Governor Jerry Brown signed several laws in 2017 that will impact California employers next year. A summary of some of the key new laws follows, in numerical order by Assembly Bill (AB) and/or Senate Bill (SB). All of the laws outlined below are effective beginning January 1, 2018.
Can employees sue individuals for wage-and-hour violations? That is the question numerous trial courts have been asked since the enactment of California Labor Code section 558.1 (“Section 558.1”) in 2016. Unfortunately, no binding authority on the question exists yet, but several trial courts have concluded that employees can.
Under Section 558.1(a), “[a]ny employer or other person acting on behalf of an employer who violates, or causes to be violated,” several labor code provisions, “may be held liable as the employer for such violation.” The term “other person acting on behalf of an employer” means any person who is an owner, director, officer, or managing agent of the employer. Lab. Code § 558.1(b). Generally speaking, managing agents are corporate employees who exercise substantial independent authority and judgment so that their decisions ultimately determine corporate policy; in other words, “managing agents” aren’t necessarily just company executives.
On August 16, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order certifying a question regarding an important wage and hour issue to the California Supreme Court: Is time spent on an employer’s premises waiting for and undergoing required exit searches of bags or packages voluntarily brought to work for purely personal convenience by employees compensable as “hours worked” under California law?
The question arose in Frlekin v. Apple, Inc., an appeal in a wage and hour class action brought against Apple, Inc., by current and former nonexempt California retail store employees. In the suit, the plaintiffs sought compensation for time that they spent waiting for and undergoing exit searches whenever they left Apple’s retail store locations, pursuant to the company’s Employee Package and Bag Searches policy. The at-issue policy, which is similar to ones in place at many other large retailers, required that employees undergo unpaid, manager-performed bag/package checks before leaving the stores—at breaks or at the end of their shifts.
In a blow to the defense bar—and, in particular, retail employers—the California Supreme Court, in Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls of CA, LLC), S227228 (July 13, 2017), held that there is nothing unique about claims filed under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) that would justify restricting the scope of discovery under California law. The Supreme Court reversed a decision of the California Court of Appeal that would have precluded PAGA plaintiffs from obtaining the contact information of other potentially aggrieved employees beyond the discrete location at which they work(ed) without first making a threshold evidentiary showing that (a) they were aggrieved employees and (b) they had knowledge of systemic statewide Labor Code violations. Rather, to justify disclosure of the contact information of all employees in California, the Supreme Court found that it is sufficient for a named plaintiff to allege that the at-issue violations occurred, that plaintiff himself or herself was aggrieved, and that the defendant employer had a systemic, statewide policy that caused injury to other employees across California.
Continue reading “California Supreme Court Ruling on Right to Statewide Discovery in PAGA Actions Is Not as Bad for Employers as It Looks”
Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, recently announced that the Department of Labor (DOL) will resume issuing opinion letters to provide employers with direction on compliance issues. Opinion letters are an official response from the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division that provide employers with detailed explanations regarding how certain laws apply to the specific facts. Opinions are available to an employer for issues arising under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Davis-Bacon Act (DBA). In a DOL press release, Secretary Acosta stated that issuing opinion letters will help employers and employees develop a better understanding of the laws and allow employers to “concentrate on doing what they do best: growing their businesses and creating jobs.”
Continue reading “Department of Labor to Begin Issuing Opinion Letters, Again”
On June 8, 2017, plaintiffs Mayra Casas and Julio Fernandez (“Plaintiffs”) filed an unopposed motion seeking approval of a $12 million settlement reached against defendant Victoria’s Secret Stores, LLC (“Victoria’s Secret”) in a closely watched case challenging the legality of Victoria’s Secret’s “call-in” scheduling practices. The case, Casas v. Victoria’s Secret Stores, LLC, was pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at the time the parties’ settled the case, and was one of many currently pending class action lawsuits challenging similar practices by retailers. As a result of the parties’ settlement, the ultimate question in Casas remains unanswered: Are employees who are required to call their employer to determine if they are required to show up for call-in shifts entitled to reporting time pay?
Retail Industry Reporting Time Pay Requirements
In addition to the Labor Code, employers in California must adhere to the requirements of industry-specific Wage Orders, promulgated by the now-defunct Industrial Welfare Commission. Wage Order 7, which applies to the “mercantile” industry (i.e., retailers), requires employers to pay non-exempt employees for certain unworked but regularly scheduled time. Such compensation is known as reporting time pay. Under Wage Order 7, retailers are required to pay reporting time pay if an employee “is required to report for work and does report, but is not put to work or is furnished less than half …[of his or her] usual or scheduled day’s work.” When this occurs, the employee must be paid the greater of (1) half his or her usual or scheduled day’s work (up to four hours), or (2) two hours at his or her regular rate of pay.
In the past, most reporting time pay litigation concerned situations where non-exempt employees were called in to work for special meetings or were sent home early on regularly scheduled days of work.
Casas v. Victoria’s Secret Stores, LLC
Filed in 2014, Casas called into question the legality of call-in scheduling, a common practice among retailers. Victoria’s Secret’s call-in policy required employees to call their managers two hours before the start of certain scheduled call-in shifts to determine if the employees needed to show up for work. When employees were required to come in to work, they were paid for their work time. However, when employees were told that they did not need to report to work, they were not paid. Plaintiffs argued that this policy violated Wage Order 7 because employees “reported to work” by calling their manager and were thus entitled to reporting time pay when Victoria’s Secret failed to furnish or cut short their call-in shifts.
In December 2014, U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu rejected Plaintiffs’ argument and dismissed their call-in claims, reasoning that both the common meaning of “report” and legislative history held that “reporting for work” entailed physically appearing for work. Thereafter, Plaintiffs took an interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
During oral argument, the three-judge Ninth Circuit panel expressed concerns about rendering a decision on the legality of uncompensated call-in procedures, and suggested that the question might be better resolved by the California Supreme Court.
Following oral argument, but before the Ninth Circuit rendered any decision, the parties settled the case, depriving the appellate court of the ability to render an opinion. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Victoria’s Secret will pay $12 million to settle the claims of the 40,000 putative class members.
Questions Left Unanswered
While Casas was pending, numerous other retailers (including Club Monaco, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Zumiez) were hit with similar putative class action lawsuits challenging their respective call-in scheduling practices. Several of those cases were stayed pending resolution of Casas, and will now proceed without a definitive answer from the Ninth Circuit regarding the law.
Several large retailers, including Victoria’s Secret, have done away with call-in shifts. However, such practices remain commonplace in the retail industry. Whether employers—retailers in particular—are required to pay reporting time pay for unworked call-in shifts remains an open issue.1 We will continue to monitor case law and legislative developments in this area.
1 Several state attorneys general have put pressure on large retailers to abandon call-in scheduling and certain jurisdictions (e.g., San Francisco) have proposed and/or enacted legislation prohibiting employers from such practices. However, to date, California has not passed any state-wide legislation addressing the practice.