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: 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: August 31 was the California Legislature’s last day to send bills to Governor Brown for his approval or veto by his September 30 deadline. Chief among them are bills addressing sexual harassment.

2018, the year of #MeToo, saw California Senators and Assembly Members introduce numerous bills on sexual harassment-prevention, often followed by their colleagues’ response of “me too!” By the August 31 bill-passing deadline, the Legislature approved no fewer than 12 sexual harassment-related bills, as well as bills relating to lactation accommodations, gender quotas for corporation boards of directors, and various other labor and employment-related bills.

Below is a summary of passed bills now before Governor Brown for his approval or veto. Once the Governor acts (by his own September 30 deadline), we’ll provide an update on all labor and employment-related bills enacted into law this Session, as well as those bills that failed to pass and any that met a gubernatorial veto.

Sexual Harassment

Limiting Settlement Agreements. For settlement agreements entered into on or after January 1, 2019, SB 820 would prohibit and make void any provision that prevents the disclosure of information related to civil or administrative complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and workplace harassment or discrimination based on sex. SB 820 expressly authorizes provisions that (i) preclude the disclosure of the amount paid in settlement and (ii) protect the claimant’s identity and any fact that could reveal the identity, so long as the claimant has requested anonymity and the opposing party is not a government agency or public official. SB 820 suggests that a violation of its provisions would give rise to a cause of action for civil damages.

Banning Waivers of Rights to Testify. As to any contract or settlement agreement entered into on or after January 1, 2019, SB 3109 would make void and unenforceable any provision that waives a party’s right to testify in a legal proceeding (if required or requested by court order, subpoena or administrative or legislative request) regarding criminal conduct or sexual harassment on the part of the other contracting party, or the other party’s agents or employees.

Banning Contractual Limits on Disclosure and Effectively Banning Arbitration Agreements. For agreements entered into, modified, or extended on or after January 1, 2019, AB 3080 would forbid any business to require, as a condition of employment , of conferring an employment benefit, or of entering a contract:

  • that a job applicant, employee, or independent contractor not disclose instances of sexual harassment suffered, witnessed, or discovered in the work place or in performance of the contract, opposing unlawful practices, or participating in harassment and discrimination related investigations or proceedings, or
  • that a job applicant or employee waive any right, forum, or procedure (e.g,, arbitration) for a violation of the FEHA or Labor Code, including any requirement that an individual “opt out” or take affirmative action to preserve such rights.

AB 3080 would make actionable any threatened or actual retaliation against an individual who refuses to consent to the forbidden requirements. AB 3080 would authorize injunctive relief and attorney’s fees to any plaintiff who proves a violation. Possibly because much of AB 3080 could be held preempted by the FAA, AB 3080 contains a severability clause by which the rest of the law will remain in effect if a court finds certain sections invalid.

Extending Liability for Employers and for Businesses Using Labor Contractors. AB 3081 would amend the FEHA and Labor Code to: (1) add status as a sexual harassment victim to existing prohibitions on discrimination against employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; (2) create a rebuttable presumption of unlawful retaliation if the employer—within 30 days of notice of the victim’s status—discharges or threatens to discharge, demotes, suspends, or otherwise discriminates against a victim employee; (3) make a business jointly liable for harassment of workers supplied by the business’s labor contractor (existing law similarly extends liability for the contractor’s failure to pay wages and obtain valid workers’ compensation coverage); (4) prohibit businesses from shifting to their labor contractors duties or liabilities under the Labor Code workers’ compensation insurance provisions.

Expanding Record Retention Duties. AB 1867 would require employers with 50 or more employees to maintain records of internal employee complaints alleging sexual harassment for at least five years after the last day of employment of either the complainant or the alleged harasser named in the complaint, whichever is later. If an employer fails to comply, then AB 1867 would allow the DFEH to seek an order requiring the employer to do so.

Extending the Deadline for Harassment Complaints. AB 1870 would extend a complainant’s time to file an administrative charge with the DFEH from one year to three years after the alleged incident. This expansion of the limitations period would apply to all types of FEHA-prohibited conduct, including sexual harassment.

The Sexual Harassment Omnibus Bill. The strongest, and largest, sexual harassment bill is SB 1300. Passing the Assembly by a narrow margin of 41-33, SB 1300 would:

  • Adopt or reject specified judicial decisions regarding sexual harassment (in each case expanding employer liability). Specifically, SB 1300 would (1) prohibit reliance on Brooks v. City of San Mateo to determine what conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute actionable harassment, (2) disapprove any language in Kelley v. Conco Companies that might support different standards for hostile work environment harassment depending on the type of workplace, and (3) affirm Nazir v. United Airlines, Inc.’s “observation that hostile working environment cases involve issues ‘not determinable on paper.’”
  • Expand an employer’s potential liability under the FEHA for acts of nonemployees to all harassment (removing the “sexual” limitation).
  • Prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to sign (in specified circumstances) (1) a release of FEHA claims or rights or (2) a document prohibiting disclosure of information about unlawful acts in the workplace.
  • Prohibit a prevailing defendant from being awarded attorney’s fees and costs unless the court finds the action was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless when brought or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.
  • Authorize (but not require) an employer to provide bystander intervention training to its employees.

Expanding Scope of Required Sexual Harassment Training. SB 1343 would require an employer of five or more employees—including seasonal and temporary employees—to provide certain sexual harassment training by January 1, 2020. Within six months of their assuming their position (and once every two years thereafter), all supervisors are to receive at least two hours of training, and all nonsupervisory employees are to receive at least one hour. SB 1343 would also require the DFEH to make available a one-hour and a two-hour online training course employers may use and to make the training videos, existing informational posters, fact sheets, and online training courses available in multiple languages.

