Tough Times for California’s Truckers – Work Breaks

For years, drivers in the trucking industry have had to contend with government regulators as well as powerful corporate interests who have no compunction about making rules that largely favor companies. Anyone who works in the trucking industry has at one time or another, dealt with a less than ethical employer, or at least knows another driver who has. Unfortunately, these rules not only affect driver’s wallets, but also driver safety—as well as the safety of other drivers on the road. Namely, here we’re talking about the break laws being changed.

New Federal Legislation on Breaks?

An article published Thursday in the Mercury News took a closer look at federal legislation, currently under consideration, that could have wide-ranging effects on the breaks truck drivers statewide would be entitled to. Under current state law, California’s truck drivers are entitled to 30-minute breaks for every five hours of work, as well as a 10-minute break for every four hours of work. It’s worth noting that California truckers are entitled to more breaks than other drivers in most other states. I’ve written about trucker meal & rest breaks in the past.

However, legislation written by U.S. Congressman Jeff Denham, a Republican representing California’s 10th Congressional District, currently making its way through Congress, seeks to prevent states from setting their own rules for truck drivers’ hours. Instead, a federal standard would be applied. The federal regulation would allow drivers only a 30-minute rest break after eight hours of driving.

California Trucker Work Breaks | Branigan Robertson

 

The People Behind the Federal Regulation

Not surprisingly, some of the interests vocally supporting the rule are those that either work for the benefit the trucking companies, or the companies themselves.

Speaking to the Mercury News, Joe Rajkovacz, an executive with the Western States Trucking Association bemoaned the California laws that offer more benefits to drivers than other states. “It is beyond belief that we can live in a country where every state you cross can decide when a driver has to take a break, “Rajkovacz said, adding that this legislation change is among the top priorities for the trucking industry.

So much for states’ rights.

While not all California truck drivers may oppose this proposed rule change, it isn’t the only issue facing truckers that should be a cause for concern.

Lawsuits, Lawyers & Frustration

A recent year-long investigation by USA Today, found that 1,150 short haul truckers, many of whom are classified as independent contractors operating near the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, have filed suits against trucking companies in civil court or with the California Labor Commission.

The investigation found that many short-haul truckers lease their rigs from employers, and as a result are leveraged into what can best be described as indentured servitude. Such treatment included forcing drivers to work up to 20 hours per day, withholding payment, and requiring drivers to falsify inspection reports tracking the hours they spent on the road.

Some drivers, exhausted and unable to continue with the work, saw their trucks repossessed by the companies when they sought to drive elsewhere. While these disturbing incidents certainly aren’t representative of the experiences of all drivers statewide, there’s no denying that there are a lot of bad actors in positions of power the trucking industry.

While drivers who are classified as independent contractors may be subject to different rules regarding payment, they still have rights — as do full time drivers.

Unfortunately, a driver who believes he or she has experienced discrimination, been denied rightful rest breaks or pay, or is forced to violate safety regulations, will often hesitate to discuss their situation with a lawyer out of fear of retaliation. But it’s important to remember that employers are not privy to conversations between attorneys and clients.

A good attorney should be able to listen to the circumstances of a driver’s work situation, and quickly determine whether or not a case can be filed. In some cases drivers may be entitled to back pay, as well as lost wages, and occasionally, punitive damages are sought.

If you are employed as a truck driver and believe your employer has violated your rights as a worker, consult a qualified attorney to consider your options.

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Convalescent Homes and Overtime Violations

All too often, when stories of employers who fail to pay overtime pop up in the media, the victims end up being workers in convalescent homes. It’s a sad state of affairs for the people who have chosen to work so hard toward the care of society’s elderly and vulnerable citizens. Stories abound of convalescent and other care workers being forced by employers to log long hours, being denied lawful rest breaks, and having overtime wages withheld or denied altogether.

Nursing Home Overtime Abuse Example

For an example of the issues workers face regarding overtime, one need look no further than last week’s superior court ruling involving five caregivers in a Northern California convalescent home.

