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TURNING EMPLOYER WRONGS INTO EMPLOYEE RIGHTS

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Off the clock and exempt vs non-exempt (overtime) wage and hour violations in California led to class actions

A recent case highlights the use of class action litigation to resolve hundreds of individual claims at once. Many claims are simply not large enough to pursue as individual matters. In Jones vs. Farmers Insurance Exchange, 221 Cal. App4th 986, published in late 2013, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and allowed this lawsuit for wage and hour violations, including failure to pay for work done off the clock by insurance adjusters. Farmers had a uniform policy of denying compensation for “computer sync time”, done at home and off the clock before the beginning of their schedule shifts. The Department of Labor Standards Enforcement may investigates complaints.

The court allowed the case to go forward as a class action since this denial of pay policy deprived employees of compensation for work for which they are entitled. It is a legal question that is common to all class members. The trial court applied improper criteria by focusing on individual issues concerning the right to recover damages. The emphasis should have been on the “theory of recovery’ set forth by the plaintiff.

We should expect that the California courts will accept as amenable to class treatment any company policy that appears to be illegal. Another example was found in the Bluford vs. Safeway, 216 Cal.App4th 864 (2013), in which a class action was allowed to proceed where the plaintiff alleged a uniform policy and procedure of denying compensation for rest periods to drivers.  Going full circle, Farmer’s liability thus depends on the existence of a uniform policy and its overall impact on APD claims representatives.

Does class certification also apply to exempt/non-exempt misclassification? Yes. This was decided in Martinez vs. Joe’s Crab Shack Holdings, 221 Ca. App4th 1148. In this case, the appellate justices faulted the trial court for disallowing a class action because the witnesses could not specific actual time spent on particular tasks. The court noted that the standard job duties of managers overlapped that of non-exempt hourly employees and that if these managers were doing “hourly” work, they should be paid for it unless it was training. If this hourly work takes up a majority of the supervisor’s time, then that supervisor is entitled to overtime pay when appropriate.

Many times complaints about violations of wage and hour laws such as exempt vs non-exempt, misclassification or failure to pay overtime results in a claim for wrongful termination. As California’s premiere employee-rights firm with offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Irvine, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento, Pasadena, San Bernardino and Simi Valley, we’d like the chance to review your wage and hour case and share with you some of the lessons learned from recent cases. Bottom line: getting class action status is still a very reachable (and laudable!) goal in California.