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Ruling by Washington State Supreme Court on Pay for Piece-rate Breaks is Effective Immediately

Washington Growers League News Brief
July 17, 2015

On Thursday, July 16th, the Washington Supreme Court issued their ruling in the piece-rate/break case (officially known as Demetrio v. Sakuma). This is the case about whether agricultural employers must provide designated paid rest breaks and additional break pay to piece-rate workers. The Washington State Supreme Court held a hearing on this case on March 17th, and we have been waiting for the ruling.

As a result of the July 16 ruling, beginning immediately, agricultural employers should take the following steps.

The following legal analysis is provided by Stokes, Lawrence, Velikanje, Moore and Shore - Yakima/Seattle. 

The Washington Supreme Court issued a ruling in Demetrio v. Sakuma requiring employers to provide paid rest breaks to piece rate workers. This ruling has enormous implications on your wage and rest break practices that take effect immediately. Starting today, you should implement the following wage practices:

1. Employers must schedule rest breaks and ensure that employees take them. You should schedule your rest break times and enforce them. Make sure that they are being taken. Document rest break times daily to avoid disputes. For practical purposes, rest breaks begin when the last worker either leaves the field or work area and end when the first person returns to the work area. 

Recommended practice: Require employees to confirm in writing that rest breaks were taken each pay period.

2. Rest breaks must be paid separately. You will need to add 10 minutes of pay for each rest break. Rest breaks are 10 minutes every four hours.

3. Rest breaks are paid at each employee's applicable earned rate (not minimum wage). Rest breaks are paid based upon the individual piece rate earned per pay period on an employee-by-employee basis. This may cause some difficulty at first, but you are already doing the calculation to ensure minimum wage each pay period. This is an extension of that process. The rest break must be paid at each employee's earned rate each pay period (either minimum wage or whatever higher earned rate). Each employee will likely have a different rate and those rates will change from pay period to pay period.

4. Retroactivity (undetermined). The Court expressly avoided determining whether the ruling applies retroactively (i.e. whether employers have to pay for rest breaks that occurred before today's decision). This issue will almost certainly be litigated before the Supreme Court at some time in the near future. That said, you should understand that retroactivity is overwhelmingly the norm, but the court does have discretion to make its decisions applicable on a go-forward-only basis to avoid harsh results. However, based on the fact that this was a unanimous decision and so overwhelmingly in favor of employee rights, employers should expect lawsuits and should collect and preserve information regarding breaks and wages going back at least three years.

The statute of limitation for wage and hour claims is three years. Accordingly, with each passing day, past rest break claims older than three years are being barred.

You will likely have additional questions about the ruling and how it applies to your operation, both past and present. Please feel free to give any one of us a call. In addition, this ruling will likely require changes in your written policies and disclosures. Please give us a call if you would like assistance modifying those policies.

Bottom line: Make sure employees are taking rest breaks and start paying for them today.

Sarah Wixson, Brendan Monahan, Dustin Yeager, and Aviva Kamm

Additional information on the ruling can be found
on the Stokes Lawrence blog, at the link below:
Washington Supreme Court Rules Piece Rate Workers
Entitled to Paid Rest Breaks


WGL estimates that the new mandatory separate break pay for piece-rate workers will cost employers $15.80-$30/week/person in additional wages. It represents $3.16/day (2 x $1.58 per 10 minute break) at the current state minimum wage of $9.47/hour.   

Calculating the additional rest break pay will require more management and payroll work. To calculate the hourly rate to apply to the separate break pay for piece-rate workers, employers should use all hours worked in the pay period excluding the 10-minute breaks for each four-hour period of work.  

To calculate compliance with minimum wage, employers should use all hours worked in a work week, including the 10-minute rest breaks.

It would be a good practice to adjust timecards to allow for documentation of breaks.


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