Attorney Stacey James led an April 16 discussion on “Pesky Little-Known Wage Laws.” She said employers need to make sure they are following the law when paying hourly employees.

NAPA, Calif. - The location for this year’s Cal-SMACNA conference - the Silverado Resort & Spa - provided members with sunshine, golf and miles of lush vineyards.

The idyllic location may have helped members take their minds off business. But as many sheet metal contractors here know, running a company in California does come at a steep price. When it comes to building codes or just following state law as an employer, the state has some of the tightest regulations in the country.

That’s probably why the California chapter of the Sheet Metal, Heating and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association offered two business workshops on state-specific issues during its 43rd annual convention, April 15-18.

Wage laws

“Pesky Little-Known Wage and Hour Rules” was the title of an April 16 session that had some Cal-SMACNA members shaking their heads.

According to Stacey James, one of the session speakers and an attorney with Littler Mendelson in San Diego, wage laws “cause employers the most heartache.”

She said that about 70 percent of employers across the United States do not comply with the Department of Labor’s federal wage laws. In California, she said, that number is higher. About 85 percent of employers are not following guidelines.

If you are not following those rules now, you may have a harder time getting away with it in the future, James said. The new secretary of labor, Hilda Solis, has decided to crack down on employers who violate such laws.

Solis put 250 investigators into the field to make sure that employers are accurately following the law. The Labor Department will be paying special attention to companies that received money from the federal stimulus for construction projects, James said.

For many employers, the major sticking point is the definition of “working time.” James said this can be broadly defined, but in California an employee is on working time whenever they are “subject to the control of the employer.”

There is less concern with salaried employees, but if an employee is paid by the hour, they must be paid for that “working time” or any time that they are under the “control of the employer.”

Is your employee coming in and doing work before hitting the time clock? Are they taking extra work home with them after clocking out for the night? These are examples of possible violations, even if the employee is doing the work voluntarily.

James shared a story about a young employee who worked at a prominent California amusement park. She said that all employees were told that once they were on park grounds, they were to perform their job duties. This meant picking up any trash off the ground and greeting guests.

But this young employee worked at a popcorn stand on the other side of the park, which is also where he was required to clock in. With this in mind, the employee felt that he was performing duties he was never paid for. The employee took the amusement park to court.

James did not reveal how much money was at stake or if the employee won, but she said there is “money to be made from lawsuits.”

So if an employer doesn’t want to end up sued, it needs to ensure that their hourly employees are paid for all of their working time.

Things to think about are on-call shifts and travel time. If an employee is on call for a job they may need to be paid, James said. Again, it all comes down to the control of the employer. If the employee needs to wait by the phone for the job and get to the jobsite as soon as he or she gets the call, he or she may need to be paid. But if the employee is not “limited in pursuing his own interests,” the person most likely does not need to be paid.

If hourly employees in California is required to travel to a meeting or a job, they may need to be paid. This is especially true if they have to fly to another state for a job. James said that employees paid by the hour must be paid for every hour they are on the plane or in a taxi to their hotel.

One way to get around this is to have a different pay rate for travel time. Some companies can pay minimum wage for the travel time, as long as the employee is informed in advance.

Dan Burgoyne, sustainability manager for the state of California, told Cal-SMACNA attendees about the sustainability benchmarks the state wants to achieve over the next 20 years.

You better be green

While the title of an April 16 workshop was called “Incentives for Building Sustainable Communities,” the presentation may have come across as more of a mandate than a suggestion.

Dan Burgoyne, the sustainability manager for the state of California, said that the state spends close to $4 billion a year on new-construction projects. With this in mind, he said California is motivated to make sure that these projects have lower operating costs, improved indoor air quality, and little impact on the environment.

“The (California) government has strongly embraced green building,” he said.

This embrace has come by way of government regulations. For example, Burgoyne told attendees that all state buildings must achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-silver certification.

By 2015, Burgoyne said the state wants to reduce energy use by 20 percent in all state buildings. He also said California has requested that all new homes in the state be “net-zero” by 2020. A net-zero-energy building is defined as a facility that annually uses no more energy from the utility grid than is provided by on-site renewable energy.

This net-zero goal will also apply to all commercial buildings in California by 2030 and all state buildings by 2025.

Burgoyne said California has the most LEED buildings in the country. Approximately 42 percent of those LEED buildings in the state are government buildings.

“California got a jump on the LEED buildings,” he said.

Mark Palmer, San Francisco’s municipal green coordinator, shared some of the city’s success with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, and green building.

City success

Fresno, Calif., is encouraging city builders to employ green strategies. Fresno’s historic preservation project manager, Karana Hattersly-Drayton, spoke about the city’s Fresno Green program.

Karana Hattersly-Drayton, historic preservation project manager for Fresno, Calif., spoke about her city’s green and energy-efficiency goals.

“The Fresno mayor (Ashley Swearengin) said Fresno will be sustainable by 2050,” said Hattersly-Drayton.

She explained that state reports reveal that Fresno could see a 1ºF temperature rise by 2050. While this may not seem like a lot, “We already have one of the worst air-quality problems in the country,” Hattersly-Drayton said.

In an effort to control air quality, the city created a program called Fresno Green. The program provides incentives for builders that strive towards energy efficiency. For example, Fresno will reduce planning fees by 25 percent if the builder uses certain green strategies.

Hattersly-Drayton also said the city is working to merge its historic preservation work with the green sector. Fresno is encouraging businesses to take over historic landmarks in the city. They are allowed to do this if they keep the integrity of the building while also employing sustainable designs.

Hattersly-Drayton said this a great way to “recycle a good old building that’s already in place.”

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail