DE MINIMIS IS NOT A MINIMAL PAY ISSUE

If you have any employees who do work before or after clocking out for the day, you should read on.  This is something very big to follow and it could affect almost all employers.

(from CalChamber HR Alerts)

It might not seem like something to worry about: an employee clocks out but then must set the security system and hustle out the door before the system arms itself. But that small period of uncompensated, work-related time (called “de minimis” time in legal parlance) is the source of an important lawsuit before the California Supreme Court.

The California Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the question of when an employer must pay employees for such de minimis time. A decision in this case could have important implications for employers and hopefully will provide much needed guidance in this area. The case before the California Supreme Court involves an employee at a coffee shop who sued the company, claiming that he should have been compensated for the brief time he spent closing up the store after he clocked out. For example, the employee argued that, after he clocked out, he engaged in the following activities that he was not paid for:

  • Exiting the store and locking the door after setting the alarm (he had to exit within a minute).
  • Walking co-workers to their cars (pursuant to store safety guidelines) which took about 45 seconds.
  • Occasionally reopening the store to let a co-worker grab a forgotten personal item.
  • Bringing patio furniture in once every couple of months.

The employee filed a lawsuit under the California Labor Code for unpaid wages and overtime. A federal district court sided with the employer, ruling that the time spent was de minimis and that the employee was not entitled to payment for it.

The employee appealed, to the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the de minimis doctrine does not apply to California wage claims.

The Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to decide whether the federal Fair Labor Standards Act’s de minimis doctrine applies to claims for unpaid wages in California, noting that California wage and hour laws often provide greater protections to employees than federal laws.

The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide this important question, and California employers will want to stay tuned.

Employers with specific questions regarding compensation for time spent before and after clocking out should consult legal counsel.

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