• Being “On-Call” Does Not Consitute “Work”

    The Second Appellate District published its decision in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, which overturned a trial court’s award of $90 million in statutory damages, interest, penalties, and attorney fees for a class of security guards who were allegedly denied rest breaks.  There has been much controversy over the extent to which employers must relieve employees of duty while on rest and meal breaks.  The court’s opinion does a fairly thorough analysis and is worth reading.  The following are some highlights from the case.

    The trial court certified a class and granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary adjudication, concluding an employer must relieve its employees of all duties during rest breaks, including the obligation to remain on call. The trial court awarded approximately $90 million in statutory damages, interest, penalties, and attorney fees on the premise that California law requires employers to relieve their workers of all duty during rest breaks. The appellate court concluded the premise was false, and therefore reversed the order.

    ABM employs thousands of security guards, some sites where only a single guard is stationed, while others dozens could be stationed.  ABM policies required security guards to remain on-call and to carry a radio or pager even when the employee was on his/her rest break.  Labor Code Section 226.7, and the applicable wage orders, require employers to “afford their nonexempt employees meal periods and rest periods during the workday.”  The plaintiffs alleged since they were required to remain on-call,they were not relieved of all duties and therefore they were not afforded required rest periods.

    The appellate court compared the wage order’s rest period requirement and the language in Labor Code section 226.7, and concluded that while an employer cannot require an employee to perform work while on a rest period, being on-call (at least in this situation) did not require the employees to perform work.

    [A]lthough ABM’s security guards were required to remain on call during their rest breaks, they were otherwise permitted to engage and did engage in various non- work activities, including smoking, reading, making personal telephone calls, attending to personal business, and surfing the Internet. The issue is whether simply being on-call constitutes performing “work.” We conclude it does not.

    The guards had a variety of duties they would perform throughout the day, including greeting visitors, allowing egress and ingress to the premises, making rounds of the buildings, responding to emergencies, etc.  Although a guard could be called back to work to perform such tasks, “remaining available to work is not the same as actually working.”

    The court also differentiated rest breaks from meal breaks under the wage order.  Subdivision 11(A), pertaining to meal periods requires that an employee be “relieved of all duty” during a meal period. Subdivision 12(A), regarding rest breaks, contains no similar requirement. The court found that if the IWC had wanted to relieve an employee of all duty during a rest period, including the duty to remain on call, it knew how to do so. Additionally, since the IWC’s order allows a paid on-duty meal period in some circumstances, “it would make no sense to permit a 30- minute paid, on duty meal break but not a 10-minute paid rest break.”

    In an amended portion of the decision, the court looked at the meaning of the word, “work,” both as a noun and a verb:

    The word “work” is used as both a noun and verb in Wage Order No. 4, which defines “Hours worked” as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11040, subd. 2(K).) In this definition, “work” as a noun means “employment”—time during which an employee is subject to an employer’s control. “Work” as a verb means “exertion”—activities an employer may suffer or permit an employee to perform. (See Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123 (1944) 321 U.S. 590, 598 [work is “physical or mental exertion (whether burdensome or not) controlled or required by the employer and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer and his business”].) Section 226.7, which as noted provides that “[a]n employer shall not require an employee to work during a meal or rest or recovery period,” uses “work” as an infinitive verb contraposed with “rest.” It is evident, therefore, that “work” in that section means exertion on an employer’s behalf.

    I’m not a linguist, but I know we will see this language quoted in future cases.

    In the end, the court concluded that “on-call status is a state of being, not an action. But section 226.7 prohibits only the action, not the status. In other words, it prohibits only working during a rest break, not remaining available to work.”

    Augustus will be useful to occupations other than security guards since all of the wage orders contain identical language regarding rest breaks.  Any industry where the employee is required to remain on-call while on a rest break, and any employee that is required to remain on-call during rest breaks, should review Augustus.

    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.

  • Companies Will Be Responsible For Wages of Sub-Contractors

    Does your company use workers provided by other companies?  If so, your company may be liable for the other companies’ failure to pay wages or carry state-mandated workers’ compensation insurance.

