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Friday, 24 August 2012 15:24

Don’t Get LETF Behind for Not Knowing the Law

To view a pdf file of this article with photos, click HERE.

Here is the scenario: One afternoon a group of very business-like individuals walk into your shop. Are they getting an estimate? No. Are they selling something? Absolutely not. Or are they here to simply discuss the advantages of waterborne paint? Not likely.

After business cards get exchanged and pleasantries are conveyed, you quickly realize that you’re being inspected by the California Labor Enforcement Task Force (LETF), a team that enforces the state’s labor regulations and cites those companies that don’t adhere to the law. Suddenly, dire thoughts begin darting through your brain. “I know I run an honest shop and we try to adhere to all the laws, but have I forgotten something?” you ask yourself. It’s a frightening moment for any business owner and plenty get cited and fined every month throughout the state for a wide range of offenses.

With more than 50 people in attendance at the Santa Clara County California Autobody Association’s (SCC-CAA) July meeting, five representatives from LETF made presentations and shared information that is designed to help body shops in order to operate within the laws of the state. Consisting of five organizations and a lot of acronyms, LETF includes the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE); Division of Occupational Safety & Health (CAL/OSHA); Employment Development Department (EDD); Board of Equalization (BOE); and Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR).

 

Representatives in attendance were EDD Chief Simon Ramsughag (Underground Economy Section); EDD Manager Kim Wesley (Underground Economy Section); BAR Program Representative III Donald Johnson CAL/OSHA District Manager Jan Hami and Senior Deputy Labor Commissioner Mark Janatpour. Each spokesperson made a PowerPoint presentation, outlining their purpose, its mission and importantly, techniques that body shops can use while dealing with LETF.

Senior Deputy Labor Commissioner Mark Janatpour from the DLSE was the first speaker at the outreach meeting and discussed topics such as overtime, meal periods, rest periods and time recordkeeping when it comes to your employees, their work breaks and their pay.

Janatpour stressed the fact that employers need to give their workers proper lunch and rest breaks, even when the shop is busy. He explained that the authorized rest period time needs to be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of 10 minutes net rest time for every four hours worked, without exception. The breaks cannot be combined, such as giving an employee one 20-minute break toward the end of the day. In addition, if an employee works more than five hours in any given day, he or she is entitled to and required to take a 30-minute lunch. If an employee works six hours and that’s the end of their working day, they don’t need a lunch, as long as the employee consents.

Janatpour also stressed the importance of good, thorough record keeping. So many shops get cited and fined for not maintaining their records. Accurate production records for employees paid at piece rate and overtime need to be properly documented. “These are some red flag areas that many body shops run into and it’s one of the first things we look at when we do our inspections,” Janatpour said.

CAL/OSHA District Manager Jan Hami explained what employers should know about the inspection process and the ramifications. “First off, we always come unannounced. Initially, we have an opening conference before we do a walk-through of your worksite. We may also want to interview some of your employees and review documents when applicable.”

Hami also advised body shop owners about how to act when LETF is in your shop.

“Understand your rights and ask a lot of questions,” he said.

“Take good notes and document everything and gather your necessary staff to assist you. If you can rectify something on-site right there while we’re doing the inspection, that’s a big plus. We’re enforcement, not consultants and we never issue warnings, but we’re here to help you in your abatement efforts.”

“It all comes down to doing the right things, staying up-to-date on the current laws and running a safe working environment,” Hami said.

LETF’s fines for violations can be as high as $7,000 for “non-serious” issues, according to CAL-OSHA’s website (www.dir.ca.gov). Serious offenses that present a realistic hazard with possibility of death or serious physical harm due to an actual hazard in your shop can be up to $25,000, and willful, repeat violations can cost up to $70,000.

EDD Manager Kim Wesley talked about the ongoing distinctions about who is an employee vs. an independent contractor?

Several SCC-CAA members asked why some shops are able to hire their employees as independent contractors while others seemingly can’t do the same?

Wesley explained that there are only a very few true independent contractors out there.

“If you’re hiring an independent contractor, you can only control or direct the results of the work they’re doing for you,” she said. “But, you cannot control or direct the way they’re doing the work. That’s a very significant difference.”

BAR Program Representative III Donald Johnson works out of the organization’s San Jose, CA, field office and discussed his role and the way the BAR works.

“We don’t conduct routine inspections anymore, because our time is limited,” he said. “There is always going to be some cheating in auto repair, so we’re concentrating on the worst cases and the chronic repeat offenders. Most of the body shop owners in this room run good, honest businesses, so you may never see us in your shop. But, for shops that are operating without licenses or doing anything fraudulent, we’re going to be there to see you eventually.”

 

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