In that case, the five workers went to the California Labor Commissioner with complaints that they had been withheld wages for overtime work.  The workers argued they virtually worked 24-hours a day while covering evening shifts. The home’s owner, Lynn Ventura, who spoke to the Daily Republic, said the caregivers were free to do what they wanted during the time they were required to be on site and presumably not technically working. She argued that the workers held personal birthday parties and invited guests to the homes they were working in, presumably a justification for withholding overtime wages.

But a hearing officer at the Labor Commissioner’s office disagreed, and in February of 2017 ordered Ventura to pay the employees a total of $483,495. Ventura appealed the commissioner’s decision, which led to last week’s dismissal by a Solano Superior Court judge. The workers are now in a position to collect their lost wages.

Sadly however, the worker’s attorney Richard Taguinod, suggested the road to recovering the money could still be a difficult one. The process will involve going to the county sheriff and filing a writ of execution for levy of future income. That is not a fun process.

“The sheriff, in turn, will ask for her bank accounts of the care homes, and by law, we can only get 25 percent of the monthly income of the care homes until the caregivers all are paid the full amount of award due each of them,” Taguinod said.

Why Does This Happen So Often in Convalescent Homes?

Why this type of employment issue seems to be so prevalent in the nursing home care industry is a broad question, no doubt with several complex reasons. However, Taguinod noted that part of the reason could stem from the fact that so many immigrants seek employment in this particular industry. It’s no secret that immigrant communities are often targeted for financial and other crimes.

“Those most prone to abuse are the undocumented caregivers who do not have close friends or relatives they can seek shelter with if they decide to sue their employers,” Taguinod said.

He also suggested that many convalescent homeowners know what they’re doing when they deny their employees rightful wages.

“I almost want to believe that their mindset is that when they settle their cases with the caregivers, they can do so with a smaller amount than what they would have properly compensated them,” Taguinod said.

While Taguinod makes some good points about the sad state of employment in the care industry, rather than discourage workers, it should be a call to those who have been denied their rightful wages to fight back.

How to Get Unpaid Overtime

It’s important to remember that employment lawyers like Mr. Robertson in California typically take cases on contingency. This means they will usually examine a client’s case for free, and if a decision to file a lawsuit is made, the attorney won’t usually be paid until a settlement is reached. It is also totally free to contact the Labor Commissioner (commonly known as the “labor board”).

If you are an employee of a convalescent home or other health care facility, and have been denied proper overtime compensation, or have encountered some other workplace violation (denied rest breaks, patient safety, whistleblower retaliation, etc.) it might be well worth your time to contact a qualified employment attorney and determine whether or not you have a strong case.

A worker who wins a judgment against an employer could be eligible to recover back pay in addition to lost wages. In some rare cases, punitive damages, which are designed to prevent employers from engaging in certain behaviors in the future, may also be awarded.

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Is Wage Theft Still a Problem in California?

Since becoming a lawyer, I’ve had many casual conversations with family, friends and colleagues about the work I do. I’m asked (more often that I’d like to admit) whether or not things like wage theft are actually a significant problem in today’s modern workforce. Depending on where I’m asked this question, and who’s asking it, I’m often inclined to pinch the bridge of my nose, squint my eyes and let out an audible sigh. Sadly, I do find myself explaining to folks that, yes, in fact wage theft is alive and well in America and definitely in the Golden State.

Here is a Simple Wage Theft Example

For evidence of this unfortunate business practice, one need look no farther back in history than June 2017, when reports surfaced that Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer intended to take legal action against fast food behemoth Carl’s Jr.

The reason? The company stands accused of failing to pay 37 workers the legal minimum wage of $10.50 an hour at seven Los Angeles locations. According to KCET.com, the city alleged the company engaged in the wage theft between July and December of 2016.

Under the city’s action against the company, Carl’s Jr. is facing a total of $1.45 million in restitution and penalties. The alleged lost wages totaled more than $5,000.

