The California Supreme Court’s recent opinions in Oman v. Delta Air Lines, Inc. (2020) 9 Cal. 5th 762 and Ward v. United Airlines, Inc. (2020) 9 Cal. 5th 732, clarify when, and under what circumstances employees who even occasionally work in California are entitled to the protection of certain California wage-and-hour laws. Both were decided on June 29, 2020.
Ward holds that:
1. the Railway Labor Act exemption in a wage order does not bar a wage statement claim brought under the Labor Code; and
2. employees are covered under the wage statement statute if the employee’s principal place of work is in California.
Oman holds that:
1. a non-California-based employee who works in California only episodically and for less than a day at a time is not entitled to a wage statement prepared according to the requirements of California law;
2. statute guaranteeing employees full payment on a semimonthly basis applies only to pay periods during which an employee predominantly works inside California;
3. as a matter of first impression, state law prohibits borrowing compensation contractually owed for one set of hours or tasks to rectify compensation below the minimum wage for a second set of hours or tasks, regardless of whether the average of paid and unpaid (or underpaid) time exceeds the minimum wage; and
4. airline’s flight attendant compensation scheme here (Delta Airlines) did not violate “no borrowing” principle. Oman v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., (2020) 9 Cal. 5th 762.
Wage Borrowing is the practice of taking pay owed under contract for one set of hours to average out underpaying the minimum wage for another set of hours. Oman, at 780. An example of “wage borrowing” is paying an employee $60 per hour for the first four hours of work and $0/hour for the second four hours of work, equaling an average hourly rate of $30/hour (well in excess of the minimum wage). The issue with “wage borrowing” is that even though it theoretically satisfies the minimum wage requirement for each hour worked, “it does so only at the expense of reneging on the employer’s contractual commitments” to the employee — to pay a fixed hourly wage in excess of the minimum wage. Id.
After removal and numerous appeals, the Ninth Circuit certified questions to the California Supreme Court which can be summarized in simpler terms as follows:
1. The Railway Labor Act exemption in Industrial Wage Order No. 9 does not bar a wage statement claim brought under Labor Code § 226 by an employee who is covered by a collective bargaining agreement; and
2. California Labor Code § 226 applies to wage statements provided by the employer if the employee’s principal place of work is in California. This test is satisfied if the employee works a majority of the time in California or, for interstate transportation workers whose work is not primarily performed in any single state, if the worker has his or her base of work operations in California. Oman at 773. The California Supreme Court held the same rules apply to timing of wage payments under California Labor Code § 204.
There are some unanswered questions as, for example, if a pilot or airline stewardess not working primarily in any state but based in California would have to be paid California-compliant wages if the employees only flew in or out of California one time during that pay period and operated in other states (or countries) for the remainder of the pay period.
If you are an airline worker and have any questions about whether you have been paid properly or paid all minimum wages or asked to work off the clock or whether you should have received a complaint paystub, or you beleive you may have a claim against your employer for any violation of the California Labor Code, please feel free to call us at 949-458-9675 or email Rich Quintilone at [email protected] if you have any questions. Alejandro Quinones Esq. [email protected] – yo hablo español.
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