    Governor Brown signed AB 1897, which adds Labor Code section 2810.3 effective January 1, 2015.  This new law requires a “client employer” to share with a “labor contractor” all civil legal responsibility and civil liability for all workers supplied by that labor contractor for the payment of wages and the failure to obtain valid workers’ compensation coverage.  In other words, if your company receives workers through a contracting agency, and that agency fails to pay the worker or fails to maintain valid workers’ compensation coverage, your company could be responsible for any unpaid wages or workers’ compensation claims.

    A “client employer” is a “business entity that obtains or is provided workers to perform labor within the usual course of business from a labor contractor.” A “client employer” does not include any of the following:

    (i) A business entity with a workforce of less than 25 workers, including those hired directly by the client employer and those obtained from, or provided by, any labor contractor.

    (ii) A business entity with five or fewer workers supplied by a labor contractor or labor contractors to the client employer at any given time.

    (iii) The state or any political subdivision of the state, including any city, county, city and county, or special district.

    A “labor contractor” is an “individual or entity that supplies workers, either with or without a contract, to a client employer to perform labor within the client employer’s usual course of business.”

    A “labor contractor” does not include specified nonprofit, labor, and motion picture payroll services organizations and certain 3rd parties engaged in an employee leasing arrangements.

    A “worker” does not include an employee who is exempt from the payment of an overtime rate of compensation for executive, administrative, and professional employees pursuant to wage orders by the Industrial Welfare Commission described in Section 515.

    The law does not prevent client employers and labor contractors from “mutually contracting for otherwise lawful remedies for violations of its provisions by the other party.”  In other words, the client employer can require the labor contractor to defend and indemnify the client employer in the event a worker sues the client employer, but the client employer can still be sued directly.  Labor contractors, client employers and workers may not waive any of the protections provided by Labor Code section 2810.3.

    There is no “opportunity to cure” provision, but a worker or his or her representative must notify the client employer of violations at least 30 days prior to filing a civil action against a client employer for violations covered by this section.  Neither the client employer nor the labor contractor may take any adverse action against any worker for providing notification of violations or filing a claim or civil action.

    The new law does not impose liability on a client employer for the use of an independent contractor other than a labor contractor or change the definition of independent contractor.

    The new law does not impose individual liability on a homeowner for labor or services received at the home or the owner of a home-based business for labor or services received at the home.

    If you use or supply sub-contractors, you will want to review and possibly revise your client and/or vendor agreements before the new year.

    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.

  • New Law Expands Time Period for Liquidated Damages in Unpaid Minimum Wage Claims

    Governor Brown signed AB 2074, expanding the time frame within which an employee may bring a claim for liquidated damages under Labor Code section 1194.2.

    An employee who receives less than the applicable state minimum wage is entitled to bring an action to recover the unpaid wages.  Typically, the employee can bring the claim any time within 3 years of when the wages were earned.  The employee may be able to expand the time frame to 4 years if the employee can establish the failure to pay minimum wage is also an unfair business practice under Business & Professions Code section 17200, et seq.

    An employee can also bring a claim for liquidated damages “in an amount equal to the wages unlawfully unpaid and interest thereon.”  AB 2074 amends Labor Code section 1194.2 to make it clear that “A suit may be filed for liquidated damages at any time before the expiration of the statute of limitations on an action for wages from which the liquidated damages arise.”  The statute does not specify whether an employee could recover the liquidated damages going back 4 years under B&P section 17200, but I suspect they can’t, because a 17200 claim seeks “restitution,” not damages.

    The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2015.  The statute does not state whether it applies only to claims filed after January 1, 2015, or if a plaintiff can wait until January 1, 2015, to file the claim and take advantage of the new, longer statute of limitations.

    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.

  • Are You Ready for the San Jose Minimum Wage Ordinance?

    The San Jose Minimum Wage Ordinance goes into effect on March 11, 2013.  Passed by voters during the last election, the new ordinance requires employers doing business in San Jose to pay a minimum of $10.00 per hour for any employee that works at 2 hours per week in San Jose.

