California Court of Appeals Decision Reviewed by California Supreme Court: Meal Breaks for Hospital Employees on Long Shifts

July 14, 2015 - The California Supreme Court will review the decision made by California Court of Appeals regarding Gerard v. Orange Coast Memorial. The case is regarding providing meal breaks for hospital employees scheduled for long shifts. The meal-break suit outlines the dispute over whether or not an Industrial Welfare Commission order that allows health care workers to waive meal periods provided during long shifts actually conflicts with state law.

The ruling of the California Court of Appeals invalidated the portion of California’s Industrial Welfare Commission or IWC Wage Order No. 5. This particular portion allows non-exempt health care employees to waive their second meal break in shifts that are over 12 hours. It was seen as a landmark decision for both health care workers and their employers. Health care employers have relied on the Wage Order provision as do many other California employers. 

The Gerard case plaintiffs sued under the California Private Attorney General Act on their own behalf and on behalf of other employees in similar situations. They allege that (notwithstanding the Wage Order) Orange Coast Memorial was violating California State Labor Code. Employees at Orange Coast Memorial consistently work 12-hour shifts. Occasionally employees at the medical center work shifts longer than 12 hours. Any hospital employee that worked shifts over 10 hours was able to sign a written waiver of one of their two provided meal periods during long shifts; even if the “long” shift was 12+ hours.

The Court of Appeal addressed the seeming contradiction between IWC Wage Order No. 5 and the California State Labor Code Section 512 regarding meal periods and long shifts. The Court of Appeal ruling is troubling in its reversal of the rule health care facilities/employers rely on regarding non-exempt workers. The state’s high court will take up the case.

If you need additional information on California State Labor Law, IWC Wage Order No. 5 or meal breaks required by law in the workplace, contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik

Ruling of California Supreme Court: Federal Aviation Authorization Act Does Not Preempt California Meal and Rest Break Claims

A recent decision by the California Supreme Court will affect truck drivers throughout California. The finding that the Federal Aviation Authorization Act does not preempt California meal and rest break claims means that any truck driver in or through California is entitled to take a thirty (30) minute uninterrupted meal period prior to their fifth (5th) hour of work. Drivers are entitled to this benefit regardless of the crossing of state lines during their route or the payment of overtime to the driver.

The issue originated with a meal break class action lawsuit filed against Penske Logistics that Penske won at the district court level. The panel of judges held that the meal and rest break laws in California are unrelated to Penske’s “prices, routes or services” and would therefore not be preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994. The appeals court also stated that it was never intended to preempt general state transportation safety, etc.

The meal and rest break law will add costs for motor carriers and motor carriers being affected are, of course, disappointed with the decision. The court defended their ruling stating that the law does not “set prices, mandate or prohibit certain routes, or tell motor carriers what services they may or may not provide, either directly or indirectly.”

The decision is excellent news for truck drivers on California roads.

For more information on California meal and rest break laws, contact your Southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Landmark Iskanian Decision’s Effect on Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) Claims

Attorneys are predicting an uptick in PAGA claims that open up California employers to greater financial exposure as a result of the California Supreme Court’s landmark Iskanian decision. The decision strengthened the enforceability of class waivers in arbitration agreements, but also held that PAGA (Private Attorneys General Act) claims can’t be waived in employment arbitration deals.

The decision allows employees to sue on behalf of other workers to recover California Labor Code violation penalties. The issue of whether PAGA and other claims will be decided in a single forum or separately via bifurcation with individual claims going to arbitration and the PAGA claim to litigation has been remanded by the Court. If bifurcated, the lower court could decide to stay one of the matters. Employers would be likely to push for arbitration of individual claims to proceed first in bifurcated matters since the arbitrator’s findings could make a difference in whether or not plaintiffs were able to proceed with PAGA claims in the court system. The argument that employers could present to obtain their end would be that arbitration going first would be more quick and efficient and that putting the individual claims on hold while the PAGA claim is determined isn’t the best use of the courts’ or involved parties’ resources and time. Courts who are overseeing bifurcated cases could potentially choose not to stay the arbitration or litigation. Individual actions are not necessarily dispositive of the issues in the PAGA action – this is something to consider as the potential differences between the individual pursuing a claim in arbitration and the end result the class as a whole is pursuing in court could be notable.

If you have questions on California employment law and how recent landmark decisions could affect your workplace situation, please contact the experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik immediately. 

California Supreme Court and Questions Defining “Employers” Liable for Wage Violations

Ramifications of Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers could result in changes for California workers. The California Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a Court of Appeal decision that reversed the denial of class certification in the independent contractor misclassification case. Judge Werdegar, Justice Baxter and Justice Chin all concurred that the Court of Appeal correctly reversed the trial court decision that denied certification in the case of Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers. In the case, Newspaper delivery workers filed against a daily newspaper. They were classified as independent contractors and as such, were denied minimum wage payment, overtime pay, minimum rest and meal period premiums, as well as employer contributions toward Social Security.

The trial court held that there were too many individual inquiries necessary in order to determine how the various newspaper delivery workers handled their day to day operations, but the Supreme Court felt that the trial court missed the point of the case: whether a common law employer/employee relationship exists dependent upon the degree of the hirer’s right to define/control the relationship or how the end result is actually achieved. The Supreme Court further explained their decision by pointing out that while there was evidence of variation in work habits between newspaper carriers, which supports claims made by Antelope Valley’s position that they didn’t control their carriers’ work, this fact didn’t negate the actual question at hand. How much right does the employer (Antelope Valley) have to control what their carriers’ do?

This case reinforces the common proof method that turns to governing contracts: a common method used to determine the answer to the independent contractor vs. employee question. The Court has pointed out that at the certification stage, the form contract’s importance is not particularly in what it says, but in what degree of control it defines and whether it is uniform across the class.

Countless California workers are misclassified as independent contractors even though their employers retain control of their working conditions. If you are one of these California workers and you’d like to join with fellow workers to address the issue of misclassification claims, contact Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik. There’s precedence in the legal system that empowers you to raise your wage claim.