Addressing Wage and Hour Issues - Logic Does Not Always Apply

When confronting a particular "wage and hour" issue, employers need to be aware that logic does not always apply when resolving the matter. Some of those issues will be addressed in this article, but certainly not all of them.

A common issue involves an employee who quits after using unearned vacation. Employers often believe they can deduct the used but unearned vacation from the employee's final paycheck. However, unless the employee authorizes this deduction in writing before using the unearned vacation, the employer is potentially liable for penalties and the withheld wages. To protect itself in this scenario, an employer can condition permitting an employee to use unearned vacation if the employee signs a written authorization allowing the employer to deduct any used but unearned vacation from the employee's final paycheck.

Another frequent issue involves the non-exempt employee who works through or during his/her lunch break in order to leave early or because they want to skip their 30 minute duty free unpaid meal break. However, if an employer knowingly permits an eligible non-exempt employee to skip his/her meal break, the employer is liable to pay that employee one hour of pay for each missed meal break.

Although not advisable, employers occasionally advance wages (in other words loan money) to an employee in need which creates a creditor-debtor relationship as well as employer-employee. Undoubtedly, when the employee quits, he/she is still indebted to the employer. In these situations, employers routinely deduct the balance of the amount owed from the final paycheck. Unfortunately, the law does not permit this type of "self-help" and an employer is exposed to legal claims for unpaid wages and penalties.

In sum, employers should consult with legal counsel before taking steps that appear logically in resolving various wage and hour issues as logic is not always a valid defense.

Bob Caietti is a partner in Walters & Caietti, APC, and can be contacted through the firm's Temecula office located at 40140 Winchester Road, Ste. C, 951.693.2024, or