Employers in California must pay employees for time spent clocking out

By John Breslin | Aug 6, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – Employers in California must take into account when evaluating pay the time taken to perform certain tasks after clocking out, the state's Supreme Court has ruled.

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – Employers in California must take into account, when evaluating pay, the time taken to perform certain tasks after clocking out, the state's Supreme Court has ruled.

The federal "de minimis" rule, which states that some time working is so trivial that it does not have to be taken into account when paying employees, does not apply to California labor laws, the Supreme Court stated.

In a unanimous July 26 opinion, the court found that there is nothing in California's wage regulations and laws that adopts the federal rule contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The court was deciding a question sent to the judges by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which heard an appeal in the case of Douglas Troester against his former employer, Starbucks Corp.

Troester, in his class action complaint first filed in federal district court in 2012, claimed that the company's software required him to clock out at the end of his shift before beginning another procedure on a separate computer before leaving the store.

During the course of 17 months, he alleges the amount of time spent on these tasks was just under 13 hours and, based on the then minimum wage, he was owed $102.

Starbucks won a summary judgment based on the fact the time was "so minimal" that it was not required to pay the money. The court relied heavily on the "de minimis" rule.

While the Ninth Circuit agreed the rule has a long history when courts have decided wage claims, the court acknowledged that it had "never addressed whether the doctrine applies to wage claims brought under California law."

"The court further recognized that in some instances California law has been interpreted to be more protective of employee wage claims than federal law," according to the Supreme Court opinion, which was authored by Justice Goodwin Liu.

There is, Liu stated, "no indication in the text or history of the relevant statutes and Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) wage orders" of the adoption of the de minimis rule.

Further, the rule, or even the principle behind it, does not apply to wage and hour claims under state law, the court said, adding that it is not deciding whether there is time "so minute or irregular that it is unreasonable to expect the time to be recorded."

The litigation now returns to the Ninth Circuit, which has to decide whether to reverse the trial court's summary judgment. If so, the class action against Starbucks will continue.

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