Seyfarth Synopsis: AB 1654 provides a PAGA exemption for certain employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement. While AB 1654 is limited to the construction industry, its underlying rationale applies much more broadly, and may augur further thoughtful restrictions on PAGA’s broad scope.

California’s Private Attorneys General Act, imposing draconian penalties for even relatively trivial Labor Code violations, remains the bane of California employers. Efforts to restrict PAGA’s scope thus arise from time to time in the California Legislature, which occasionally enacts some reform. Lost in the attention received by recent high-profile employment legislation was a bill of enormous import for the construction industry specifically but also (potentially) for the future of PAGA enforcement more broadly.

AB 1654, effective on January 1, 2019, exempts “employees in the construction industry” from PAGA if employees’ collective bargaining agreements meet certain requirements. To qualify for a PAGA exemption, a CBA must

  • apply to working conditions, wages, and hours of work of employees in the construction industry,
  • ensure employees receive a regular hourly wage not less than 30% more than the minimum wage,
  • prohibit Labor Code violations redressable by PAGA,
  • contain a grievance and binding arbitration procedure to redress Labor Code violations remedied by PAGA,
  • expressly waive the requirements of PAGA in clear and unambiguous terms, and
  • authorize an arbitrator to award all remedies available under PAGA, except for penalties payable to the LWDA.

While limited to the construction industry, AB 1654 suggests the question: why are not all industries afforded this exemption option? This thought was not lost on AB 1654’s opponents, who wondered if the bill was a “camel’s nose under the PAGA tent”:

The immediate impact of this bill is limited to the construction industry. Its longer term policy implications may not be. The justification provided for the PAGA exemption proposed by this bill is that some construction industry employers have been recently targeted by frivolous PAGA lawsuits. It is not hard to imagine employers in many other sectors making the same argument.

. . .

With that in mind, a key policy question presented by this bill is whether there is sound basis for distinguishing the construction industry from other sectors of the economy in relation to the application of PAGA. If not, it may be difficult, from a policy point of view, to rationalize denying future requests for PAGA exemptions under similar circumstances.

This is indeed the key policy question, and to which there is an easy answer: there is no sound basis to single out the construction industry for special protection from PAGA lawsuits. AB 1654 undermines the PAGA defenders’ argument, adopted by the California Supreme Court in Iskanian, that a PAGA plaintiff stands in for the state and cannot waive the state’s power by private arbitration agreement. In the bill, the Legislature says otherwise. PAGA claims can be waived—in this case through a valid CBA—provided employees have redress for Labor Code violations through a grievance and arbitration procedure in the CBA. While AB 1654 applies only to the construction industry, its reasoning supports an argument employers should use to argue against the logic of Iskanian in other contexts.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Trump Administration’s hard line on immigration has concerned undocumented immigrants who want to raise wage claims. The LWDA recently reaffirmed a commitment to protect workers regardless of their immigration status.

California has noticed the Trump Administration’s immigration initiatives. Here, as elsewhere, California charts its own path. The state’s labor law enforcement officials worry that the immigration crackdown has panicked undocumented workers, causing them to withhold complaints against their employers, for fear of deportation. Indeed, some undocumented workers reportedly have declined to accept unpaid wages owed to them, and have refused to cooperate with government investigations. There have been reports of ICE agents showing up at California Labor Commissioner proceedings to remove undocumented workers who are appearing to prosecute their labor claims against their employers.

On May 1, 2017, the LWDA reaffirmed its commitment to worker protections regardless of their immigration status:

Just because the federal administration has changed, our laws and policies have not. … We will not tolerate the use of immigration status as a tool of retaliation against workers who are pursuing their rights under California law. … The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and its partner departments reiterate that we never ask for – nor do we collect – the immigration status of any worker who files a health and safety or wage theft claim with our offices. It has been longstanding state policy that our labor laws apply to all workers, regardless of immigration status, and that the immigration status of a worker is unnecessary information to enforcing our laws.

The full press release appears here.

Thus, regardless of what the Trump Administration does, the LWDA is making it clear that California’s labor protections apply to all employees – regardless of their immigration status – and that the LWDA will ensure that immigrant workers know that California workplace protections apply to them.

The LWDA’s statement reminds California employers that they can still be subject to liability, fines, and investigations for Labor Code violations no matter what the federal government does. Immigration status remains, in the view of the LWDA, irrelevant to the enforcement of California wage and hour laws. Thus, employers should not treat immigrant workers differently because of their status.

California wage and hour law can be difficult to navigate. If you would like to review your policies for compliance, you may contact one of Seyfarth Shaw’s attorneys for assistance.

Edited by Michael Wahlander.

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.

Say most of your company’s workers are employees, but for certain types of work you bring in independent contractors.  You have been doing this for years, and everybody in your industry handles this kind of work the same way.  You have nothing to worry about, right?

Not necessarily.  Employers use independent contractors instead of employees for a variety of reasons and under a variety of circumstances.  The decision to use independent contractors has never been without risk, including the risk of class action lawsuits.  However, the stakes in California for misclassifying independent contractors were raised significantly when new Labor Code sections 226.8 and 2753 became effective on January 1, 2012.  In addition to possibly having to pay the worker as an employee for past labor (including paying back employment taxes and maybe overtime wages), you now have to be concerned about the potential for additional civil penalties.

Willful Misclassification:  California Labor Code Section 226.8 makes it unlawful to “willfully” misclassify individuals as independent contractors.  “Willful misclassification” means avoiding employee status for an individual by voluntarily and knowingly misclassifying that individual as an independent contractor. This section also makes it unlawful to charge a willfully-misclassified contractor a fee or to make any deductions from compensation for any purpose, including for goods, materials, space rental, services, government licenses, repairs, equipment maintenance, or fines.

  • What are the consequences?  The penalties for violations of Section 226.8 are steep, ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 per violation (as determined by a court or the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”)), in addition to any other fines or penalties permitted by law.  But that’s not all.  If a court or the LWDA finds that the employer has engaged or is engaging in a “pattern and practice” of violating Section 226.8, the employer is subject to a civil penalty of not less than $10,000 and not more than $25,000 per violation.  It is not difficult to see how these penalties can add up very quickly. Continue Reading Employee or Independent Contractor? The Risks of Making A Wrong Decision Grow