sue notice. The bill would prohibit an employee from pursuing any civil action under these provisions (and toll the statute of limitations) until the mediation is complete. The mediation is considered complete when either party elects not to participate or withdraws from mediation, or notifies the DFEH that further mediation would be fruitless.

Retaliation: Expanding The Labor Commissioner’s Authority. SB 306 would authorize the DLSE to investigate an employer, with or without a complaint being filed, when retaliation or discrimination is suspected during a wage claim or other investigation being conducted by the Labor Commissioner. If the Labor Commissioner finds reasonable cause to believe a violation has occurred, the Labor Commissioner may seek injunctive relief. The bill would also allow an employee bringing a retaliation claim to seek injunctive relief upon showing that reasonable cause exists to believe the employee has been subject to adverse action for bringing the claim. The bill would provide that the injunctive relief would not prohibit an employer from disciplining or firing an employee for conduct that is unrelated to the retaliation claim. The bill would also authorize the Labor Commissioner to issue citations directing specific relief to persons determined to be responsible for violations and to create certain procedural requirements for such.

Immigration: Worksite Enforcement Actions. AB 450, known as the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” would prohibit employers from allowing immigration enforcement agents to have access to non-public areas of a workplace, absent a judicial warrant, and would prohibit immigration enforcement agents to access, review, or obtain employee records without a subpoena or court order, subject to a specified exception. This bill would also:

  • Require an employer to provide current employees with notices of an immigration agency’s inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records within 72 hours of receiving the federal notice of inspection—using a template created by the Labor Commissioner.
  • Require an employer to provide affected employees (meaning employees who may lack work authorization or whose documents have deficiencies) a copy of the Notice of Inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms, upon reasonable request.
  • Require employers to provide to affected current employees, and to an employee’s authorized representative, a copy of the immigration agency notice that provides for the inspection results and written notice of the obligations of the employer and the affected employee arising from the action.
  • Grant exclusive authority to the Labor Commissioner or Attorney General to enforce the provisions of this bill and require that any penalty recovered be deposited in the Labor Enforcement and Compliance Fund.
  • Prescribe penalties for failure to satisfy the bill’s prohibitions and for failure to provide the required notices of $2,000 up to $5,000 for a first violation, and $5,000 up to $10,000 for each further violation.
  • Prohibit an employer from re-verifying the employment eligibility of a current employee at a time or in a manner not required by federal law, and authorize the Labor Commission to recover up to a $10,000 penalty for each violation.

Employee Request: Injury and Illness Prevention Program. AB 978 would require an employer to provide a copy—free of charge—to an employee, or to the employee’s representative, of the company’s injury prevention program within 10 days of a written request. A representative would include a recognized or certified collective bargaining agent, an attorney, a health and safety professional, a nonprofit organization advocate, or an immediate family member. The bill would allow the employer to take reasonable steps to verify the identity of the person making the written request. The bill would authorize an employer to assert impossibility of performance as an affirmative defense in any complaint alleging a violation of these new provisions.

Stay Tuned … check back for a full breakdown of this year’s legislative bills coming after the Governor’s October 15th deadline.

Seyfarth Synopsis: While California courts have created annoying doctrines with respect to vacation pay, it remains the case that vacation pay is a matter of contract and that employers can avoid many problems with careful drafting of the vacation plan.

As we anticipate Labor Day weekend, note this mid-summer treat from the California Court of Appeal: its decision in Minnick v. Automotive Creations that when an employer’s vacation policy explicitly provides that employees don’t earn vacation until after their first year of employment, the policy is interpreted just like it was written, so that an employee who separated during his first year is not owed any vacation pay upon termination.

Is this holding really new? No and yes. Not new, of course, is the rule that California employers, absent a contract, need not provide any paid vacation at all. But employers that do provide paid vacation must comply with their policies and honor the principle, established by the California Supreme Court’s 1982 opinion in Suastez v. Plastic Dress-Up Co., that vacation pay, once “vested,” cannot be forfeited and must be paid (to the extent unused) when employment terminates (Lab. Code §227.3).

Also not new is the point that an employer may, by policy, impose a waiting period at the beginning of employment before vacation benefits begin to accrue. This kind of provision has been honored by the DLSE and by courts, so long as the employer implements the period consistently; that is, employers that want to avoid the accrual of paid vacation from the start of employment cannot then award vacation pay retroactively upon completion of some period of employment, but rather must provide that vacation pay does not begin to accrue at all until the waiting period is over.

