California State Assemblywoman introduced the AB-257 in January. Since that day, the Fast Food Accountability and Standards (FAST) Recovery Act has undergone amendments twice. If it passes, it’s designed to help fast-food workers by creating standards to help set fair wages, worker training, maximum working hours, and working conditions. The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement would enforce those standards set forth under this new act.
In late April, the California State Assembly Committee voted to approve AB-257. If it becomes law, an 11-member panel will oversee wages and working conditions in the fast-food industry. The goal is to get incomes up to a livable wage and stop unfair working hours where employees may work.
The Goal of the FAST Act
While some are against government interference in setting wages and working conditions, many fast-food workers support the bill.
One McDonald’s cook developed chills, dizziness, a migraine, and nausea. It turned out to be COVID-19, and she was upset that the fast-food restaurant’s management knew of positive COVID tests with other workers but never told the others. Also, the restaurant was never shut down for a thorough cleaning after several workers tested positive. Health and safety are just one aspect the bill hopes to change.
In 2013, a group of cooks and cashiers from Californian McDonald’s sued the company for failing to pay overtime or allowing workers to take breaks during their shifts. Plus, McDonald’s forced these workers to clean and iron their work uniforms at their own expense. The company wouldn’t pay for the laundering costs. In 2019, McDonald’s ended up paying $26 million to these workers for violating California Labor Code.
In Southern California, many fast-food workers don’t earn more than $500 per week on average. Those workers also claim benefits to help supplement their low income. Many cannot afford rent and utilities and have no choice but to apply for benefits. The cost of those benefits is well over $1 billion per year.
A Panda Express worker was told she’d qualify for a promotion if she attended an Alive Seminars training program. She had to borrow money to pay for this training as her $11.00 an hour salary wasn’t enough. At the seminar, she was forced to strip to her underwear as part of an exercise in being vulnerable. She’s suing the company, and it’s another reason why the FAST Act is so important to workers.
The FAST Act will add protections that ensure workers who have certain illnesses do not work in areas where they can spread the disease to others. For example, if a worker has norovirus, that worker shouldn’t be anywhere near the food as this is one of many infectious diseases that are spread through contact with food. Salmonella, hepatitis A, and E. coli are others.
If a fast-food restaurant learns of an infected employee, the business must shut down and complete a deep cleaning. Employees who are infected must undergo testing or follow procedures until the viral or bacterial illness is treated and/or goes away.
What will happen if a restaurant is found to be in violation of the terms? With the FAST Act, franchisors could sue the franchisee to cover fines and legal fees, providing it’s the franchisee that ignored the legal requirements.
How Do Laws Currently Protect Fast Food Workers?
California and the Federal governments already have some laws in place to protect workers. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against sexual discrimination. In the case of Del Taco, employees who were repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment by a store manager sued based on that law. The company did nothing to end the harassment, so the women were awarded $1.25 million. Del Taco has to review and update the company’s sexual harassment policies on discrimination, harassment, and retaliation and provide better training.
California minimum wage laws apply to fast-food workers. If a company has 26+ employees, the minimum wage is set at $14 an hour. For companies with 25 or fewer employees, pay must be $13 an hour. Workers must be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a week, 8 hours in a day, or are asked to work for a seventh consecutive day without any days off in between.
Overtime pay is defined as 1.5x for more than 40 hours of work in a week, up to 8 hours on a seventh consecutive day of work, or 8 to 12 hours in one day. Overtime pay increases to 2x for more than 12 work hours in one day or 8+ hours on the seventh consecutive day.
Workers are allowed a 10-minute break for every four hours of work. That break is meant to be taken in the middle of a shift. If the break isn’t allowed or given, the worker must get one hour of pay. Meal breaks are 30 minutes or longer and apply to workers who work five to nine hours. If a worker works for a 10+ hour shift, the company must allow two meal breaks.
Even with the laws in place, some employers fail to abide by them. In the 2013 McDonald’s lawsuit, workers were told to take their 10-minute breaks at the start or end of their shifts. They were not allowed to take them in the middle of their shift.
If you file a complaint against your employer, you cannot be retaliated against. If your employer demotes you or fires you after you’ve filed a complaint, it’s a violation of your rights. The same is true if you see a supervisor or coworker harassing another employee and you file the complaint. Whistleblowers also have protections against retaliation.
What Should Food Workers Do If Their Rights Are Being Violated?
What if your rights are being violated? You have COVID-19 and know you should be at home, but your boss demands you come in and keep quiet? You’ve worked 50 hours so far this week, but you haven’t been paid overtime. Your supervisor keeps touching you, even after you’ve told him/her to stop.
If your rights are being violated, read the employee handbook to see who you file a complaint with. It might be the district supervisor or headquarters. If you’re not sure and the handbook doesn’t offer the information, you have a few options.
Submit your complaint with the EEOC or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. You can do this online. You need to gather names and information for witnesses and any paperwork, documents, or files that back up your complaint. There are deadlines on how long you have to file the complaint. In most cases, it’s three years.
Even better, contact a California employment law attorney. The attorneys at Shegerian Conniff have extensive experience handling complaints related to workplace discrimination, harassment, and other workplace violations. The law firm’s specialties include discrimination based on age, disability, gender, pregnancy, race, religion, or sexual orientation. We also offer expert help for cases involving a hostile work environment, rest and meal breaks, retaliation, sexual harassment, wage and overtime violations, whistleblowing, worker’s comp, and wrongful termination.
It doesn’t cost anything to reach out to the attorneys at Shegerian Conniff. We offer free consultation and assist you with the next steps if we feel you have a valid complaint. You’ll never be alone when we agree to help you with your workplace complaint. Reach out to use online or by phone.