• Look Out Brinker and Brinkley, Here Comes Sharon

    As employers and employee advocates eagerly await the California Supreme Court’s decision in Brinkley and Brinker regarding the lengths to which employers must ensure employees are afforded the opportunity to take meal breaks, some companies have decided to go so far as to discipline employees who voluntarily work “off the clock.”  I have to admit that when a manager asks me, “what do I do if an employee insists on working through lunch,” I have offhandedly commented that the only choice may be to discipline the employee for refusing to follow the employer’s reasonable directions.  Well, it turns out that may not be the best advice.

    A recent Chicago Tribune article reports a victory for Sharon Smiley after she was fired for working during her lunch hour.  In Illinois, like California, employees are entitled to a lunch break in the middle of the day.  After 10 years of employment, Sharon Smiley decided to work through a lunch break to finish some work. Her manager became upset because Sharon was apparently in violation of company policies so he sent her to HR.  HR had a short discussion with her and then fired her for misconduct (violating company policies) and insubordination (refusing to follow the employer’s instructions).  Sharon was devastated.

    To add insult to injury, the company opposed her unemployment insurance claim.  She went to several different attorneys, all of which told her she had no chance of winning.  Undaunted, and really with no other choice, Sharon represented herself.  She appealed the initial unemployment insurance benefits denial, and the superior court judge overturned the decision.  Last week an appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision allowing Sharon to obtain unemployment insurance benefits.

    To my knowledge there are no plans to file a wrongful discharge claim.

    The article is particularly interesting here in California as the Supreme Court decides whether employers must force employees to take lunch breaks or merely ensure employees have a realistic opportunity to take the required breaks.  I guess I’ll have to add a few more caveats to my advice.

    You can read the original Chicago Tribune article here.

    The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego
    95 South Market Street, Suite 520
    San Jose, CA 95113
    Tel. 408-293-6341
     
    Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
     
    Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law, but we cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.
     
    Your use of this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Office of Phillip J. Griego. The use of the Internet or this blog for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be posted in this blog and the Law Office of Phillip J. Griego cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted to this blog.Phillip J. Griego represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.

  • For Whom No Bell Tolls

    OK, maybe this case is only interesting to those of us Wage and Hour nerds, but Harris v. Superior Court could be hailed as the final nail in the Bell case trilogy.  Although this post may include more information about how sausage is made than you ever wanted to know, the Court’s decision could curtail a fairly significant number of overtime lawsuits.

    The Bell cases are  three  decisions that the Supreme Court issued regarding whether claims adjusters working for Farmers Insurance Exchange were exempt from California’s overtime requirements.  The cases were important because the court used the production/administration dichotomy to find the adjusters did not meet the administrative exemption test.

    The production/administration dichotomy distinguishes between administrative employees primarily engaged in “administering the business affairs of the enterprise” and production employees primarily engaged in “producing the commodity or commodities, whether goods or services,” that were the focus of the enterprise.  Despite the fact that Bell specifically held that the production/administration dichotomy is not useful in every case, a lot of attorneys try to rely on the distinction as a simple way of determining whether an employee is exempt.

    In Harris, claims adjusters employed by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and Golden Eagle Insurance Corporation filed a class action seeking unpaid overtime.  The employer alleged the employees were exempt under the administrative exemption, and the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment seeking a determination that “as a matter of law,” the claims adjusters could not be exempt.  The appellate court used the production/administration dichotomy and held the employees could not be exempt from California’s overtime laws.  The California Supreme Court disagreed and put a huge damper on further attempts to use the production/administration dichotomy as the sole basis for defeating a claimed exemption.

    Harris pointed out that Bell was decided based on pre-2000 regulations which did not clearly define the administrative exemption.  In 2000, the IWC amended the wage orders providing more details as to what activities qualify as exempt duties and specifically incorporated specific federal regulations.  Bell did not have the advantage of those regulations and therefore relied on the production/administration dichotomy absence clear direction from the legislature or the IWC.  Now that we have specific regulatory guidance, the production/administration dichotomy is even less useful.

    Perhaps the biggest death toll for Bell is the Supreme Court’s focus on the fact that Bell is really only applicable to pre-2000 cases.  While there may be a few pre-2000 cases still winding their way through the court system, I suspect there aren’t many of them left.

    It is also important to note that the Supreme Court did not say the claims adjusters were or were not exempt from overtime.  The court merely pointed out that the appellate court used the wrong test in determining whether the employees are entitled to overtime.  Correctly classifying employees is not easy, and you should seek the assistance of competent professionals before making a costly mistake.

    The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego
    95 South Market Street, Suite 520
    San Jose, CA 95113
    Tel. 408-293-6341
     
    Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
     
    Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law, but we cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.
     
    Your use of this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Office of Phillip J. Griego. The use of the Internet or this blog for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be posted in this blog and the Law Office of Phillip J. Griego cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted to this blog.Phillip J. Griego represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.