By Jaclyn W. Hamlin

Seyfarth Synopsis: Do ambulance drivers working twenty-four hour shifts have to be available all twenty-four hours, even when they’re eating or resting? The Ninth Circuit wants the California Supreme Court’s opinion.

A former ambulance driver in California filed a claim alleging violations of federal and state wage and hour laws. Dylan Stewart worked for San Luis Ambulance, Inc. (SLA) under a written agreement requiring him to work twenty-four hour shifts, during which time he was required to be on duty and ready to respond to emergency calls that could come in at any time, but not to actively perform work for all twenty-four hours. Stewart acknowledged that he was paid for all twenty-four hours of his shifts, “irrespective of whether he was responding to emergencies; engaging in other employment related duties; or eating, sleeping, or enjoying leisure at the ambulance station.” His employment records and activity logs reflected that he was able to take meal and rest breaks on every shift. However, Stewart claimed that he was entitled to “compensation for an additional two hours of work for each day that he worked without proper meal or rest periods,” as well as to penalties for his former employer’s alleged failure to timely or accurately pay him premium wages.

The District Court ruled against Stewart, granting summary judgment to the ambulance service. Stewart appealed, and the Ninth Circuit concluded that it was unable to rule on his case without clarification of the proper interpretation of a state wage order, in light of earlier California State Court precedent. In its order, in Stewart v. San Luis Ambulance, Inc., No. 15-56943 (9th Cir. 2017), the Ninth Circuit referred the case to the California Supreme Court for guidance on three questions under the California Labor Code:

1) Must an ambulance service relieve attendants of the obligation to be available to respond to emergency calls that come in while the attendant is on a rest period during a four hour shift?

2) May an ambulance service require attendants working 24-hour shifts to be available to respond to emergency calls that come in while the attendant is on a meal break, without a written agreement containing an on-duty meal period revocation clause?

3) Does an employee have a claim for violation of the obligation to pay a “premium wage” for meal periods, when the employer does not include the premium wage in the employee’s pay or pay statements?

The Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to weigh in on the questions in light of conflicting authority between State wage orders and State court precedent. The Ninth Circuit instructed the parties to notify it within fourteen days of the California Supreme Court’s acceptance or rejection of certification, and again within fourteen days if the Court issues an opinion, but no other timeline was given in which court-watchers might expect the California Supreme Court to act.

In other words…. Stay tuned. We will continue to watch this case with interest.

For further discussion of California-specific employment cases and issues, check out Seyfarth’s California Peculiarities Employment Law Blog.

For more information on this topic, please contact the author, your Seyfarth Attorney, or any member of Seyfarth Shaw’s Wage & Hour LitigationTeam or the Labor & Employment Team.

By Michael Wahlander

Seyfarth Synopsis: Within the last few years, the California Legislature has amended laws related to an employee’s right to inspect personnel records, intending to ensure employees have access to those records. Since then, employers have seen more such requests, claims made before the Labor Commissioner, and even lawsuits over production of personnel files. We offer here some tips on how to comply.

What Is This Letter and What Do I Do About It?

Your company receives a letter from a former employee (or a lawyer) asking to inspect the personnel file or “employment records.” What (if anything) should you do in response?

How and when a California employer responds to these requests can have legal consequences. That’s right—employers can be sued (or even face criminal liability) over how they did, or did not, respond to personnel file requests.

The proper response depends, first, on what the employee is asking to inspect. In California, three principal statutes govern employee requests to inspect personnel records—Labor Code §§ 1198.5, 226, and 432. See below for details.

Labor Code § 1198.5

Section 1198.5 says that employees (and former employees) have the right to inspect personnel records maintained by the employer “related to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee.” Employers must allow inspection or copying within thirty (30) days of the request, which can be made by the employee or their representative (often an attorney). That time period can be extended by five (5) days by mutual agreement.

Covered documents: Under the terms of the statute, it appears that documents such as performance reviews, commendation letters, disciplinary notices (“write-ups”), corrective action plans, and complaints about the employee would likely be covered.

The language in Section in 1198.5 is broad; it uses the terms “related to” and “concerning.” As a result, determining exactly what other documents might be covered can be a challenge. But the Labor Commissioner has issued some guidance on its website on what might be included in a “personnel file,” including, in addition to the above, things like an employment application, notices of leaves of absence or vacation, education and training notices, and attendance records. Unfortunately, there is no appellate case interpreting the scope of the current statutory language. So the overall scope of the statute still remains an open-ended question.

Nevertheless, the statute excludes certain files. For most employers, those files are (1) records about a criminal offense, (2) letters of reference, and (3) ratings, reports or records obtained before the employee’s employment, prepared by identifiable examination committee members, or obtained in connection with a promotional examination. In addition, employers can redact the names of any non-supervisory employee mentioned in the requesting employee’s file.

There are also situations when the statute does not apply. For example, if an employee (or former employee) files a lawsuit that “relates to a personnel matter” against the employer, then the right to inspect or copy the records ceases during the pendency of the lawsuit. The inclusion of this provision strongly suggests that Section 1198.5 is not a replacement for broad civil discovery.

What happens if I forget to produce records in time? If the employer does not permit the inspection or copying of these records in time, the employee may bring an action to obtain a court order (injunction) for the employer to comply with the statute. Employees are also entitled to a statutory penalty of $750 AND an award of attorneys’ fees and costs for bringing the action. And failure to comply is a criminal infraction. Ouch!

Labor Code § 226

Section 226 requires California employers to furnish employees with itemized wage statements that show nine (9) specific categories of information, such as all hourly rates, hours worked, gross wages earned, etc. The employer must provide these wage statements at the time employees are paid or semi-monthly. The specific information required and the entire text of the statute can be found here.

