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.