What is new, and welcome, about Minnick is its definitive statement that employer policies can define how and when vacation has been “earned,” and can provide for advances of vacation pay not yet earned. For context, we harken back to Suastez, which interpreted Labor Code section 227.3 to mean that vacation pay is vested as it is “earned,” and that vested vacation pay cannot be forfeited. The vacation policy in Suastez simply provided: “One week—First Year; Two weeks—Second Year; Three weeks—Fifth Year.” The Supreme Court interpreted this language to mean that vacation pay started to accrue on day one, and was earned on a daily basis as the employee worked. Therefore, the employer violated the law when it failed to pay a pro rata share of the vacation pay earned during the year before the employee terminated, even though he had not completed the full year.

The spectre of Suastez haunts California employers when structuring vacation programs, as they strive to (a) avoid the negative of incurring potential liabilities to short-timers (in the form of accrued but unused vacation benefits) while (b) achieving the positive of offering paid vacation as soon as possible. The Court of Appeal provided additional guidance on this dilemma in its 2009 decision in Owen v. Macy’s, which recognized that an employer can lawfully fix the date on which vacation pay begins to accrue; in Owen, the employer imposed a waiting period of six months before vacation pay began to accrue. And, of course, it is common to have 90-day waiting periods for vacation accrual.

No case prior to Minnick had validated a one-year waiting period before accruals begin. Minnick notes that Suastez does not require vesting of vacation pay on day one of employment, and reasons that Suastez does not prohibit an employer from imposing a waiting period (of apparently any length):

[A]n employer may lawfully decide it will not provide paid vacation. By logical extension, an employer can properly decide it will provide paid vacation after a specified waiting period. This is similar to an employer’s authority to limit the amount of vacation pay that may be earned. If employers can lawfully restrict accrual at the back end [a la the often utilized “accrual cap” concept], it follows that employers can lawfully impose a waiting period at the front end.

Meanwhile, employers can address the desire to provide paid vacations as soon as possible by advancing unearned vacation pay (as the employer did in Minnick). (Whether unearned vacation pay could ever be recovered upon termination of employment is an issue that Minnick does not address).

The Minnick decision will be welcome news to employers who wish to impose a longer waiting period before vacation accruals start. And much of we’ve said about vacation applies equally to “paid time off” programs as well. A couple of caveats, though:

  • Drafting clear limitations on vacation accruals is crucial.
  • As to plans that use PTO to satisfy obligations to provide mandatory paid sick time under California (or local municipal) law, note that most paid sick time laws provide for accruals to begin upon employment, so imposing a waiting time for that benefit would get you in trouble.

For more information on this or any other pressing employment Cal-peculiarity, please reach out to your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The DLSE enforces California labor laws. In two recent enforcement actions, the DLSE collectively recovered over one million dollars, so California employers should read on to find out more about this robust administrative agency.

What Is The DLSE And Why Should Employers Care?

The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (aka the DLSE or the Labor Commissioner’s Office) is a recurring character in our blog. Usually we discuss new guidance the DLSE has offered. But the DLSE serves another function as well: it enforces the statutory provisions governing wages, hours, and working conditions of employees, and enforces the wage orders promulgated by the Industrial Welfare Commission. The DLSE’s mission is to “ensure a just day’s pay in every workplace in the State and to promote economic justice through robust enforcement of labor laws.”

To carry out its mission, the DLSE has free access to “all places of labor.” The Labor Commissioner can issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses and parties or the production of books, papers, and other records. And if employers do not comply with the subpoena, the DLSE can go to court to force compliance. In a nutshell, the DLSE has broad authority to inspect workplaces for wage and hour violations, investigate retaliation complaints, adjudicate wage claims, and prosecute actions on behalf of employees in civil court.

So How Does That Work?

The DLSE executes its mission through various mechanisms. During the 2015-16 fiscal year, the DLSE inspected over 2,400 worksites and issued citations for 2,100 violations. Most citations were for failure to carry workers comp insurance or to issue an itemized wage statement. The inspections led to over $18 million in penalties.

The DLSE also conducts payroll audits, to identify wage violations based on misclassification of employees or misreporting of time. Last year DLSE audits resulted in over $25 million in wage and civil penalty assessments.

What Are The DLSE’s Priorities?

