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Common Pay Violations for Skilled Trades

Do you work in a Skilled Trade? Are you a plumber, electrician, HVAC technician, carpenter, framer, installer, solar installer, or similar?

Working in these positions, and in the Skilled Trades in general, requires specific training and typically involves physically demanding work. However, despite the grueling nature of these jobs, many employees in the Skilled Trades do not receive proper wages under California law.

The attorneys at Fernandez & Lauby LLP have helped many Skilled Trade workers fight for unpaid wages and other damages to which they were entitled due to illegal piece-rate or commission-based pay plans.

Under piece-rate pay plans, an employee is paid based on the amount of work they accomplish, rather than on an hourly or salary basis. In the Skilled Trades, piece-rate pay is often based on metrics such as the number of units installed, the number of units built, the number of feet framed, and so forth. These systems are typically used to incentivize workers to be more productive, as they are rewarded for the number of pieces of a product produced, or services provided, in a given period.

However, employers that pay their employees on a pure piece-rate basis violate California law because this form of pay plan fails to provide any compensation for "downtime." Inherent in any job are instances when an employee is forced to attend mandatory meetings, wait for work, travel between jobs, or perform tasks that do not earn piece-rate pay. This "downtime" is therefore unpaid and illegal under California law because the law is clear that an employer must provide separate hourly wages to piece-rate employees for time spent performing non-piece-rate duties.

Employers that compensate their workers on a commission-only basis also violate California law for the same reason. Skilled Trade workers paid on a commission-only basis typically receive a percentage of the service provided to the customer. For instance, as wages, a plumber may receive 20% of the total amount billed to the client for the plumbing services. However, just like the piece-rate examples above, there are always times when a commission-only employee is subjected to unpaid "downtime" when he or she is on the clock but cannot earn commission pay. This unpaid "downtime" is illegal under California law because an employer is required to provide a separate hourly wage to commission-only employees for time spent performing tasks that cannot earn commission pay.

Additionally, both piece-rate and commission-only pay plans illegally deny workers of mandated rest breaks. California law requires that an employer provide its employees with a 10-minute paid rest period for every 4 hours of work, or major fraction thereof. For Skilled Trade workers, the most important aspect of this law is that the rest breaks must be paid. Under piece-rate and commission-only pay plans, it is impossible for an employee to earn piece-rate or commission pay during a rest break. Therefore, unless the employer provides separate hourly compensation for rest breaks, it is indisputable that such employees are illegally denied paid rest breaks.

If you were paid on a piece-rate or commission-basis, you may be owed significant damages, including unpaid minimum wages, overtime wages, wage premiums for denied rest breaks, as well as penalties and interest. Please contact Fernandez & Lauby LLP by calling 888-959-8508, for a free consultation and our experienced employment attorneys will fight for your legal rights as an employee.

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