California Court of Appeal Holds That An Employee’s “Imprecise Evidence” Can Provide a Basis for Damages When an Employer Does Not Keep Accurate Records of Hours Worked – But That an Employer is Not Liable for Missed Meal Periods of Which It Was Unaware
On December 12, 2018, in Furry v. East Bay Publishing, LLC, the California Court of Appeal held that if an employer fails to keep accurate records of an employee’s work hours, even “imprecise evidence” by the employee “can provide a sufficient basis for damages.”
In the case, not only did the employer in Furry not keep accurate records of the employee’s time, but only the amount of damages, and not the fact of the underlying violation, was in dispute. Under those circumstances, the Court held that the employee’s “imprecise evidence” of the unpaid hours that he worked was permissible to establish the amount of unpaid overtime.
The Court found that the level of detail that the employee advanced regarding his uncompensated hours was sufficient to shift the burden of proof to the employer to either give specific evidence of the hours actually worked or disprove the employee’s recollection. The Court stated that the fact “[t]hat [the employee] had to draw his time estimates from memory was no basis to completely deny him relief,” overruling the trial court’s complete denial of damages for the employee’s overtime claim.
In reaching reversing the trial court’s ruling on this issue, the Court rejected the employer’s argument that the trial court’s ruling was merely a credibility determination that was entitled to deference. Instead, the Court held that the trial court had a duty to draw “reasonable inferences” from the employee’s evidence – and had failed to do so.
Notably, the Court expressly distinguished this case from one where the underlying violation was in dispute. Therefore, this decision should only apply to disputes regarding damages.
While it reversed the trial court’s finding on that issue, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s denial of relief on the employee’s meal period claim. The employee argued that although he was provided the opportunity to take off-duty meal periods and chose to take them at his desk, he was still entitled to regular compensation for time and meal period premiums when he worked through his meal periods. The Court held that the employee failed to show that the employer “knew or reasonably should have known” that he was working through his meal periods. Therefore, he was not entitled to relief on his meal period claim.
This decision reinforces for employers the importance of keeping and maintaining accurate time and payroll records. Of course, this decision is not binding on other Courts of Appeal, and it is possible that the California Supreme Court would reach a different conclusion, should it hear this case.