Monday, August 04, 2014

Rhea v. General Dynamics (Cal. Ct. App. - July 21, 2014)

Let's put the undisputed facts on the table.  Facts that are relevant to the vast majority of the people who are reading this summary:

(1)  If you're paid a salary (as opposed to hourly), you don't get paid overtime/time-and-a-half.  Even if you work over 40 hours a week.  You're "exempt".  You'll work however long your employer demands (or you'll be fired).  Ditto for working more than eight hours a day.  If it's a 16-hour billable day, that's your lot.  No overtime pay.

(2)  In return, you get a corresponding upside.  If you work less than eight hours, your employer can't deduct anything from your pay.  That's the benefit of the bargain.  Go home early, working only six hours that day, and you still get paid the same.  That's what it means to be on "salary".

(3)  Take a whole day off, however, and your employer can legitimately deduct that day's pay.  Or require you to take a vacation day, a sick day, or whatever deal you've struck.  When you're not doing work at all that day, it's not part of the "salary" bargain that they still have to pay you.  You're on your own for that one.

Make sense?  That's the distinction between being salaried versus hourly.

So we know that when you take part of a day off, your employer still has to pay you for the day, and that when you take the whole day off, they don't.

But when you take part of the day off, instead of dinging your salary, can they take away a vacation day (or part thereof)?  In other words, if you go home early to catch your kid's soccer game, and so only work 7.5 hours, can they force you to take .5 hours as a "vacation"?  Even though you'd get no additional "vacation" time -- or pay -- if you had worked 8.5 hours that day?

The Court of Appeal says yes.  Even in California, they can ding your vacation/sick/personal days, and can even do it if you left at 4:59:30 p.m.  You're employer's a jerk, I might add.  But it's fair.  And legal.  At least according to the Court of Appeal.

I want everyone to know this rule.  Because it's important.  But I also wanted to make one comment about Justice Irion's equitable defense of this principle.

She argues that the rule's fair because, at least in the present case, the employer doesn't ding your vacation days if you work more than 40 hours a week.  Which is, admittedly, nice of them.  So if work 60 hours one week, you can indeed leave a little early on Friday to watch your kid play soccer and not lose vacation.  Big of 'em.

Two brief points, however.  First, the employer doesn't have to do this.  You'd still be "salaried" even if the employer dinged you for every second you worked under eight hours a day.  Even though you gave 'em 16 hours a day, six days a week, for thirty years.  So holds the Court of Appeal.

Second, even at "nice" employers like General Dynamics, notice that the exception only applies to