Employee safety and protection is a strong policy of California law, including for payment of minimum wages and other basic employee rights under the California Labor Code and similar law.  However, a California Court of Appeal has now declared categorically that “punitive damages are not recoverable when liability is premised solely on the employer’s violation of the Labor Code statutes that regulate meal and rest breaks, pay stubs, and minimum wage law”.  The court’s rationale in part is that by statute, punitive damages are ordinarily recoverable only for claims not arising from contract (Civil Code Section 3294), and that the employer-employee relationship is contractual in nature and will not support punitive damages for these specific wage-based claims.  The permanence of this ruling may be uncertain, at least as to intentional violations of minimum-wage laws.  However, read in conjunction with other rulings reported in this space, it does suggest that the crest may have passed for “gotcha” type breaktime and pay stub claims against California employers.  (Brewer v. Premier Golf Property, California Court of Appeal No. D050686, December 3, 2008 (certified for partial publication))

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