California is known for its many progressive policies on the environment, the economy, and labor issues. But many people don't realize just how high California's labors standards are – or just how often they must be enforced. A San Francisco grocery chain recently got a harsh lesson in California overtime laws –and it's going to cost them big money.
Casa Guadalupe operates three grocery stores around San Francisco. Last year, a group of former and current employees realized they had been routinely shorted on overtime pay. They came together to demand the chain make good on their back wages. The matter was investigated by the federal Department of Labor (DOL) and went before a U.S. District Court judge, who found that the owners of the store had been systematically and repeatedly shorting their employees. The employees were awarded damages totaling $121,000.
The 8 Hour Rule
The penalties were so steep because California has stricter wage and labor laws than most other states. While the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates time-and-a-half pay for most employees who work over 40 hours per week, California uses a daily overtime system. In addition to the 40 hour rule, any work beyond 8 hours in a single day also counts as overtime – with full time-and-a-half pay – even if the employee is part-time. Time that exceeds 12 hours per day gets an even higher pay bracket, which is double the normal rate.
While these laws are designed to protect workers and steer companies from shorting part-time staff in pay, many workers aren't aware of the complex standards and don't always realize when they're being underpaid. This is particularly true of workers who have recently emigrated from other countries, which make up a significant part of the California workforce.
Workers who are shorted on overtime pay, however, aren't just entitled to back pay; they may also receive additional amounts including waiting time penalties, missed meal/break penalties and penalties for wage statement violations. This means that a dodgy employer could owe substantially more than just the employee's unpaid base wages.
Of course, employers will try to fight such charges, but unless they can prove they made every effort to pay the correct amount in the first place, the state is unforgiving. In Casa Guadalupe's case, the company either never kept proper records or covered them up; making it intentionally harder to trace which shifts went into overtime. Because the California wage laws place the responsibility for keeping accurate time records on the employer, if they fail to do so, the employee's best recollection as to how many hours were worked will be presumed true.
There's no word on how, or if, the grocery chain can weather the financial blow, but one thing is clear: California overtime laws show little mercy for businesses that cheat workers out of pay, especially if the transgressions were intentional. This case is a great example of how important it is to know your rights as a California employee. If you feel you aren't receiving the overtime pay that is owed to you, it's important to contact an experienced overtime claims lawyer to receive the money that is lawfully yours.
- License: Creative Commons image source
Follow Ashely Wilson @ashelymarie1985 to see what else she has to say!