Industrial Welfare Commission

On April 30, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued a long-awaited opinion in which it considered which test should be used to decide whether a worker asserting claims under a California Wage Order is an employee or an independent contractor.  The following Seyfarth One Minute Memo summarizes the case and what it means for employers.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Supreme Court, in Dynamex Operations v. Superior Court, held that “engage, suffer or permit to work” determines employee status for Wage Order claims, requiring a defendant disputing employee status to prove (A) the worker is free from control and direction of the hirer in connection with performing the work, both under contract and in fact; (B) the worker performs work outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (C) the worker customarily engages in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hirer.

The Trial Court Decision

Delivery drivers Charles Lee and Pedro Chevez sued Dynamex Operations West for unlawfully classifying them and 1,800 other drivers as independent contractors. To argue that they were really employees, they cited California’s Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order No. 9. Their motion for class certification argued that, under Martinez v. Combs (2010), they were employees in that Dynamex knew that they provided services and had negotiated their rates. The trial court certified a class. Dynamex petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate.

To view the full alert, please click on the link below:

http://www.seyfarth.com/publications/OMM050118-LE

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: California’s rules on rest breaks are still developing. Recent cases have addressed the timing of rest breaks, and whether employees (particularly those who remain “on call”) must be relieved of all duty during breaks.

Our fair state has long imposed peculiar—and specific—requirements for employee work breaks. Varying interpretations of the rules for meal and rest breaks have spawned prodigious class action litigation, both before and after the California Supreme Court’s crucial 2012 decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. Accordingly, California employers have a keen interest in making their break policies and practices as compliant as possible.

But this can be hard to do while the rules remain in flux. In this post, we discuss two cases—one decided a few months ago and the other now pending before the California Supreme Court—that bring the requirements for rest breaks into finer focus. The cases raise these questions: (1) Exactly when must employers provide rest breaks? (2) Can employers require workers on break to remain “on call”?

So we invite you to “take 10” and read on.

The Basic Rule

Section 226.7 of the Labor Code says that employers can’t require employees to work during breaks mandated by an order of the Industrial Welfare Commission. The IWC, in turn, has mandated (in Section 12(A) of the Wage Orders) that:

Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. The authorized rest period time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of ten (10) minutes net rest time per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof.

More about that pesky phrase “insofar as practicable,” below.

Timing of Rest Breaks

The rule on rest breaks is often short-handed as “10 minutes paid rest for every four hours (or major fraction thereof) worked.” But must each rest break occur during the middle of each four-hour work period? Or can it be permissible to allow—or require—employees to combine breaks, or to schedule them at some time other than midway through the work period? And what does “insofar as practicable” mean, anyhow?

The 2016 California Court of Appeal decision in Rodriguez v. E.M.E., Inc. took a stab at answering. E.M.E. gave one 20-minute rest break and one meal break per eight-hour shift, due to the nature of the work and the clean-up time required at each break. Rodriguez brought a class action claiming that this practice violated Section 12(A) of the applicable Wage Order.

The Court of Appeal held that the phrase “insofar as practicable” means that employers must implement the rest schedule specified in the Wage Orders unless there is “an adequate justification why such a schedule is not capable of being put into practice, or is not feasible as a practical schedule.” More specifically, employers may depart from the Wage Order schedule (i.e., a rest break in the middle of each four-hour period or major fraction thereof) only when it (1) will “not unduly affect employee welfare” and (2) “is tailored to alleviate a material burden” on the employer that would result from using the Wage Order schedule.

Reversing summary judgment for the employer on the certified rest break claim, the Court of Appeal sent the case back to the trial court to resolve triable issues about these questions. The court highlighted two issues: (1) Was the nature of the work (i.e., sanding, painting and finishing metal parts for the aerospace industry) such that it took 10 minutes to prepare for each break and 10 minutes to ramp up again after the break? (2) Did the employees actually prefer to receive one combined 20-minute break? If E.M.E. could establish these points, then E.M.E. could use a schedule other than the one specified by the Wage Order.

Relief From All Work?

Poised for decision by the California Supreme Court in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., 233 Cal. App. 4th 1065 (2014) review granted, 186 Cal. Rptr. 3rd 359 (2015), is the question whether an employee on a rest break must be relieved of all duties, even the duty to be on call. The employees at issue in Augustus were security guards who remained “on call” even while taking their rest breaks. The guards claimed that their “on call” status deprived them of legally compliant rest breaks. The trial court agreed and granted them summary judgment.

But then, in a refreshing display of common sense, the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that on-call rest breaks are permissible. The Court of Appeal explained that although on-call hours constitute “hours worked,” an employee who is merely available to work is not actually working. Section 226.7 proscribes only work on a rest break; being on call is a compensable activity, but it is not work. This result is consistent with the point that employers may require employees on a rest break to stay on the employer’s premises because the breaks are, after all, paid. The issue of whether a rest period is compensable time (it is) is not the same as whether a rest period is a true break from work (on-call duty, when one is not called, is not work).

Yet employer hopes that the Court of Appeal had the final say on this matter were dashed when the California Supreme Court granted review of the decision. Check this space after the oral argument on this case, scheduled for September 29, 2016, to read our take on how the Supreme Court may be leaning when it comes to the issues presented in this case.

Workplace Solution

Even after Brinker, the waters continue to roil around rest break rules. We welcome your inquiries regarding any Cal-peculiar issues of employment law.