Monday, September 28, 2015

Ninth Circuit: Time Spent Transporting Gear is Noncompensable Under the FLSA

On September 4, 2015, in Balestrieri v. Menlo Park Fire Protection District, the Ninth Circuit ruled the time firefighters spent transporting their gear to temporary duty stations for overtime shifts was noncompensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA").

Under the FLSA, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act, employees are not paid for time before and after work that is not "integral and indispensable" to the employee's principal duties. Since a firefighter is free to take his or her gear home and go straight to the "visiting station" for the overtime shift without having to return to the "home station" to retrieve the gear, this activity was not integral and indispensable to the firefighter's duties. By way of analogy, the court stated, "no one would expect to pay an office worker for the time it takes to shave and put on a tie.." Similarly, the District was not required to pay firefighters for time transporting their gear.

In addition, the court held payments for unused leave time were not part of the firefighters' "regular rate" of pay and should not be used to calculate overtime rates under the FLSA. It is well settled that payments for vacation buyback are not included in regular rate of pay for overtime. However, circuit courts are split on whether sick leave buyback is excluded from regular rate of pay. In Balestrieri, the parties' Memorandum of Understanding did not separate sick leave and vacation leave. The court was unable to differentiate between unused sick leave buyback and unused vacation buyback. Consequently, the issue of whether sick leave buyback should be included in an employee's regular rate of pay remains unsettled in the Ninth Circuit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Fair Pay Act Heads to Governor for Signature

On August 31, 2015, the California Senate unanimously passed SB 358. Titled the "Fair Pay Act," this bill amends California Labor Code section 1197.5 which prohibits wage disparities based on gender. SB 358 strengthens the procedures and protections for employees who report a violation of section 1197.5. Importantly, section 1197.5 applies to public employers. With these new protections, public employees may use section 1197.5 more efficiently to challenge discrepancies in wages between genders within classifications.

The Fair Pay Act requires an employer justify a disparity in wages between men and women who perform the same job. A wage differential is appropriate when the employer reasonably applies one of the following factors: 1) a merit system; 2) a seniority system; 3) a system which measures earnings by quantity or production; or 4) a bona fide factor other than sex such as education, training, or experience. For the last element, the employer must demonstrate the factor is not based on or derived form a sex-based differential in compensation, is job related with respect to the questioned position, and is consistent with a business necessity. If the employee demonstrates that an alternative business practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing the wage differential, then the employer may not use this factor as a defense.

The Fair Pay Act also adds additional protections for employees who complain about wage disparities. Employers may not fire, discriminate, or retaliate against an employee who invokes the Fair Pay Act's provisions. Employees may disclose their own wages, discuss the wages of others, and inquire about another employee's wages without fear of reprisal.

To enforce the Fair Pay Act, an employee can either file a confidential complaint with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement or bring a civil action. Any civil action must be commenced within one year of the alleged violation.

This bill is one of the most aggressive attempts in the country to remedy the wage disparity between genders. According to the Los Angeles Times, women in California on average make 84 cents to every dollar earned by a man. Nationally, the average is 74 cents. Women of color are even more disadvantaged with Latinas making only 44 cents to every dollar earned by a man.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Governor Signs Bill Setting Standards for Use of Police Body Cameras

On October 3rd, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 69 by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona).  Law enforcement agencies requiring their officers to wear body cameras must now comply with a uniform set of standards.

Currently there is no state requirement that law enforcement agencies adopt body cameras for their officers in the field. However, many local agencies have either adopted such a policy or are likely to do so in the near future. AB 69 is meant to prevent the development of a patchwork quilt of rules across the state. It sets statewide standards for the use of police body cameras.

In November 2014 a study by the U.S. Department of Justice titled, “Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned,” recommended standards be adopted for the use of body cameras. AB 69 seeks to implement those recommendations by requiring:
  • Agency procedures on data collection and storage must follow “best practices”;
  • Agency rules must explicitly prohibit agency personnel from accessing recorded data for any unauthorized or personal use, and from uploading recorded data onto the Internet;
  •  Agency rules must provide sanctions for unauthorized access or use of recorded data;
  • Supervisors must immediately take custody of officers’ cameras after a use of force incident or officer involved shooting, and must be responsible for downloading the data;
  • Data must be categorized according to the type of event recorded;
  • “Non-evidentiary” data (data that does not necessarily have value to aid in an investigation or prosecution) must be retained for a minimum of 60 days;
  • “Evidentiary” data must be retained for a minimum of 2 years (and longer if relevant to a criminal prosecution) in any of the following situations:
    • Use of force incident or officer involved shooting;
    • Detention or arrest of an individual;
    • Formal or informal complaint against the officer or agency.
  • Logs of access and data deletion must be retained permanently;
  • Third party vendors used for data storage must be reputable and have procedures in place to prevent tampering, provide for automatic data backup, and meet legal requirements for chain-of-custody concerns.

