Rest periods must be separately compensated for employees paid on a piece rate

Continuing the trend established by Downtown LA Motors, where employees paid on a piece rate were required to be paid at least the minimum wage for hours spent waiting to perform work, the California Court of Appeal in Bluford v Safeway Stores Inc has signalled that employers should be careful when utilising alternative wage schemes for work done by employees.

The case involved unionised truck drivers who worked throughout northern California. The compensation scheme at issue was developed through collective bargaining between the plaintiffs’ representative (General Teamsters Local 439) and Safeway. Rather than paying the drivers an hourly rate, however, the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) uses an activity-based compensation system to determine the drivers’ wages, based on a mileage rate for miles driven and different rates for other tasks. Drivers logged their mileage and activity both manually via trip sheets and electronically through an on-board computer system, neither of which provided a means of recording rest breaks. Importantly here, there was not a separate rate for paid rest periods, nor was there any other indication on the employees’ wage statements that time spent on rest breaks would be paid.

The CBAs did, however, include a lawful paid rest period policy. Safeway also took many precautionary steps to ensure that its drivers took their breaks, such as requiring the drivers to sign the back of their trip sheets to certify that they were authorised and permitted to take their rest breaks…

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