    At first glance it might seem that the law only applies to businesses physically located in San Jose, but that is not accurate.  The ordinance defines an employer as:

    any person, including corporate officers or executives, as defined by Section 19 of the California Labor Code, who directly or indirectly through any other person, including through the services of a temporary employment agency, staffing agency or similar entity, employes or exercises control over the wages, hours or working conditions of any Employee and who is either subject to the Business License Tax Chapter 4.76 of the Municipal Code or maintains a facility in the City.”

    The City’s perspective is that anyone carrying on or conducting business in San Jose is subject to the Business License Tax.  Even if your business is located outside of San Jose if you provide goods or services in San Jose you are an “employer” under the SJMWO.

    Not all employees working in San Jose are covered by the SJMWO.  Employees who are not otherwise entitled to payment of minimum wage under California minimum wage laws (e.g., outside salespersons, certain family members of the employer, etc.) are not “employees” under the SJMWO.  Additionally, the employee must work in San Jose at least 2 hours per week.

    In addition to paying the increased minimum wage, employers subject to the SJMWO must post the SJMWO poster in a conspicuous place.  You can download copies of the SJMWO poster here.

    The City has developed a list of FAQ’s that they hope to post on their website soon.  Unfortunately, there were a few errors in the FAQ’s that require revision, so we don’t know when the FAQ’s will be posted.

    The City has, or soon will, set up an enforcement mechanism for complaints regarding violations.  One of the benefits of the enforcement/complaint process is the ability to resolve the matter through early mediation or conciliation.  One of the drawbacks is that complaints do not need to be filed with the City agency and nothing prohibits an employee from pursuing a claim with the City and in court.

    As with many wage and hour statutes and regulations, an employee suing an employer for a violation of the SJMWO is entitled to recover his/her attorneys’ fees, but a successful employer is not able to recoup its attorneys’ fees even if the employer proves there was no violation.  The City hopes that its administrative process will allow the parties to resolve cases early without extensive litigation and that the attorneys’ fees, therefore, will not be a significant issue in resolving a case.  I’ll hold my opinion until I see the results.

    One of the concerns is that an employer who has a posting violation, for example, may be subject to a $50.00 per day per employee penalty (plus attorneys’ fees), if the employer fails to have the required posting in a conspicuous place.  The penalty begins from the date of the violation and continues until the violation ceases.  For example, if you have 5 employees that each travel to San Jose at least 2 hours per week and you fail to have the correct poster, you could face over $90,000.00 in penalties.

    Employers are also required to maintain payroll records, and to allow the City access to such records, for 4 years.

    Of course, employers may not discriminate in any manner or take adverse action against any person in retaliation for exercising any of the rights under the SJMWO.

    Failing to understand and comply with the SJMWO may have devastating effects on your business.  Every employer and every employee should become familiar with the SJMWO so they can understand their rights, remedies, and responsibilities.

    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, a 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.

  • An Interesting Way to Resolve a Case: mediation/binding baseball arbitration

    I previously discussed some of my concerns regarding binding arbitration agreements.  Arbitration has its place, and it can be a very useful tool in resolving cases.  As much of my practice involves employment disputes, drafting an enforceable arbitration agreement can be difficult, and I believe arbitration oftentimes does not meet the objectives that it is intended to achieve (i.e., lower costs, quicker resolution, lower awards, etc.).  There are many variants to the typical arbitration or mediation options, and a recent case caught my eye because it presented one of the more unique variants.

