Employers, CRLA settle suits on travel-time pay

December 19, 2018

Employers, CRLA settle suits on travel-time pay
Courtesy of California Farm Bureau Federation

A second lawsuit filed against a California agricultural employer seeking travel-time pay for employees using company-provided transportation has been settled.

In each case, the employer will not be required to pay for travel time, according to John Segale, spokesman for California Farmers for Fairness.

The suits were brought by California Rural Legal Assistance, which wants farm employees who use company-provided transportation to commute between their residences and a field or other worksite to be paid for their time in transit, even though use of such transportation is considered voluntary.

The suits claim that as a practical matter, employees have no other way to travel to the fields where they work, other than on employer-provided transportation. Thus, the suits claim, employees in fact are required to use employer-provided transportation.

In a statement announcing the settlement, Bob Erickson of Salinas-based Foothill Packing said he chose to settle for financial reasons but also warned other agricultural employers who supply voluntary transportation.

"All employers in California must understand the gravity of what the CRLA is trying to accomplish," Erickson said. "Unless there is a legislative fix to this issue, all California employers must assume CRLA and its allies will continue to file lawsuits to ultimately force mandated travel pay for employees."

Carl Borden, senior counsel for the California Farm Bureau Federation, reiterated that to his knowledge the companies facing the lawsuits had policies in employee handbooks and signage on the buses stating that employees were not required to use the company transportation. That also applied to guestworkers in the country on H-2A visas, for whom transportation—as well as lodging and meals—must be provided.

"While the law requires an employer to provide H-2A workers with transportation between their housing and the fields, the law does not require such an employer to compel H-2A workers to use that transportation," Borden noted.

"The ultimate resolution will come when there's either a binding court decision on the CRLA's claim or legislation addressing the issue," he said.

In 2000, the California Supreme Court ruled in Morillion v. Royal Packing Co. that employees were owed travel pay because the company required workers to use the buses. In its opinion, however, the court wrote that employers could still offer optional transportation without having to pay for time in transit.


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