Empowering Janitor Harassment Survivors. Touted by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher as the bill to “empower janitors to prevent #RapeOnTheNightShift,” AB 2079 would bolster existing sexual harassment and violence prevention training and prevention measures:

  • Effective January 1, 2020, all employers applying for new or renewed registration must demonstrate completion of sexual harassment violence prevention requirements and provide an attestation to the Labor Commissioner.
  • The Department of Industrial Relations (“DIR”) must convene an advisory committee to develop requirements for qualified organizations and peer-trainers for employers to use in providing training, and the DIR must maintain a list of qualified organizations and qualified peer-trainers.
  • Employers, upon request, must provide an employee a copy of all training materials.

AB 2079 would also prohibit the Labor Commissioner from approving a janitorial service employer’s request for registration or for renewal if the employer has not fully satisfied a final judgment to a current or former employee for a violation of the FEHA.

Requiring Sexual Harassment Education for In-Home Support Services. AB 3082 would require the Department of Social Services to develop or identify—and provide a copy and description to the Legislature by September 30, 2019—(1) educational materials addressing sexual harassment of in-home supportive services (IHSS) providers and recipients, and (2) a method to collect data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the IHSS program.

Requiring Sexual Harassment Education by Talent Agencies. AB 2338 would require talent agencies to provide adult artists, parents or legal guardians of minors aged 14-17, and age-eligible minors, within 90 days of retention, educational materials on sexual harassment prevention, retaliation, and reporting resources. For adult model artists only, the talent agency would be required to provide materials on nutrition and eating disorders. Talent agencies would also have to retain, for three years, records showing that those educational materials were provided.

Strengthening Prohibitions Against Harassment With Respect to Professional Relationships. SB 224 would give additional examples of professional relationships where liability for claims of sexual harassment may arise and authorize the DFEH to investigate those circumstances.

Non-Harassment Bills

Opening Doors for Women in the Boardroom. “The time has come for California to bring gender diversity to our corporate boards,” stated co-author Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson in her August 30 press release regarding SB 826. SB 826 would require a publicly held corporation based in California to have a minimum number of females—people who self-identify as women, regardless of their designated sex at birth—on its board of directors. This bill would require each such corporation, by December 31, 2019, to have at least one female director on its board and, if no board seats open up before this date on an all-male board, the corporation would need to increase its authorized number of directors and fill a new seat with a woman. The bill would impose minimum seats that must be filled by women, proportional to the total number of seats, by the end of July 2021. The bill would require the Secretary of State to publish a report by July 1, 2019 of the number of corporations headquartered in California that have at least one female director, and a report by March 1, 2020, detailing (1) the number of corporations that complied with requirements in 2019, (2) the number of corporations that moved their headquarters in or out of California, and (3) the number of publicly held corporations subject to this bill during 2019, but no longer publicly traded.

Corporations failing to comply would face penalties. For each director’s seat not held by a female during at least a portion of the calendar year—when by law it should have been—the corporation would be subject to a $100,000 fine for the first violation and a $300,000 fine for further violations. Corporations that fail to timely file board member information with the Secretary of State would also be subject to a $100,000 fine.

Expanding Lactation Accommodations. Two bills specifying the types of spaces employers must provide women for lactation are now before the Governor. AB 1976 would require employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a room or location (that is not a bathroom, deleting “toilet stall” and inserting “bathroom”) for lactation. The bill would authorize a temporary lactation location if certain conditions are met and provides a narrow undue hardship exemption.

SB 937, meanwhile, would require employers to:

  • Provide a lactation room with prescribed features and access to a sink and refrigerator (or another cooling device suitable for storing milk) in close proximity to the employee’s workspace.
  • Develop and distribute to employees a lactation accommodation policy.
  • Maintain accommodation request records for three years and allow the employee and Labor Commissioner access to the records.

SB 937 would also deem the denial of break time or space for lactation a failure to provide a rest period under Labor Code section 226.7. This bill would require the DLSE to create a model lactation accommodation request form and authorize the DLSE to create a model lactation policy and best practices.

Encouraging Mediation Confidentiality. SB 954 would require attorneys, except in class actions, to provide their mediating clients with a written disclosure containing the mediation confidentiality restrictions provided in the Evidence Code and to obtain a written acknowledgment signed by the client stating that the client has read and understands the confidentiality restrictions. This duty arises as soon as reasonably possible before the client agrees to participate in mediation or a mediation consultation, The bill is an encouragement, with little consequence, providing that an attorney’s failure to comply is not a basis to set aside an agreement prepared in mediation or pursuant to a mediation.

Criminal History. SB 1412—the only bill this year covering criminal background checks to survive the legislative gauntlet—would require employers to consider only a “particular conviction” (as defined by the bill) relevant to the job when screening applicants using a criminal background check.

Pay Statements. Stating it is declaratory of existing law, SB 1252 would amend Labor Code section 226 to provide employees the right “to receive” a copy—not just inspect or copy—their pay statements.

Immigration Documents. AB 2732 would make it a misdemeanor— subject to a $10,000 penalty—for an employer to destroy or withhold passports or other immigration documents. This bill would also require an employer to provide the “Worker’s Bill of Rights” (to be developed by the DIR) to employees either before verifying employment eligibility if hired on or after July 1, 2019 and whenever the document is made available by the DIR if the employee is hired before July 1, 2019. Employers would be required to keep signed copies of this document for at least three years. AB 2732 also would clarify the definition of janitorial services’ employer under the Labor Code, provide that additional contact and compensation information for janitorial workers be retained for three years, and require these employers (as part of their application or renewal of their registration) to attest that sexual violence and harassment prevention training has been provided.

Contractor Liability. AB 1565 would, immediately upon the Governor’s signing, repeal the express provision that relieved direct contractors for liability for anything other than unpaid wages and fringe or other benefit payments or contributions including interest owed.

Port Drayage Motor Carries. SB 1402 would require the DLSE to post a list on its site of “bad actor” port drayage motor carriers. Examples would include companies with any unsatisfied judgment or assessment or any “order, decision, or award” finding illegal conduct as to various wage/hour issues, specifically including independent contractor misclassification and derivative claims. SB 1402 would also extend joint and several liability to the customers of “bad actor” drayage motor carriers for their future wage violations of the same nature.

