What Employers Are Asking Right Now

In this episode of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber Executive Vice President and General Counsel Erika Frank and employment law expert Jennifer Shaw discuss some of the most common questions employers have been asking recently, including internet reimbursements for remote workers, providing paid sick leave for employees quarantining from recent travel, time keeping, and more.

COVID-19 Travel Advisory

A common question that Shaw is getting at her law firm pertains to the travel advisory issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and SB 95, California’s new supplemental COVID-19 sick leave mandate. If an unvaccinated employee takes a vacation and travels, under the CDPH guidelines they will have to self-quarantine before coming in to work. Does an employer have to provide paid sick leave under SB 95 to cover the quarantine?

Shaw says yes. The focus of SB 95 is to stop the spread of COVID-19, and this legislation is meant to help people stay out of the workplace and prevent COVID-19 from spreading further. So while the employee should not have traveled, employers need to prevent the virus from spreading.

This issue is coming up more and more, especially as places like Europe are opening up and people are getting the travel bug, she adds.

Frank agrees, sharing that the travel guidelines and provisions are a hot topic at the CalChamber Labor Law Helpline as well.

Internet Reimbursement

A recent Ninth Circuit decision pertaining to reimbursing travel expenses for traveling nurses has gotten people talking about internet reimbursements for remote workers. Some people are saying the court’s decision means that employers cannot give a flat reimbursement fee to cover internet expenses. Shaw explains that employers are particularly worried about this issue because neither the Labor Commissioner nor the Department of Labor has given guidance about what constitutes a reasonable reimbursement for home internet expenses.

Shaw says it’s fine for employers to offer flat reimbursement for internet expenses, so long as the employer has a provision stating that if the employee has an issue with the reimbursement then they can talk to the company about it.

Remote Work and Productivity

Another issue employers are talking about right now is the loss of productivity they’re seeing among their remote workers.

Whether it is not completing an 8-hour work shift or running errands in the middle of the day, Shaw says clients are phoning in saying it feels like the Wild Wild West with remote workers. How can they be reined in and held accountable without upsetting them and making them quit?

The answer, Shaw says, is to have more interaction. It’s harder to manage someone remotely than it is to manage someone who is right next door to you.

Frank says that even tech companies—well known to offer 100% remote work options to employees—are walking back on their policies and shifting their thinking by asking employees to come into the workplace at least a portion of the time.

Meal and Rest Periods, Time Keeping

It’s been many years since the Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum) decision, and yet employers still have questions about it, Shaw says. And this is because employers are often asked by employees whether they can waive their meal and rest breaks.

Shaw also is often asked whether a meal period can be rounded. It cannot.
Another common question is what her favorite time clock manufacturers are or what payroll company she prefers.

California employers are constantly having to abide by new time keeping requirements, and time keeping software manufacturers—many of which are located out of state—often have trouble keeping up with all the new rules.

It’s a big problem that Shaw says is causing employers to stop using electronic time keeping and revert back to using handwritten time sheets.

Technological advancements are not always bulletproof, Frank points out, so employers cannot sit back and relax and think that everything is going to be done for them. A lot of time keeping companies have not yet adjusted their systems to account for the new California supplemental paid sick leave and putting the accruals on paystubs.

Now is the right time for employers to ensure that they’re complying with the new paystub requirement under the supplemental sick leave law, Frank urges.

The hard part of this issue is that employers have the statute and some FAQs, and that’s it, Shaw says. There are many unanswered questions and employers will likely not get answers anytime soon.

So, if there ever was a time for an employer to be strategic it is now, she says.

Employing Minors

The last topic Frank and Shaw address pertains to the employment of minors.
Employers often want to know how to obtain work permits for minors, and the answer is that the school districts have a system in place for obtaining one, Shaw explains.

Employers also ask if there are any duties that minors are not allowed to do. Shaw answers that minors cannot operate certain equipment, such as baler compactors, deli slicers and toaster ovens. In fact, many employers are being fined by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) because minors are operating these types of equipment.

Some employers have asked whether minors can be paid less. Although a training wage is allowed for certain industries, it is not permissible under California law, Shaw says.

She adds that stereotypes which paint young workers as irresponsible or older workers as wise are myths and these traits vary person by person. Paying someone a lower wage due to their age is not a great idea, she says.