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588 Hours and Nothing to Show for It

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Sacramento, CAHer name is Adelina Guerrero, and she was hired in the fall of 2008 to provide personal care services for a client in need of housekeeping and other in-home services. For Alejandra Buenrostro, Guerrero alleges she toiled seven hours per day, seven days a week for about four months and a total of 588 hours. No overtime pay was provided.

In fact, for all her time, the California home care worker wasn’t paid anything.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle (6/14/13), the client for whom Guerrero was providing home care services is alleged to have collected paychecks on her behalf in excess of $10,000 provided by Sonoma County. However, instead of issuing the checks to Guerrero as required, Buenrostro is alleged to have disappeared with the money. Guerrero wasn’t paid a dime.

Of her 588 hours, 87 were classified as overtime. In this case, unpaid overtime.

Overtime pay laws in the state of California govern how and when an employee is due overtime pay for work above and beyond the standard workweek. While there are exemptions for overtime pay - usually management positions, or for those individuals working at high-paying jobs where overtime, from a regulatory standpoint, is deemed unnecessary - it is generally held that most employees are entitled to overtime pay for any tasks performed starting in Hour 41 of any given week, or on any day beyond the 5th day.

So says California overtime law.

However, in Guerrero’s situation, the home care worker was stiffed for her regular wage as well as unpaid overtime in spite of overtime laws designed to protect her. In response, she filed an unpaid overtime lawsuit against the County of Sonoma in an effort to collect monies owed to her, as well as compensatory damages.

By way of explanation, In-Home Supportive Services is a program funded at the state and federal level that provides funding for the care of low-income elderly, blind or disabled Californians. According to the report, some 356,000 workers are employed to provide care and to help with tasks on behalf of 448,000 Californians with the goal of helping them remain in their homes.

Guerrero sued Sonoma County, arguing that as a co-employer along with Buenrostro, Sonoma was liable for her wages in the absence of Buenrostro. The First District Court of Appeal ruled this past February that a jury should be able to decide whether or not a county social services agency is, indeed, a worker’s co-employer, and would thus be on the hook for unpaid wages.

Sonoma County appealed to the California Supreme Court, which refused to review the case and therefore left the ruling of the lower court intact. As such, Guerrero is allowed to proceed with her unpaid overtime and unpaid wages lawsuit. Advocates of in-home care services in the state are of the view that this kind of thing happens all the time, with thousands of workers cheated out of their wages.

The state Supreme Court ruling could trigger additional lawsuits as more home care workers come forward. The case is Guerrero vs. Superior Court, S210134.


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