Given the breadth of the DLSE’s authority, and the number of penalties it assesses, it has a wide array of enforcement priorities. We focus here on cases that the Labor Commissioner has deemed significant enough to highlight on the DLSE website.

On June 27, 2017, the DLSE announced it recovered over $48,000 in back wages for a convenience store clerk after the DLSE hearing officer found the clerk was owed minimum wage and premium pay for overtime work. The clerk, acting without an attorney, filed a wage claim in March to seek $14,520 in unpaid regular wages. The hearing officer, finding the clerk was actually owed much more, awarded him $42,980—$22,162 in regular and overtime wages, $14,707 in liquidated damages, $3,586 in interest, and $2,524 in waiting time penalties. The Labor Commissioner noted: “This case shows that when workers exercise their labor rights and come forward to report wage theft, they can do so on their own without an attorney, they can receive the wages they are owed, and in some cases even more.”

The DLSE has also recently defended a judgment it won for five truck drivers on the basis that they had been misclassified as independent contractors and were entitled to reimbursement for expenses and unlawful deductions. The defendant appealed the administrative award, arguing that the Labor Commissioner lacked authority because the claim was preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act. The trial court rejected that argument and found all five drivers were misclassified as independent contractors. The judgment in their favor was for $958,660 plus attorney’s fees and costs.

These cases highlight a few important reminders:

  • An employee does not need an attorney to prosecute claims for wage and hour violations.
  • The DLSE focuses on adjudicating wage and hour claims and is not afraid to pursue these claims in court.
  • California employers should ensure their wage and hour practices remain compliant and that any potential misclassification issues are properly reviewed—or risk judgment by the DLSE and the payment of attorney’s fees and costs if an adverse ruling is appealed and the DLSE succeeds in court.

Please contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney for assistance with remaining compliant with California’s labor laws.

Edited by Michael Cross.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Back from Spring Break, and Back to Work: Our List of L&E Bills to Watch in the remainder of the 2017-2018 California Legislative Session.

New LegislationCalifornia Legislators were, as always, very busy in the first few months of the 2017-18 Legislative Session, introducing well over 2000 bills by the February 17th bill introduction deadline. But, in comparison to prior years, the calendar has been surprisingly light for heavy-hitter labor and employment bills. The Legislature returned to work on April 17, after its spring break, and continued to push bills out of the house of origin in advance of the June 2nd deadline.

Here’s what we’re watching:

Opportunity to Work Act. Modeled after the City of San Jose’s November 2016 voter-approved Opportunity to Work Ordinance (effective April 1, 2017), AB 5 would require employers with 10 or more employees in California to offer additional hours of work to existing nonexempt employees in California before the employer may hire additional employees or temporary employees. The employer would not have to offer the hours to existing employees if those hours would result in the payment of overtime compensation to those employees. The bill would require employers to retain documents, including work schedules of all employees and documentation of offering additional hours to existing employees, prior to hiring new employees or subcontractors. The bill would also require employers to post a notice to be created by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) outlining employee rights under this (proposed) new law. This Act would create a new Labor Code section, and provide for enforcement by the DLSE on its own accord or via complaint by an employee, or via employee private right of action. The Act would allow for an express CBA carve-out. The bill is scheduled for its initial hearing in the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment on April 19. Stay tuned for an update on this bill following the hearing.

Rest Breaks. AB 817 would carve out an exception to Labor Code section 226.7’s off-duty “rest period” requirement for employers providing emergency medical services to the public. The bill would authorize those EMS employers to require employees to monitor and respond to calls for emergency response purposes during rest or recovery periods without penalty, as long as the rest break is rescheduled. The bill expressly states that it is declaratory of existing law. Likely in response to the California Supreme Court’s December 22, 2016 ruling in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. (holding that no true rest break was permitted when security guards were required to carry radios or pagers and respond to calls during rest breaks), this bill is one to watch.

Retail employees: Holiday Overtime. AB 1173 would establish an overtime exemption for “a holiday season employee-selected flexible work schedule,” requested in writing by individual nonexempt retail employees and approved by the employer. The exemption would allow the employee to work up to 10 hours per workday with no overtime pay. Hours worked between 10 and 12 in a workday, or over 40 hours in a workweek would be paid at one and one-half the regular rate of pay. All hours over 12 in a workday and over eight on a fifth, sixth, or seventh day in a workweek would be paid at double time. This bill contains a CBA carve-out, and clearly has many details to still be ironed out, as it contains a blank in the bill text for the definition of “retail industry.”

