Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana (US 20–1573 6/15/22) (“Moriana”). The singular question presented to the Court was whether the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) requires enforcement of arbitration agreements waiving an employee’s right to assert “representative” claims under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). In response, the Court provided two answers: (1) wholesale waivers of an employee’s right to bring any PAGA claims in any forum will not be enforced; yet (2) arbitration agreements can require an employee to arbitrate their own individual PAGA claims, leaving the absent employees’ claims subject to dismissal.
For context, PAGA is a decades-old law that allows private citizens to step into the shoes of the Labor Commissioner, essentially turning “aggrieved” employees into bounty-hunters for the State’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”). Specifically, PAGA litigants are authorized to recover civil penalties on behalf of the State for certain Labor Code violations, which would otherwise be recoverable only by the Labor Commissioner. If successful, employees receive a 25 percent share of civil penalties recovered, with the remaining 75 percent going to the LWDA. And another thing, PAGA allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs, which are often exponentially larger than the underlying civil penalties and statutory damages recovered—leaving no surprise as to why PAGA has become such a popular vehicle for plaintiffs’ attorneys.
California is infamous for its hostility towards employers. On May 23, the California Supreme Court continued on its unwavering mission to solidify that well-earned reputation by issuing a 45-page decision in Naranjo et al. v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc., a case we have been closely monitoring at Blank Rome.
For context, the failure to pay wages in California triggers not only an award of those unpaid wages, but potentially steep and costly statutory and civil penalties as well, including so-called: (1) “waiting time penalties”—up to 30 days’ wages for former employees; and (2) “wage statement penalties” when the unpaid wages render the employee’s pay stub inaccurate. Wage statement penalties start at $50 for the first violation and rise to $100 for subsequent violations. When claims are brought on a classwide basis, these penalties can become astronomical, as they are all assessed on a per-employee, per-pay-period basis.
President Biden is expected to soon sign into law the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (the “Act”), which was recently passed by both houses of Congress. President Biden has long supported measures to limit mandatory arbitration clauses in general and specifically endorsed the Act, which received bipartisan support.
The Act will amend the Federal Arbitration Act to limit every employer’s ability to mandate predispute arbitration of an employee’s claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. The salient language provides:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, at the election of the person alleging conduct constituting a sexual harassment dispute or sexual assault dispute, or the named representative of a class or in a collective action alleging such conduct, no predispute arbitration agreement or predispute joint-action waiver shall be valid or enforceable with respect to a case which is filed under Federal, Tribal, or State law and relates to the sexual assault dispute or the sexual harassment dispute.
On December 15, the U.S. Supreme Court changed course and announced that it would decide whether representative claims brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (known as “PAGA”) can be waived by an otherwise enforceable arbitration pact—taking on a years-long conflict between the California Supreme Court’s 2014 Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC decision (holding that arbitration agreements cannot bar PAGA claims) and the U.S. Supreme Court’s own 2018 Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis decision (holding that courts must enforce arbitration agreements under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), including those containing class/collective action waivers). You can read more about the Epic Systems holding in Epic Shift: Supreme Court Enforces Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements and The Epic Systems Decision: Where Do Employers Go from Here?
Critics of Iskanian and its progeny essentially argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that it allowed an end run around the FAA, which preempts any state law that restricts the enforceability of arbitration agreements.
The petition was filed on behalf of Viking River Cruises, one of many filed by employers across the Golden State this year, each asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the Iskanian versus Epic Systems PAGA conflict.
The Blank Rome team will be watching this one closely and with bated breath, as the Supreme Court’s ruling will impact thousands of businesses and have fundamental and profound effects on representative litigation both in California and across the United States.
Meal and Rest Period Premiums Must Include All “Non-Discretionary Payments” and Not Just Hourly Wages
Michael L. Ludwig
If an employer does not provide an employee with a compliant meal or rest period, Labor Code section 226.7(c) requires the employer to “pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation.” In Ferra v. Loews Hollywood Hotel, LLC, the California Supreme Court held that the “additional hour of pay” for meal or rest period violations must encompass all non-discretionary payments, as well as hourly wages. Thus, if an employer pays an employee non-discretionary incentive pay or bonuses, or commissions, those amounts must be included in determining the “hour of pay” the employer owes to the employee for a meal or rest period violation. (Note: The same rule applies to a “recovery” period, which is less common and refers to a cooldown period afforded an employee to prevent heat illness.)
Many employers have initiated practices of monitoring time records for apparent meal period violations and automatically paying an hour of pay accordingly. If the hour of pay was paid at an employee’s base hourly rate that did not include non-discretionary payments, then additional amounts may now be owed to the employee. Also, given the increased cost to an employer of a meal period premium, employers who provide employees flexibility regarding the scheduling of their meal periods may want to reconsider that flexibility and instead insist on strict meal period scheduling and reporting to avoid potential exposure.
Finally, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (“Department”) formalized its leap to modernize and streamline its regulation governing the executive, administrative, and professional (“EAP”) exemptions (and the outside sales exemption) from the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act. To confirm, yes, the Commonwealth is leaving the U.S. Department of Labor’s recent rule in the dust! See our last blog post on this from February here, as well as the ones from July 2018 and January 2018.
Although the Department took great pains to better—but not fully—align its requirements with those under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the hallmarks of this new regulation are the new salary threshold increases:
$35,568 ($684 per week) effective 10/3/2020 (which matches the FLSA threshold that was effective 1/1/2020—see our prior post here);
$40,560 ($780 per week) effective 10/3/2021;
$45,500 ($875 per week) effective 10/3/2022; and
On 10/3/2023, and every third year thereafter, the minimum salary will change to match the 10th percentile of wages for Pennsylvania workers who work in exempt EAP positions.