Stay tuned! We will provide a full update of those bills that were voted and signed into law this Session, as well as which bills failed to meet the Legislature’s or Governor’s approval, after Governor Brown has done his work on the remaining bills.

Non-California employers with non-exempt workers who work in California will be interested in the following piece, originally posted on Seyfarth’s Wage Hour Litigation Blog.

Seyfarth Summary: On July 12, 2018, the California Supreme Court agreed to address questions posed by the Ninth Circuit about whether California Labor Code provisions apply to an out-of-state employer whose employees work part of their time in California. Nationwide employers with employees jetting in to work temporarily in California need to return their seats to an upright position and follow this developing story.

Is your business flying high in the current economy? Profits reaching new altitudes? Maybe you have employees residing in one state while working in another. If some work occasionally in California, prepare to fasten your seatbelts for a potentially rough landing. Even if your employees work in California only intermittently (think partial days), and even if your company is not headquartered in the Golden State, the California Supreme Court may soon bring you down to earth.

Background

Traditionally, employers in paying their employees have applied the wage and hour law of the state where the employee sides or most often works, even if the employee occasionally works in another state. In California, however, the rules are peculiar.

In a 2011 decision, Sullivan v. Oracle, the California Supreme Court held that non-California residents working in California for a California-based employer were subject to California daily overtime laws if they performed their in-state work for whole days. Oracle left employers up in the air as to whether California law would apply in other contexts, such as (a) when non-California residents work partial days of work in California, (b) when the employees worked for non-California based employers, or (c) when the wage and hour provisions at issue were something other than the cal-peculiar rules on daily overtime.

The Certified Questions

Which brings us to the current Ninth Circuit cases. Specifically, in three airline cases raising California issues in federal court (two cases against United Airlines, one against Delta), the Ninth Circuit requested the California Supreme Court to address five questions, paraphrased below:

(1) Does the federal Railway Labor Act exemption found in Wage Order 9 bar a wage-statement claim (Labor Code § 226) by an employee who is covered by a collective bargaining agreement?

(2) Does Section 226 apply to wage statements that an out-of-state employer provides to an employee who resides in California, who receives pay in California, and who pays California income tax on her wages, but who does not work principally in California?

(3) Does Section 226 and Labor Code § 204 (governing timely wage payments to current employees) apply to payments that an out-of-state employer makes to an employee who, in the relevant period, works in California only episodically and for less than a day at a time?

(4) Does California minimum wage law apply to out-of-state employers for the California work that their employees perform in California only episodically and for less than a day at a time?

(5) Does California’s peculiar rule preventing pay-averaging for employees paid by commission or piece rate apply to a pay formula that generally awards credit for all hours on duty, but that does not always award pay credit for all hours on duty?

In the underlying lawsuits, United pilots and Delta flight attendants claim that the airlines violated California Labor Code provisions on wage statements, minimum wage, and the timing and completeness of wage payments. United (based in Chicago) and Delta (based in Atlanta) both won at the district court level, successfully arguing that de minimis work within California does not trigger California law, especially when (i) the employers are not based in California, (ii) the employees work only limited amounts of time in the state, and (iii) the employees mostly work in federal air space and in multiple jurisdictions during a single pay period or even a single day.

Why Does This Matter to Employers Based Outside California?

The guidance that the California Supreme Court will issue may ensnare non-California employers in a complex web of Labor Code laws for employees who work in California only sporadically, or who merely stop in California on their way to other work locations. It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will stretch to apply California’s peculiar rules on wage statements, daily overtime, and minimum wage to such transitory California work. Or whether California rules on meal and rest beaks, or paid sick time, might also be implicated.

Based on recent emanations from our high court, we would not be surprised to see another extension of California’s employee-protective laws. Any such extension would be highly problematic in light of California’s robust civil and statutory penalties for Labor Code violations. The state’s Private Attorneys General Act authorizes penalty lawsuits brought on a representative basis on behalf of all “aggrieved employees or former employees.” While we do not predict that California will attempt to regulate employment of individuals who merely fly through California airspace, all employers with employees having feet on the ground in California need to sit up, return their tray tables to their original position, and be alert to these pending decisions.

Workplace Solution: The California Supreme Court’s opinion regarding the certified questions will not come down for many months. In the meanwhile, sit back, enjoy the flight, and watch this space for further developments. Feel free to contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney if you would like to discuss.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Employers in California: be aware and prepare for new laws increasing minimum wages and mandating overtime pay for agricultural employees; expanding the California Fair Pay Act to race and ethnicity and to address prior salary consideration; imposing new restrictions on background checks and gig economy workers; and more. Small employers will be relieved the Governor vetoed expanded unpaid parental leave, but it will likely return in future sessions.

Friday, September 30, was Governor Jerry Brown’s deadline to sign or veto bills approved during the 2015-2016 Legislative Session. We summarize below this year’s bills that did and did not receive the Governor’s signature. Read on to prepare for our October 6 webinar offering Workplace Solutions for these pesky new Cal-peculiarities and register here.

SIGNED

Pay Equity

Fair Pay Act: Prior Salary & Race/Ethnicity. Saving some high-profile approvals to the last day, on Friday the Governor signed into law AB 1676 and SB 1063.  AB 1676 amends last year’s Fair Pay Act, Section 1197.5 of the Labor Code, to prohibit employers from considering prior salary as the sole justification for any disparity in compensation. SB 1063 expands the Fair Pay Act to race and ethnicity, and responds to critics that the pay equity issue is not limited to gender.  Specifically, it would prohibit employers from paying employees a wage less than the wage paid to employees of a different race or ethnicity for substantially similar work. Since both bills were signed by the Governor, both bills’ substantive changes will become law, though only the last-chaptered bill will be that which officially becomes law.

