Last week, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear a case regarding whether employees can bring wage and hour lawsuits over very short periods of unpaid time, referred to by defense attorneys as “de minimus” time. In Troester v. Starbucks Corp., a former Starbucks employee sued over unpaid time for completing tasks to close up the store after he had clocked out, such as shutting down the store computer system and locking the doors. In between 2008 and 2010, the former employee spent about twelve hours and fifty minutes off the clock (about four minutes per shift), or about $102.67 worth of unpaid time per the minimum wage at the time.
The district court dismissed the employee’s class action lawsuit in 2014, ruling that the time spent around the store after clocking out is inevitable and incidental to closing up any store and that not every second can be or need be recorded and compensated. The Ninth Circuit certified the question to the state high court in the midst of an appeal by the employee over whether the district court wrongly applied the “de minimis” standard.
The “de minimis” standard, which bars lawsuits over small chunks of unpaid time, is generally used for federal wage and hour claims. The doctrine has been in place since a 1946 U.S. Supreme Court decision held that employers do not have to face lawsuits over mere minutes of lost time. But that case dealt with federal wage and hour law. California courts have sometimes applied the “de minimis” standard to unpaid work time. (see See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court (2012)). However, the state’s Supreme Court has never ruled whether that standard is applicable to California state wage and hour lawsuits.
While many California wage and hour laws are patterned after their federal law counterparts, it is no secret that, by in large, California’s laws are more employee friendly than federal standards. However, the Supreme Court must also take into account judicial efficiency and resources when considering the possible influx of lawsuits, specifically class action lawsuits, over 1-2 minutes of unpaid time.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
The California Supreme Court has an important decision: (1) follow the black and white letter of the law, which unequivocally states that all hours of work must be compensated, or (2) take a more reasoned and practical approach to periods of unpaid time. For employers, the trickiest times to cover are at the beginning and ends of shifts when the line of compensable “hours worked” blends with the unavoidable part of the job which requires employees to simply show up and/or leave the premises. Employers should do their best to always ensure that employees are paid for all hours worked by having systems in place that accurately track start and stop times of the shift, including in and out times for meal breaks. Please contact The Saqui Law Group with any and all wage and hour questions regarding what is considered compensable work time.