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California Overtime Pay Lawsuit Seeks Compensation for Wearing Safety Gear

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Monterey, CAOvertime pay laws are typically brought to the fore when employees are made to perform mandated tasks beyond their normal work hours. Work defined as staying late at the office, or putting in additional hours at the lathe in a manufacturing setting. But what about safety gear that takes time to don, and then doff? What if you have to do that several times per day? And should you be paid overtime for that?

The plaintiff in a proposed overtime pay class action lawsuit thinks he should. Jose L. Hernandez, a former employee with Dole Food Co. in Salinas, qualified the process of getting into, and then shedding what he described as personal safety equipment required for his job as time-consuming. Given his allegation the process was required off the clock--and that safety equipment was required for his job--the former Dole worker’s position is that he is owed unpaid overtime.

According to the Monterey County Herald (1/3/13), the California overtime lawsuit claims that employees were required to arrive to work early in order to suit up with the required safety gear, then shed the safety gear on their own time after they had clocked out for the day. The complaint alleges that safety gear had to be removed, and then put back on for meal and rest beaks. The allegation suggests this was also done on an employee’s personal time, rather than company time.

The protective gear required for an employee is meant not only to protect the employee, but also the work environment and the food being handled as part of an employee’s job. According to the report, guidelines have been tightened on an ongoing basis for the last 20 years. An e. coli outbreak in 2006 serves as an illustration as to the need for protective gear as a proactive strike to ward against cross contamination of human-borne pathogens and other bio hazards.

No one is arguing against the need for protective gear. Hernandez’ argument is that employees should not be dedicating their own time to don, and then shed the bio-hazard gear. The company should be compensating employees for that time--and if the time necessary to put on, then take off protective equipment is over and above their regular 8-hour day as mandated by the employer, then under California overtime law the employees should be paid overtime.

"Dole does not pay (employees) for all required pre-and post-production work activities," the lawsuit reads, "that are integral and indispensable to their overall production work activities."

The lawsuit, according to the report, also speaks to time spent by employees waiting in lines, walking to and waiting at work stations, and processes involved with washing and sanitizing.

"(Dole) deprives plaintiff and the class of many hours' worth of wages (both straight-time and overtime) per week," it reads.

Marty Ordman, a spokesperson for Dole, told the Monterey Herald that Dole “follows all state rules and regulations as far as workers and workers’ rights." Beyond that, Ordman indicated the company would not speak to ongoing litigation.

The overtime pay lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for the plaintiff and other class participants “similarly stationed. The lawsuit specifies unpaid wages and unpaid overtime, meal and rest periods that were allegedly denied to the employees, and various attorneys’ fees.

The overtime pay class action lawsuit was filed in Monterey County Superior Court.


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