On August 3, 2020, at the urging of the State of New York, U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken of the Southern District of New York struck down four different provisions of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) implementing regulation for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”): (1) the “work availability” requirement, under which paid leave is only available if an employee has work from which to take leave; (2) the requirement of employer permission to take leave intermittently; (3) the definition of “health care provider” for purposes of exclusion from paid leave benefits; and (4) the requirement for an employee to provide certain documentation before taking leave. New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, 2020 WL 4462260 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2020).
Although the judge did not issue a “nationwide” injunction, the mere fact that there was a decision by a federal judge striking certain important provisions of the FFCRA regulation left employers (or maybe just their counsel) in a panic about the implications outside of New York. Would this decision impact eligible employees in California? Would the decision be retroactive? Would the DOL appeal? Would it seek a stay of the decision while the appeal was pending? Continue reading “Strident DOL Revises FFCRA Reg, Thumbs Its Nose at NY Federal Court Decision”
Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court issued a long-awaited, watershed decision confirming that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does protect against discrimination in employment based on gender identity and sexual orientation. It may be the most significant employment-related decision in more than 20 years. The decision addresses a connected trio of separate cases that were argued in the fall before the Court: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (on appeal from the 11th Circuit), Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda (on appeal from the 2d Circuit), and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC (on appeal from the 6th Circuit). For a little background, see our prior blog here.
With a 6-3 majority, the four “liberal” justices joined with two “conservative” justices to reach this momentous decision—in fact, Justice Gorsuch penned the decision. Clearly finding that the word “sex” in Title VII encompasses employment actions based on gender identity or sexual orientation, Justice Gorsuch admitted that the original legislators who drafted Title VII “might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result.” The focus on interpreting the text of the law, which was often championed by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, carried the day—leading to “new” protections that will enhance the rights of the LGBTQ worker community throughout the country, especially in numerous states and locales that do not otherwise provide such protection. The decision also ensures that the “paradoxical legal landscape in which a person can be married [to a same sex partner] on Saturday and then fired on Monday for just that act” (raised in 2017, by a panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Hively v. Ivy Tech. Community College) has drifted off into the sunset.
Simply put, the Supreme Court said, “Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII.”
For employers across the country, the uniformity created by this decision will impact millions of workers in states where there was no similar protection for such discrimination—which is more than 50 percent of the states. There is much to consider. For example, if an employer employs 15 or more employees and does not have a policy prohibiting gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination, it is time for a handbook update…as the immediate first step, with a corresponding move to update and implement new workforce training. As important, employers should take this valuable opportunity to engage with all employees. Be mindful of, and creative in, bringing positive and productive communication and, where needed, change to the workplace—culture emanates from the top and cannot be overestimated as to its impact on the effectiveness and health of the workforce.
It is inevitable that there will be additional questions as this decision filters out into the workplace and the lower courts interpret it. Cases down the line will likely force the courts to address issues relating to the interplay of this decision with the exercise of religious freedom. Also, as the dissent from Justice Alito noted, the ruling could have unforeseen consequences, leaving courts to address its implications in athletics, bathroom and locker room access, university housing, and other contexts. Though undoubtedly putting to bed one of the most substantive issues in employment law in the 21st century so far, as with all significant decisions of the highest court, the ripple effects will engender further battles and be felt for decades to come.
For all of those employers with employees based in Colorado, we wanted to update you on some sweeping changes to Colorado wage and hour laws that went into effect on March 16, 2020. As you know, employers generally must comply with both state and federal wage and hour laws—essentially meeting the requirements that are most protective of employees. To date in Colorado, the state law’s applicability has been limited—but that’s not going to be the case any longer.
The new law, known as the Colorado Overtime & Minimum Pay Standards (“COMPS”) Order #36, replaces all prior Colorado Minimum Wage Orders. The most significant changes include: (1) extending Colorado’s wage and hour laws to even more employers than before; (2) adjusting the salary thresholds required for eligibility under the federal overtime exemptions for executive, administrative, and professional employees; (3) changing employee rest period requirements and requiring meal periods; (4) clarifying the definition of “time worked” for purposes of being considered “compensable time”; (5) imposing new posting and distribution requirements that will require changes to employee handbooks; (6) creating new earnings statement requirements that may require payroll to update your earnings statements; and (7) modifying the calculation of overtime so that it is based not only on a weekly basis, but on a daily and consecutive hourly basis too. More details are below, and a copy of the COMPS Order can be found here. Continue reading “Colorado Goes “Wage & Hour” Crazy—Enhances Employee Protections a la California”
The hopes of California gig economy companies to retain the flexibility to classify workers as independent contractors were dashed this week when a federal district court judge refused to enjoin Assembly Bill 5 (“AB5”), which codifies the “ABC” test for most independent contractor classifications.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB5 into law last fall, effecting a seismic change on California’s legal landscape. Effective January 1, 2020, the law makes it nearly impossible for companies to lawfully classify most workers as independent contractors (rather than employees). The bill expands on California Supreme Court’s three-prong “ABC” test from its 2018 Dynamex decision for determining how workers can be classified, which you can read about here. With certain limited statutory exceptions, AB5 provides that, to properly classify a worker as an independent contractor in California, an employer must demonstrate that the worker: (A) is free from the company’s control and direction; (B) performs work outside of the company’s usual course of business; and (C) is customarily engaged in independent work of the same nature as the work performed. There is no balancing, as all three factors must be met. Continue reading “California Corner: The Employee v. Contractor Saga Continues as Uber and Postmates Face First Defeat in Attempt to Enjoin AB5”