Are Employers Always Required To Compensate Employees For Minimal Off-The-Clock Work?
As an employer, asking an employee to do a small task off the clock can be considered illegal. It is a common occurrence, from asking your employee to come in early or stay after hours to take care of time-sensitive tasks. However, obligation to pay is based on two questions:
- Did the employer know the employee was working off-the-clock?
- Was the time worked so small, it should be considered negligible?
The California Supreme Court recently ruled that California employers are required to pay employees for performing routine off the clock closing tasks, even if it only takes a few minutes to complete them. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) ensures that most employees are entitled to regular pay and overtime pay for working over 40 hours during the week. If an employee receives a set salary, there is more flexibility in how many hours are worked during the day, weekly and monthly.
Troester vs. Starbucks
The court’s ruling was rendered in the case of Troester vs. Starbucks, brought by Plaintiff Douglas Troester on behalf of himself and a class of other Starbucks managerial employees. The plaintiffs routinely spent a few extra minutes of unpaid work performing store closing tasks after clocking out. Starbucks successfully argued at trial that Troester’s uncompensated time was so minimal, it did not have to compensate him according to the Federal “De Minimis doctrine” defense.
De Minimis Rule
The De Minimis doctrine is an established federal law defense allowing employers to avoid payment of wages for difficult to record and minimal off-the-clock employee work. Plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Appellate court then asked the California Supreme Court to determine whether employers are entitled to apply the Federal “de minimis” defense in wage claims that allege violation of California, not Federal, labor laws.
The Supreme Court rejected Starbucks’ argument requesting application of the Federal De Minimis doctrine to California Labor laws. The court found no support for its adoption in the texts or history of the California Labor Code and Wage Orders. For Mr. Troester, who worked for Starbucks from mid-2009 to October 2010 at the then minimum wage rate of $8/hour, just a few minutes of regularly performing store closing tasks at the end of each shift added up to almost 13 hours of unpaid hours worked, or $102.67 of unpaid wages.
In writing the court’s unanimous opinion, Justice Liu stated “that is enough to pay a utility bill, buy a week of groceries, or cover a month of bus fares. What Starbucks calls ‘de minimis’ is not de minimis at all to many ordinary people who work for hourly wages.”
The Troester decision should be tempered by the court’s perception of Starbucks as a large, sophisticated employer, fully able to devise a method for keeping track of routine off the clock work. This may not be the case for smaller employers with less resources.
Examples of Off-The-Clock Work
To avoid a possible lawsuit for not paying for off-the-clock work, employers should have a set time for employees to do additional work. Having a firm policy on work hours will limit miscommunication, as it will incorporate off-the-clock warnings. Though they are small tasks, an employee is entitled to getting paid. If an employee feels the employer is violating their rights by refusing to pay, they have the right to involve a Los Angeles employment lawyer.
A few examples of off-the-clock work can include:
- Dropping off paperwork
- Cleaning after a shift
- Tending to the cash register before closing
- Moving equipment
- Revising a project during non-work hours
- Setting up a room before an event of meeting
Take Legal Action When Needed
In any event, if you are an hourly employee and your employer regularly makes you perform small tasks without compensating you for your time, request a free consultation from the Law Offices of Mann & Elias. Our dedicated team of attorneys will evaluate your case and develop the best legal strategies to file a complaint with the Department of Labor. They will make sure that the law is enforced, and you get paid what is owed to you as well as damages and attorney fees. The employer is responsible for making sure you are aware of the law and remain vocal that off-the-clock work results in no pay moving forward. Call not to schedule a consultation with a lawyer for wage and overtime violations in Los Angeles.