California High Court Says Employers May Have to Account for Every Minute Worked

July 27, 2018

The California Supreme Court has ruled that the state's wage and hour law does not incorporate the federal de minimis standard, which exempts small increments of time worked from having to be compensated.

Case involves a few minutes per day:  In the class action case, the lead plaintiff is seeking compensation for time spent opening and closing a store, totaling 12 hours and 50 minutes of compensable work over a 17-month period, which amounts to $102.67 at a wage of $8 per hour.

The federal de minimis standard has been in place since 1946, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co. that “when the matter in issue concerns only a few seconds or minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours, such trifles may be disregarded.”

The standard, though not well-defined, is critically important for today’s virtual workplace, particularly for nonexempt FLSA employees who would like to improve their work/life balance by using mobile devices to stay connected to the workplace outside of their normal working hours.

The California Supreme Court refused to apply the state’s own de minimis rule, finding that the relevant statutes and wage order do not allow employers to require employees to routinely work for minutes off-the-clock without compensation.

Why it’s important: The court decision could spur similar lawsuits in California by hourly employees who work away from traditional workplace settings and whose hours are particularly difficult to track.