Coachella’s New COVID-19 Premium Pay Ordinance for Agricultural, Grocery, Restaurant, and Retail Employers

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
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Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

On February 10, 2021, the City Council of Coachella, California, passed the “Premium Pay for Agricultural, Grocery, Restaurant, and Retail Pharmacy Workers Ordinance.” Coachella is located in Riverside County, California. Other cities in the state that have enacted similar measures in 2021 include Montebello, in Los Angeles County, and Oakland, in Alameda County.

The Coachella ordinance requires employers to provide agricultural, grocery, restaurant, and retail pharmacy workers with premium pay of $4.00 for each hour worked. The ordinance takes effect immediately and expires in 120 days, unless the Coachella City Council extends it.

Covered Employers

Coachella’s ordinance applies to agricultural operations, grocery stores, restaurants, and retail pharmacies.

The ordinance defines “agricultural operation[s]” as “any operation[s] devoted to the bona fide production of crops, or animals, or fowl including the production and/or packing of fruits and vegetables of all kinds; meat, dairy, and poultry products; nuts, tobacco, nursery, and floral products; and the production and harvest of products from silviculture (i.e., growing/cultivating trees) activity.”

Grocery stores are defined under the ordinance as entities that devote 70 percent or more of their business to retailing fresh or packaged food products.

The ordinance defines restaurants as places “the principal purpose of which is the preparation and serving, on a retail basis, of food and drink to people for consumption on the premises, and where take away meals and drinks or entertainment are also provided.”

The ordinance defines retail pharmacies as “corporate or chain pharmac[ies]” licensed by the State of California “that dispense[] medications to the general public at retail prices.”

Number of Employees Required for Coverage

 In order to be covered by the ordinance, an agricultural operation, grocery store, restaurant, or retail pharmacy must employ 300 or more workers nationally and more than five employees per location in Coachella.

Eligible Employees

To be eligible for coverage under the ordinance, employees must perform work for a hiring entity in Coachella. Managers, supervisors, and confidential employees are not eligible for premium pay.

Employee Protections / Prohibited Retaliation

 Employers cannot reduce employees’ pay or “[l]imit [their] earning capacity” because of the ordinance. The ordinance also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising rights under the ordinance.

Posted Notice

 Under the ordinance, covered hiring entities must post a written notice in a location that employees use for breaks. Hiring entities also must make the notice available in an easily accessible electronic format, such as a smartphone application or an online web portal. Employers must make the notice available in English and the employees’ primary language.

The notice must inform employees about the right to premium pay, the prohibition against retaliation, and the right to bring a civil lawsuit for failure to pay premium pay and/or retaliation.

Maintaining Records

 The ordinance requires employers to maintain records demonstrating compliance with the ordinance. Employers must maintain those records for two years.

Private Causes of Action and Remedies

Employees may bring civil causes of action to enforce the ordinance. Remedies include reinstatement, “front pay in lieu of reinstatement with full payment of unpaid compensation plus interest,” and “liquidated damages in an additional amount of up to twice the unpaid compensation.” In addition, employers may be subject to a penalty for retaliatory conduct. Prevailing employees also “may be awarded reasonable attorney fees and costs.”

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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