Law enforcement agencies will need to update their policies on body cameras to conform to these new requirements. Peace officer associations should make sure their members are made aware of all rules about body cameras and recorded data to prevent any causes for discipline. Also, associations should negotiate with agencies about an officer’s right to view data recorded from body cameras, which is not addressed by AB 69 but raises POBR concerns.

AB 69 faced almost no opposition as it moved through the Legislature, receiving only one “no” vote and receiving no public opposition. It goes into effect January 1, 2016.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Appellate Court Rules Los Angeles May Not Require Police Officers to Pay for Training

The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District ruled in In Re Acknowledgment Cases the City of Los Angeles ("City") may not force former employees to pay for their academy training. The City had adopted an ordinance which required officers who quit to pay a pro rated portion of their training. These policies have been used throughout California as a tactic to prevent officers from transferring to other agencies. Some policies even demand repayment wages during probation. The Court of Appeal here ruled the City's policy violated California Labor Code section 2802.

The City requires all of its police officers to attend and graduate from the Los Angeles Police Academy. In early 1990, the City realized many of the police officers it trained left within a few years to join other agencies. To discourage employees from leaving, the City enacted an ordinance which required officers who left the City within five years of employment and joined another law enforcement agency within one year of leaving the City to reimburse the City for a portion of the academy costs. Former officers sued when the City attempted to recoup its training cost loses under this ordinance.

The officers argued Labor Code section 2802 and other wage protection statutes, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, prevented the City from recovering the cost of training. Section 2802 requires an employer to reimburse its employees for any costs incurred by the employee as a direct consequence of his or her employment. A good example of this is a travel reimbursement. The question here was whether training is a reimbursable expense under section 2802.

The Court of Appeal concluded the City might be able to recover some training cost, but not all of the costs demanded. The court noted that no court had previously ruled on whether training costs were reimbursable under section 2802. However, the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement ("DLSE") did issue an opinion letter concluding if the training was required by law, then the employee bore the cost of the training. However, if the training was just required by the employer, then the employer had to reimburse the employee for the training costs.

The Court of Appeal adopted the same analysis as the DLSE. The academy training consisted of 644 hours of statutorily mandated Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training ("POST") courses and 420 hours of training specific to the City. The Court of Appeal concluded the City could require reimbursement for the POST training, but could not require reimbursement for the  City specific training.

In the end the Court of Appeal invalidated the entire reimbursement ordinance as the City failed to present evidence apportioning the costs. At trial, the case was tried on an all-or-nothing basis--either the reimbursement ordinance was enforceable or it was not. The Court of Appeal ruled no part of the acknowledgment could be enforced and invalidated the entire ordinance. Because the ordinance was invalidated, the court did not reach the officers' other claims, including that the acknowledgement violated the FLSA.

This case stands in contrast with Oakland v. Hassey where the court upheld a similar policy. To encourage police officers to stay with the department longer, Oakland entered into a MOU with the Oakland Police Officers' Association in 1996 authorizing the city to require those who went through training at its academy to reimburse the city for training costs if the person left the police department before completing five years of service. In the instant case, the Court of Appeal distinguished Oakland v. Hassey because that case did not consider the application of section 2802.

This case calls into question the legitimacy of similar ordinances and policies throughout the state.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The California Public Safety Labor Blog Makes the Cut in the Expert Institute's Legal Blog Competition

From a field of more than 2,000 potential nominees, the California Public Safety Labor Blog has received enough nominations to join 250 legal blogs participating in one of the largest competitions for online writing today. With your support we can win this competition and reach a wider audience of public safety employees. You can vote for the blog by clicking on the nomination image on the side bar of this blog or by clicking here. Voting ends on October 7 so vote as soon as you can.

Founded in 2011, The Expert Institute is a technology-driven platform for connecting qualified experts in every field with lawyers, investment firms, and journalists looking for technical expertise and guidance. The Expert Institute also maintains one of the internet’s most visited blogs on expert witnesses, in addition to an extensive case study archive and expert witness resource center.