Before amendments applied in the legislative process, AB 1676 would have prohibited employers from seeking an applicant’s salary history information just as its vetoed predecessor, AB 1017, attempted to do last year. In vetoing AB 1017, Governor Brown stated that we should wait to see whether last year’s momentous Fair Pay Act, SB 358, addressed the pay equity issue before making further changes.  The amendments likely made this amendment palatable to the Governor, and kept California from matching the new Massachusetts law prohibiting Massachusetts employers from requesting the compensation history of a prospective employee before making an offer, unless the prospective employee has “voluntarily” disclosed that information. Amends Labor Code Sections 1197.5 and 1199.5. Effective January 1, 2017.

Wage and Hour

Agricultural Workers. AB 1066  enacts the “Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016,” which requires employers to pay agricultural workers overtime over a four-year phase-in process. Beginning January 1, 2019, employers are required to pay overtime for any hours worked over 9.5 hours per day or 55 hours per workweek. Each year the hours worked triggering overtime pay will reduce, until reaching 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week, beginning January 1, 2022. Also beginning on January 1, 2022, any employee who works over 12 hours per day must be paid at a rate no less than double the regular rate of pay. The Governor may temporarily suspend the scheduled overtime requirement but only if the minimum wage increases are suspended as well. Employers that employ 25 or fewer employees will have an extra three years to comply with the phase-in and must begin paying overtime by January 1, 2022.  This bill began as AB 2757, which failed to pass the house of origin in June.  Undeterred, author Assembly Member Lorena Gonzales resurrected it with the legislative “gut and amend” trick, putting its contents into a bill formerly relating to educational employees.  Amends Labor Code Section 554 and adds Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 857) to Part 2 of Division 2 of the Labor Code.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Minimum Wage Violation Challenges. AB 2899 requires that any employer, before appealing a decision by the Labor Commissioner (LC) relating to a violation of wage laws, must file a bond—in favor of the unpaid employee—with the LC that covers the total amount of any minimum wages, liquidated damages, and overtime compensation owed. The bill also provides that the total amount of the bond is to be forfeited to the employee if the employer fails to pay the amounts owed within 10 days from the conclusion of the proceedings. Amends Labor Code Section 1197.1. Effective January 1, 2017.

Itemized Wage Statements. AB 2535 comes on the heels of the recent federal decision, Garnett v. ADT,  and clarifies Labor Code section 226. This bill specifies that employers need not list the number of hours worked on wage statements for any employee who is exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements under the applicable IWC Wage Order or under statutes specified in Labor Code Section 226(j). Amends Labor Code Section 226.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Leaves of Absence

Paid Family Leave Expansion.  AB 908, which the Governor signed on April 11, 2016, increases the amount of benefits paid to employees on paid family leave and state disability leave from the current level of 55 percent to either 60 or 70 percent depending on the applicant’s income.  Read our report on AB 908 hereAffects Sections 2655, 3303, and 2655.1 of the Unemployment Insurance Code. Effective January 1, 2017, but provisions of the bill not operative until January 1, 2018.

Background Checks

Criminal History. AB 1843 prohibits employers from asking an applicant for employment to disclose any information regarding juvenile convictions and seeking or utilizing any information related to juvenile arrests, detentions, or court dispositions as a factor in employment determination. The bill does specify that an employer at a health facility can inquire into an applicant’s juvenile criminal background if a juvenile court made a final ruling or adjudication, that the applicant had committed a felony or misdemeanor relating to sex crimes or certain controlled substances crimes within five years prior to applying for employment. Still, these employers cannot inquire into an applicant’s sealed juvenile criminal records. Read more about existing California law on background checks hereAmends Labor Code Section 432.7.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Unfair Immigration-Related Practices. SB 1001 is a redux of 2015’s AB 1065, which was held in committee (and which we reported on here). SB 1001, like AB 1065, makes it an unlawful employment practice to request more or different documents than required under federal law to verify that an individual is not an unauthorized immigrant, or to refuse to honor documents tendered that on their face reasonably appear to be genuine, refuse to honor documents or work authorization based on specific status or term that accompanies the authorization to work, or to attempt to reinvestigate or re-verify an incumbent employee’s authorization to work using an unfair immigration-related practice. This year’s bill provision states that job applicants and employees who suffer an “unfair immigration-related practice” can file a complaint with the DLSE for enforcement. The bill provides that a violation of these provisions can result in a penalty of up to $10,000. Adds Section 1019.1 to the Labor Code.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Transportation Network Companies

Background Checks. AB 1289 requires a transportation network company (“TNC”; e.g., Uber) to conduct, or have a third party conduct, criminal background checks on each participating driver. This bill follows a 2014 lawsuit that accused TNCs of misleading customers by suggesting their background checks were the toughest in the industry. The bill also prohibits a TNC from contracting with a driver who is currently registered on the DOJ’s National Sex Offender Public Website; has been convicted of specified felonies within the past seven years; and/or has been convicted, within the past seven years, of misdemeanor assault or battery, domestic violence, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Adds Section 5445.2 to the Public Utilities Code.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Driving Under the Influence. AB 2687 makes it unlawful for a person to drive a vehicle with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.04% or more when a passenger for hire is in the vehicle. The bill comes as an effort to lower taxi cab and ride sharing service driver’s BAC limit—currently at 0.08%—to the BAC limit of 0.04% as required for commercial motor vehicle drivers. Amends Vehicle Code Sections 23152 and 23153.  Effective July 1, 2018.

Personal Vehicles. AB 2763 defines a personal vehicle, used by a participating driver in a transportation network company, as one that has a passenger capacity of eight persons or less, (including the driver) and is owned, leased, or rented for a term that does not exceed 30 days, or otherwise authorized for use by the participating driver. Amends Public Utilities Code Section 5431.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Discrimination/Harassment

Employment Protections. AB 2337 expands the notice requirement employers with twenty-five or more employees must give to employees regarding domestic violence protections. Specifically, this bill provides that an employer must inform each new employee—and other employees upon request—of the rights protecting employees affected by domestic violence in writing. The Labor Commissioner is charged with developing the form providing notice by July 1, 2017.  Employers are not required to provide notice until the Labor Commissioner posts the form. Amends Labor Code Section 230.1.  Effective July 1, 2017.

