“C” Is for Consent When It Comes to Arbitration in California: U.S. Supreme Court Holds that Representative Action Waivers Are Enforceable to Compel “Individual” PAGA Claims to Arbitration

Caroline Powell Donelan and Caitlin I. Sanders 

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.

Continue reading ““C” Is for Consent When It Comes to Arbitration in California: U.S. Supreme Court Holds that Representative Action Waivers Are Enforceable to Compel “Individual” PAGA Claims to Arbitration”

Employer Alert: California Puts Another “Premium” on Meal Period Compliance

Caroline Powell Donelan and Howard M. Knee

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.

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New York City Clarifies Pay Transparency Timetable—Delays Effective Date

Mara B. Levin, Stephen E. Tisman, Anthony A. Mingione, and William J. Anthony

As previewed in our April 5, 2022, client alert (New York Employers, Take Note! Two New Laws Effective in May | Blank Rome LLP), New York City has rolled back to November 1, 2022, the effective date of its amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) that will require the City’s private employers to provide a minimum and maximum salary range for jobs when advertising employment opportunities.

The City delayed the effective date in order to give employers a six-month extension of time to come into compliance. The amendment will require employers that are advertising job openings for positions performed in New York City to include the salary range (both a minimum and maximum amount) being offered for the position in the advertisement.

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New York Employers, Take Note! Two New Laws Effective in May

Mara B. Levin, Stephen E. Tisman, Anthony A. Mingione, and William J. Anthony

New York businesses face not one, but two new laws which significantly impact employers and take effect next month. The first requires employers in New York City to provide salary ranges when advertising employment opportunities (effective May 15, 2022). The second mandates that New York employers provide prior notice and posting if they intend to monitor employee telephone, e-mail, or Internet usage (effective May 7, 2022). Read below for important summaries of the new laws and their impact on your business.

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As Restrictions Are Lifted across the Country, California Reinstates Supplemental Paid Sick Leave for COVID-19

Caitlin I. Sanders and Alix L. Udelson

On February 9, 2022, California Governor Newsom signed into law Senate Bill (“SB”) 114.

The law reinstates the COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave (“CSPSL”) requirement for companies with more than 26 employees. Like California’s prior CSPSL iteration, which expired on September 30, 2021, the new law provides up to 80 hours of CSPSL for full-time employees for certain COVID-19-related reasons. The law takes effect immediately, but the obligation to provide CSPSL does not begin until February 19, 2022. The law is currently set to remain in effect through September 30, 2022.

Here are the pertinent details that employers need to know:

Covered Employers: SB 114 covers all employers in California with more than 25 employees. Employers with 25 or fewer employees are not covered.

Covered Employees: SB 114 covers employees who are unable to work or telework due to any of the reasons that qualify for CSPSL (detailed below).

Amount of Leave: Full-time employees are entitled to up to 80 hours of CSPSL for qualifying reasons. Part-time employees are provided a prorated amount of this benefit. This leave is in addition to regular paid sick leave already required under California law.

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Petition…GRANTED (!): An “Epic” PAGA Showdown Now Looms at High Court

Caroline Powell Donelan

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.

California Supreme Court Requires That All Non-Discretionary Payments Must Be Included in Meal and Rest Period Premiums

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.

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Happy 4th of July, PA Employers! Budget Deal Skewers Planned Overtime Pay Expansion

Jason E. Reisman

As reported by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry (see here), the planned significant increases to the salary threshold for exempt executive, administrative, and professional (“EAP”) employees under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”) will not go into place this fall.

As you may recall (see our blog post here), last October, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (“DOLI”) finalized new regulations that set in motion periodic increases in the EAP exempt salary threshold under the PMWA. The goal was to dramatically expand the range of employees eligible for overtime pay. Those PA increases were designed to surpass the current federal salary threshold under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and looked like this:

    • $35,568 ($684 per week) effective 10/3/2020 (which matched the FLSA threshold that was effective 1/1/2020—see our prior post here);
    • $40,560 ($780 per week) to be effective 10/3/2021;
    • $45,500 ($875 per week) to be effective 10/3/2022; and
    • On 10/3/2023, and every third year thereafter, the minimum salary will experience automatic adjustments.

However, as part of an overall budget deal reached last week between Governor Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature, the DOLI regulations will be repealed. This “gift” comes through a one-sentence provision in the budget-related legislation.

As a result, at least for now, the PA salary threshold will not increase in October (or in the foreseeable future) and will continue to match the current threshold under the FLSA … unless/until the Biden administration’s Department of Labor follows through on its latest plan to further increase the federal salary level for the EAP exemptions.

Stay tuned—you just never know what the government might do, especially in the budget process.

New! California Provides Additional Guidance on “Big Brother” Pay Data Reporting Requirements

Caroline Powell Donelan and Howard M. Knee

As a reminder, California’s new pay data reporting for employers with 100 or more employees (and at least one employee in California) is due on or by March 31, 2021. You can read more about these new requirements here. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) has released helpful FAQs to walk employers through the filing requirements and required content. On February 1, 2021, the DFEH also published a 67-page California Pay Data Reporting Portal User Guide. While the portal itself will not be available until February 16, 2021, the user guide contains helpful information on pay data report content, differences and similarities between the California report and the EEO-1 report, and navigating the Pay Data Reporting Portal (once available), as well as sample reports. Please contact us with any questions.

Large Employers Beware: California’s New Pay Reporting Requirements Will Have the State Looking over Your Shoulder for Years to Come

Caroline Powell Donelan and Howard M. Knee

On or by March 31, 2021, (and each March 31 thereafter), private employers in California with more than 100 full-time and part-time employees that are required to file employer information reports with the federal government (“EEO-1” reports) will be required to submit detailed data to California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) regarding the race, ethnicity, and gender of employees in the 10 job categories used in the federal EEO-1 form. Specifically, SB 973 requires employers to report: (1) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and gender in each of these job categories (looking at any single pay period between October 1 and December 31 of the preceding year); (2) the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and gender whose annual earnings fall within each of the pay bands used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics; (3) the total number of hours worked by each employee counted in each pay band (despite the fact that this information is not commonly kept for exempt workers); and (4) the employer’s North American Industry Classification System (“NAICS”) code. If an employer has more than one establishment in California, it is required to submit a report for each establishment, as well as a consolidated report that includes all employees.

And, what will the government do with this data? The stated intent of the law is to identify and remedy pay inequities and strengthen current equal pay laws. The new legislation permits the DFEH to use the data collected to prosecute complaints alleging discriminatory wage practices under the Equal Pay Act (California Labor Code § 1197.5). Moreover, the DFEH is authorized to share the reports with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”), so the DLSE can identify wage patterns and institute litigation to challenge suspected discriminatory practices. In other words, rather than the government responding to complaints from employees, or investigating targeted industries, it will now evaluate all data submitted by large employers and decide whether enforcement action is warranted.

The legislation provides that reported data will be kept confidential and not subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. The DFEH, however, may compile, publish, and publicize aggregate reports based on the data it receives, so long as the aggregate reports are reasonably calculated to prevent the association of any data with any individual business or person. The data may be used for investigation and enforcement proceedings by the DFEH and the DLSE under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and Labor Code, respectively. Of course, parties to private litigation will likely seek discovery of reported data as well.

SB 973 essentially mirrors an Obama-era pay data collection rule issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was later stayed by the Trump administration. Of course, it remains to be seen whether our new administration will revive these collection efforts at the federal level, but for now, California remains willing to carry the torch.

If you have any questions about your pay practices or these new California reporting requirements under SB 973, please contact a member of our Labor & Employment team.

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