Cal Supreme Ct Announces New “Regular Rate” When Paying Overtime in Pay Periods in Which a Flat Bonus is Paid

On March 5, 2018, the California Supreme Court, in Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp., announced a new formula to determine an employee’s “regular rate” for overtime purposes when the worker received a flat bonus during the pay period. This post discusses this important new holding.

Background on Overtime Compensation and the “Regular Rate”

Most employers understand that, in California, employees are entitled to be paid overtime after working eight hours in any workday, 40 hours in any workweek, and on the seventh consecutive day of work in any workweek. The overtime rate is calculated at 1.5 times the employee’s “regular rate” after 8 hours and 2 times the “regular rate” after 12 hours on any workday or after the eighth hour on the seventh consecutive day in any workweek.

But many employers do not have a strong grasp of the formula involved in determining an employee’s “regular rate” used to calculate her overtime premium pay. Many improperly assume it is simply the worker’s base hourly rate. However, when calculating the “regular rate,” employers must also consider “remuneration” for work performed, with specific payments excluded—such as reimbursed expenses, reporting-time premiums, vacation or holiday pay, or discretionary bonuses—divided in any pay period by the total number of hours actually worked.

The following example, drawn from a guide provided by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) is instructive:

For example, if an employee works 32 hours at $12.00 per hour and 10 hours during the same workweek at $10.50 per hour, the weighted average (and thus the regular rate for that workweek) is $11.64. This amount is calculated by adding the employee’s $489 straight-time pay for the workweek ((32 hours x $12.00/hour) + (10 hours x $10.50/hour) = $489) and dividing it by the 42 hours the employee worked ($489 / 42 hours =$11.64 per hour regular rate). The overtime premium of $5.82 (half the regular rate) is added to the employee’s wages for each one and a half overtime hour worked, and an additional overtime premium of $11.64 is added to hourly wages for each hour of double time earned.

Against this background, we discuss the California Supreme Court’s holding in Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp.regarding how to calculate an employee’s “regular rate” when she has received a flat rate bonus during the pay period. 

The AlvaradoCase and the Flat Rate Bonus

The plaintiff, Hector Alvarado, worked in the warehouse of Dart Container Corporation. To incentivize employees to work on weekends, Dart offered a $15 attendance bonus when any employee worked a full shift on a weekend day. The $15 “flat rate” bonus was paid regardless whether the employee worked any overtime hours. Alvarado sued Dart, claiming it had used an improper formula to calculate his “regular rate” for overtime in those pay periods in which he received at least one $15 attendance bonus.

Dart moved for summary judgment, which was granted and affirmed on appeal. However, after considering the formula Dart applied, as well as the formula set forth in the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) Manual, the California Supreme Court reversed, and embraced the following calculation methodology:

  1. Calculate the overtime compensation attributable only to an employee’s hourly wages by multiplying the employee’s hourly rate by 1.5 and by the number of overtime hours worked.
  2. Calculate the overtime premium attributable only to the employee’s bonus by dividing the bonus amount by the total non-overtime hours worked and multiplying that value by 1.5.
  3. Multiply the bonus overtime premium by total overtime hours worked and pay that amount in addition to the amount in step 1 as total overtime compensation.

This formula differs from the method used by Dart solely in that Dart divided the bonus amount by the total hours worked—both overtime and non-overtime. While this difference appears trivial, a failure to apply the proper formula will support a claim or lawsuit for unpaid wages. To make matters worse, the Supreme Court, acknowledging the “liberal construction” of California’s labor laws, held the new formula would be applied retroactively, as well as going forward.

What Should Employers Do

Employers who provide any type of nondiscretionary “flat rate” bonus, should immediately review and ensure their overtime “regular rate” calculation methodology is consistent with the new formula announced by the Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp. court. Given the complexity of this area of employment law, employers should consider working with their employment counsel in revising policies and methodology.

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