While it might shock some folks that a company with such a high profile as Carl’s Jr. would potentially engage in such shady employment practices, keep in mind that Andrew Puzder, former CEO of Carl’s Jr.’s parent company CKE Restaurants was tapped as President Trump’s first pick for U.S. Labor Secretary. Puzder served as CEO from September 2000 until March of 2017.

Although his nomination was derailed after old allegations of domestic abuse surfaced, it raised unsettling questions about how powerful business interests view workers.

In December of 2016, OC Weekly examined a 2009 interview with Puzder archived by Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Oral and Public History. In the interview, Puzder reportedly lamented the state of the law in California. “I think the big change in California, it’s really become a kind of socialist state,” he said proceeding to disparage business practices such as mandatory breaks for minimum wage employees. “Have you ever been to a fast food restaurant and the employees are sitting and you’re wondering, ‘Why are they sitting?” Puzder asked. “They are on what is called a mandatory break.”

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, Carl’s Jr. isn’t the only company in California to have accusations labor of labor violations leveled at them.

Here is more information on meal breaks and rest breaks. Here is the basics of California overtime law.

Wage Theft from an Economic Point of View

A May 18, article published by the San Jose Mercury News highlighted recent figures compiled by the Economic Policy Institute. The statistics showed California’s low-wage workers losing close to $2 billion a year in minimum wage violations.

The Institute’s report argued that wage theft hurts low-income workers in every demographic category, but particularly young people, women, people of color and immigrant workers. The study’s authors estimated that if California’s numbers were representative of the rest of the country, American workers could be getting cheated out of more that $15 billion a year — enough to build Trump’s border wall.

The above-mentioned examples highlight just some of the more recent examples of wage theft in the Golden State.  Depending on whom you ask, an argument could be made that the problem has been a systemic issue for many years.

In 1988, the Los Angeles Times reported on a contractor in Costa Mesa who allegedly refused to pay three immigrant workers a combined total of $1,800 in back wages. After the workers notified police, the case was referred to the district attorney’s office. A warrant was issued and the contractor was charged with grand theft of labor wages. At the time, a spokesman for the Costa Mesa Police Department said it was the first arrest of its kind in city history.  I can’t help but wonder how many times similar situations had happened before, and have happened since.

Conclusion on Wages

Long story short, I believe wage theft is a big problem in California — probably bigger than even most employment lawyers and other labor experts realize. I personally see the effects this crime can have on my clients, effects that often go unnoticed by media reports. These include stress-related illness, depression and difficulty paying basic bills such as rent and groceries.

If there’s any bit of good news for people who feel they’ve been denied their rightful payment for their hard work, it’s that employment lawyers typically take cases on a contingency basis. Usually there is no fee for consultation. In addition, there are laws to protect workers from retaliation from employers, should they report wage theft. While the decision to go to a lawyer and blow the whistle on an unethical employer isn’t always easy, the option is there, and is something to be considered when the going gets rough.

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Fun Post of the Day – Ridiculous Personal Injury Commercials

We’ve all seen those tacky, terrible, ridiculous personal injury commercials. I made a video that makes fun of them. Thanks to Sean Reis for letting me interview him. I think most people will enjoy watching this!

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March 16, 2017 · 5:46 am

New Overtime Law Whiteboard Video

Mr. Robertson is proud to release his latest video. This one is all about California’s overtime law. It details misclassification, off the clock work, and lots more.

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February 4, 2017 · 1:32 am

New Discrimination Law Whiteboard Video


I’m happy to post our latest video! This one is all about discrimination in the workplace. What is the legal definition of “discrimination.” This video answers that and a whole lot more. To learn more about discrimination law jump to this page.

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January 29, 2017 · 10:52 pm

Maternity Leave California

Pregnant women often find that maternity leave is complicated and daunting. It does not have to be! There are a few basics that we cover in this post: what are your rights, what if your boss is upset that you will take a leave, and what to do if you get fired. Taking maternity leave in California is better than most states. The laws protect you here more than anywhere else in the country.

