Does a Recent FLSA Interpretation Limit Worker Wage & Hour Lawsuits?

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The Department of Labor recently proposed changes to how the law interprets the “joint employer rule.” The joint employer rule is regularly utilized by workers filing class action wage and hour lawsuits to reach beyond their immediate employer and seek recovery or compensation from a corporate parent, franchisor, or other related entity. If the proposed changes to the joint employer rule interpretation go into effect, it will change how the federal FLSA is applied, but it would not limit wage and hour protections under California state labor law.

The DOL announced the proposed change on April 1, 2019, and received praise from employers and the opposite from employee advocate groups. Those against the change argue that the new interpretation would create an opportunity for employers to avoid liability for meeting FLSA standards by outsourcing labor to third parties or working strictly with contractors. The change could leave millions of workers on unstable ground, potentially vulnerable to federal labor law violations.

The proposal attempts to define the circumstances under which a business could be held jointly responsible for wage and hour violations. A test with four elements would be used to determine if a second business or business entity could be held liable. The four factors would be: 1) if the additional party has the power to hire or fire the employee, 2) if the other party is involved in supervising the employee’s schedule or employment conditions, 3) if the additional party has the power to determine the employee’s rate of pay or method of wage payment, and 4) if the other party handles maintenance of employment records.

According to California labor law, the general rule is that state statutes can be more protective of rights of the individual or entity that the law is intended to benefit, but it cannot be less protective of those rights. Following this general rule, California state labor laws provide more wage and hour protections than the FLSA in numerous ways. The newly proposed interpretation has yet to go into effect and it may not limit the right of California employees since a significant amount of the responsibility to protect workers’ rights depends on state legislators.

If you have questions about California state labor law or if you need to file an employment law suit, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP. With convenient locations in San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and Chicago, we are ready to be your advocate and help you seek justice for unfair working conditions.

Ninth Circuit Confirms Employees Must be Compensated by the “Second”

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The Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco, California confirmed that even tiny amounts of work time must be counted and compensated (as in seconds on the clock). This opinion (Rodriguez v. Nike) should end the debate following the recent employer-driven campaign to revive the de minimus federal standard when considering California employment law issues and labor lawsuits.

In Rodriguez v. Nike, Isaac Rodriguez filed suit following his employment at a Nike owned California retail store. He worked at the Nike store from November 2011 through January 2012. Employees at the store (and other Nike stores throughout California), employees paid an hourly wage were required to track their hours on the clock using a time clock. As a theft deterrent, Nike required employees to allow exit inspections anytime they left the store (at the end of their shift or for a break). The mandatory checks varied in length depending on the circumstances, but they always occurred while the employee was clocked out, and the time was uncompensated.

Rodriguez filed a California class-action lawsuit against Nike in 2014 alleging violations under numerous sections of the California Labor Code and the Business and Professions Code. The complaint was dismissed in District Court on September 2017 with the court reasoning that the time necessary for the inspection was so brief it did not need to be counted according to the de minimus standard.

Then Troester v. Starbucks changed the landscape for this employment law issue when the court ruled that de minimus did not apply if the lawsuit being considered was brought at a state level under California labor code. The rule for federal lawsuits was not to be used for state lawsuits. After the 2018 ruling, Isaac Rodriguez went back to court amidst the new legal landscape. The Ninth Circuit Court sent Rodriguez's case back to the District Court for a decision consistent with the recent ruling in Troester v. Starbucks. The result was a reaffirmation of the judgment that the federal de minimus rule does not apply to state-level lawsuits, which is good news for wage earners in California. The question went from arguing over how many seconds we were talking about to a discussion of whether or not an employee is legally entitled to payment for work no matter how much time is in question.

An entire series of similar California cases have developed since the Troester v. Starbucks ruling. The ruling will affect all California wage earners, and the precedent provides both employers and employees a firm grasp of how to treat off the clock situations. 

If you have questions about off the clock job duties or if you have experienced California labor law violations in the workplace, the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with the employment law office nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

Temecula Nail Salon Faces $1.2M Fine for California Wage Violations

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Employees of a Temecula, California nail salon called Young’s Nail Spa were listed as “independent contractors” so the salon owners could avoid payment of overtime or required meal and rest breaks during longer shifts. The salon faces a file of over $1.2 million for misclassification of workers, violation of wage and hour law, failure to pay overtime and provide required meal and rest breaks.