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training. AB 1661 requires local agency officials to receive two hours of training and education on sexual harassment prevention within the first six months of taking office or commencing employment. To meet the requirements of this bill, local agency officials, including any member of a legislative body and any elected official of cities and counties, and special districts, must continue to receive this training once every two years. While AB 1661 is specific to local agency officials, AB 1825, enacted in 2004, established the same provisions for the workplace. AB 1661 comes on the heels of various high-profile sexual harassment cases against elected officials. Adds Article 2.4.5 (commencing with Section 53237) to Chapter 2 of Part 1 of Division 2 of Title 5 of the Government code.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Employment Discrimination. AB 488 allows individuals employed under a special license in a nonprofit sheltered workshop or rehabilitation facility to bring an action under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) for prohibited harassment or discrimination. This bill came as an expansion of AB 1443, enacted in 2014, which extended FEHA’s protections to unpaid interns and volunteers. AB 488 now extends FEHA’s protections to workers with disabilities. Amends Section 12926, and adds Section 12926.05 to, the Government Code. Effective January 1, 2017.

Other Employee Protections

Employment Contracts—Choice of Law and Forum. SB 1241 prohibits an employer from requiring an employee, who resides and works in California, as a condition of employment, to agree to a provision that would either require the employee to litigate or arbitrate employment disputes (1) outside of California or (2) under the laws of another state. The only exception is where the employee was individually represented by a lawyer in negotiating an employment contract. The bill provides that any contract that violates these provisions is voidable by the employee. A court may award an employee reasonable attorney’s fees, among other remedies, for enforcing rights under the act. Read our in-depth report on SB 1241 hereAdds Section 925 to the Labor Code.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Employment Heat Safety. SB 1167 provides that the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) shall propose to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Standards Board) for review and adoption, a standard that minimizes heat-related illness and injury among workers working in indoor places of employment by January 1, 2019. This bill comes as a response to a 2012 OSHA decision, upheld in 2015 by the Cal/OSHA appeals board, in which a staffing company and warehouse operator were fined for the heat illness suffered by an employee who was working inside a metal freight contained in over 100 degree heat. Adds Section 6720 to the Labor Code.  Effective January 1, 2019.

Employee Contact Information. AB 2843 expands an existing provision of the California Public Records Act (CPRA) that exempts the homes addresses and home telephone numbers of certain public employees from public disclosure to now cover all public employees, including persons paid by the state to provide in-home support services. Additionally, this bill extends the CPRA exemption to include the employee’s personal cell phone number and birth date. However, telephone numbers will be made available to bargaining agents for those employees. Amends Government Code Sections 6253.2 and 6254.3.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Industry Specific

Property Service Workers. AB 1978 creates the Property Services Workers Protection Act by establishing various requirements for the janitorial industry, including registering annually with the DLSE, to protect janitorial employees from wage theft and sexual harassment. The provisions of this bill apply to employers that employ at least one “covered worker” who enters into a contract, subcontract, or franchise agreement to provide janitorial services. This bill also requires the DLSE to maintain a database of property service employers and to develop a biennial sexual harassment and violence prevention training. This bill prohibits an employer from registering or renewing its registration if it has not fully satisfied any final judgment for unpaid wages or made appropriate tax contributions. “Successor employers” are also liable for any wages and penalties owed to the predecessor’s employees. The bill was signed while janitors were fasting outside of the CapitolAdds Part 4.2 (commencing with Section 1420) to Division 2 of the Labor Code.  Effective July 1, 2018.

Talent Services. AB 2068 updates the Talent Service Act’s existing communication and contractual protections to include new technologies, such as mobile applications. Specifically, AB 2068 strengthens the protection for an artist’s information or image to include information posted on an online service, online application, mobile application, or website. AB 2068 also updates the communication and advertisement protections between talent agencies and artists by including communication through the use of a telecommunication device, in print, on the Internet, or through the use of a mobile or online application or other electronic communication. AB 2068 also adds “text message” and other “electronic communication” to the list of methods by which an artist may ask that photographs and other information about the artist be removed from a website, online service, online application, or mobile application owned or serviced by the talent service. Amends Labor Code Sections 1703 and 1703.4.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Work Experience Education. AB 2063 provides an additional option for a student, at least 14 years old, to participate in work experience education. The bill also increases the number of hours per week a student may participate in job shadowing from 25 to 40 hours per semester, if the principal of the school where the student is enrolled certifies that it is necessary for the student’s participation in a career technical education program. Amends Education Code Section 51760.3 and 51769.  Effective January 1, 2017.

Commercial Online Entertainment Employment Services. AB 1687 addresses age discrimination in the entertainment industry by prohibiting a commercial online entertainment employment service (i.e., IMDb) that enters into a contract, from publishing a subscriber’s age or date of birth in an online profile. Proponents of this legislation cited cases such as Hoang v. Amazon.com, Inc, et al, in which a subscriber sued for having her age published on her profile page. The bill also requires that a service provider—upon request by the subscriber—remove age information from public view in any online profile under its control. Adds Section 1798.83.5 to the Civil Code. Effective January 1, 2017.

Other

Single-User Restrooms. AB 1732 requires all single-user toilet facilities in any business establishment, place of accommodation, or government agency to be identified as all-gender toilet facilities. The bill also provides that local officials responsible for code enforcement are to inspect for compliance. Adds Article 5 (commencing with Section 118600) to Chapter 2 of Part 15 of Division 104 of the Health and Safety Code.  Effective March 1, 2017.

