The California Supreme Court in Aleman v. AirTouch Cellular has addressed for the first time; (1) whether reporting time pay applies to training meetings which are scheduled in advance; (2) whether Split-shift premium pay should be paid if an employee earns more than the minimum wage for all hours worked plus one additional hour of pay in a workday; and, (3) whether employers may recover attorneys fees if they successfully defend against reporting time and split-shift premium pay claims. The Court held that no reporting time pay is due, split-shift premium pay is not due in these circumstances and attorneys’ fees may not be recovered by prevailing defendants for split-shift premium pay.
The employees of AirTouch Cellular worked as retail sales representatives who were required to attend occasional work related meetings once or twice on a Saturday or Sunday before the stores opened and which would last an hour to an hour and a half. The plaintiffs argued that they were entitled to reporting time pay when they attended training meetings because the meetings lasted less than the shifts they normally worked. For example, if an employee “normally” works 6 hours, then (according to the plaintiffs) employee should be paid at least 3 hours of reporting time pay when he attends a training meeting that lasts less than half their typical 6 hour shift.
AirTouch argued that no reporting time pay was due because the meetings were scheduled in advance and listed on the employees’ work schedules. Thus, the meetings constituted work just like any other shift. Moreover, employees were only required to be paid for the time they spent attending the meetings.
The Court found that the reporting time pay law was unambiguous and held that when an employee is scheduled to work – whether it be for a meeting or a retail shift – the reporting time pay requirement applies only if the employee is furnished work for less than half the scheduled time. The Court aptly noted that “anyone who has ever sat through a work-related meeting would certainly consider the meeting to be work. As long as the meeting is scheduled, it constitutes scheduled work.”
The plaintiffs also sought split-shift premiums on training meeting days since some employees would not work a retail shift immediately after the meetings and were required to leave the store and return later that same day to work a retail shift. AirTouch contended that split-split pay was not due because the employees were paid more than the minimum wage for all hours worked plus one additional hour of pay. The Court agreed with AirTouch and that the plain text of the split-shift regulation compels this result.
Finally, the Court addressed the entitlement to attorneys fees for a prevailing party when the Plaintiff has sought to recover reporting time and split-shift premimum pay claims. The trial court initially awarded AirTouch all of its attorneys fees pursuant to Labor Code Section 218.5 which allows the “prevailing party” to recover its attorneys fees for all claims except those seeking unpaid minimum wages and awarded Airtouch $286,000 in attorneys fees. The Supreme Court disagreed, in part, and held that AirTouch was only entitled to recover its attorneys fees related to defending the reporting time pay claims. The Court reasonsed that since the split-shift premimum pay was designed to enforce California’s minimum wage laws, that section 218.5 could not apply to the split-shift claims.