Pay Equity: salary inquiry ban. Once again, AB 168 seeks to ban employers, including state and local government employers, from asking job applicants about their salary history, as well as compensation and benefit information. The bill would also require that private employers, upon reasonable request, provide the applicant with the position’s pay scale. AB 168 brings back language that was shot down twice—first by Governor Brown in his October 2015 veto of AB 1017, then removed from 2016’s AB 1676 (fair pay legislation) before it received the Governor’s approval in September 2016.

Pay Equity: Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act. Dubbed the “Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act,” by author Assembly Member Gonzalez-Fletcher in her April 4, 2017 Equal Pay Day press release, AB 1209 would “require companies with more than 250 employees to include gender pay data as part of their annual reporting to the Secretary of State.” If passed, AB 1209 would require employers, beginning July 1, 2020, to publish and update yearly the difference between the mean salary and median salary of male exempt employees and female exempt employees broken down by job classification or title and the difference between the mean compensation and median compensation for male board members and female board members. Arguments against this bill will likely mirror those made in response to the EEOC’s revised EEO-1 rule.

Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act. Dubbed the “Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act,” AB 353 and AB 1477 would allow private employers to establish a veterans’ preference policy  and uniformly grant a hiring preference to veteran applicants, regardless of when the veteran served. These bills would expand Government code section 12940(a)(4), which currently allows for a veterans’ preference policy for Vietnam-era veterans only. The bill would provide that the granting of a veterans’ preference will not violate any local or state equal employment opportunity law or regulation, including FEHA, as long as the policy is not applied for the purpose of discriminating against an employment applicant on the basis of any protected classification.

Applicants: prior criminal history. The Legislature is joining the flurry of “Ban-the-Box” initiatives throughout California with AB 1008, which would make it unlawful for an employer to: 1) include on any job application questions that seek the disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history; 2) inquire or consider an applicant’s prior convictions before extending a conditional offer; and 3) when conducting a background check, to consider or disclose  various information. The bill would also require employers that intend to deny employment to an applicant because of prior convictions to perform an individualized assessment of whether the applicant’s conviction history has a direct and adverse relationship to the specific job duties, considering the nature and gravity of the offense, the time passed since the completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job. Then, the employer must notify the applicant of the reasons for the decision and provide the applicant 10 days to respond and challenge the accuracy of that information or provide evidence of rehabilitation which it must consider before making a final employment decision, in writing. This bill is substantially similar to the recent Fair Employment and Housing Council regulations, which go into effect in July 2017; and would thus largely codify what will soon be required by regulation.

Health professional interns: minimum wage. Following the recent increases in minimum wage, AB 387 would expand the definition of “employer” to include a person who employs any person engaged in supervised work experience (i.e., clinical hours) to satisfy the requirements for licensure, registration, or certification as an allied health professional. Cal Chamber opposes this bill, as it could cause internships provided for educational credit to be eliminated.

Resident apartment manager wages. AB 543 would authorize, under a voluntary written agreement, an employer that doesn’t charge a resident apartment manager monthly rent, to apply up to one-half of the fair market rental value of the apartment to meet minimum wage obligations to the apartment manager. Existing law allows employers to take a credit against minimum wage for two-thirds of the ordinary rental value, up to $564.81 per month for a single occupant and $835.49 per month for couples.

Credit Card gratuities. AB 1099 would require employers that are lodging establishments, car washes, barber shops and beauty salons, massage parlors, restaurants, and on-demand service providers such as transportation network companies that allow debit or credit card payment for services to also accept a debit or credit card for gratuities or tips. This bill would require the tip payment to be made to the employee by the next regular payday following the date the credit card authorized payment.

Overtime compensation: executive, administrative, or professional employees. AB 1565 would exempt from overtime compensation an executive, administrative, or professional employee, if the employee earns a monthly salary of either $3,956 or no less than twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment, whichever amount is higher.

Labor organizations: compulsory fee payments. AB 1174 would, beginning January 1, 2018, prohibit a person from requiring employees, as a condition of employment, to pay union dues or contribute financially to any charity sponsored by or at the behest of a labor organization.