    In Bowers v. Raymond J. Lucia Companies, Inc. (No. D059333), the parties were in the middle of binding arbitration, when they decided to dismiss the arbitration and the accompanying state court action, and participate in “mediation/binding baseball arbitration.”  According to the record, the plan was to:

    participate in a full day mediation. If, at the end of that mediation, the Parties have failed to reach an agreement, the Plaintiffs (Bowers, Seward, and LaBerge) shall provide to the mediator their last and final demand, which demand shall be some amount between $100,000 and $5,000,000, and the Defendants (Companies, Wealth Management, and Enterprises) shall provide to the mediator their last and final offer which offer shall be some amount between $100,000 and $5,000,000. The mediator shall then be empowered to set the amount of the judgment in favor of Plaintiffs against Raymond J. Lucia Companies, Inc. by choosing either Plaintiffs’ demand or Defendants’ offer, such binding mediator judgment to then be entered as a legally enforceable judgment

    At the end of the mediation, the mediator decided to award the plaintiffs the full $5,000,000.00.  That’s right, the “mediator” awarded the money.  This is unusual because typically mediators do not have the power or authority to “award” anything.  The mediator typically helps the parties reach a resolution, but if the parties are unable to reach an amicable (or unamicable?) resolution, the mediator’s job is done.  Because the parties in Bowers agreed the mediator could make a binding award if the mediation failed, the trial court and the appellate court upheld the award. Parties can agree to allow a third party to decide what the parties will pay, even if the evidence is not presented in a typical trial or arbitration setting.

    It’s easy to armchair quarterback this one and second-guess the thinking behind agreeing to such an unusual form of dispute resolution.  Going into the process the parties had to know that the plaintiff’s “last and final demand” was going to be $500,000.00, just like the defendant’s “last and final offer” was going to be $100,000.00.  The case does not provide a lot of facts regarding the underlying claims or liabilities (we only know that it was some kind of defamation claim), but I presume liability was not much of a question, and that the real issue was the amount of damages.  The big risk for each side is that, knowing the other side’s “last and final” number is likely going to be the highest or lowest allowed by the parties’ agreement, the resulting mediator’s “award” was essentially going to be an all or nothing deal.  I suppose there was the possibility that had the parties stuck with the original arbitration the arbitrators could have awarded significantly more than the $5,000,000.00 ceiling to which the parties agreed, but it seems like a pretty high risk given the fact that the mediator receives information differently than an arbitrator, a judge or a jury.

    I am a big proponent of mediation.  Given the costs and risks involved in litigation, mediation offers the parties the opportunity to have a say in the outcome of the resolution.  I’m not so sure I would be willing to hand that control over to the mediator.  The process of presenting my case in mediation differs significantly to how I present my case to the trier of fact.  I’m not sure how my presentation would have to change if I knew that at the end of the day the mediator was going to “decide” the case.

    If you want to read the case, you can find it 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.

  • Recent Article Reveals Long Delays at State Labor Commissioner’s Office

    A recent article from the Los Angeles Daily Journal (Vol. 125 No. 057, March 23, 2012) reports “Wage claims get uneven treatment, records show.”  According to the article, data obtained through a Public Records Act request and interviews with lawyers representing business and workers reveals significant delays.

    State law requires the Labor Commissioner to conduct its hearings within 120 days after filing.  The Daily Journal’s analysis shows that 11 of the 16 regional offices did not meet that obligation in 2011.  Different offices report different average waiting periods, with Oakland showing the worst results: over 400 days to get to a hearing.  Santa Rosa, on the other hand, gets its cases to hearing within 85 days.  San Francisco heard its cases within 301 days on average.  San Jose averaged approximately 275 days to get to a hearing.

    The study did not discuss how long it takes for a decision to get mailed after the hearing.  By law, the decision is supposed to be written within 15 days after the hearing.  In my experience, however, it often takes several months to receive the actual decision.  This sometimes means a case can take between one to two years to resolve if filed with the Labor Commissioner.  Cases take even longer if they are then appealed to superior court for a trial de novo.

    Budget cutbacks and state-mandated furloughs as well as an increase in claims filed are main causes of the long delays.  In some cases, the state assigns hearing officers from other jurisdictions to help carry some of the load, and I’ve seen an improvement in the speed with which cases proceed in the last few months, but there are still significant delays.  In many instances, a case can move more quickly through court than through the Labor Commissioner.

    The Daily Journal article also discusses perceived inconsistent rulings reported by several practitioners.

