Back Wages and Overtime: How California Workers Are Winning the Wages War


California has been in rough shape, economically, for years. To add to that problem, some employees have found it difficult to get paid overtime. Forget about salary increases, sometimes, getting paid a worker’s normal wage is difficult enough. New changes to California’s labor laws promise to help workers, but will they?


It’s unclear as to whether changes in California overtime laws are helping workers win the wages war, but at least one company is feeling the sting of regulators. Take Solis Lighting and Electrical Services, for example. The company recently paid $242,563 in back wages to 101 employees. Why? Because, after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, the company was found to have violated the overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The investigation found that Solis wasn’t paying workers overtime premium for hours worked in excess of 40 per week. This is required by the FLSA. Not only that, the employer kept a separate payroll record for travel time and ended up paying employees separately, at the regular rate, for time spent traveling. Even when workers worked in excess of 40 hours per week, they were only paid the normal wage.

In addition to all of that, the employer routinely deducted 30 minutes for meal breaks from workers’ normal daily work schedule – yet workers often worked through lunch.

The director of the Wage and Hour Division in San Diego’s District Office, Kenneth Morrison, said that, “Vigorous enforcement of the FLSA is vital to ensure employee protection, as well as providing a level playing field for all employers in the community. Employers are responsible for paying for all hours of work and need to make sure their employees are getting an uninterrupted meal break before making deductions.”

Morrison went on to state that the division has worked extensively with the employer to help expand the company’s understanding of the law so that future compliance won’t be an issue. Solis agreed to pay back wages in full. They also agreed to implement new policies and procedures to comply with the FLSA requirements regarding overtime.

For example, salaried employees have been converted to hourly and are now required to fill out their own time sheets.

For non-exempt employees, the company must pay a wage of at least $7.25 per hour. Earnings may be determined on a piece-rate basis. However, they must meet the minimum wage. For overtime, the company must use the employee’s average hourly rate.
The company must also provide real meal periods, typically 30 minutes or more, and workers cannot work during this period. They cannot sit at their desks eating meals. They cannot be required to perform any work-related duties at all. Of course, the employer doesn’t have to pay the employee for this time either.

The employee is not considered to be relieved from duty if he is required to perform any work-related duties during this meal period. The law also mandates that employers maintain accurate records of the employee’s wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. The employer is prohibited from retaliating against employees to assert their rights under the law.
Marcus Anderson has been interested in worker’s rights for two decades now. When he’s not on the frontlines advocating positive change, he’s writing about it online.


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