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Appellate Court Rules in Seasonal Employment/Termination Case

Bryan Little, Farm Employers Labor Service

August 18, 2021

On August 12, 2021, the California Court of Appeal has delivered a ruling that may (or may not) avoid a potential headache for seasonal agricultural employers.  In Jaime Zepeda Labor Contracting, Inc., et. al. v. Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, the Court ruled against the Division’s contention that normal seasonal interruptions of agricultural employment constitute a termination in each instance, triggering Labor Code requirements for payment of wages due to “terminated” employees.  DLSE asserted that because Zepeda and his clients did not treat the conclusion of each discrete activity required for grape production (tying, pruning, leafing, harvesting) as a termination of Zepeda’s employees, Zepeda and his clients violated the Labor Code requirement to immediately pay terminated employees, subjecting Zepeda and his clients to waiting time penalties.  However, DLSE apparently erred by contending that Zepeda failed to pay minimum wage because employees were unpaid in the interim periods between grape harvest activities. The Superior Court dismissed DLSE’s case on the grounds that it failed to show that Zepeda failed to pay the minimum wage and the Appeals Court concurred.

The Division has until mid-October, 2021 to petition the California Supreme Court for review of the Appellate Court's opinion.  In the interim, or if the Division does not seek review, a Court of Appeal opinion binds all Superior Courts in California unless another District Court of Appeal issues a different opinion, in which case a Superior Court judge is free to follow either Appellate Court's guidance.