News, Articles & Updates

California Food Handler Card Law Impacts Restaurant Owners:

Law Requiring Employees to Receive Food Safety Training Went into Effect on July 1, 2011.

A new California law requiring restaurant employees to be trained in food safety practices took effect on July 1, 2011 but immediate compliance with the law may be shortcoming because many restaurant owners are unaware of the new requirements.

Senate Bill 602, known as the California Food Handler Card law, passed last year and mandates that all restaurant employees obtain food safety certification within 30 days after they are hired.  The deadline for compliance silently passed last week and many restaurant owners did not receive any notification that their employees must now be certified in order work.

The law applies to all restaurant employees who are food handlers, which is defined as any person involved in the preparation, storage, or service of food in a food facility.  This includes wait staff, chefs, bussers, bartenders, supervisory personnel, and hosts and hostess who handle food.  Some food service employees are exempt from the new requirement, such as food handlers employed by certified farmers markets, grocery stores, and food booths.

To receive a certification card, employees must go through a food safety online or classroom training and then pass a food handler test.  The training course costs $15 and the certification card is valid for three years after it is issued.

Employers are not required to pay for the employee’s time and expense to take the training unless the restaurant provides in-house training during normal working hours.  When hiring food handlers, employers should check the individual’s certification card and keep a copy of the card on file.

How does this affect your business?

Technically, the deadline for compliance passed on July 1. However, it appears that full enforcement of the law will be postponed because of pending legislation, Senate Bill 303, which would amend Senate Bill 602 and provide both clarification and guidance to restaurant owners and employees about how to comply with the new law.

Due to this pending legislation, it has been recommended that county health departments withhold documenting violations between July 1, 2011 and January 1, 2012.  Instead, enforcement should be limited to education and notification of the requirements for compliance.

At the beginning of next year, county health departments would then begin full enforcement.  However, the punishment for noncompliance is unclear and the level of enforcement is expected to be determined by the end of the year.

Even with enforcement being postponed, restaurant owners should work toward ensuring that all of their food handler employees have or are obtaining their certification cards.

If your company works with employees who handle food, please contact us for more information at

For further details on the law and for a full list of exempt employees, please click here.


Court’s Ruling Provides More Leeway in Employers Categorizing Wages as Commission.

A recent decision by the California Second Appellate District allows employers to categorize a flat payment to salespersons for each product sold as commission wages, bringing those employees outside of the overtime pay requirement.

Traditionally, the amount a salesperson receives in commission for selling a product is proportional to the value of the product sold.  However, in Areso v. CarMax, CarMax implemented a commission plan were it paid its salespersons a uniform dollar figure for each vehicle sold.

For an example, if a CarMax salesperson sold a vehicle in California they would receive approximately $154 as part of the uniform payment plan, with no attention to the final selling price of the vehicle.  CarMax uses the uniform payment to avoid giving salespersons an incentive to push higher-price vehicles to promote their own commissions.

However, the plaintiff, Leena Areso, brought a claim challenging the payment plan.  She contended that her wages could not be classified as commission because they were not proportional to the value of the vehicle.  She argued that CarMax had improperly categorized salespersons as receiving commission wages and had also failed to pay overtime wages.

In California, an employee is exempt from the overtime pay requirement if their earnings exceed one and one-half of the minimum wage and if more than half of their compensation comes from commission.  For employees of vehicle dealers, California Labor Code section 204.1 sets out that wages qualify as commission if the wages are paid to the employee for services rendered in the sale of the employer’s property or services and based proportionately upon the amount or value of that property or services.

The court’s decision of whether a flat payment qualified as commission turned on how to interpret the word “amount” in the Labor Code.  The court determined that “amount” meant the number of products sold.   Therefore, compensating employees with a set payment for each vehicle sold qualified as commission because the payment was based proportionately on the number of vehicles sold.

How does this affect your business?

The court’s generous interpretation of commission wages is good news for employers because it means that they can pay a flat payment to a salesperson based on the number of vehicles sold and it will qualify as commission.  Such employees will not be subject to the overtime pay requirement.   Although Labor Code section 204.1 applies to employees of vehicle dealers, the Supreme Court of California stated in Ramirez v. Yosemite Water Company that the definition of commission may be more generally applicable and therefore would likely apply to other industries.

If your company works with commission based employees, please contact us for more information at