VETOED (i.e., “it coulda been worse”)

Parental Leave. SB 654 would have significantly expanded California’s parental leave laws by requiring employers with 20 to 49 employees to provide up to six weeks of unpaid, job-protected parental leave and paid health benefits to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. Existing law—the California Family Rights Act—applies only to employers with 50 or more employees, and provides for at least 12 weeks of job-protected parental leave. The Governor vetoed this bill on September 30, stating: “It goes without saying that allowing new parents to bond with a child is very important and the state has a number of paid and unpaid benefit programs to provide for that leave.  I am concerned, however, about the impact of this leave particularly on small businesses and the potential liability that could result.  As I understand, an amendment was offered that would allow an employee and employer to pursue mediation prior to a lawsuit being brought.  I believe this is a viable option that should be explored by the author.”  In other words, we likely have not seen the last of this proposal.

Examination of Jurors. AB 1766 would have required that prospective jurors be referred to by either an identification number or abbreviation during voir dire in criminal trials. In his August 29 veto message, the Governor stated: “The open nature of criminal trials preserves both the defendant’s right to a fair and open trial, as well as the public’s faith in the court’s impartial application of the law. Under existing law, there are adequate remedies available if the court finds good cause to deny public access to the voir dire process or to specific juror information. These situations are best addressed on a case by case basis, and I do not believe there is a demonstrated need for a wholesale change at this time.”

BILLS THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE LEGISLATIVE CUT (i.e., “it coulda been a lot worse”)

Double Pay on the Holiday—2016 Edition. The Double Pay on Holiday Act of 2015 failed to make its way to the Governor for the second year in a row. AB 67 would have required retail and grocery store establishments, as well as restaurants located within them, to pay at least twice the regular rate of pay for employees who work on Thanksgiving.

Employee Time Off. AB 2405 would have required an employer to provide an employee at least eight hours annually of paid, job-protected, time off for an absence under the Family School Partnership Act. This bill came on the heels of SB 579, chaptered in 2015, which expanded the authorized reasons an employee can take job-protected time off under the Act and specified the definition of ‘family member” under California’s Kin Care. Read our report on SB 579 here.

Work Hours. SB 878 was similar to AB 357, the Fair Scheduling Act of 2015, which did not make it out of the Assembly. SB 878, the Reliable Scheduling Act of 2016, would have required that restaurant, grocery, and retail employers provide non-exempt employees with a 21-day work schedule in advance of their first shift on that work schedule. SB 878 would have required at least seven days advance notice. SB 878 would have required employers to pay “modification pay”—defined as compensation in addition to regular pay (the hourly rate calculated based upon 90 days prior)—if any scheduled shift is canceled, moved, or added, and for each shift for which an employee is required be on call but is not called into work.

Meal and Rest or Recovery Periods. AB 1948 would have provided a statutory remedy for an employer’s failure to provide a meal or rest or recovery period. The bill would have specified that the entire “penalty amount” was an additional hour or pay for each day that a meal or rest or recovery period was not provided to the employee.

California Workplace Flexibility Act. SB 985, SB 368’s predecessor, would have allowed employees to submit a written request for a flexible work schedule of up to four 10-hour days per week without obligating the employer to pay overtime for the 9th and 10th hours worked per day. The employer would have been obligated to pay overtime for any hours worked over 10 hours per workday or 40 hours per workweek.

Age Information in Employment. AB 984 would have prohibited an employer from using information obtained via websites regarding a person’s age to discriminate against an employee or applicant for employment. The bill also would have specified that a service provider is considered as doing business in this state and subject to California’s antidiscrimination laws when they knowingly accept payment from persons in California in exchange for posting their resumes and professional photos online.

Voluntary Veterans Preference Policy. AB 1383 would have created the Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act to authorize a private employer to establish a written veterans’ preference employment policy. The bill also would have specified that granting a veteran preference, in and of itself, would not violate any local or state equal employment opportunity law or regulation, including, but not limited to, FEHA; and would have prohibited a veterans’ preference employment policy from being established or applied for the purpose of discriminating against an employment applicant on the basis of a protected classification.

Independent Contractors. AB 1727 would have established rights for independent contractors to organize and negotiate with “hosting platforms.” This bill would have provided a right for independent contractors to engage in “group activities” in an effort to negotiate through activities such as withholding work and boycotting or critiquing labor practices. The bill would have authorized an independent contractor or a representative of independent contractors claiming a violation under this bill to bring an action in superior court and to seek injunctive relief.

Employment Arbitration Agreements Discrimination. AB 2879, the “Service Member Employment Protection Act,” brought back the language of 2015’s AB 465, which the Governor vetoed (read our summary here), but limited the application to military service members, similar to USERRA. Specifically, the bill would have prohibited employers from requiring service members to waive any Labor Code protections, including the right to file and pursue a civil action or complaint, and would have prohibited employers from requiring service members to accept private arbitration, as a condition of employment, unless the waiver was “knowing and voluntary and not made as a condition of employment.”

DLSE Enforcement. AB 2261 would have provided the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) with new independent authority to, with or without an employee complaint, bring an action against an employer that it suspects may have terminated or otherwise discriminated against an employee in violation of any law under the jurisdiction of the Labor Commissioner. The authors of this bill argued that despite laws providing employees protection and encouragement to report abuse, the reality is that many workers do not report out of fear of losing their jobs. AB 2261 was built upon AB 970, which the Governor signed into law last year, and which we wrote about here.

Employee Safety. AB 2895 would have required an employer to keep at each worksite with three or more employees a complete, updated copy of the currently required written injury prevention program and make it available for inspection by any employee or by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health upon request. The bill would have also required an employer to inform each employee of the availability, and employee’s rights, to inspect and receive a copy of the injury prevention program. Additionally, an employer that received a written request would have had to  comply within a specified timeframe. The bill would have also entitled the employee to injunctive relief if the employer did not timely respond to the request.

Human Trafficking Training. AB 1595 would have required public and private mass transportation providers (bus, train, light rail, etc.) to provide training to recognize and report the signs of human-trafficking to employees who were likely to interact with victims of human trafficking. AB 1942 would have required the same training as AB 1595 but it was specific to hotels and motels that provide lodging services.