    When deciding whether to proceed with a Labor Commissioner claim, claimants should consider the length of time it will take to receive a decision.  Employers should realize that they may need to maintain records for a longer period than required by law so they can ensure they have appropriate evidence and witnesses by the time a hearing comes around.

    If you are contemplating filing a claim with the Labor Commissioner, or if you’ve recently been notified that a claim has been filed, I highly recommend speaking with competent counsel familiar with the Labor Commissioner and wage and hour issues.

    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.

    , San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.

  • Brinker is Published!

    The long awaited decision in Brinker v. Superior Court is out.  You can download it here.  The Court also issued the following press release:

    California Supreme Court Rules on
    Employer Meal and Rest Break Obligations
     
    Court Decides Employers Must Relieve
    Employees of All Duty During Meal Periods
    But Need Not Ensure They Perform No Work

    San Francisco—Resolving uncertainty over the scope of an employer’s obligations to afford hourly employees meal and rest periods, the California Supreme Court concluded today that an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employees of all duty during meal periods, leaving the employees thereafter at liberty to use the period for whatever purpose they desire, but that an employer need not ensure no work is done.

    On the related question concerning when meal periods must be provided, the court concluded a first meal break generally must fall no later than five hours into an employee’s shift, but an employer need not schedule meal breaks at five hour intervals throughout the shift.

    These questions arose in Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court, S166350, one of a number of meal and rest break class actions pending in the state.  After the Brinker trial court certified classes of employees alleging the Brinker Restaurant Corporation had failed to provide meal and rest periods in the number and at the times required by state law, the Court of Appeal reversed and ordered each subclass vacated.  The California Supreme Court accepted review and agreed to resolve lingering uncertainty over the nature of rest and meal period obligations and the suitability of such claims for class treatment.

    In a unanimous opinion authored by Associate Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, the court explained that neither state statutes nor the orders of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) compel an employer to ensure employees cease all work during meal periods.  Instead, under state law an employer must provide its employees an uninterrupted 30-minute duty-free period during which the employee is at liberty to come and go as he or she pleases.  Absent a statutorily permissible waiver, a meal break must be afforded after no more than five hours of work, and a second meal period provided after no more than 10 hours of work.

    On the question of rest periods, the court explained that under the IWC’s orders, employees are entitled to 10 minutes of rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, and to another 10 minutes rest for shifts from six hours to 10 hours in length.  Rest periods need not be timed to fall specifically before or after any meal period.

    As to the suitability of rest and meal period claims for class treatment, the court reversed in part, remanded in part, and affirmed in part the Court of Appeal’s rejection of class treatment.  With respect to rest period claims, the court concluded plaintiffs had identified a theory of recovery suitable for class treatment.  With respect to meal period claims, the Supreme Court remanded to the trial court for reconsideration of class certification in light of its clarification of the substantive law governing meal period claims.  Finally, with respect to a third subclass—for claims that Brinker required off-the-clock work—the court affirmed vacation of class certification.

    The principal opinion by Justice Werdegar was signed by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye and Associate Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Marvin R. Baxter, Ming W. Chin, Carol A. Corrigan, and Goodwin Liu.

    Justice Werdegar also issued a separate concurring opinion, joined by Justice Liu, addressing meal period class certification issues confronting the trial court on remand.  The concurring opinion discussed considerations relevant to the suitability of the plaintiffs’ meal period claims for certification.

    The court’s opinion in Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court, S166350, is available on the California Courts Web site in two formats:  Word (http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S166350.DOC ) and Acrobat (http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S166350.PDF. Hard copies of the opinion are available in the Supreme Court’s Clerk’s Office, 350 McAllister Street, San Francisco.  Legal briefs filed in the case are online at http://www.courts.ca.gov/15713.htm.

    I am sure the blogosphere will be full of commentary and analysis.  I know of at least 5 different organizations (including an upcoming presentation by the Labor & Employment Law Section of the Santa Clara County Bar Association) scheduled for ensuing weeks regarding Brinker and the impact it will have on employers and wage and hour litigation.  I, for one, am even more interested in finding out what the court does with Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection where a lower court held the employee could be responsible for the employer’s attorneys’ fees in a failed meal break claim.  (See my earlier post re: Kirby)

    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.

