The California Supreme Court has ruled that California’s daily overtime requirements apply to work performed in California by non-residents. In Sullivan v. Oracle Corp., three employees of Oracle who were not residents of California worked as “instructors” and trained Oracle’s customers in the use of the company’s products. Required by Oracle to travel, the plaintiffs worked primarily in their home states but also in California and several other states. California is one of the few states that requires payment of daily overtime for hours worked in excess of eight in a day. At issue in the case was whether these non-residents of California were entitled to daily overtime for days they worked in California.
In a unanimous decision, California Supreme Court held that the California Labor Code does apply to overtime work performed in California for a California-based employer by out-of-state employees, such that overtime pay is required for work in excess of eight hours in a day. In reaching this conclusion, the Court noted California’s strong interest in applying its overtime law to all non-exempt workers, and all work performed, within the state’s borders. The Court stated that to permit non-residents to work in California without the protection of the state’s overtime law would completely sacrifice, as to those employees, California’s important public policy goals of protecting health and safety and preventing the evils associated with overwork. Additionally, not applying California law would encourage employers to substitute lower paid temporary employees from other states for California employees, thus threatening California’s legitimate interest in expanding the job market.
While not great news for employers, this decision provides guidance to multi-state employers about how to pay non-exempt employees who work occasionally in California. However, the Court left some important questions unanswered. First, the decision does not directly apply to employers that are based outside of California. The Court specifically limited its holding to out-of-state employees working for California-based employers. The question remains whether an employer based outside of California must comply with California’s overtime rules for those days its non-California employees work in California. Even though the ruling does not specifically address this scenario, the reasoning the Court employed in reaching its decision leaves the door open for an argument that its holding applies to employers based outside of California. Also, the Court was not asked to address, and did not address, whether other provisions of California’s wage law -- such as the contents of pay stubs, meal period requirements, the compensability of travel time, the accrual and forfeiture of vacation time, and the timing of payment to employees who quit or are discharged -- apply to work performed in California by non-resident employees.
California-based employers with non-exempt employees in other states who occasionally work in California should immediately confirm that all such employees are paid overtime in conformity with California law when working in California.
In a highly visual public expression of its commitment to wage-and-hour violations, and to encouraging employees to file wage and hour complaints, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division entered the world of Smartphone apps when it recently launched its own “DOL-Timesheet” app for the iPad and iPhone. At first glance, the DOL-Timesheet App may not appear to be much more than the contemporary technological equivalent of a pad of paper, pencil, and some simple math. But not only does the DOL-Timesheet app track an employee’s hours and wages, it also: (1) contains a glossary of wage and hour terms; (2) informs workers about their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); (3) contains easy to use links to contact the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division via phone or email; and (4) specifically instructs employees on how to file a wage violation complaint.
With all it does, there are still significant shortcomings and problems with the DOL-Timesheet app. The DOL candidly admits that the app does not address tips, commissions, bonuses, deductions, holiday pay, pay for weekends, shift differentials and pay for regular days of rest. Additionally, the potential for human error or abuse creates inherent problems with reliability which may call into question the apps utility in a court of law. For example, it is unclear whether the DOL-Timesheet app includes metadata that would allow an employer to determine the time and date employees entered their time which in turn creates the potential that employees might overinflate their hours to seek benefits and compensation to which they may not be entitled.
Despite its shortcomings, the DOL left little question that it hopes and intends to use the information an employee tracks through its new app in its enforcement efforts when it stated the following in its press release announcing the app:
“This new technology is significant because, instead of relying on their employers’ records, worker now can keep their own records. This information could prove invaluable during a Wage and Hour Division investigation when an employer has failed to maintain accurate employment records.”
For employers, the key phrase in the DOL’s statement is the last. An employee’s personal time records are unlikely to supplant or surpass an employer’s properly maintained time records. But in the absence of a well maintained and effective time-tracking system, an employee’s personal time records will quickly rise in value in the court’s eyes.
It remains to be seen whether the DOL-Timesheet will garner much attention and use from employees. However, regardless of its ultimate popularity, the DOL-Timesheet app serves as a clarion call to employers to get their proverbial wage-and-hour houses in order. If you are uncertain whether your wage and hour practices hold water under the FLSA, now is as good a time as any to take a good hard look at them.
The California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has issued an opinion letter in which it concludes that California law does not prohibit an employer from temporarily reducing the work schedule of an exempt employee from five days a week to four days a week, and correspondingly reducing the employee's salary by 20 percent. The employer in question was experiencing significant economic difficulty and wanted to temporarily reduce the schedules and salaries of exempt employees to avoid or limit the need for layoffs. The DLSE concluded that this practice does not violate the salary basis test and the affected employees would not lose their exempt status.
Although this conclusion is consistent with well-settled principles of federal law, it represents a reversal of the DLSE's opinion. The DLSE reached the opposite conclusion -- that an employer cannot reduce the salary of an exempt employee during a period in which the company operates a shortened workweek due to economic conditions -- in a 2002 opinion letter. The 2002 opinion letter relied on a federal court decision that the DLSE now characterizes as "not well-reasoned and misguided."
Although DLSE opinion letters are not binding authority, California courts usually give them a great deal of weight. Additionally, DLSE opinion letters provide insight into how the DLSE will interpret the law in cases it pursues as California's wage and hour enforcement agency.
Cosmetology teachers, but not day care teachers, are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act's (FLSA's) overtime and minimum wage rules, according to two recent opinion letters from the Department of Labor.
The FLSA contains an exemption for professional employees, including any “teacher in elementary or secondary schools.” Cosmetology teachers qualify for the exemption, according to the DOL, because they teach in an accredited secondary school and because their primary duty is "teaching and instructing students in cosmetology theory." Yes, you read that correctly: cosmetology theory. Click here to read the DOL's opinion letter on cosmetologists.
Day care teachers, on the other hand, do not qualify for the exemption because they do not teach in a qualifying institution. According to the DOL, “[u]nless the daycare center provides grade school curriculums, introductory programs in kindergarten, or nursery school programs in elementary education of the sort described in [the act], the instructors are not within the scope of the teacher exemption of the FLSA.” Click here to read the DOL's opinion letter on day care teachers.
What lesson can we learn from these opinions? The FLSA exemptions are highly technical and not always intuitive. If you are classifying your employees as FLSA-exempt, not only should you make sure the employees meet all of the duties tests under the statute and regulations, but also that your organization meets any requirements that may be imposed as well. For more guidance on the FLSA exemptions, read this compliance guide on the FLSA from our friends at the DOL.