On Thursday, July 26, 2018, the Supreme Court of California issued its ruling in Troester v. Starbucks Corporation, No. S234969, 2018 WL 3582702, which held that California employees must be paid for all hours worked “off the clock,” including small time periods, which is a deviation from the federal law’s employer-friendly “de minimis” rule.

What is the federal de minimis rule?  Under this rule, alleged working time does not need to be paid if it is trivially small.  In other words, a few seconds or minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours may be ignored for purposes of compensation.  Some factors that courts have looked at to determine whether time is de minimis include (1) the administrative difficulty of recording the additional time; (2) the total amount of compensable time; and (3) the regularity of the additional work.  Numerous courts have held that daily periods of about 10 minutes are de minimis.

Summary of Facts:  Douglas Troester, who was an hourly shift supervisor, alleged that Starbucks violated the California Labor Code by failing to pay him for periods of time he spent closing down the store.  Specifically, he was not paid for: (1) time spent walking his co-workers out of the store after activating the security alarm; (2) time spent exiting the store and locking the door; (3) time he occasionally spent reopening the door so that a co-worker could retrieve a coat or; (4) time spent bringing in store patio furniture mistakenly left outside.

Based on these allegations, Mr. Troester filed a class action against Starbucks under the California Labor Code for failure to pay minimum and overtime wages, failure to provide accurate written wage statements, and failure to timely pay all final wages.  On average, Mr. Troester estimated that he worked four to ten minutes of off-the-clock work, and this totaled 12 hours and 50 minutes during his 17-month period of his employment, which added up to $102.67.

Starbucks argued (and the trial court agreed) that the de minimis rule applied in this scenario and dismissed the case.  Mr. Troester appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, wherein the Ninth circuit requested that the California Supreme Court provide guidance on whether the de minimis defense is available for wage claims brought under the California Labor Code.

Supreme Court of California’s Decision:  The California Supreme Court made it clear that the California Labor Code and California Wage Orders have not adopted the de minimis rule.  Therefore, “[a]n employer that requires its employees to work minutes off the clock on a regular basis or as a regular feature of the job may not evade the obligation to compensate the employee for that time by invoking the de minimis doctrine.  As the facts here demonstrate, a few extra minutes of work each day can add up.”

Best Practices:  In light of the decision, employers should consider implementing practices to avoid potential violations such as:

  • Structuring work so that employees do not have to work before or after clocking out.
  • Implementing technology to have time tracking tools to more accurately record employee’s time.
  • Estimating the time it takes employees to perform work and to compensate employees for that time.
  • Reviewing your company’s pre and post-shift practices to ensure there is no regularly occurring off-the-clock work.
  • Adjusting your written policies to ensure that employees are required to report any errors on their time sheet.
  • Requiring employees to certify on their time sheets that they have reported all hours worked.

By: Amanda J. Rydza, Esq.

Contact a Pleasanton Employment Attorney

If you are an employer and need advice pertaining to compliance with California’s wage and hour laws, please contact the knowledgeable attorneys at Garcia & Gurney, ALC. Providing legal services relating to employment law matters to clients in the Bay Area and beyond, our attorneys can guide you every step of the way. Call (925) 468-0400 today to schedule a consultation.

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