Waiting Time Penalty Under Labor Code Section 203(a) Should Be Calculated Based on Actual Hours Worked

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The Fourth District issued an unpublished opinion discussing the proper means of calculating the waiting time penalty under Labor Code section 203.  In Riley v. Valencia, 2010 WL 3195816 (Cal. Ct. App. 4th Dist. Aug. 13, 2010), the trial court utilized the actual hours the employee worked to calculate the penalty.  The employee, Ashley Riley, contended the trial court improperly calculated the section 203 waiting time penalty, arguing that the court should have multiplied her hourly rate ($6.75) for 30 days at eight hours per day for a total penalty of $1,620, as opposed to multiplying her hourly rate ($6.75) by her average daily hours worked (3.5 hours) for 30 days for a total penalty of $708.75.  Riley contends that section 203 required the trial court to use eight hours per day in its calculations, even though Riley actually worked only three to four hours per day.

The Fourth District concluded the trial court properly calculated the penalty and affirmed the judgment.

Facts

Riley bused tables for employer Valencia (doing business as La Carreta Mexican Restaurant). Eventually, Riley left or was discharged from her employment and filed suit against Valencia for waiting time penalties for unpaid wages due, among other employment-related causes of action. The trial court found in favor of Riley pursuant to section 203 and made the following calculations: “a. Penalty for failure to pay all wages due upon discharge: 6.75 x 3.5 = 23.625 x 30 = $708.75.”

Issue

The sole issue facing the Fourth District was whether the trial court properly calculated the waiting time penalty pursuant to section 203 where it used Riley’s actual hours worked, instead of a generic eight-hour work day, to calculate the “wages” of the employee at the “same rate” pursuant to Labor Code § 203(a).

Because section 203 does not explicitly define “same rate,” Riley contends the waiting time penalty calculus should rely on section 510, subdivision (a)’s definition of a day’s work: “Eight hours of labor constitutes a day’s work.” We conclude the trial court properly calculated the waiting time penalty because the trial court averaged Riley’s daily pay rate ($6.75 x 3.5 hours) and applied that number ($23.625) to reach the correct penalty result of $708.75.

Section 203(a) states:

If an employer willfully fails to pay, without abatement or reduction, in accordance with Sections 201, 201.3, 201.5, 202, and 205.5, any wages of an employee who is discharged or who quits, the wages of the employee shall continue as a penalty from the due date thereof at the same rate until paid or until an action therefor is commenced; but the wages shall not continue for more than 30 days. An employee who secretes or absents himself or herself to avoid payment to him or her, or who refuses to receive the payment when fully tendered to him or her, including any penalty then accrued under this section, is not entitled to any benefit under this section for the time during which he or she so avoids payment.”

The court concluded that “same rate” as used in Section 203(a) means the “employee’s actual daily wage and does not refer to an arbitrary daily wage based on a standard eight-hour workday.”  Id. *2.

Following the plain meaning of section 203, California courts have consistently construed the “same rate” variable of the waiting time penalty calculus to consist of the ratio of dollars per hours actually worked. (Mamika v. Barca (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 487, 490; Barnhill v. Robert Saunders & Co. (1981) 125 Cal.App.3d 1, 7-8; Oppenheimer v. Sunkist Growers, Inc. (1957) 153 Cal.App.2d Supp. 897, 898-899.) Courts take this “daily wage” and multiply it by up to 30 days, thereby yielding the waiting time penalty. (Mamika, at p. 490; Barnhill, at pp. 7-8; Oppenheimer, at pp. Supp. 898-899.)

Following this authority, we also conclude that section 203, subdivision  (a) means exactly what it says that “the wages of the employee shall continue … at the same rate” for up to 30 days. Here, the trial court correctly calculated the waiting time penalty because the employee’s “same rate” plainly refers to the employee’s actual daily wage and does not refer to an arbitrary daily wage based on a standard eight-hour workday. (Mamika v. Barca, supra, 68 Cal.App.4th at pp. 492-493.) This interpretation has been utilized by California courts since at least 1957, and as early as 1909 in other state courts interpreting similar statutes. (Oppenheimer v. Sunkist Growers, Inc., supra, 153 Cal.App.2d at pp. Supp. 898-899; St. Louis, I.M. & S.R. Co. v. Bryant (1909) 92 Ark. 425 [122 S.W. 996].) Riley does not cite, nor have we found, any case law supporting her contention that section 203 requires trial courts to calculate the waiting time penalty with a fixed eight-hour workday.

Plaintiff contended that the court should import section 510(a) statement that eight hours of labor constitutes a “day’s work” into section 203’s waiting time penalty calculation.  But the court concluded that section 510(a) “applies to overtime pay rates and thus is not applicable to section 203’s waiting time penalty calculation”.  The court noted that “neither a ‘day’s work,’ nor ‘an 8 hour workday,’ nor any reference to section 510 appears in section 203.”  Id. *2.  The court found that section 203(a) requires “employee-specific calculations because it refers to ‘the wages of an employee’ or the employee’s wage per the employee’s hours worked.”

Judges and Attorneys

The appeal was taken from a judgment of Hon. Eddie C. Sturgeon, the Superior Court of San Diego County.

Justice Gilbert Nares wrote the opinion, with Justices Patricia D. Benke and Cynthia Aaron concurring.

Scott A. McMillan of The McMillan Law Firm, APC in La Mesa, CA represented Plaintiff and Appellant.

Marc Howard Mandelblatt of the Law Offices of Marc Mandelblatt in San Diego, CA represented Defendant and Respondent.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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