In Safeway Wage and Hour Cases, the Court held that an employment task does not become exempt merely because the manager undertakes it in order to contribute to the smooth functioning of the store. This was a case in a series of cases in which former managers of Safeway supermarket stores sought unpaid overtime wages, claiming they had been misclassified as exempt executives under regulations applicable to the mercantile industry. Following trial, a jury found Safeway had proven that appellant William Cunningham had been an exempt employee (and thus was not entitled to overtime pay). On appeal, appellant asserted that the trial court committed instructional error. In particular, he challenged an instruction based on language in this court’s decisions in Batze v. Safeway, Inc., 10 Cal.App.5th 440 (Batze) (2017) and Heyen v. Safeway Inc., 216 Cal.App.4th 795 (2013) (Heyen), directing the jury to classify any given task as exempt work whenever a manager engages in it “because it is helpful in supervising employees in the store or because it contributes to the smooth functioning of the store . . . .” The Court clarified that a task does not become exempt merely because the manager undertakes it in order to contribute to the smooth functioning of the store. An instruction on the consideration of the manager’s purpose, where appropriate, must inform the jury of relevant limiting principles outlined in the applicable regulations and recognized by the Court’s prior decisions. The Court stated that while a factfinder must categorize concurrent performance of exempt and nonexempt work based on the manager’s purpose in undertaking the activity, there is no requirement that the concurrent performance of exempt and nonexempt activities must be considered nonexempt. It finally concluded the trial court’s instruction did not affect the jury’s verdict.
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