COVID-19 Raises California Wage and Hour Law Questions

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a host of questions for employees and employers about what the wage and hour rules are for things like paid sick leave, reporting time pay, predictive scheduling and reimbursement for reasonable business expenditures. Orange County wage and hour lawyer

The pandemic has left the California and U.S. economies in a free fall, with California’s Employment Development Department receiving almost 2 million unemployment insurance claims within just three weeks. As noted by the San Jose Mercury News, the Great Recession in 2008 resulted in a total of 2.2 million unemployment claims. It’s unclear how long these unemployment claims will last, and small businesses have been hit particularly hard.

Our California wage and hour lawyers in Orange County know, these unprecedented times have many asking whether the same wage and hour rules apply.

The short answer is yes, and the California Labor Commissioner’s Office has created a Frequently Asked Questions page on state labor laws you can expect will still be enforced. We encourage employers to approach these issues with flexibility and understanding. The federal and state statutes that lay the foundation of employment law are really just base line standards. In the midst of this ongoing pandemic, we hope employers will be fair and take care of those who have kept their businesses going. Doing this and being educated now may help avoid employment litigation down the road.

Employees with wage and hour law questions and disputes can contact our legal team for assistance and a free, virtual consultation.

Wages and Reporting Time Pay

Exempt salaried workers who perform any work throughout the week should be compensated their whole salaried wage for the week. Non-exempt workers, on the other hand, usually aren’t owed pay for hours they don’t work. However, there are some circumstances under state law under which they may have to.

In general employees who report for a regular shift but are only required to work part of it before being sent home should receive 2-4 hours of reporting time pay. For instance, an employee who reports to work for an 8-hour shift but only works an hour of that is entitled to receive 4 hours of pay – one for the hour worked and three for reporting time pay, so that he/she gets at least half of what they had expected to make.

Reporting time pay still applies when there’s a state of emergency – except if that state of emergency includes some kind of recommendation that the company or their industry stop operations.

An employment lawyer can provide answers as it applies to the specifics of your situation.

Paid Sick Leave

If workers have paid sick leave available, the company is required to provide it and compensate them, per the state’s paid sick leave laws.

This time can be used for absences due to:

  • Illness
  • Diagnosis, care or treatment of existing health condition
  • Preventative care for the worker and/or the worker’s family.

Self-quarantine stemming from potential exposure to COVID19 (as recommended by public health authorities) would fall under the “preventative care” provision of this.

Paid sick leave can be used for absences due to illness, the diagnosis, care or treatment of an existing health condition or preventative care for the employee or the employee’s family member. Paid sick leave might also be used under preventative care guidelines under other circumstances, such as if someone recently traveled to a high-risk area or COVID-19 hot spot.

If an employee has run out of sick leave, they can take vacation time or most any other paid time off available.

What About School Closures? 

This is one of those situations where workers should have a frank discussion with their employer. In some situations, you may be able to use your paid sick leave or other types of leave. If you work somewhere with more than 25 employees, you should also have up to 40 hours of leave annually specifically for school-related emergencies. This would include the shut down of a daycare or school by civil authorities. But 40 hours will only cover a week or so of pay. Schools in California are closed for months, beginning in mid-March and spanning through the rest of the school year.

Laws on Predictive Scheduling

There isn’t a California predictive scheduling law. However, some cities have passed them for some kinds of industries. San Francisco, for example, has ordinances that require retail employers to pay employees for any last-minute schedule changes.

However, because the WHO declared a pandemic, employers who would otherwise be subject to predictive scheduling may be able to invoke an exception if they argue they are closing for the protection of employees.

Reasonable Business Expenditure Reimbursement

As all non-essential businesses have been made to close their brick-and-mortar locations, those who can have largely opted for remote working.

On the one hand, this may seem less expensive for the employer because they aren’t paying as much for things like utilities. However, it should be noted that California Labor Code section 2802 requires that companies reimburse employees for any money they spend or losses they incur as a direct result of their work or obedience to employer direction.

These could include expenses like purchase of a laptop or portions of their phone, energy or internet bills.

However, this is only available to workers if workers must work from home. Employees who have the option of coming into the office but instead choose to work from home may have less of a case for reasonable expenditures reimbursement.

Recent Employee Travel

It’s understandable that workers who have done any traveling in recent weeks may be reluctant to tell their employer if they’re worried about their paycheck. However, employers have the legal right to ask workers to be forthright and inform them of whether they’ve traveled to countries or states considered high-risk for the novel coronavirus by the CDC. What employers cannot do is demand medical information of an employee that is considered private.

If you have questions about any of these issues, contact our experienced Orange County employment lawyers for a free, virtual consultation regarding your rights.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949-375-4734.

Additional Resources:

FAQs on Laws Enforced by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, California Department of Industrial Regulations

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