When hourly paid workers take their legally authorized and permitted California IWC mandated rest breaks, it is the employer who pays for these rest breaks. Up until now, when employees were paid by production or piece-rate and took a break, it was the employees who ended up paying for it — as they ceased to earn while taking these breaks. This explains why workers paid by the hour have no trouble stretching their break time. It also explains why some piece-rate paid workers historically have skipped theirs.
But recent California rulings now require that employers pay for these rest breaks. As Farm Bureau associate counsel and labor law specialist Carl Borden explained in a recent Ag Alert, “employers in California must pay employees, in addition to their piece-rate earnings, at least minimum wage for all non-piece-producing work time.”
I believe it is in the employer’s interest to pay for the time used in breaks. Besides the employee goodwill earned, I suspect that the cost of these paid breaks will be more than made up for by savings related to increased productivity and reduced instances of workplace illness and injury.
In addition to these rest breaks, other non-productive periods that need to be compensated include “heat illness prevention cool-down breaks, required daily exercises, donning and doffing required safety clothing or equipment, travel time between fields, company-controlled standby or waiting time and company meetings such as for safety training or job training,” according to Robert P. Roy, general counsel for the Ventura County Agricultural Association.
There are at least three general options for complying with these new rulings. From my corner, only the first two options are beneficial; the third hurts both the farm enterprise and the people they employ. Properly designed piece-rate pay systems are vital in helping California agriculture compete internationally. Whatever approach is used must protect effectively-designed incentive pay systems.
1. Add a separate wage for rest periods
Keep track of non-productive time (such as break periods) and pay an additional wage rate equal to or greater than the minimum wage. For instance, if employees earn two 10-minute breaks a day, add at least one-third of an hour at the minimum wage level for that day. In order to take full advantage of these rest breaks, make sure that employees take them and are not just paid for them. This pay approach is particularly useful for compensating employees for non-break-related, non-productive time periods (e.g. employee training, company-mandated downtime).