Basic Maternity Leave Rights in CA

The first question that many expecting employees face is whether they are entitled to maternity leave at all. The answer is usually, yes! California’s main pregnancy leave of absence laws (FMLA, CFRA, PDL, FEHA) apply to most employers. You have a right to take maternity leave. Employers are not required to pay employees during maternity leave. Even though employees do not have a right to pay from their employers during maternity leave, most California employees have a right to California’s state disability insurance during their leave. Fortunately, pregnancy related illnesses are considered disabilities by California law; employees often have a right to disability insurance payments during their leave. Visit California’s EDD website for more information.

Leave to Bond With Your Child – 12 Weeks

California provides leave rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”). To be eligible for leave under CFRA, certain requirements must be met. The employee must work for an employer that has at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius of the employee’s worksite. The employee must have worked for their employer more than 12 months. The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer of work in the preceding year.

If these requirements are met, the employee is entitled to take up to 12 weeks of family care and medical leave in any given 12-month period. This leave can be used for the purpose of child bonding. To learn more about FMLA & CFRA visit this page that details who is eligible. 

Pregnancy Disability In CA – Four Months

In California, expecting employees are not only entitled to maternity leave for the childbirth itself, but they also have a right to time off for disabilities related to the pregnancy as well. The definition of “disabled” is fairly broad. Most employers that have five or more employees, which includes most businesses in California, are governed by California’s main pregnancy discrimination law, the Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA).

A law directly under FEHA is CA’s pregnancy disability law, PDL, which requires employers to give female employees time off work if:

  • She is disabled by pregnancy
  • She is disabled by childbirth
  • She has a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth

This can include, but is not limited too, the following: childbirth, loss of child, post-partum depression, bed-rest, prenatal care, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, postnatal care, etc.

How long can you pregnancy disability leave last? FEHA gives female employees a right to maternity leave for up to four months. However, this maternity leave is only available to the employee as long as she is disabled from the childbirth, pregnancy, or some related condition.

The right to as much as 12 weeks of bonding time under CFRA is distinct from the right to pregnancy disability leave under FEHA. Accordingly, the bonding time under CFRA may be taken after the employee takes up to four months of pregnancy disability leave—totaling up to as much as seven months of total maternity leave depending on the length of the employee’s pregnancy disability.

Does maternity leave need to be taken all at once?

Maternity Leave CaliforniaNo, California’s FEHA provides for as much as four months of maternity leave for disabilities related to pregnancy and childbirth. But often disabilities are not continuous. Expecting mothers can take some time off during one trimester, or during an emergency, and then take the rest after delivery. This is called intermittent leave and is considered a reasonable accommodation.

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees if they’re requested and if a health care provider has advised it. Your employer will likely ask you for a doctors note. If intermittent leave is expected, employers may explore a temporary transfer to a similar position with equal pay and benefits.

Can your company fire you for becoming pregnant?

No. California employers are prohibited from discriminating against female employees due to pregnancy. Employment discrimination based on pregnancy is a type of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by FEHA. Expecting mothers also protected from harassment on the basis of pregnancy.

However, just because you are pregnant, does not mean they cannot fire you. If you are a bad employee, they can fire you. If they are laying off your department, you can go too. If you get fired while you are pregnant suspect the reason you were fired was your pregnancy, call an employment lawyer to investigate your case.

Do California employees have a right to their job after taking maternity leave?

Yes. Employees in California that exercise their right to maternity leave may not be discriminated against for taking a leave of absence. They have a right to return to their same or a similar position after their maternity leave has ended. The employer is not allowed to cut your pay when you return.

2017 Pregnacy Discrimination Update

I originally posted this article on February 27, 2015. I’ve updated it several times. Its now 2017 and some women are wondering if CA’s maternity leave laws have changed at all. First of all, the foundation of CA’s anti-discrimination laws have not changed. If you believe that you were fired because of your pregnancy, disability related to pregnancy, or maternity leave you should call our office for a free consultation. Some administrative rules and laws may have changed in 2017, but the majority of the calls to our office are about termination or expected termination. Therefore, it is unlikely that the maternity leave laws in California that may have changed in 2017 would affect the analysis of our office during your consultation.

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