Employer liability: small business and microbusiness. AB 442 would prohibit Cal OSHA from bringing an enforcement action for any “nonserious violation” against any employers with 100 or fewer employees and an average gross of $10,000,000 or less over the past three years, or microbusinesses  with 25 or fewer employees and an average gross of $2,500,000 or less over the past three years, without first giving the employer written notice of the violation and providing 30 days to cure. AB 442 would authorize Cal OSHA to assess a reasonable fee, up to $50, to cover its costs for enforcement.

Immigration: worksite enforcement actions. AB 450, the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” would impose several requirements on public and private employers dealing with federal ICE workplace raids or enforcement actions. Assemblymember Chiu has described the key components as:

  • Requiring employers to ask for a warrant before granting ICE access to a worksite.
  • Preventing employers from releasing employee records without a subpoena.
  • Requiring employers to notify the Labor Commissioner and employee representative of a worksite raid and notifying the Labor Commissioner, employees, and employee representatives of an I-9 audit (i.e., employment eligibility verification).
  • Preventing retaliation by enabling workers crucial to a labor claim investigation to receive certification from the Labor Commissioner that employee complainant or employee witness has submitted a valid complaint for violations of the Code and is cooperating in the investigation and prosecution of the violations.

The bill would authorize the Labor Commissioner to asses penalties of at least $10,000 to $25,000 for each violation against employers for failure to satisfy the bill’s requirements and prohibitions.

FEHA enforcement expansion. SB 491 would expand Government Code section 12993 and allow local jurisdictions, such as cities and counties, to enforce FEHA discrimination regulations. Cal Chamber opposes this bill.

Good faith defense: employment violations. SB 524 would permit an employer to raise an affirmative defense that, at the time of a violation, the employer was acting in good faith when the employer relied upon a valid published DLSE opinion letter or enforcement policy. SB 524 would only apply after January 1, 2018 to DLSE opinion letters or enforcement policies that are still in effect at the time of the violation. Employers would not be able to claim an affirmative defense when a DLSE opinion letter or enforcement policy has been modified, rescinded, or deemed invalid. Cal Chamber supports this bill but hearings for SB 524 have been canceled at the request of the author, Senator Vidak. We’ll keep our eye on this to see if there is any further movement.

Reproductive health. AB 569 would prohibit employers from taking any adverse employment action against an employee based on the employee or employee’s dependent’s reproductive health decisions. The bill would also prohibit employers from requiring employees to sign a waiver or any document denying an employee the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decisions, including the use of a particular drug, device, or medical service (e.g., in vitro fertilization). The bill would require an employer to include in its handbook a notice of the employee rights and remedies under this bill.

New Parent Leave Act. Likely DOA, but resurrected for another go from its 2016 veto, SB 63, the “New Parent Leave Act,” would prohibit employers with at least 20 employees within 75 miles, from refusing to allow an employee to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. Like under CFRA, to be eligible, the employee must have more than 12 months and at least 1,250 hours of service with the employer during the previous 12-month period. The bill would require the employer to maintain and pay for the employee’s coverage under a group health plan during this leave. SB 63 would also allow—but not require—an employer to grant simultaneous leave when two employees are entitled to leave for the same birth, adoption, or foster care placement. This bill is almost identical to 2016’s SB 654, which Governor Brown vetoed, and only provided for 6 weeks of leave, rather than the 12 weeks SB 63 would provide. The Governor’s veto message expressed his concerns for impact the leave would have on small business and pointed lawmakers to explore an amendment that would have made mediation an option—which the SB 63 does not have.

PAGA: Three New Valiant Efforts. AB 281 attempts to reform PAGA by: 1)  requiring an actual injury for an aggrieved employee to be awarded civil penalties; 2) excluding health and safety violations from the employer right to cure provisions; and 3) increasing employers’ cure period to 65 calendar days from 33.

AB 1429 would limit the violations an aggrieved employee can bring, require the employee follow specific procedural prerequisites to filing suit, limit civil penalties recoverable to $10,000 per claimant and exclude the recovery of filing fees, and require the superior court to review any penalties sought as part of a settlement agreement.

AB 1430 would require the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) to investigate alleged Labor Code violations and issue a citation or determination regarding a reasonable basis for a claim within 120 calendar days; and allow an employee private action only after the LWDA’s reasonable basis notification or the expiration of the 120 day period. Read our further analysis of PAGA proposed amendments here.

Workplace Solutions

We will continue to monitor and report on these potential Peculiarities, as well as any other significant legislative developments over the course of the 2017 Legislative Session. Contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney with any questions.

Edited by Colleen Regan.

