Piece-rate employees must be paid separately for work that does not fall within the scope of the work that is the subject of the piece rate.

So, if you’re a brake mechanic and are paid by the brake job (or other repair), but also clean the shop, make appointments, open/close the shop or any other duties that are not related to the brake jobs themselves, you must be compensated for the extra work. The hours spent working on non-piece rate tasks must be paid at least at minimum wage.

For example, in one case, an auto dealership compensated its auto mechanics based on a “piece rate” system. For repairs, the company would pay the employees based on a standard period of time allowed for a repair (flag hours).  The pay rate was significantly higher than minimum wage.  So, if the job took longer than standard hours, there was enough wages to ensure the mechanic earned more than minimum wage.

But the mechanics spent significant time at work NOT performing repairs, such as in training, cleaning, etc.  The dealership would calculate the total hours worked vs. the compensation it would pay for flag hours.  If the pay rate fell below minimum wage, the dealership would make up the difference.  The dealership did not pay a separate hourly rate for non-repair time that would not have been covered under the piece rate.

The court held that policy was illegal. The main issue is whether the applicable wage order (here Wage Order (Wage Order 4-2001)), requires payment of at least minimum wage for each hour worked, or an average of minimum wage for all hours worked in the work week.  The trial court and Court of Appeal, relying on an earlier case, Armenta v. Osmose, Inc. (2005) 135 Cal.App.4th 314 agreed with the plaintiffs that the former interpretation was correct.
If you earn a piece rate for tasks completed, but also perform unrelated duties and wonder if you are being paid correctly under California labor law, give us a call. If you would like to read the entire case summarized above, you can find it here.
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