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Posts Tagged ‘rest breaks’

On-Premises Rest Breaks: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Posted on: July 18th, 2018

By: Allison Hyatt

Under California law, non-exempt employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if the employee works more than 5 hours in a workday, and a 10-minute break for every 4 hours worked (or “major fraction” thereof).  In the past, employers commonly required employees to remain on the premises during rest breaks.  However, with the California Supreme Court’s decision in Augustus v. ABM Services, Inc. (2016) 2 Cal. 5th 257, which emphasized the fact that employers must “relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time,” employers should discontinue any such policies still in practice.

Although the issue in Augustus was on-call rest periods and therefore the Court did not directly consider an on-premises rest break policy, the California Labor Commissioner’s office updated its fact sheet on rest breaks to specially address on-premises break policies in light of the Augustus opinion.  Quoting the Supreme Court’s opinion, the Labor Commissioner’s office explained that employers cannot impose such restraints, stating: “‘during rest periods employers must relieve employees of all duties and relinquish control over how employees spend their time.’  As a practical matter, however, if an employee is provided a ten minute rest period, the employee can only travel five minutes from a work post before heading back to return in time.”

Moving forward, it is unclear as to how courts will address pre-Augustus on-premises rest break policies believed to be legal at the time.  The Augustus Court did not clarify any limitations to what appears to be a sweeping ruling described by the Dissent in Augustus as a “marked departure from the approach we have taken in prior cases.”  2 Cal. 5th 257, 277.  In one post-Augustus case, Bell v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55442 (E.D. Cal. April 11, 2017), the Eastern District of California declined to reconsider a summary judgment ruling in favor of Home Depot on the plaintiffs’ claims that Home Depot violated California law by requiring employees to remain on premises during rest breaks.  The Eastern District had ruled, prior to the decision in Augustus, that such a policy did not violate the applicable California wage order and statute.  In response to the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration, Home Depot argued that the Augustus decision implies that restricting employees to the premises, without additional duties or constraints, does not violate the rule.  The Eastern District declined to alter its ruling, noting:

“[t]he facts in Augustus and the present matter are distinct, as the present case does not concern ‘on-call’ rest periods. . . The Augustus court did not directly consider an on-premises rest break policy which does not require employees to remain on call such as the one at issue here.  While the Court finds Defendants’ reading of Augustus more persuasive and accurate than Plaintiffs, it does not specifically adopt Defendant’s interpretation that Augustus affirmatively condones on-premises rest breaks.  Rather, the Court finds that the holding in Augustus does not go as far as Plaintiffs contend.”  2017 U.S. LEXIS 55442 at *5.

It will be interesting to see how other courts interpret the implications of the Augustus opinion.  For now, employers are encouraged to follow the California Labor Commissioner’s advice and discontinue any practices that impose any restraints on how employees spend their break periods.  If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Allison Hyatt at (916) 472-3302 or email at [email protected].

California’s New Independent Contractor Test

Posted on: July 11th, 2018

By: Christine Lee

On April 30, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, No. S222732, in which the Court adopted an extremely broad view of workers who will be deemed “employees” as opposed to “independent contractors” for purposes of claims alleging violations of California’s Wage Orders.  This decision will undoubtedly lead to increased litigation challenging classification of workers across the state as employers will now have a much higher burden to defeat such claims.

Under the new “ABC” test set forth in Dynamex, a worker will be presumed to be an employee unless the hiring entity proves all of the following:

(A) The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract and in fact; and

(B) The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

(C) The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work he or she performed for the principal.

An employer’s failure to establish any one of the three factors will result in a determination that the worker is an employee as a matter of law.  The Court’s ruling specifically applies to claims asserted under the IWC Wage Orders, which impose obligations related to minimum wages, overtime, and required meal and rest breaks. It is presently unclear how the case applies to claims arising under other statutes.

We encourage all companies doing business in California to immediately evaluate classification of outside contractors or vendors.  Under Dynamex, the vast majority of persons performing services for a company will be considered employees if they are performing work within the usual course of the company’s business, even if those individuals act autonomously and are free from control or direction of the hiring entity.

Therefore, we strongly encourage employers to consult with counsel to evaluate and consider reclassifying independent contractors or risk finding themselves on the losing end of an expensive and painful misclassification case.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Christine Lee at [email protected].

Coffee, Water, Less Than 20 Minutes

Posted on: June 19th, 2018

SCOTUS KICKS THE CAN ON SHORT BREAKS COMPENSATION

By: John McAvoy

On June 11, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to entertain the appeal of a Pennsylvania employer that could have resolved the emerging split of authority between the federal appellate courts and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) as to the compensability of employees’ short rest breaks.

In American Future Systems, Inc. d/b/a Progressive Business Publications v. R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, the Secretary of Labor filed suit against Progressive Business Publications, a company that publishes and distributes business publications and sells them through its sales representatives, as well as the company’s owner, alleging they violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by paying their salespeople an hourly wage and bonuses based on their number of sales per hour while they were logged onto the computer at their workstations, and by not paying them if they were logged off for more than 90 seconds.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania previously found that the employer’s policy had violated the FLSA, relying on a DOL regulation which states that “[r]est periods of short duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes, are common in industry.  They promote the efficiency of the employee and are customarily paid for as working time.  They must be counted as hours worked.”  In so holding, the District Court found that the employer was liable for at least $1.75 million in back wages and damages.

On appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the employer argued that that it provided “flex time” rather than “breaks,” which allowed workers to clock out whenever they wanted, for any reason.  In other words, that the employees were not “working” after they logged off of their computers since they could do anything they wanted, including leaving the office.  The appellate court rejected this argument, reasoning that to dock the pay of employees who can’t manage a bathroom sprint is “absolutely contrary to the FLSA,” and affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Third Circuit’s reliance on DOL regulation was contrary to the holdings of some of the other circuit courts which opted to assess the circumstances of the break in lieu of interpreting the DOL regulation as a bright-line rule that fails to take into consideration the facts of a particular situation.

The employer asked the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify how compensability for breaks should be determined.  Citing the circuit split, the employer posited that the question of break pay should be determined by assessing the circumstances of the break, rather than adopting the DOL regulation as a bright-line rule.  In its reply brief, the DOL fervently defended its regulations and denied the existence of the alleged circuit split, arguing that “hours worked [are] not limited to the time an employee actually performs his or her job duties.”  Unfortunately, this remains an issue for another day as the Supreme Court refused to hear the case and/or resolve the alleged split.

Absent a decision from the Supreme Court to the contrary, employers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware are bound by the Third Circuit’s decision. As such, employers in these states must continue to comply with DOL regulations with respect to the compensability of short breaks.

Fortunately, the applicable DOL regulations are designed to protect employers’ rights. For starters, the regulations recognize that meal periods serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks and, as such, are not compensable.  Second, an employer need not count an employee’s unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer’s rules, and any extension of the break will be punished.

Although an employer will have to compensate an employee who repeatedly takes unauthorized breaks lasting less than 20 minutes in order to comply with the Third Circuit’s ruling and the applicable DOL regulations, the employer is nevertheless free to discipline the employee for such indiscretions by whatever means the employer deems appropriate, including termination.

Prudent employers should prepare themselves to address such issues through smart planning and proper training of employees, including managers, supervisors and HR personnel to ensure the employer’s break, discipline, and termination policies and procedures comply with all applicable DOL regulations.

Want to know whether your company’s break, discipline, and termination policies and procedures comply with DOL regulations? Let me help. Please call or email me (215.789.4919; [email protected]).