Seyfarth Synopsis: Employment-related cases pending before the California Supreme Court concern various questions that sometimes seem technical, but the answers they elicit will have big consequences. Questions raised by the current crop of cases include standing to sue, the availability of certain claims and remedies, federal preemption of California laws, what counts as compensable time, and—that perennial favorite—how to interpret the infernal PAGA statute.

We expect the California Supreme Court in 2019 to issue decisions addressing many important issues in private employment. Some topics easily warrant their own article or blog post, and will receive that treatment as the Supreme Court’s decisions emerge. But it’s not too soon to highlight some coming attractions.

Anti-SLAPP and Alleged Employer Motive

  • Is an employer’s anti-SLAPP motion to strike an employee’s suit affected by the employer’s alleged discriminatory motive? In Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc., the Supreme Court has agreed to decide “whether an employee’s claims for discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and defamation arise from protected activity for purposes of a special motion to strike,” and “what is the relevance of an allegation that the employer acted with a discriminatory or retaliatory motive?”

Application of CA Wage-Hour Law to Out-of-State Employers

  • Does California employment law apply to non-California residents who work in California on a transitory basis? In Ward v. United Airlines and Oman v. Delta Air Lines, the Supreme Court has accepted the Ninth Circuit’s request to address five questions:
    • (1) “Does California Labor Code section 226 apply to wage statements provided by an out-of-state employer to an employee who resides in California, receives pay in California, and pays California income tax on her wages, but who does not work principally in California or any other state?”
    • (2) Does the exemption in Wage Order 9 for collective bargaining agreements (CBA) under the Railway Labor Act bar a wage statement claim brought under California Labor Code section 226 by an employee who is covered by such a CBA?
    • (3) “Do California Labor Code sections 204 and 226 apply to wage payments and wage statements provided by an out-of-state employer to an employee who, in the relevant pay period, works in California only episodically and for less than a day at a time?”
    • (4) “Does California minimum wage law apply to all work performed in California for an out-of-state employer by an employee who works in California only episodically and for less than a day at a time?”
    • (5) “Does the Armenta/Gonzalez bar on averaging wages apply to a pay formula that generally awards credit for all hours on duty, but which, in certain situations resulting in higher pay, does not award credit for all hours on duty?

Arbitration

  • When is an arbitration remedy broad enough to preclude an employee’s resort to a Berman hearing? Under existing law, employers cannot necessarily compel employees to arbitrate wage claims unless and until employees have had the chance to bring those claims before the Labor Commissioner in a “Berman hearing.” In OTO, L.L.C. v. Kho, the Supreme Court has agreed to decide these issues:
    • “(1) Was the arbitration remedy at issue in this case sufficiently affordable and accessible within the meaning of Sonic-Calabasas A, Inc. v. Moreno (2013) … to require the company’s employees to forego the right to an administrative Berman hearing on wage claims?
    • (2) Did the employer waive its right to bypass the Berman hearing by waiting until the morning of that hearing, serving a demand for arbitration, and refusing to participate in the hearing?”

Compensability

  • Does an employee engage in compensable work while waiting for the employer to inspect a bag the employee chose to bring to work? In Frlekin v. Apple, Inc., the Supreme Court has accepted the Ninth Circuit’s request to decide this issue: “Is time spent on the employer’s premises waiting for, and undergoing, required exit searches of packages or bags voluntarily brought to work purely for personal convenience by employees compensable as ‘hours worked’ within the meaning of California Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order No. 7?”
  • Is walking to and from a time clock compensable hours worked? In Stoetzl v. State of California, the Supreme Court has agreed to decide this issue: “Does the definition of ‘hours worked’ found in the Industrial Wage Commission’s Wage Order 4, as opposed to the definition of that term found in the federal Labor Standards Act, constitute the controlling legal standard for determining the compensability of time that correctional employees spend after signing in for duty and before signing out but before they arrive at and after they leave their actual work posts within a correctional facility?”

Liability for Wage Payment

Preemption—By the FAA and the LMRA

  • Is a PAGA suit for unpaid wages immune from arbitration? In its 2014 Iskanian case, the California Supreme Court acknowledged that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts state laws against class-action waivers in arbitration agreements, but also held that representative PAGA actions are not subject to mandatory arbitration. Now, in Lawson v. Z.B., N.A., the Supreme Court has decide to whether a representative action under PAGA, seeking recovery of individualized lost wages as civil penalties under Labor Code section 558, falls within the preemptive scope of the FAA.
  • Does federal labor law preempt a claim for termination wages? In Melendez v. San Francisco Baseball Associates, the Supreme Court has agreed to decide this issue: “Is plaintiffs’ statutory wage claim under Labor Code section 201 subject to mandatory arbitration pursuant to section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act because it requires the interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement?”

Remedies

  • Can an employee seeking unpaid wages use the tort of conversion? In Voris v. Lampert, the Supreme Court has agreed to decide this issue: “Is conversion of earned but unpaid wages a valid cause of action?”

