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Archive for the ‘Employment Law Blog – CA’ Category

U.S. Department of Education Announces Temporary Halting of Wage Garnishments

Posted on: March 30th, 2020

By: Jeffrey A. Hord

On March 25, 2020, the Department of Education (DOE) announced that it will temporarily halt seizing wages and/or withholding tax refunds from borrowers who have defaulted on their student loans held by the federal government.  As part of the Trump Administration’s multifaceted response to the COVID-19 national emergency, the DOE has suspended any wage garnishments and stopped all requests to the U.S. Treasury Department to withhold money from defaulted borrowers.  The directive is retroactive to March 13, 2020, and will last for a period of at least sixty (60) days.  The DOE also instructed private collection agencies to stop all “proactive collection activities,” including making phone calls to borrowers and issuing collection letters and billing statements.

Employers who are responsible for properly processing wage garnishments should take note of this announcement.  In its official press release, the DOE emphasized that, while borrowers whose paychecks were being garnished will now be entitled to their full wage, it is the responsibility of the employer to make the necessary change to the employee’s paycheck:

“The Department must rely on employers to make the change to borrowers’ paychecks, so it will monitor employers’ compliance with the request to stop wage garnishment. Borrowers whose wages continue to be garnished after March 13 should contact their employers’ human resources department.”

While the directive unambiguously prohibits “new” wage garnishments, Social Security offsets, and collection actions, the DOE’s announcement leaves some room for doubt as to whether garnishments and offsets put into effect prior to March 13, 2020 are similarly impacted.  However, in a contemporaneous set of FAQ published on the DOE’s official Federal Student Aid website, the Department seemed to clearly signal its intent:

If your wages continue to be garnished after the president’s March 13, 2020, announcement, you should contact your employer’s human resources department. If DOE receives funds from your paycheck that should have been stopped as a result of the March 13 announcement, we will refund your garnished wages.

The good news for employers who make payments towards their employees’ outstanding student loans as a benefit of employment is that they can now do so tax-free until January 1, 2021, for up to $5,250 annually.

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis.  On April 2, we will discuss the impact of Coronavirus on law enforcement.  Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

Just Don’t Go There: The Ninth Circuit Rules that Prior Pay History Can’t Be Used To Justify Compensation Decisions

Posted on: March 10th, 2020

By: Anastasia Osbrink

For years, employers across the U.S. have taken into account what an individual was making at his or her current job in assessing how much they would need to pay them if they left and joined the employer.   And, for years, when one employee claimed discrimination based upon sex under the federal Equal Pay Act because he or she was not paid as much as another employee of another sex performing similar duties, the employer would rely upon prior pay as a basis for the pay differential between the two employees.

Well, no more in states in the Ninth Circuit (Alaska, Arizona, California and Hawaii).  The Ninth Circuit recently made clear that employers cannot justify pay disparity between employees based on pay history from prior jobs under the Equal Pay Act. (Rizo v. Yovino, No. 16-15372 [9th Cir. Feb. 27, 2020] [en banc].)  The defendant in Rizo, the Fresno County Office of Education, argued that the plaintiff’s disparity in pay fell did not violate the Equal Pay Act because the County sets new employees’ salaries based on a 5% raise over their previous salaries. The Ninth Circuit disagreed with the defendant, holding that pay history from a prior job is not job-related and not an acceptable basis for a pay disparity.

Additionally, the Ninth Circuit pointed out that it would defeat the purpose of the Equal Pay Act to allow pay disparity based on gender to self-perpetuate because of prior discriminatory pay. It is also worth noting that in 2018, AB 168 made it illegal in California to seek salary histories from job applicants. Therefore, not only is it illegal for employers in California to ask about salary history, it is now also clear based on the ruling in Rizo that they should not base a system of pay on prior job salaries even if that information is voluntarily provided by job applicants.

Please contact Anastasia F. Osbrink at [email protected] if you have any follow-up questions about the Rizo ruling.

