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.
A recent Oregon Court of Appeals case, Rogers v. RGIS, LLP, presents an opportunity for employers. In Rogers, the court awarded an employer a whopping $180,854.09 in attorney fees. The plaintiff brought one lawsuit but several wage and hour claims (overtime, minimum wage, late payment of final wages, unpaid wages for rest and meal breaks).
The court found the plaintiff prevailed on a few claims, but the employer prevailed on most. As a result the employer was awarded six figures and the plaintiff was awarded only $880 to cover fees.
This case is saying that a prevailing party may recover fees, which relate to each separate wage claim. For example, if the plaintiff brings five separate wage claims and the employer prevails on four, the employer will (in the court’s discretion) get to recover its fees to defend against the four claims upon which it prevailed.
If you’re sued under Oregon wage and hour laws, you should seek fees under ORS 20.077 and 653.055(4). You can also use the potential for recovering fees as leverage before a lawsuit is filed. Will this logic be extended to other employment claims, such as discrimination and retaliation claims?
A portend of things to come in federal wage enforcment? Yesterday, a group of New York car washes have agreed to pay over one thousand current and former employees a total of $3.4 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Department of Labor (DOL) alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Click here to read the consent decree in Solis v. LMC et al.
As we reported back in May, the Department of Labor received a budget increase of 10 percent and is devoting most of that increase to enforcement. Employers can expect to see more activity from the DOL to enforce wage and hour laws, especially large cases against groups of employers.
In the meantime, sit back, relax and enjoy Rose Royce:
A French court recently awarded 11,000 euros (about $15,000) in damages to three contestants in a reality television show, finding that the contestants were entitled to overtime and other benefits. The three plaintiffs appeared in L'Ile de la Tentation (Temptation Island), a show that follows couples separated on a tropical island, where single people attempted to seduce them. (Click here for the full story from the BBC.)
Why the overtime? The French court ruled that the contestants were actually working 24 hours a day while being seduced: "Temptation Island constitutes a job and therefore justifies an employment contract," the court said. "Tempting a person of the opposite sex requires concentration and attention." Concentration, indeed. Don't be surprised if American reality show contestants try the same thing (especially those that get voted off in the first few rounds).
Back stateside, the Screen Actors Guild voted overwhelmingly to approve a new two-year contract with the Hollywood Studios by a vote of 78 percent to 22 percent. Not only does the vote end a year-long impasse, it should also ease our collective fears of an actors' strike, which, like last year's writer's strike, would have resulted in another wave of dreadful reality shows like Temptation Island. Thank you actors!
Every now and then we need a reminder to illustrate the dangers of misclassifying employees as "independent contractors." Last week, the Montana Supreme Court provided such a reminder, ruling that exotic dancers were employees, not independent contractors. Click here to read the opinion in Smith v. TYAD Inc. d/b/a Playground Lounge & Casino.
In Playground, the employer required each dancer to sign a contract acknowledging that she would be considered an “independent contractor" who would pay a "stage fee" to “rent” the stage and a dressing room for every night she worked. In return, each dancer would retain all tips and dance fees. According to the Montana Supreme Court, not only were the dancers actually employees entitled to payment of minimum wage for all hours worked, but the "stage fees" were illegal kickbacks. It held the dancers were entitled to payment of hourly wages, overtime, repayment of the "stage fees" and penalties.
Does Playground have any lessons for the 99.99% of employers that don't employ exotic dancers? Absolutely: all employers should be careful when classifying anyone as an "independent contractor." Whether an individual is properly classified as an employee or an independent contractor is a complex question of both state and federal law. Besides being held liable for back pay and overtime, employers who misclassify employees can be charged with unpaid wage withholdings and unemployment insurance premiums. Worse yet, employers who don't pay workers' compensation insurance on misclassified employees can find themselves in a world of hurt if one of those employees sustains an on-the-job injury. (The Playground Lounge should be thankful none of its dancers fell off the stage.) For more information on the criteria courts and agencies use, check out this page on the IRS' Independent Contractor Status Test.
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.
Do California wage and hour laws - including their daily and weekly overtime provisions - apply to non-residents who occasionally perform work in California? Yes, according to a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month. Click here to read the court's decision in Sullivan v. Oracle Corp.
In Sullivan, Oracle sent employees who regularly lived and worked in Arizona and Colorado to California on temporary assignments to train Oracle's customers on the use of its software products. The plaintiffs sued under California law for daily and weekly overtime when they worked in California. Oracle argued that Arizona and Colorado law should apply because the employees regularly work and live in those states. (Of course, the plaintiffs would not have been entitled to any overtime pay under Arizona or Colorado law). A district court sided with Oracle and granted its motion for summary judgment. However, the Ninth Circuit overturned that decision and held that “California's employment laws govern all work performed in the state, regardless of the residence or domicile of the worker.”
What does this mean for employers? If you have non-California employees working in California, even on temporary assignment, make sure that you comply with California's unique wage and hour and overtime laws. For more information on California law, including its daily and weekly overtime provisions, check out this helpful FAQ from the California Labor Board.
California employers beware: the state Attorney General is enforcing meal breaks and overtime laws. This week, an Orange County drywall contractor agreed to pay $1.4 million in damages to employees who did not receive their legally required meal breaks or who did not recieve overtime. To read the settlement in the case, California v. Interwall Dev. Sys. Inc., click here. To read the Attorney General's press release, click here.
The defendant also agreed to pay the state up to $131,000 in payroll taxes it should have paid if it had adequately compensated its employees, civil fines totaling $200,000, $70,000 in attorneys' fees and costs, and $26,000 to cover the cost of a "restitution administrator." Ouch.
So remember: under California law, employees are entitled to a ten-minute break every four hours and to overtime pay for working more than eight hours per day or forty hours per week. If you don't follow the law, you might get a visit from the Governator.
The plea agreement was announced by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, which brought the claims.