Covered documents: The scope of this one is easier than Section 1198.5. In addition to requiring itemized wage statements, this section also requires the employer to produce those wage statements to employees on request or a computer-generated report that shows all nine (9) categories of information required. Employers must make the records available to the employee within twenty-one (21) days.

What happens if I forget to produce records in time? Section 226 has remedies similar to those available under Section 1198.5. Section 226 also authorizes the employee to sue for a court order requiring the employer to produce the information and also a penalty of $750, and employees can also recover attorneys’ fees for bringing the lawsuit. Violation of the statute is also a criminal infraction. But unlike Section 1198.5, there is no exception for pending litigation. Yikes!

Labor Code § 432

Section 432 applies to any document that an employee (or job applicant) “signs” that is related to obtaining or holding employment. Upon request, the employer must provide those documents. Fortunately, this statute is simpler than the others. There is no timeline for production and there is no private right of action to enforce compliance.

But that does not mean that employers should ignore requests under this statute. As a practical matter, documents covered by this section can also be covered by Section 1198.5 (i.e., signed performance reviews or signed disciplinary write-ups). More importantly, failure to comply with such a request is a misdemeanor. And there is also no exception for pending litigation. Wow!

Covered documents: As mentioned, Section 432 covers any document the employee signed related to “obtaining” or “holding” employment. Examples include job applications, handbook acknowledgments, arbitration agreements, job descriptions, and any signed policy acknowledgments (anti-harassment, retaliation, discrimination, at-will employment, meal/rest break polices, etc.).

Workplace Solutions

Employers often wonder if they have to produce “every” record about an employee in response to these requests. As the statutes indicate, the answer is “no”— only documents that fall within the categories requested need to be produced. Employers must also remember to protect other important rights. Indeed, personnel issues often implicate attorney-client privilege, attorney work-product, proprietary information, and privacy issues. As a result, responding to personnel file requests often requires a case-by-case approach.

If you would like assistance in ensuring your company’s compliance with a personnel file request, or if you have any questions raised in this post, then please do not hesitate to contact the author or any other member of Seyfarth’s Labor and Employment Group.

Edited by Coby M. Turner.

 

 

By Brent I. ClarkJoshua M. Henderson, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The California Division of Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board approved last week its regulations on Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care.

The California Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board approved last week its regulations on Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care, CCR Title 8, Section 3342. The Notice of Addition of Documents to California Code of Regulations was signed September 27, 2016, and the rule was passed by the Board on October 21, 2016. The draft has now been submitted to the Office of Administrative Law for review and approval (or not). If approved the rules will become final and will be submitted to the Secretary of State for promulgation.

We had blogged in 2015 about the Cal/OSHA draft proposed regulation that would require health-care employers, home health and hospice providers, and emergency responders to develop workplace violence-prevention plans, train their employees, and keep records related to workplace violence incidents. If adopted, the regulations also require certain hospitals to report violent incidents that resulted in an injury, involved the use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon, or present an urgent or emergent threat to the welfare, health or safety within 24 hours and all incidents within 72 hours.

Based on the definition of “reportable workplace violence incident” employers are required to report incidents that did not result in an injury if there was a high likelihood that injury, psychological trauma, or stress would result, or the incident involved the use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon. The regulations further require employers to take immediate corrective action where a hazard was imminent and take measures to protect employees from identified serious workplace violence hazards within seven days of the discovery of the hazard. Additionally, employers are required to maintain a “Violent Incident Log.”

The rule follows the enactment of SB 1299, requiring Cal/OSHA to have a workplace violence prevention regulation for healthcare workers promulgated by July 1, 2016. Yet, California was not alone. The regulation comes as emphasis on workplace violence increases in both federal and state plan OSHA jurisdictions. For instance, in April 2015 we blogged that “OSHA Updates Workplace Violence Guidance for Protecting Healthcare and Social Service Workers”, in July 2015 we blogged that “Healthcare Employers to Get Even More Attention from OSHA”, in December 2015 “OSHA Issues “Strategies and Tools” to “Help Prevent” Workplace Violence in the Healthcare Setting”, and in August 2016 we blogged about how “NIOSH Offers Free Training Program to Help Employers Address Safety Risks Faced by Home Healthcare Workers”.

As part of the employer’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP), under section 3342(c), the final rules require a “Workplace Violence Prevention Plan” (Plan) that is “in effect at all times in every unit, service, and operation. The Plan shall be in writing, shall be specific to the hazards and corrective measures for the unit, service, or operation, and shall be available to employees at all times. The written Plan may be incorporated into the written IIPP or maintained as a separate document”. In addition, the final rules do incorporate the “Violent Incident Log” provisions. The rules require that the “employer shall record information in a violent incident log about every incident, post-incident response, and workplace violence injury investigation”.

Covered employers in California should take care to evaluate their workplaces for potential workplace violence hazards and institute–and enforce–policies concerning training and reporting.  Certainly employers in California, or with a business presence in California, there is a heightened need to evaluate compliance with these new rules. In addition to modified policies, procedures, and training systems, these new rules may require substantial changes including physical facility changes and staffing increases.

Note that with or without these new rules, in California or out, an administrative enforcement action in the event of a workplace violence incident or related civil liability is a possibility. The new rules also incorporate substantial training, reporting, and recordkeeping provisions. Federal OSHA enforces workplace violence under the General Duty Clause. We would not be surprised to see the Federal OSHA referring to the California Rule in its citations in the future.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.