Securing the Bag: California Supreme Court Rules Exit Searches Compensable

Posted on: March 2nd, 2020

By: Gregory Blueford

Shunning the position of the United State Supreme Court’s decision in Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., the California Supreme Court has ruled that time spent on the employer’s premises waiting for and undergoing company-mandated exit searches of bags and personal technology devices brought to work purely for personal convenience by employees is compensable as “hours worked” in California.

In Frlekin v. Apple, Inc., the employer, Apple, had a bag search policy that required search of employees’ bags, packages, purses, backpacks, briefcases, and personal Apple technology devices whenever the employee left the store. Apple said the time spent waiting for and undergoing these searches was not compensable as “hours worked” in California, in part because employees could opt not to take a bag and therefore would not be required to undergo the search; in other words, the decision to bring a bag to work was “voluntary.”

The California Supreme Court said that the California Wage Orders had to be reviewed “liberally” and with an eye towards “protecting and benefiting employees.” The Court ruled that Apple’s search policy “controlled” employees by (1) requiring employees to comply with the policy under the threat of discipline, including termination, (2) confined employees to the premises as they waited for and underwent a search, and (3) required employees to complete tasks while awaiting and during the search like finding a manager and waiting for that person to conduct the search, thus, making the time is compensable. The California Supreme Court reasoned that the wage and hour standards of the Fair Labor Standards Act and subsequent decision in Busk, which generally exempts non-required work activities, “differs substantially” from California law, and that a State may enact law that provides employees greater protection than the FLSA, which California has done.

Employers with bag or any similar exit searches must be weary of this decision and ensure that this time is considered compensable and employees stay on the clock until the conclusion of the search.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Greg Blueford at [email protected].

AB5: California’s Controversial Gig-Work Law Took Effect January 1, 2020

Posted on: January 7th, 2020

By:  Margot Parker

As of January 1, 2020, California’s AB5 may require employers to reclassify hundreds of thousands of independent contractors as employees with broad labor law protections.  The new law codifies the “ABC test” adopted by the California Supreme Court in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles in 2018.  Under the ABC test, a worker may only be classified as an independent contractor if it can be shown that:

A. The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, both under the contract for the performance of work and in fact;

B. The worker performs work that is outside of the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and

C. The worker is engaged in independently established trade, occupation, or business that is of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.

This strict three-pronged test now applies to the requirements of the California Labor Code and the California Unemployment Insurance Code.  Beginning July 1, 2020, it will also apply to the California Workers Compensation Code.

While the law provides exemptions for certain occupations and industries (including accountants, architects, dentists, insurance brokers, lawyers, and engineers), the Legislature declined to exempt app-based ride services and food delivery companies, whose workers complain they often earn less than minimum wage.  Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart are mounting a ballot initiative to exempt their workers, while trucking associations, photographers, and freelance journalists have brought other initiatives opposing the law.

Given such controversy, the law’s author intends to introduce additional legislation to clarify AB5 this year.  In the meantime, employers should consult with legal counsel and review independent contractor classifications to ensure proper classification of workers pursuant to the ABC test.

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

Federal Court Temporarily Enjoins California’s Ban On Mandatory Arbitration Agreements

Posted on: January 7th, 2020

By: Brad Adler

Employers will recall that California passed a law in October, 2019 (AB 51) that would limit the ability of employers to require mandatory arbitration of certain statutory employment claims as of January 1, 2020.  Specifically, AB 51 provided that employers could no longer require, as a condition of employment, that a job applicant or employee arbitrate any alleged violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act or the California Labor Code.  After AB 51 was passed, a coalition of business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit seeking to block AB 51 from taking effect.

On December 30, 2019, Judge Kimberly Mueller of the Eastern District of California granted a temporary restraining order in response to that lawsuit, which effectively blocks AB 51 from going into effect until the Court holds a preliminary injunction hearing on January 10, 2020.  At the January 10 hearing, the Court will decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction that would block implementation of AB 51 until the case is fully resolved.  As a result of the Court’s temporary restraining order, at least as of right now, it still is lawful to continue requiring employees to sign arbitration agreements.  But please be aware that the lawsuit challenging AB 51 is moving quickly so employers with California employees should continue to monitor this lawsuit.

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