A Mixed Bag: Governor Brown Vetoes Pro-Worker Legislation, but Signs Other Pro-Worker Bills

The governor vetoed legislation that would have created a private right of action against farmers or labor contractors who fail to provide adequate heat-illness protections to farm workers, stating the measure would “burden the courts with private lawsuits.” (AB 2346 and 2676.)  The regulatory process, Gov. Brown said, would better address farm workers' conditions.

Gov. Brown also vetoed legislation that would have provided overtime pay, meal breaks and other labor protections to an estimated 200,000 caregivers, nannies and house cleaners in California.  (AB 889.)  Gov. Brown called their work a “noble endeavor” and that they deserve fair pay and safe working conditions, but that the bill “raises a number of unanswered questions,” causing him to reject it.

On a brighter note, Gov. Brown signed a bill clarifying that a worker who sustains a “suffering injury” can seek damages under the Labor Code when his or her boss knowingly fails to provide an accurate itemized wage stub.  (AB 1744 and SB 1255.)  This bill amends existing Labor Code section 226 relating to wage statements, which, to date, require all employers to provide employees with accurate itemized statements with specific information, either semimonthly or at the time of each payment of wages.  Penalties up to $4,000, plus attorneys’ fees and costs, can be imposed on employers who willfully violate these requirements.  This new law provides that wage statements for temporary services employees must contain additional information, as well as clarification of when an employee has suffered an “injury” for purposes of obtaining the penalties.

Finally, in 2011 a California appellate court in Arechiga v. Dolores Press, Inc. (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 567 held that “mutual wage agreements” that factored overtime pay into a non-exempt employee’s set weekly compensation were enforceable under certain conditions.  A new bill signed by Gov. Brown (AB 2103) directly reverses Arechiga and prevents an employer from factoring in overtime into a non-exempt employee’s weekly salary.

The bill analysis stated:

In the Arechiga case, a janitor and his employer agreed that payment of a fixed salary of $880 a week would provide compensation for 66 hours of work each week. The Court of Appeal held that this method of payment comported with California overtime law, and that no additional overtime compensation was owed. The Court rejected the employee’s contention that existing Labor Code Section 515(d) prohibits any sort of agreement that would allow a fixed salary to serve as a non-exempt employee’s compensation for anything more than a 40 hour workweek.

Now, employers can’t get around paying fair overtime rates by contracting in advance to a set amount that would be lower than what the employee would earn under the basic overtime calculation (1.5x the regular rate after 8 hours worked in a day or 40 hours worked in a week).  Passage of this law means that, regardless of the agreement between an employee and an employer, a salaried, nonexempt employee must be paid for each overtime hour at a rate that is at least 1.5 times the weekly salary divided by no more than 40.

The last two bills described should make it easier for workers to enforce their rights under the Labor Code.

By Lisl Duncan

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