Rest Breaks & Meal Periods

  • Rest breaks for ambulance attendants on 24-hours shifts. In Stewart v. San Luis Ambulance, Inc., the Supreme Court accepted the Ninth Circuit’s request to decide these issues: (1) “Under the California Labor Code and applicable regulations, is an employer of ambulance attendants working twenty-four hour shifts required to relieve attendants of all duties during rest breaks, including the duty to be available to respond to an emergency call if one arises during a rest period?: (2) “Under the California Labor Code and applicable regulations, may an employer of ambulance attendants working twenty-four hour shifts require attendants to be available to respond to emergency calls during their meal periods without a written agreement that contains an on-duty meal period revocation clause? If such a clause is required, will a general at-will employment clause satisfy this requirement?” (3) “Do violations of meal period regulations, which require payment of a ‘premium wage’ for each improper meal period, give rise to claims under sections 203 and 226 of the California Labor Code where the employer does not include the premium wage in the employee’s pay or pay statements during the course of the violations?”

Standing for PAGA Claims

  • Can a PAGA plaintiff settle his individual wage and hour claims and still pursue his PAGA action as an “aggrieved employee”? In Kim v. Reins International California, Inc., the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether an employee bringing an action under PAGA loses standing to pursue representative claims as an “aggrieved employee” by dismissing his or her individual claims against the employer.

Workplace solution. Some of the issues raised by the above cases may seem relatively minor, technical, or limited to particular industries. Yet many a significant class action has turned upon issues no more monumental. We will keep our eyes and ears on the Court’s progress and keep readers updated with the latest developments.

Seyfarth Synopsis: While Mr. Sinatra could get away with doing things his way, California law requires that employers provide employees facing the final curtain with specific paperwork and a check on their final day. Although these various items may seem simple, failure to correctly provide them can lead to more than a few regrets for employers.

On an employee’s last day there are several things that you, the California employer, want to make sure you receive—things such as company cell phones, company laptops, office keys, and confidential files. But there are also things you must give the departing employee, including certain paperwork and a final paycheck for all wages earned through the end of employment.

Each Careful Step Along The Byway of Final Paperwork

Employers should plan their charted course and make sure they comply with both federal and state requirements for what they need to give a departing employee. Here are key examples:

  1. A COBRA notice and election form must be provided before the termination of the employee’s benefits (if you employ 20 or more employees in California and the departing employee is participating in the employer’s group health plan). Note that this paperwork typically can be obtained from your insurance provider or a third party service for providing COBRA notices.
  2. A notice of Cal-COBRA continuation rights must be provided to any covered, terminated employees. Cal-COBRA must be offered to both terminated employees of small employers (2-19 employees), and terminated employees covered under federal COBRA when their 18 months of federal COBRA coverage expires.
  3. A “For Your Benefit” (DE 2320) pamphlet from the EDD, about the unemployment benefits available to all discharged employees, must be provided no later than the effective date of termination.
  4. An Unemployment Insurance Code section 1089 written notice informing the discharged employee of a change in the relationship (i.e., it has been terminated).
  5. A Health Insurance Premium Payment (HIPP) notice (DHCS 9061) required by the DHCS to certain employees covered under the program (if you employ 20 or more employees).
  6. California Labor Code Section 2808(b) requires notification of all continuation, disability extension, and conversion coverage options under any employer-sponsored coverage for which the employee may remain eligible after employment terminates.

There may be additional documents that you need to provide depending on your industry, so you should contact counsel if you have any questions.

Face It and Stand Tall: Giving The Final Paycheck

An employee who quits and gives at least 72 hours of notice is entitled to a final paycheck at the time of separation (such an employee otherwise is entitled to the final paycheck within 72 hours of the notice).

But what should the final pay check include?

Labor Code sections 201 and 202 mandate that all unpaid earned wages are due and payable on the last day of work. “Earned wages” includes all accrued and unused vacation pay and paid time off, reporting time pay, and overtime wages. Other items such as commissions and bonuses could also be considered wages earned and would need to be included in the final paycheck or paid as soon as the amounts are capable of being determined.

How or where should I send the final paycheck?

California requires final payment at the place of termination. Normally, this is not a problem, as employees typically end their employment at their employer’s place of business. For remote workers, the final paycheck should be sent by mail, to ensure that the employee receives it by the last day of work. Consider sending the paycheck in a way that is trackable, to avert any dispute about when the final pay was sent. (Employers using authorized direct deposit can accomplish these matters electronically.)

What happens if I forget to send the final paycheck, or forget to include some of the pay?

Failure to provide final pay on the last day of work can result in penalties in an amount equal to a day’s wage for each day of delay—up to a maximum of 30 days. If an employee sues to recover unpaid wages (and penalties), the Labor Code provides for the recovery of attorneys’ fees.

So small mistakes on final pay can end up being very costly. For example, if an employer accidentally overlooks paying out one hour of PTO accrued during the last week of work, the employer may end up owing the now-departed employee as much as one month’s wages for a small oversight! (Though a claim for such an amount could, under the circumstances, be challenged as unconstitutionally excessive.) So more, much more than this, please make sure to carefully double check pay calculations before cutting a final check.

Workplace Solutions: When the end is near, employers need to be sure they provide employees with all the leaving presents that California law requires. If you have any further questions as to what that might include, please, don’t do it your way and end up with a few regrets; instead, contact the author or your favorite Seyfarth attorney.

Edited By: Coby Turner