The Fresno Bee is a platform that fosters the exchange of ideas – and in my recent example, may help lead to real change that affects not only Valley businesses, but also businesses throughout the state.
In February 2015, I wrote a commentary discussing a recent wave of out-of-town plaintiff’s attorneys suing agricultural businesses based on alleged wage and hour violations, such as missed meal and rest breaks. In the article, I noted how these overly technical and confusing laws often result in extreme penalties, ultimately damaging the economy and the very people the laws are targeted at helping.
The article discussed the problem that current laws permit the stacking of penalties. For example, once one statute is violated, it automatically means another statute was also violated. Each statute carries its own monetary penalties, even if no different conduct occurred. The “guilty of one/guilty of three” framework makes these wage-and-hour lawsuits lucrative and a very attractive business model for plaintiff’s attorneys.
The Bee then published an article by Paul Betancourt, a former Fresno County Farm Bureau president, which echoed many of my concerns and noted how lawsuits raise labor costs to the detriment of all.
This prompted me to reach out to Paul and to see if we could work together to get something done. He, in turn, put me in touch with Sacramento Capitol insider, Julie Griffiths, who, in turn put me in touch with Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. From there, I was able to work with Julie, CALA, and Orange County Assemblyman Don Wagner to assist in drafting legislation that addresses the unfair staking of wage-and-hour penalties.
What started as a simple Bee op-ed piece has led to the creation of Assembly Bill 1948 – a real opportunity to have meaningful change. The bill amends a current statute (and doesn’t create a new one) to make the penalty better fit the violation.
If the bill passes, it will limit the penalty for a violation of a meal period to the penalty contained in the statute that deals with meal periods. Makes sense, right? In sum, this prevents a clever attorney from alleging multiple other statutory violations for the same alleged missed meal period.
The bill would also limit the penalties to one year instead of three years, which is consistent with all other statutory penalties contained in the Labor Code.
In the end, this bill will enable employers who discover an honest mistake to be able to quickly and more readily make amends with their employees without the prospect of crushing litigation and penalties that all too often end up with Valley businesses contemplating layoffs, stagnating wages, or worse, being forced to close their doors.
I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of being a part of legislation that could save jobs and businesses. Thanks to The Bee for helping to connect some like-minded individuals.
I hope the readers will join us to help make the Valley and California a destination for entrepreneurs and small businesses as well as place where agriculture continues to thrive. Please call your state assemblyman and state senator and support AB 1948.
Steven M. Crass of Fresno is a lawyer with Baker, Manock and Jensen.