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California Unpaid Wages

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Although California labor law requires hourly employees be paid for all time spent in work related duties, Meal and Rest Break Wage Violations and subsequent meal and rest break lawsuits are common. And when it comes to issues such as donning and doffing and logging into and out of computer systems, the rules are not always clear. California labor lawsuits have been filed against employers alleging employees are required to spend unpaid time putting on and taking off protective gear or specialized uniforms or otherwise carrying out activities that are required for their jobs. In some cases, the courts have found that employees should be compensated for this time.


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California Meal and Rest Breaks

donningdoffingcasepage252Meal breaks and rest periods are due to any non-exempt, hourly-paid worker under provisions in the California labor code and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). California labor employment law holds that non-exempt, hourly employees are provided with at least one rest period, as well as a meal break to last not less than 30 minutes and to be taken prior to the start of the fifth consecutive hour of work. And employees who work for eight hours or more are entitled to 10-minute breaks every four hours. A second 30-minute meal break must be provided if an employee works more than 10 hours. Such statutes are designed to help keep an employee fresh and engaged at the task at hand, through a provision for regular rest intervals and proper nourishment. During the meal period, California lunch break law requires that employers do the following:
  • Relinquish control over the employee’s activities;
  • Permit them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break;
  • Not impede or discourage the employee from doing so.
Visit the Labor Commissioner’s Office for more information about meal periods.

Meal and Rest Break Wage Violation Lawsuits and Settlements

Meal and Rest Break lawsuits allege violations to California state labor laws. A worker at Amazon Shipping Centre and Golden State FC, LLC, in Sacramento filed a complaint in November, 2017 alleging he was regularly denied overtime wages and compensation for missed meals and rest breaks during long shifts at the Sacramento County shipping center. The case is Romeo Palma v. Golden State FC LLC d/b/a, in the Superior Court of the State of Sacramento.

In August of 2017, Amazon was also accused of meal break violations at fulfillment centers in Patterson and San Bernardino. The lawsuit was filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court on behalf of Linda Quinteros, who had worked in Patterson, and Christopher Ward, a former San Bernardino employee. (Ward et al v. Amazon et al, Case number 1:2017cv01300.)

An overtime pay lawsuit filed in 2016 against Interstate Hotels and Resorts Inc. alleged that Interstate-RIM did not have a policy in place to facilitate the provision of a 30-minute meal period, provided without interruption, prior to the 5th hour of work as mandated by California employment law. Plaintiff Raymond U, who worked as a security officer at the Westin Bonaventure, claimed he worked shifts in excess of five hours without taking a 30-minute break for a meal, and the hotel failed to pay him one hour’s wages for each missed meal period, Interstate Hotels and Resorts Inc. and Today’s IV Inc. agreed to pay over $1.4 million into a settlement fund to resolve employee claims alleging various violations of the California Labor Law.

A Supreme Court decision in December 2016 involving security guards (Augustus v ABM Security Services) found that certain “on call” rest periods do not comply with the California Labor Code and Wage Orders. ABM Security Services required guards to keep their radios or pagers on during rest periods and to respond if the need arose. But the Supreme Court ruled that both meal and rest periods by their very nature must be “duty free,” including free of hand-held devices.

California Donning and Doffing Lawsuits

California Donning and Doffing means the time employees spend putting on (“donning”) and taking off (“doffing”) mandatory personal protective work equipment and any specialized gear before and after shifts and during break time. Often, employers do not pay their employees for this time, even though the time spent putting on and taking off such gear can add 30 minutes to 60 minutes to a workday. If the employees work full-time, the minutes spent in donning and doffing might constitute overtime, meaning employees should be compensated at time-and-a-half.

Under FLSA, compensation is allowed for any activity deemed integral and indispensable to the employee when performing his or her job, but under California Law, donning and doffing compensation is still a “gray area”, which is hotly debated and litigated. Specifically, “integral and indispensable” activity is key to a donning and doffing claim.

The US Supreme Court has ruled that employees should be paid for certain activities if those activities are essential to the work being done. Employees benefit by wearing safety gear because they are protected from workplace hazards, but employers benefit by not having to pay for as much leave when employees are injured on the job.

California workers at Taylor Farms food production plants in December, 2015 filed a California labor lawsuit (No. 2:13-CV-01282-KJM-AC, (E.D. Cal.)) claiming, along with unpaid meal and rest break claims, they were owed wages for the time they spent on putting on, taking off, and cleaning protective equipment during on-duty meal breaks. The presiding judge certified the class but certification of donning and doffing was denied. In Iowa, however, the US Supreme Court in 2016 ruled against Tyson Foods and agreed with a lower court ruling that employees at the company's Iowa pork processing plant were owed more compensation for time spent donning and doffing.

In California, a lawsuit was filed by employees against Kendall Jackson, alleging workers were not compensated for time spent putting on and taking off protective gear required for work on wineries.

California Call Center Lawsuits

Employees have also filed lawsuits against various call centers, arguing they are required to spend unpaid time logging into and out of various computer systems before and after shifts and during breaks. Some companies are accused of automatically clocking employees out at the scheduled end of their shift, even if employees are in the middle of a phone call and unable to terminate the call.

California Before and After Work Hours Lawsuits

Even in situations where employees are not required to wear safety gear or log into or out of computer systems before and after shifts, employees could be required to work unpaid time. Some theme parks, for example, may require employees to show up to shift in their work uniform and answer all questions from park guests even if they are technically not on the clock. Some companies, meanwhile, may expect employees to drop off or pick up equipment outside of their scheduled work hours and not compensate employees for time spent in such tasks.

Lawsuits have been filed against Staples and other companies alleging employees are forced to participate in security checks during breaks and after work but are not paid for the time spent waiting for the checks to be completed.


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