The rejection of a case by the California Supreme Court means that workers paid at a piece or flag rate must be compensated separately while performing non-flag rate tasks. The case was that of Gonzales v. Downtown LA Motors, LP (), where a class of auto technicians sued their employer for failing to pay them at a separate minimum wage for performing tasks that were performed on the job when piece rate work was not available. This is a big deal for auto technicians and all employees paid on a piece rate basis and a good reminder that sometimes when the Supreme Court refuses to hear a case, it can be good news.
In Gonzalez the California Court of Appeals overturned the former law that allowed employers to avoid paying their workers for performing tasks that were not covered by the employers’ set piece rate system. For example, some auto repair locations pay mechanics for performing maintenance, but do not pay separate rates for time spent cleaning or doing inventory. California Employers used to be able to not pay the employees at all for that time worked so long as their wages for a two week period totaled more than the minimum wage. Such was the case in Gonzalez. The auto technicians there were required to clean, order parts, and train while no work was available. The court held that the employees were not paid properly because they must be paid for all hours worked, and that It was improper to allow the employer to credit their base pay (the minimum wage) with pay from piece rate tasks. The court also awarded the class several hundred thousand dollars in damages including $550,000 in compensation, $1,000,000 for interest, and additional penalties of $230,000 for unpaid wages at termination.
This decision marked a big shift in California law away from federal law, which allows employers to only pay piece rate workers at the minimum wage when they perform some piece rate work and non-piece rate work. The fact that the California Supreme Court denied review means that this decision is now law.
The Gonzalez case will have far reaching implications for flag and piece rate employees all throughout California. If you suspect that your employer has not properly paid you schedule a free consultation with the California employment attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP. Call (951) 213-4786 today.