Understanding Your Wages as A Mechanic That Works in California
Your employer asks you to come into work early to help with a job. You come in, but there’s a lot of waiting around as you wait for the car to be lifted and the problem to be discovered. In the end, you performed about a half-hour of hands-on work, but your employer only paid you minimum wage for the early shift. How can you tell if you are owed more?
Or, your employer doesn't supply you all the tools necessary to do your job as a mechanic. Yet, your employer is not paying you double the current California minimum wage. Is this legal under California law?
California’s state laws protect wages and pay rates for workers in the transportation industry, including mechanics. Under these statutes, mechanics must be compensated properly for their work. Based upon what we see, many mechanics in California are being cheated out of thousands and thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.
On January 1, 2019, the minimum wage increased to $12 per hour for employers with 26 or more employees and $11 per hour for employees with 25 or fewer employees. The minimum wage shall be adjusted on a yearly basis through 2023.
Paid at least twice the minimum wage... Are mechanics who use their own tools supposed to be paid at least twice the minimum wage?
Any mechanic who uses his or her own tools or equipment on the job must be paid at a rate of at least twice the minimum wage. If an employer provides all necessary equipment, he or she is also responsible for the safety and upkeep of the tools and equipment.
California Wage Order No. 4 applies to mechanics. Wage Order 4 requires that when tools are required by the employer, such tools shall be provided and maintained by the employer unless the employee (read: mechanic) is paid at least two times the minimum wage. California Wage Order 4-2001 Section 9(B).
What if I'm paid a flat rate or a flag rate in California?...
Mechanics paid on flat rate - per flag hour must be paid for all time worked (the Gonzalez vs Downtown LA Motors case)
California law does not allow an employer to avoid paying its employees for all hours worked by averaging total compensation over total hours worked in a given pay period. Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors, LP, 215 Cal. App. 4th 36, 40 (2013).
In Gonzalez, automobile service technicians were paid on a piece-rate basis for their work. Specifically, technicians were “paid a flat rate ranging from $17 to $32, depending on the technician's experience, for each ‘flag hour’ a technician accrues.”
Flag hours were assigned to every task that a technician performed and were intended to correspond to the actual amount of time a technician would need to perform the task. A technician who completed a repair task accrued the number of flag hours assigned to that task, regardless of how long the technician actually took to complete the task. A technician's pay for each 80-hour period was based on the number of flag hours accrued during that pay period multiplied by the technician's applicable flat rate.
The technicians accrued no flag hours for performing nonrepair tasks, such as cleaning, obtaining parts and participating in training. Thus, the employees were not directly compensated for nonrepair time.
In an attempt to comply with minimum wage requirements, the employer kept track of all the time a technician spent at the worksite, whether or not the technician was working on a repair order, and it divided the employee's total earnings over the pay period by the total hours worked to ensure that the employee's effective hourly rate was at least at the minimum wage. Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors, LP, 215 Cal. App. 4th 36, 41-42 (2013).
If the effective hourly rate was less than the minimum wage, the employer supplemented the technician's pay to reach an effective average hourly rate that equaled the minimum wage. The court in Gonzalez concluded that under Wage Order 4 an “employer's method of averaging employees' hours worked in a given pay period in order to compute its minimum wage obligations violated the minimum wage law.” Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors, LP, 215 Cal. App. 4th 36, 41 (2013).
If you're a mechanic - do you have to be separately paid for all time you work?
What we see all the time is mechanics that don't get paid for all time that they work. They are paid to work on cars. They don't get separately paid cleaning up the shop or waiting for their next job. Under California law this is illegal.
Time spent at work
If an employer requires a mechanic to report for work, but the mechanic does not have a full day of scheduled tasks or performs less than a usual day’s work, the employee may be paid at half his regular pay rate as long as the amount is not less than two hours or more than four hours at the employee’s regular pay rate.
Employee tools or equipment - what are the laws for mechanics and tools in California?
Any mechanic who uses his or her own tools or equipment on the job must be paid at a rate if at least twice the minimum wage. If an employer provides all necessary equipment, he or she is also responsible for the safety and upkeep of the tools and equipment. Any safety devices regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board that are required for work (such as protective eyewear or safety devices on tools) are required to be furnished by the employer.
Under these circumstances, you are owed reimbursement under California Labor Code Section 2802 for having to use your own tools. California Wage Order 4-2001 Section 9(B).
Are You Getting Your Breaks?
