By now, every employer in California should be aware of the plethora of new and changed CA labor laws in effect for 2016. In addition to the $1 an hour minimum wage increase on January 1, there is paid sick time, gender pay equality, and meal and break time changes to manage.
CA Labor Laws 2016: Employers Take Note
California is a great state with a great deal to recommend it. However, doing business in California is becoming increasingly challenging on a number of levels.
According to David Fischer in a post at California Employer's Services:
"The truth is California is one of the most employer unfriendly states to there is. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce report entitled “Legal Climate Overall Rankings By State” California came in third from the top when it comes to employee lawsuits. This is not good news for employers.
In case you were wondering what cities are the worst offenders in one of the worst states as far as the legal climate is concerned Los Angeles and San Francisco made the list of cities or counties that had the least fair and reasonable litigation environment, this is according to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). In addition to that California plays it very loose when it comes to employee class action lawsuits."
One example Mr. Fischer gives is the latitude with which the California courts provide for wage and hours lawsuits. He noted that these can be based on inadvertent record keeping violations,which allow for inflated mandatory damages awards.
Why Diligence and Compliance is Critical for CA Labor Laws
Recently in Los Angeles, a former employee of Guess Retail Inc. filed a California labor lawsuit over missed meal breaks, lack of payment for the alleged missed meal breaks, as well as improper payment of wages upon termination. The lawsuit, Burgos v. Guess Retail Inc., is proposed as a class action suit, and it is the third lawsuit against Guess already in 2015.
According to the available court documents, the plaintiff Kriss Burgos was a non-exempt hourly employee at a Guess facility in California. She has alleged that she was required to work without being allowed rest periods or a meal break, and was never compensated for those missed breaks. The California labor law requires employers to provide regular rest breaks and an uninterrupted 30-minute meal period to be taken while off-duty, after the fifth hour of duty.
California labor law and Breaks
This lawsuit is typical of the type of cases filed against California employers each year. While there will always be companies, owners, or managers who knowingly violate existing California labor laws, it is just as typical for employers to either unwittingly violate some aspect of the labor law, or to have a genuine misinterpretation of the laws. Either way, violating the California labor law maliciously or out of ignorance still leaves employers vulnerable and liable to lawsuits.
Because Guess failed to compensate Burgos and other potential class members in the proposed class action suit, Burgos v. Guess Retail Inc., the allegation is that the employer knowingly and wittingly procured additional work hours from employees, but without paying for the extra work.
In her lawsuit, Burgos stated that, “Defendants have failed to provide plaintiff and members of the proposed California class one or more rest periods on one or more days of their employment with defendants, and have failed to compensate them at the rate of one hour or pay at their regular rate of pay for each day on which one or more meal periods were not provided.”
Understanding the Employer Obligations for Meal and Rest Breaks
The California Labor Code § 226.7 prohibits employers from requiring employees to work during meal or rest periods. This is essentially non-negotiable and must be abided by scrupulously by employers.
Employees can sue for violations of meal and rest break provisions in California law, going back as far as three years. In addition, recent precedents make it likely that employees could go back as far as four years under unfair competition laws. Previously, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) also known as the California Labor Board had restricted the claims to only a one-year period.
Per CA Labor Law, Employee Breaks are Mandatory and Well-Defined
A brief recap of the California Labor Code:
- During a five-hour workday, an employee is required to receive a 30-minute break.
- During a 10-hour workday, an employee is required to receive two 30-minute breaks.
- If the workday is no more than six hours, the meal break may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee. (This should be put into writing beforehand.)
- During more than 10 hours a day, a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes is required. If the total of hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and employee only if the first meal period was not waived.
- California labor law requires that non-exempt workers receive a 10-minute paid rest period for every four hours worked.
- It is recommended that the rest period be in the middle of the work period.
- If an employer does not provide a rest break, California labor law states that the employer shall pay the employee one hour of pay at the employee's regular rate of pay for each workday that the rest period is not provided.
California is has a significantly large agricultural workforce, even in the San Francisco Bay Area, and special provisions in the California labor laws regarding agricultural and outdoor workers are important to be aware of, as well.
Individuals employed in agriculture and outdoor work such as landscaping and farming are now legally entitled to sufficient rest breaks when temperatures exceed 85 degrees. This is defined as a minimum five minutes in the shade, on an “as needed” basis. This new law applies to all employees, including illegal immigrants, who now have a number of rights and protections provided by the state of California under the provisions of Bill 263.
If an employee does not receive the proper meal and rest periods the employer must pay to the employee one hour of pay as a penalty. This includes the newly defined “recovery periods” or “cool down period afforded an employee to prevent heat illness.” In addition to the recovery periods, California employers should review the California OSHA recommendations for preventing heat illness.
Finding the Help You Need to Stay On Top of CA Labor Laws
If your organization would like to learn more about its obligations, or acquire resources to deal with these types of situations, Accuchex recently partnered with HR Solutions Partners to offer its customers the most up-to-date and professional human resources management solutions available. To learn more about the different levels of Human Resource Management services available, please follow this link.
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