The surge of state wage and hour claims continues in California. Among the numerous California Labor Code provisions which has been the subject of repeated litigation is California Labor Code § 226(a) (“226”), which creates specific requirements concerning the content of employee wage statements. Included among its provisions is a requirement that wage statements indicate the “total hours worked by the employee, except for any employee whose compensation is solely based on a salary and who is exempt from payment of overtime.” Last month, a California appeals court analyzed this statute in the context of a claim brought by a non-exempt co-manager, who claimed that her wage statements violated this 226 requirement. Morgan v. United Retail, 2010 Cal. App. LEXIS 1194 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. June 23, 2010).

As recited by the court, the alleged unlawful wage statement contained the following information:

For employees who did not work any overtime hours during the pay period, their wage statements listed the total regular hours worked by the employee, which equaled the total number of hours worked. For employees who worked overtime hours during the pay period, their wage statements separately listed the total regular hours worked and the total overtime hours worked by the employee. However, the statements did not add the regular and overtime hours together and list the sum of those hours in a separate line.

Plaintiff Morgan’s claim, which had been rejected by the trial court on summary adjudication, was that this failure to combine non-overtime and overtime hours and provide a “separate line” indicating total hours constituted a violation of 226. 

The appeals court, after noting that no Court had previously analyzed a wage statement which “separately lists the total number of regular hours and the total number of overtime hours worked by the employee,” reviewed the existing decisions analyzing 226’s “total hours worked” requirement. Observing that the cases finding 226 violations focused on the inaccurate or misleading nature of the wage statements in question (such as wage statements providing an “average” number of hours worked, as opposed to actual hours worked), and citing a recent federal decision dismissing a 226 claim on a similar theory (Rubin v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 599 F.Supp.2d 1176 (N.D.Cal. 2009)), the Court held that the failure to provide a separate line with the total hours did not constitute a violation. The Court rejected plaintiff’s contention that a violation occurred because the information provided was insufficient to calculate proper overtime, observing that the plaintiff and other putative class members were paid by the hour, and not on a “salary, commission, or piece-rate basis.”

Morgan provides some much-needed clarity regarding an employer’s obligations under 226. Inclusion of the “separate line” in wage statements (as Morgan indicates United Retail later did), reduces uncertainty and legal risk.  

Wage and hour compliance is a constant struggle due to the need not only to comply with the FLSA but also with all applicable state laws.