You take pride in your work, so you don’t mind occasionally going over your hours or skipping a lunch break to get a job done. But what you may not know is that your employer is required to pay you for all of the time you spend on the job—even if you may have agreed to waive your right to a break.
Under California wage laws for mechanics employers are required to provide mechanics with breaks and locations to take them. If the employee does not take all required breaks (or if the employer does not offer them), he or she shall still be paid for time on the clock.
Mechanics must be provided with the following under California law:
Any mechanic in California who works five hours is required to have meal break of 30 minutes. If a worker’s shift is six hours long, an employee can choose to waive the meal period with consent of the employer. If an employee works for 10 hours in a single day, the employer must provide a second meal period of at least 30 minutes. If the employee works for 12 hours or fewer, the second meal period can be waived only if the employee was given a full first meal period. If the employee is not relieved of all work duties during a 30-minute meal period, then the employee should be considered on-duty and the meal period may be counted as time worked.
When employers require mechanics to eat their meals onsite, the employer must provide a suitable place for that purpose. If the employer fails to provide adequate meal breaks, he or she must compensate the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate for each workday that a meal break was not provided. These wages are called meal period premiums.
There are many different scenarios where your employer will owe you an hour's pay when you didn't get a legal meal break.
This is based on the landmark 2012 California Supreme Court case - Brinker vs. Superior Court. In the Brinker case the California Supreme Court laid out the duties that employers must follow in providing meal breaks. I know the Brinker case really well, because I represented the workers in the Brinker Supreme Court case.
Paid Rest Breaks
Employers are required to authorize and permit paid 10-minute rest periods in addition to meal periods at regular intervals in a worker’s shift. In general, employees shall be granted 10 minutes of rest time for every four hours worked. Meaning, the first paid rest break at 3.5 hours, the second paid rest break at 6 hours, the third paid rest break at 10 hours and the fourth paid rest break at 12 hours.
The timing of rest beaks was also covered in the landmark 2012 California Supreme Court case - Brinker vs. Superior Court. In addition, the California Supreme Court held in the 2016 case- Augustus vs. ABM that employer owe employees the same duties to provide meal breaks as they do to provide rest breaks. I know the Augustus really well also, because I wrote the winning Supreme Court brief in the Augustus case.
If you are getting paid on a piece rate or flat rate than you're not getting paid to rest. This is a violation of California law. Your rest break must be paid and your paycheck stub must reflect that you were paid for this rest time.
Employers who fail to provide employees with rest periods as laid out in the Brinker and Augustus Supreme Court cases, may be ordered to pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate for each workday that a rest period was not provided. These wages are called rest period premiums.
Suitable Resting Facility
The California Wage Order requires employers to provide mechanics with a suitable resting facility. If they do not, they can be liable for PAGA penalties.
Employers are required to provide lockers, closets, or cabinets to safely store the employees’ outer clothing while at work. If an employer requires a change of clothing, changing rooms with reasonable privacy must be provided. Locker rooms and break areas may be near, but must be separate from, toilet rooms, and must be kept clean. If they do not, they can be liable for PAGA penalties.
Employees shall be provided with an adequate number of seats for rest and work activities near the work area. If an employee is not actively engaged in work duties, he or she should have access and permission to use these seats as long as the performance of his or her duties is not affected. If they do not, they can be liable for PAGA penalties.
Paycheck Stub Violations
In addition, you may be entitled to up to $4,000 in penalties due to paycheck stub violations when these wages (including the meal period premiums and rest period premiums) are not included on your paycheck stubs. You may also be entitled to paycheck penalties for other violations, such as not putting all the hours you worked on you pay stubs.
Waiting time penalties
When your employer fails to pay you all the wages you are owed (what we have been talking about in this article), you are also entitled to waiting time penalties. This is 30 days wages. For most mechanics, this ticket item alone is probably thousands and thousands of dollars.
It feels really good when you get your check for unpaid wages!
You Could Be Owed Thousands and Thousands of Dollars in Back Pay and/or Penalties
If your employer has been denying your meal or rest breaks or has not furnished you with workplace amenities, you could be able to hold the company liable for unpaid wages.
California's leading wage lawyer
Bill Turley testified at the legislation hearing that mandated that California employers pay
mechanics and other workers for all time worked. This is California Labor Code Section 226.2.
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Disclaimer: Please understand these discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, endorsement and/or discussion does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation and/or this particular case/ situation.
In other words, you're mileage may vary. Just because we have had great results in so many other unpaid wages class action cases, doesn't mean we will in your case.