The salon is located on Margarita Road in Temecula and was under investigation by the California Department of Industrial Relations due to complaints about wage theft and other unlawful practices. In the course of the investigation, numerous irregularities were discovered. One of the most problematic was the shifts that Young’s Nail Spa employees were required to complete. Workers were spending 9 ½ to 10-hour days on the job. They were not provided meal or rest breaks. The Labor Commissioner said this was an attempt to get around overtime obligations through misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

In addition to denying workers their rightful pay, misclassification also gives employers an unfair advantage over competing, law-abiding businesses. According to California law, employers who provide their workers with less than minimum wage will be held responsible for paying the wages owed plus an equivalent amount in liquidated damages and interest when they are caught.

During the course of the investigation, auditors from the state went through 40 months of business records before determining that the salon engaged in misclassification and additional forms of wage theft. Citations totaled $670,040 for worker reimbursement and $572,187 in civil penalties.

If you have questions about wage and hour law or if you feel that you have been misclassified on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Contractor Fined $1.9M in Response to Wage Theft Claims

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Fullerton Pacific Interiors Inc., a California drywall contractor, was filed $1.9 million by California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for failing to allow rest periods for workers (and other wage violations). The violations allegedly occurred on 26 different construction projects in different locations throughout Southern California.

The fine was handed down from California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, a.k.a. the Labor Commissioner’s Office – a part of the California Department of Industrial Relations. The fine was processed because the California drywall company failed to properly compensate almost 500 workers for rest periods as required by state and federal labor law. During the course of investigation, the division also found that almost 300 workers were not paid for overtime hours and almost 30 workers were paid less than minimum wage.

From the summer of 2014 through the summer of 2016, Fullerton Pacific Interiors Inc. was under contract to perform drywall work at a number of recreation centers: hotels, casinos, etc. All were located in three California counties: Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino. The Labor Commissioner noted that many contractors who embrace unscrupulous methods may try to obscure wage theft by providing workers with pay on a flat rate basis rather than an hourly rate. Yet a daily or any other flat rate system of pay does not override minimum wage and overtime requirements as defined by law.

According to the findings of the investigation, Fullerton workers were completing taping and drywall installation at the work sites. They were paid a daily rate that did not consider their overtime hours on the job. They were offered a 30-minute meal period, but no rest breaks throughout the day.

The fine accounts for:

·      $1,892,279 payable to workers (with $798,664 for rest period violations, $386,685 for unpaid overtime, and $692,500 for wage statement violations)

·      $72,400 civil penalty

·      Workers that were not paid minimum age were owed a total of $14,431 unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and waiting time penalties

If you have questions about unpaid overtime or if you are not receiving meal and rest breaks on the job in accordance with state and federal labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Exotic Dancers Wage Row Results in $8.5M Deal

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A number of former Spearmint Rhino exotic dancers urged a California federal judge to give final approval to a $8.5 million deal in order to settle their suit alleging that the chain of nightclubs limited their compensation to tips.  Lead plaintiffs in the case, Lauren Byrne, Bambie Bedford, and Jennifer Disla, claimed that the nightclub didn’t pay them overtime wages, provide them with minimum wage or provide them with required meal and rest breaks during their time dancing in the establishment.

Final settlement approval in the class and collective action would resolve the allegations of tip misappropriation. Out of 8,000 class members, 50 chose to opt out and only a few others in the group objected to the settlement proposed as a resolution to the matter.

Dancers included in the suit were located throughout the country. Counsel for the class spoke to them regarding the allegations and disputed facts of the case and considered information pertaining to the case provided by defendants’ counsel including business structure, agreements in place, locations of the club, number of clubs involved in the case, number of dancers and other entertainers working at the various locations, applicable statute of limitations, and the number of days each dancer worked at the establishments. All this research and analyses was completed prior to engaging in settlement discussions.

According to the motion, the final approval of the proposed settlement would end litigation over all claims against the Spearmint Rhino nightclubs brought by the plaintiffs in regard to state wage and hour law violations, and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to the dancers, the deal amount specified was $8.5 million, but could increase to $11 million if certain conditions were met.

A group of exotic dancers currently working the defendants’ clubs came forward the same day that the final settlement approval was requested to ask the court to find that they are not employees. They stated that they could have chosen to work as “employees,” but did not because they wanted to avoid the level of control the nightclubs had over actual employees. They argued that the plaintiffs are all former entertainers who no longer need to consider this aspect of the issue. They have no further interest in preserving their choice to perform without being subject to the rules, regulation, control and scrutiny of an employee.

If you have questions about wage and hour violations or if you are not being paid overtime you are due, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.