California Rejects De Minimus Time

Four minutes a day might seem inconsequential, right? Not to the California Supreme Court. In Troester v.Starbucks Corporation, the Court held that employers are required to compensate employees for short, unrecorded periods of time worked off the clock. Such de minimus time, which can add up to substantial time over weeks, months, or years, must be compensated if it occurs “on a regular basis or as a regular feature of the job.” Tasks such as locking up, shutting down computers, or setting the alarm must be compensated under California law.

Unlike Federal Law, California Does Not Have a De Minimus Exception

California’s stricter, more worker-friendly, employment laws supersede federal statutes like the Federal Labor Standards Act. Federal labor law and Supreme Court precedent carve out exceptions for “de minimus” work by employees. This provides some leeway for businesses to avoid compensation for seemingly inconsequential work. However, California law doesn’t contain a de minimus exception. In fact, California specifically requires compensation “for all hours worked.” That puts a requirement on employers to compensate employees for small fragments of time that easily slip through the cracks in the course of the workday. California employers must comply with California law and the FLSA.

What Does This Case Mean For Employers?

Troester does not require employers to track every fraction of a second. There are many instances of work so minuscule, difficult to track, or irregular that it would be nearly impossible to record and compensate. But wait, isn’t that what de minimus time is? Employers must make every reasonable effort to track and compensate workers’ time. The employer bears the burden of ensuring fair and complete compensation. The Court suggests technological advances, restructuring of time recording practices, or even a time rounding policy to assist employers in meeting their obligation to compensate their workers. The Court reminds employers that the DLSE manual and opinion letters are merely “advisory” opinions, and do not hold the force of law. This case makes it clear, once again, that employers should exercise caution when it comes to paying employee wages.

Original article by JT Keane for the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

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