Seyfarth Synopsis: In what many employers will see as a “break” from workplace reality, the Supreme Court, in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., announced that certain “on call” rest periods do not comply with the California Labor Code and Wage Orders. The decision presents significant practical challenges for employers in industries where employees must respond to exigent circumstances.

On December 23, 2016, the California Supreme Court issued its long-anticipated decision in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., affirming a $90 million judgment for the plaintiff class of security guards on their rest break claim. The Supreme Court found that the security guards’ rest breaks did not comply with the California Labor Code and Wage Orders, because the guards had to carry radios or pagers during their rest breaks and had to respond if required.

The Supreme Court took a very restrictive view of California’s rest break requirements, concluding that “one cannot square the practice of compelling employees to remain at the ready, tethered by time and policy to particular locations or communications devices, with the requirement to relieve employees of all work duties and employer control during 10-minute rest breaks.” Thus, in the Supreme Court’s view, an employers may not require employees to remain on call—“at the ready and capable of being summoned to action”—during rest breaks.

See our One Minute Memo for more details on the decision and thoughts on the implications of this case for California employers. The Augustus decision presents significant practical challenges for employers, especially in industries in which employees must be able to respond to exigent circumstances.

Workplace Solution:

The holding that “on call” rest periods are not legally permissible should prompt employers to evaluate their rest-break practices. In industries where employees must remain on call during rest periods, employers should consider seeking an exemption from the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. Lawyers in the Seyfarth California Workplace Solutions group can assist with other suggestions for responding to this decision.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Office of the California Labor Commissioner (aka the DLSE) recently issued an opinion letter explaining how employers should calculate sick pay for commissioned employees. Somewhat surprisingly, the letter counsels that the rate of sick time pay for these employees must be calculated using one of the schemes applicable to non-exempt employees—even if the commissioned employees qualify as exempt outside salespersons or as “commissioned employees.” 

On October 11, 2016, the DLSE issued an opinion letter regarding California’s Healthy Workplace Healthy Families Act of 2014.  As is usual with opinion letters, the DLSE was responding to a request for guidance from a cautious employer seeking to cure uncertainty about how to interpret a statute.  Opinion letters are binding only on the particular employer who asked the question, but the rest of the California employment world generally pays attention; the letters the DLSE choses to publish provide general insight into the DLSE’s approach.

The employer here wanted to know the correct way to calculate the rate of pay for sick leave taken by commissioned employees.  The  statute provides three alternative methods:

(1) Paid sick time for nonexempt employees shall be calculated in the same manner as the regular rate of pay for the workweek in which the employee uses paid sick time, whether or not the employee actually works overtime in that workweek.

(2) Paid sick time for nonexempt employees shall be calculated by dividing the employee’s total wages, not including overtime premium pay, by the employee’s total hours worked in the full pay periods of the prior 90 days of employment.

(3) Paid sick time for exempt employees shall be calculated in the same manner as the employer calculates wages for other forms of paid leave time. Labor Code section 246(K)(1)-(3).

Based on this plain language, it would seem reasonable for California employers to use the scheme of section 246(k)(3), as commissioned employees are often exempt from overtime under applicable standards. But the DLSE has a different view. The opinion letter explains that the term “exempt,” as used in in this section, refers only to those employees who satisfy both the salary and duties tests of the professional, executive, or administrative exemptions.  By this reading, the term “exempt” does not include those employees who are exempt from overtime under the outside sales exemption or commissioned employee exemption.

To qualify as an outside salesperson, an employee must “customarily and regularly work more than half the working time away from the employer’s place of business selling tangible or intangible items or obtaining orders or contracts for products, services or use of facilities.”  “Commissioned employees”  are persons working in the “Retail Industry” who earn more than one-half their compensation from commissions and whose  total compensation exceeds 1.5 times the minimum wage for each hour worked during the pay periodFor these employees, the DLSE says, employers should calculate sick time using one of the two sections applicable to nonexempt employees, even if they are actually exempt.

Workplace solution:  While the guidance may seem counter to the statutory language, the good news is that we now have some guidance.  To act consistently with the DLSE’s latest opinion, California employers should look to Labor Code sections 246(k)(1) or (2)—which articulate the two methods used to calculate sick pay for non-exempt employees—when determining how to appropriately calculate sick time for employees who receive commissions, even if they qualify as exempt from overtime as either an outside salesperson or a “commissioned employee.”