  • Court Clarifies Commission Case

    By the end of this year all commission agreements in California must be in writing.  When drafting or reviewing your commission agreement it is a good idea to keep in mind several issues; one of which is whether the commissioned employee is exempt from California’s overtime laws.  A recent court decision (Muldrow v. Surrex Solutions) addresses the basic requirements of the inside salesperson exemption.

    Let me start off by reminding you that there are two different possible sales-related exemptions under California’s overtime laws: inside sales persons and outside salespersons.  Outside salespersons are exempt under most, if not all, wage orders.  Inside salespersons are only exempt if the employment is governed by Wage Order 4 (professional, technical, clerical mechanical and similar occupations) or Wage Order 7 (mercantile industry).  If some other wage order applies then the inside salesperson exemption is not available.  There are several different distinctions between the inside salesperson and the outside salesperson exemptions that I hope to address in a subsequent article.  For now, I want to focus on a couple of key points discussed in the Muldrow case.

    Surrex Solutions Corporation locates and provides qualified candidates for employment to other companies.  Sometimes the candidates are hired directly by the customer and other times Surrex “rents” the candidate to the customer for a specified billing rate.  Surrex employees review open positions, research and locate qualified candidates, negotiate terms of employment/hiring with candidates and customers, and obtain orders from customers for the candidates.  The Surrex employees are paid a percentage of any placement/hiring fees when the customer hires the candidate directly, and a percentage of the adjusted gross profit for candidates retained on a consultant basis.  Tyrone Muldrow, on behalf of himself and other similarly situated employees, filed a class action against Surrex claiming he was entitled to overtime.  The trial court and the appellate court rejected the claim and determined Muldrow was exempt from California’s overtime laws under the inside salesperson exemption.

    The court emphasized several earlier cases distilling the necessary criteria for the inside salesperson exemption:  “First, the employees must be involved principally in selling a product or service, not making the product or rendering the services.  Second, the amount of their compensation must be a percentage of the price of the product or service.” (quoting Ramirez v. Yosemite Water Co (1990) 20 Cal.4th785)

    In addressing the first issue (i.e, was the employee involved principally in selling a product or service), the court reduced Muldrow’s job to its essence: Surrex employees would offer a candidate’s services to a client in exchange for a payment of money from the client to Surrex.  Although there was some discussion regarding duties leading up to the consummation of the sale, all of those duties were part of the selling process and therefore the employees were “involved principally in selling a product or service.”

    As to the second issue, the employees conceded that they were paid a percentage of the price of the product for the direct hires, but claimed that since the amounts paid on the non-direct hire cases was not based on the gross price of the product or service, it was not a commission.  The court had no trouble rejecting this argument.  Nothing indicates the percentage must be based on the gross price versus an adjusted gross or net price.  The court similarly rejected the employees’ argument that the commission plan should be rejected because it was “too complex.”

    An interesting issue that was not addressed by the court (and possibly not raised by either side) was the fact that the commissions are calculated by taking the gross profit then deducting ordinary costs of doing business in order to calculate the commission.  There has been discussion for some time regarding the extent to which an employer can use the ordinary costs of doing business in the calculation of bonuses, commissions and profit-sharing agreements.  The California Supreme Court has flip-flopped on the issue at least once.  The latest rule is that, at least with respect to managerial profit sharing plans, an employer can calculate a profit sharing plan using profitability which necessarily includes the ordinary costs of doing business.  Under Muldrow, it would appear an employer can also calculate a commission based on the ordinary costs of doing business (e.g., overhead, employee costs, benefit costs, etc.)

    Commission plans can be simple or they can be complicated.  Even simple commission agreements need to carefully consider a number of factors.  Now that California law will require all commission agreements to be in writing and provided to the employee, it is extremely important for you to review and understand your commission arrangement.  If your plan is not in writing, now is the time to start working on it with a knowledgeable professional.  And don’t forget to consider any possible overtime ramifications!

    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.

  • 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.