Sexual Offenses Against Minors. AB 2199 would have defined a two-year sentence enhancement where a defendant who committed a sex crime against a minor held a position of authority over the minor. The bill specifically provided that a person in a “position of authority” included, but was not limited to, a stepparent, foster parent, partner of the parent, youth leader, recreational director, athletic manager, coach, teacher, counselor, therapist, religious leader, doctor, or employer, or employee of one of the aforementioned persons.

PAGA. AB 1317 expanded on last year’s bill, AB 1506, which was signed by the Governor, that gave employers a limited right to cure certain wage-statement violations before an aggrieved employee could sue under PAGA. This bill would have provided an employer a right to cure any violation of the Labor Code before an employee could sue and would have provided an appropriation to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to establish new positions to review and investigate PAGA cases. This bill was stuck in the Senate committee on rules.

PAGA Reform. None of the bills in this year’s five-bill Private Attorneys’ General Act (PAGA) reform package made it out of the Assembly. Those bills were:

  • AB 2461 would have limited the violations an aggrieved employee was authorized to bring and required specific procedures before suing.
  • AB 2462 would have provided employers with a right to cure before an employee brought a civil action.
  • AB 2463 would have established a penalty cap of $1,000 for each aggrieved employee.
  • AB 2464 would have authorized a court to dismiss an action if the court found the aggrieved employee suffered no appreciable physical or economic harm.
  • AB 2465 would have required the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to investigate alleged violations and determine if there was a reasonable basis for a civil action.

Workplace Solutions.

Head spinning?  We’ll summarize all the new and almost-laws and give you practical tips to prepare for them in our webinar on October 6.  Register here.  Or feel free to contact any of the authors or your favorite Seyfarth attorney with any questions.

By Nicholas Clements and Kerry Friedrichs

Well-intended employers often lament the various gotchas that await them down the dark and winding road that is the California Labor Code. Perhaps no turn in the road is more treacherous than the one at Wage Statement Junction. Here one crosses at extreme peril, for the California Legislature, in Labor Code section 226, has planted legal land mines that can blow up at the slightest provocation.

A Common Sense Question With a Less-Than-Intuitive Answer:  “Can’t I avoid hazards if I just pay them the right amounts and on time?” Sadly, no, there’s much more to it. Labor Code section 226(a) lays out a long list of other requirements, some more sensible than others.

Not so Simple. Timely paychecks must be accompanied by a “simple” wage statement at least semi-monthly, and the wage statement must include nine distinct pieces of information for each employee: Continue Reading Time to Revisit Your Pay Stubs?

Paga is a city in Ghana, well-known for its crocodile pools.  PAGA, California’s Private Attorneys General Act of 2004, allows employees to sue their employers on behalf of themselves and other “aggrieved” employees to recover penalties for Labor Code violations.  What do the two, other than a shared moniker, have in common?  Run afoul of either and you’re bound to get bit.

Imagine a company that unknowingly pays its employees bi-weekly and 10 days after the close of a pay period.  Strictly speaking, that practice would be is a violation of Labor Code section 204, which requires payment within seven days after a pay period ended.  The hyper-technical violation is fixed promptly once the company learns of it.  No employees complain; no employees were financially harmed in any way; and nothing suggests the company profited from the mistake. 

No harm, no foul, right?  Wrong.  The company is potentially on the hook for millions of dollars in PAGA penalties. 

Employees’ attorneys try to conflate the penalties to extract the maximum amount of penalties from the seemingly innocuous mistake described above.  The way they do it is by misreading the statutory language of Labor Code section 210, which prescribes the penalties for a violation of section 204.  The law allows for $100 for each failure to pay each employee for “any initial violation” and $200 for each failure to pay each employee, plus 25% of the amount wrongfully withheld, for “each subsequent violation.”  Lab. Code § 210(a)(1)&(2).  

One of the primary reasons for this situation is an unfortunately superficial 2008 decision that said an initial violation is incurred for each pay period within the one-year statute of limitations up until the time actual notice of the violation was given to the employer.  Buoyed by this decision, employees’ attorneys have pushed for aggregation of multiple “initial violations” dating back to the start of the statute of limitations.  This math results in millions of dollars in theoretical penalties in connection with the relatively harmless scenario described above.

The good news: there are strong arguments that the statutory language allows for just a single initial violation.

Nothing in Labor Code section 210 says that an initial violation arises from each pay period.  This omission is significant, particularly in light of other statutory language.The California Legislature is careful to specify when an initial violation is to be paid for “each pay period” (see Labor Code sections 752, 558, 1197, and 2699), so the intentional omission of this language from Labor Code section 210 is proof that the Legislature did not intend for this law to be applied that way.

Also, Section 210 imposes a penalty for violations of eight specific sections of the Labor Code, including section 204.  That means there can be eight separate Labor Code violations to trigger Section 210 penalties.  That is eight ways to have an initial violation, one for each enumerated code provision.  The statute does not allow for aggregate penalties for the same violation.  Instead, it allows eight ways to fail, and a penalty for “each failure.”  This analysis is missing from the 2008 decision and is a critical shortcoming of the opinion. 

There are also specific terminology differences between the initial violation statute and the subsequent violation statute that compel the conclusion that there is only a single initial violation, resulting in a single payment of $100 to each aggrieved employee.  In the former, the term “any initial violation” is used, indicating a single event.  By comparison, repeated violations are contemplated for “each subsequent violation.”  If the Legislature wanted to aggregate multiple initial violations, then it would have said so, using “each” as it did for subsequent violations.

Workplace Solutions: Don’t be alarmed by an employee’s attempt to stack penalties for multiple “initial violations” under Labor Code section 210.  There are strong arguments that the statutory language allows for only one, single initial violation.

