On August 13, 2018, in Ehret v. WinCo Foods, the California Court of Appeal held that a provision in a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) regarding employees’ meal periods during shifts lasting between five and six hours effectively waived employees’ rights under California Labor Code section 512. In so holding, the Court held that the waiver in question passed the “clear and unmistakable” standard used to determine whether a provision in a CBA is intended to waive a statutorily protected right. Although WinCo argued that the “clear and unmistakable” standard only applies to waivers of “non-negotiable” rights, not “negotiable” rights like a meal break for shifts between five and six hours, the Court avoided that question and found that, even assuming that the standard applies to waivers of any statutory right, negotiable or non-negotiable, the waiver in the WinCo CBA was “clear and unmistakable.”

California Labor Code section 512(a) states, in part: “An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.” (Emphasis added.)

The WinCo CBA in question provided: “Employees who work shifts of more than 5 hours will be provided a meal period of at least 30 minutes, except that when a work period of not more than 6 hours will complete a day[‘]s work, a meal period is not required…. It is WinCo Foods policy not to mutually agree with employees to waive their lunch period.” (Emphasis in original.)

The Court held that the agreement effectively waived employees’ meal periods because it explicitly stated that no meal period is required for shifts of under six hours. Because that provision was “flatly irreconcilable” with Labor Code section 512, the Court held that it was a “clear and unmistakable” waiver of that statutory provision. Importantly, the Court distinguished cases that concern arbitration clauses in CBAs, which have held that statutory rights must be clearly stated in the agreement before they can be waived. The Court also rejected the employees’ contention that, under Choate v. Celite Corporation, 215 Cal. App. 4th 1460 (2013), to be valid, the waiver must either cite to the applicable statute explicitly or “specify the content of the statutory right.” Rather, the Court interpreted Choate to hold that the waiver need only “mention” the statutory protection.

The Court found of no import that the CBA also stated: “It is WinCo Foods policy to not mutually agree with employees to waive their lunch periods.” The Court held that that section of the agreement referred to waivers by individual employees, and had no effect on the collective waiver in question. The Court also flatly rejected the employees’ argument that a waiver must explicitly use the words “waiver,” “waived” or “waiving.”

This decision is welcome news to employers that have similar provisions in their CBAs. However, it is not binding upon other Courts of Appeal, and should the California Supreme Court decide to review the issue, it may well reach a different conclusion.

On July 11, 2018, the California Supreme Court accepted the Ninth Circuit’s request to answer several questions of California law relating to wage statements and payments of wages to certain classes of employees.

Arising out of two class actions against airlines – Vidrio v. United Airlines, Inc. and Oman v. Delta Air Lines, Inc. – the questions specifically concern employees who do not work primarily in California, and/or are covered by collective bargaining agreements, as well as certain classes of pay-averaging formulas. The California Supreme Court’s answers to these questions could have a great impact on employers doing business in California, particularly those who are based outside the state, and also those whose employees occasionally work in the state.

In United, the California Supreme Court will answer the following questions:

  1. Does California Labor Code section 226 apply to wage statements provided by an out-of-state employer to an employee who resides in California, receives pay in California, and pays California income tax on her wages, but who does not work principally in California or any other state?
  2. The Industrial Wage Commission Wage Order 9 exempts from its wage statement requirements an employee who has entered into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in accordance with the Railway Labor Act (RLA). . . . Does the RLA exemption in Wage Order 9 bar a wage statement claim brought under California Labor Code section 226 by an employee who is covered by a CBA?

The answer to the first question is especially important to transportation companies like airlines, where employees do not regularly work in any one state but instead have heavily variable schedules. As to the second question, should that exception apply to section 226, employers with workers subject to any CBA, and not only those under the RLA, could potentially avoid extraordinary penalties for alleged wage statement violations.

In Delta, the California Supreme Court will answer the following questions:

  1. Do California Labor Code sections 204 and 226 apply to wage payments and wage statements provided by an out-of-state employer to an employee who, in the relevant pay period, works in California only episodically and for less than a day at a time?
  2. Does California minimum wage law apply to all work performed in California for an out-of-state employer by an employee who works in California only episodically and for less than a day at a time?
  3. Does the [California Court of Appeal’s] bar on averaging wages apply to a pay formula that generally awards credit for all hours on duty, but which, in certain situations resulting in higher pay, does not award credit for all hours on duty?

The answers to the first two questions could have great consequences for out-of-state employers whose employees do not often work in California. As for the third, should the Court rule that such formulas are exceptions to the ban on wage averages, employers in industries where it is difficult to track and pay wages to an exact degree may wish to implement such a system. This would include employers whose workforces are not confined to a single office or retail area. This would provide greater flexibility to such employers when fashioning their payment policies.