July 30, 2017

Key California Employment Law Cases: May 2017

May’s key California employment law cases involve “on call” meal and rest periods, and employees working seven days a week.

Wage-and-Hour – Meal and Rest PeriodsBartoni v. Am. Med. Response W., 11 Cal. App. 5th 1084 (2017)

Summary: Class certification of meal period claim properly denied where “on call” meal periods were provided, but certification of “on call” rest break claim should not have been denied.

Facts: Plaintiffs, current and former employees of defendant ambulance service company, filed a class action wage-and-hour lawsuit alleging, among other things, failure to provide meal and rest periods. Plaintiffs sought premium wages, statutory penalties, and civil penalties under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). Plaintiff moved to certify a class on the meal and rest period claims, arguing that defendant’s policy of requiring employees to sign on-duty meal period agreements, and its policy of requiring employees to remain “on call” while on meal periods and rest breaks, were uniform policies favoring class treatment. The trial court denied the motion, finding that a policy in which an employee is “on call” without interruption during meal and rest breaks is properly considered off-duty time. The policy concerning the on-duty meal period agreement would require individualized inquiries to determine the reasons for interruptions and whether those reasons satisfied the statutory on-duty meal period requirements. The remaining policies were not uniform across the class or subclasses. Shortly thereafter, the California Supreme Court decided Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., 2 Cal. 5th 257, 211 Cal. Rptr. 3d 634 (2016), which held that “on call” rest breaks do not satisfy an employer’s obligations to provide off-duty breaks.

Court’s Decision: The California Court of Appeal affirmed and reversed in part. First, an “on call” meal period can satisfy an employer’s off-duty meal period obligations under California Labor Code section 512, as the determination of what is sufficient to constitute an off-duty meal period varies from industry to industry and requires a factual finding. Individualized inquiries would be required to establish whether the meal periods were actually interrupted, and, if so, whether the conditions necessary for an on-duty meal period were met. The court distinguished Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates, Inc., 216 Cal. App. 4th 220, 156 Cal. Rptr. 3d 220 (2013), noting that the security officers in that case were uniformly unable to take an off-duty meal period, whereas plaintiffs in this case were able to take an off-duty (albeit “on call”) meal period. However, an “on call” rest period is not off-duty under the holding of Augustus. Accordingly, the court issued a writ vacating the trial court’s order with respect to the rest break claim and remanded for reconsideration.

Practical Implications: Employers should avoid policies or practices that require employees to be “on call” during their breaks, especially rest breaks. “On call” meal period policies and practices are not risk free, but at minimum they should assure employees they are able to be relieved of all duties and only interrupted when necessary based on individual circumstances.

Wage-and-Hour – Workplace ConditionsMendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., 2 Cal. 5th 1074, 216 Cal. Rptr. 3d 889 (2017)

SummaryCalifornia’s “one day of rest in seven” law is measured by workweek, and prohibits employers from inducing employees to forego day of rest in each workweek, but exemption under section 556 only applies to employees who do not exceed six hours of work on all days during the workweek.

Facts: Plaintiffs worked at defendant’s retail stores and were often asked to work additional shifts for other employees, which sometimes caused them to work more than six consecutive days. Some of those days included shifts that lasted more than six hours.  Plaintiffs sued defendant in state court alleging a claim under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) seeking civil penalties for, among other things, violations of California Labor Code sections 551 and 552, which require employees to have one day of rest out of seven. Defendant removed the action to the federal district court, which held a bench trial on the merits of the PAGA claim for violations of sections 551 and 552. The district court determined that: (1) section 551 guarantees a day of rest on a rolling basis, for any seven consecutive days; but (2) under section 556, the guarantee does not apply so long as an employee had at least one shift of six hours or less during the period; and (3) defendant did not cause plaintiffs to work more than six consecutive days because it did not force or coerce them to do so. The district court dismissed the action. Plaintiffs filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which certified three questions to the California Supreme Court: (1) whether the one day of rest requirement is measured on a rolling basis or by the workweek; (2) whether the exemption under section 556 applies when at least one day during the applicable workweek includes a shift of six hours or less, or if it applies when none of the days during the workweek contain a shift of more than six hours; and (3) what is required for an employer to cause an employee to go without a day of rest.

Court’s Decision:  The California Supreme Court first concluded that a day of rest is guaranteed for each workweek, not for any consecutive seven-day period. A rolling basis measurement would be difficult for employers to track and section 510, which defines the premium pay owed to employees who work seven consecutive days, is based on a workweek. Second, the exemption under section 556 for employees working shifts of six hours or less applies only to those who never exceed six hours of work on any day of the workweek.  Finally, an employer may not induce or affirmatively seek to motivate an employee to forgo rest to which he or she is entitled, but the employer may permit or allow the employee to do so.

Practical Implications:  Employers should ensure that employees are provided with at least one day of rest during each workweek, and are not providing incentives that could be construed as an inducement for employees to work seven days straight during the workweek.