Labor Code Section 226 makes California employers liable for penalties if they issue inadequate wage statements that cause ‘injury.” Courts generally have denied penalty claims where hypertechnical violations did not cause real harm. Unsatisfied with this result, employee advocates lobbied for a 2012 amendment. Senate Bill 1255, effective January 1, 2013, amends Section 226(e) to deem “injury” to occur when the wage statement is imperfect and an employee can’t quickly use the statement to derive such items as the wage rates and number of hours worked.

When statutes get amended, it’s often a big deal. What about this amendment? Not so much.

Does the definition really change the law? We think not.

  • In our view, SB 1255’s new definition for deemed “injury” does not materially change the law on itemized wage statements. The leading cases, published in 2011 and 2010, established that “mathematical injuries” do not support Section 226 claims and that penalty claims should fail where an employee can derive the needed information with a little math. SB 1255 did not overrule these cases. Of course, if the Legislature were to define injuries so that harmless itemized wage statement deficiencies led to civil penalties, we here at CalPecs would be blogging about the serious constitutional issues that such draconian measures would raise.

But can’t plaintiffs use other sections to seek penalties for wage-statement imperfections even in the absence of injury? We think not.

  • Creative plaintiffs’ counsel have sought wage-statement windfalls by using California’s PAGA statute to claim penalties under Labor Code section 226.3, which establishes a civil penalty for certain violations of Section 226. But, as to wage statements, Section 226.3 applies only to a complete failure to provide a wage-deduction statement. Section 226, by contrast, specifically addresses both complete failures to provide itemized wage statements, Lab. Code § 226(e)(2)(A), and provision of inaccurate or deficient statements, Lab. Code § 226(e)(2)(B).

In sum, the benighted view of some trial courts notwithstanding, Section 226.3 claims properly are limited to the complete failure to provide a wage deduction statement.

But doesn’t PAGA still provide additional penalties for inadequate wage statements, even in the absence of injury? Again, we think not.

  • Employee advocates who realize that Section 226.3 is not a means to seek penalties for injury-free wage-statement violations have pursued the alternative of seeking PAGA penalties under Labor Code section 2699(f). These claims, too, should fail. While PAGA does create penalties where a Labor Code provision is silent on the matter of penalty, PAGA does not create penalties for any “provision[] … for which a civil penalty is specifically provided.” By our view, Section 226(e) already specifies a penalty for Section 226(a) violations creating any injury, and thus already provides a penalty sufficient to meet the PAGA’s aim of deterring Labor Code violations.

Workplace Solutions: The bottom line is that while one may ballyhoo much about the 2013 amendment defining wage-statement injuries, the practical effect of the amendment may be nil, other than to clarify existing case law to the effect that “mathematical injuries” and other trivial effects of an imperfect wage statement do not enhance an employee’s ability to collect penalties for “gotcha” violations of Section 226.

In November, Democrats won a supermajority in the California Legislature (55 seats in the Assembly and 27 in the Senate). Democrats now have the votes to pass measures requiring a two-thirds majority vote, without any help from that pesky other political party.  Even more, they then need only to pass the bill to Democrat Governor Jerry Brown for his seal of approval.  Will the Dems use this newfound power to make California even more peculiar on the labor and employment front?  Will Brown rubber stamp what the Dems put on his desk, or continue his reputation of marching to his own drummer? 

It’s still quite early in the 2013-14 Legislative Session – a time when many of the bills introduced are merely “spot” holders for later substantive amendments. Nonetheless, while it is still too early to make any concrete predictions, we can make some educated guesses about what will emerge on the labor and employment front this year:

Prediction #1: More Protected Statuses

The unemployed:  Governor Brown vetoed legislation last year that would have made unemployed a protected status under FEHA, stating that “[t]his measure seeks to prevent discrimination against the unemployed based on their job status by prohibiting employers from stating in employment ads that applicants must be employed.  Unfortunately, as this measure went through the legislative process it was changed in a way that could lead to unnecessary confusion.”  The bill’s author has left the Legislature. If a new bill now goes through the process without such “confusion,” that bill may meet the Governor’s approval.  If so, it would not be the first.  Oregon recently enacted similar protections, as did the District of Columbia and New Jersey.  There was also a similar bill pending on the federal level that died in Committee. 

The homeless:  Assembly Member Ammiano has introduced AB-5, dubbed the “Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act” that would prohibit discrimination under the Unruh Act and Fair Employment and Housing Act on the basis of “housing status,” defined as “the status of having or not having a fixed or regular residence, including the status of living on the streets, in a vehicle, or in a homeless shelter, or similar temporary residence or elsewhere in the public domain.”  The bill is currently before the Assembly Committee on the Judiciary.

Potential consequences of either of the above becoming law?  Employers will face additional challenges in ensuring that recruiters, human resources personnel, interviewers, and management employees are trained to be aware, navigate, and comply with these requirements.  Continue Reading What New Peculiarities California’s Democratic Supermajority May Have in Store for Employers In 2013

Philosophical Question: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Philosophical Employment Law Question: If a California employee receives a paycheck that does not contain the pay period dates (or other custodial information), does the employee suffer an injury?

California courts, among the most liberal in the nation, have struggled with this deep philosophical question (not the one about the trees).

Majority View: Most courts have concluded that an employee does not suffer an injury when his or her paystub does not contain information like pay period dates or the employer’s full name and address. These courts require proof of an actual injury to trigger penalties under Labor Code section 226.

Minority View: A smaller number of courts have held that injury occurs automatically if the paystub does not contain every single element that Labor Code section 226 requires.

CA Lawmakers’ View: The division among the courts prompted the Legislature to pass (and the Governor to approve) legislation that amended Labor Code section 226 (effective January 1, 2013) to state that an employee will be deemed to suffer injury if an employer fails to provide a wage statement or accurate and complete information as required by law, and the employee cannot promptly and easily determine from the wage statement alone one or more of the following: Continue Reading Adding Insult to Injury: California Legislature Defines “Suffering Injury” for Labor Code Section 226 Wage Statement Violations