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Landscaper Employee Files Proposed California Unpaid Wages Class Action

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A landscaper providing service to a posh country club is accused of improperly paying workers, and not allowing them to take needed rest periods in times of high sun and extreme heat.

Palm Valley, CAA California unpaid wages lawsuit has been launched against a landscaper responsible for maintaining the grounds at Palm Valley Country Club in Palm Desert. The allegations include wage infractions, off-the-clock work and improper wage statements.

However the central aspect of the lawsuit, which was filed in early December last year and has been proposed as a class action, are allegations of an inability for workers to take rest periods after hours at a time toiling in sometimes sweltering conditions.

According to a report in the Desert Sun (12/14/17), employees of Sunshine Landscape – which provided landscaping services to the Palm Valley Country Club – were given a long meal break at mid-day, but were prevented from taking rest breaks as needed the rest of the time – a need that was heightened when temperatures at times soared as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit in the hot sun.

Employees required to take all their breaks at once, at noon – with none left for relief from hot sun and heat.

According to the Desert Sun, which is part of the USA TODAY network, California labor law dictates that employees are provided with a 30-minute meal break if their workday encompasses more than five hours. There is no provision in the labor code that requires the employer, according to the Desert Sun, to pay the employee for that half-hour meal break.

Rest breaks, however are mandated after every four hours of work – and are paid breaks, according to California labor law.

The employer and defendant in the proposed class action lawsuit – Sunshine Landscape –
required their employees to take an hour-long meal period at mid-day, and paid the employees for half of that time. Since meal periods are normally 30 minutes in length and are to be unpaid breaks, the remaining 30 minutes paid for by the employer presumably represents three, 10-minute rest periods taken concurrently, and immediately adjacent to the meal period.

However, the rest periods were confined to the meal period when the employees were already stopped down for nourishment – and thus not available to the employee when toiling in the hot sun at other times of the day.

In sum, the employer – Sunshine Landscape – required their employees to take a lengthy, single break at mid-day but prevented employees from taking a break of any kind outside of that over-length meal period.

Was the employer’s rest break period inhumane?

“I cannot imagine, as a human being, working for four hours in 125-degree heat… without a single opportunity to rest, or even to sit down,” said the attorney for the lead plaintiff, Megan Beaman, in comments published in the Desert Sun.

The lead plaintiff in the class action labor lawsuit is identified as Blanca Reina Gonzalez Ortiz, who claims she did not have an opportunity to take a single rest period in the four years she worked for the defendant. This was also the case when temperatures in the Palm desert, in which she was working, climbed into the triple digits – or so it is alleged.

There is also a donning and doffing aspect to the case, in that Gonzalez Ortiz alleges her employer required her and other employees to report to work anywhere from ten, to 15 minutes before the scheduled start of their shift to prepare tools, and for mandated exercise. There are also allegations that workers had to travel to the work site either by foot, or golf cart.

They were not paid for these activities, according to allegations. The lawsuit claims that according to California labor statutes, those activities should have been paid. Gonzalez Ortiz’ attorney states that over time, the unpaid wages can add up to as much as $2,000 for an employee making minimum wage.

The California unpaid wages lawsuit also asserts that accurate, itemized wage statements were not properly provided to employees. Further allegations assert that Sunshine Landscape failed to pay employees final wages upon termination of employment in a timely manner.

It is anticipated the lawsuit could represent between 80, and 300 class members.

Case information was not available at press time. The proposed class action lawsuit was filed in California Superior Court.


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