- Safeway has agreed to pay $12 million to settle a lawsuit involving its alleged failure to provide seats to cashiers at its California grocery stores, in violation of state law (Sharp v. Safeway Inc., No. 2011-1-CV-202901 (Superior Ct. of Calif., County of Santa Clara, Oct. 21, 2019)).
- The California wage orders generally require that employees be provided with "suitable seats" when the nature of the work permits it. Safeway argued that it had a good-faith belief that the nature of the cashiers' work did not reasonably permit seats.
- The court decertified the class in this case, but the settlement still has a sweeping impact: According to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, Safeway could be required to provide seats to as many as 30,000 checkout clerks at its California stores over the next two years, in addition to the monetary settlement.
When a non-compliant policy or practice affects a large number of workers, even relatively small issues can quickly balloon into big, expensive problems for employers. This happens frequently with wage and hour missteps, as recent litigation illustrates.
Auto-deduct policies, for example, have ensnared many employers lately. Although the policies themselves are not illegal, they become an issue when employees work through planned breaks. Pre- and post-shift work can be problematic, too: CorePower Yoga paid $1.5 million after allegedly failing to pay its instructors for the time they spent preparing for classes. And miscalculated overtime can also add up quickly, as Delta Airlines recently discovered when it paid $3.5 million to settle an overtime class action suit.
Wage and hour issues aren't the only claims ripe for collection action, however. Walmart recently shelled out $14 million to settle claims that it discriminated against pregnant employees by not offering them the same opportunities for light duty that other workers received. Policies requiring workers to be "100% healed" before returning to work also tend to have a broad impact.
To stay out of class action trouble, employers must ensure that policies are compliant and administered in a consistent, even-handed fashion by HR and supervisors. Regular training for managers is also an important best practice, experts say.