- An employer that requires California 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 a wage and hour de minimis doctrine, the Supreme Court of California has ruled (Troester v. Starbucks Corp., No. 14-55530 (Supreme Court of California, July 26, 2018)).
- In a putative class action brought by a Starbucks shift supervisor, the Golden State's top court agreed to answer question posed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Does the Fair Labor Standards Act's de minimis doctrine — which excuses the payment of wages for small amounts of otherwise compensable time upon showing that the bits of time are administratively difficult to record — apply to claims for unpaid wages under California state law? In Troester, the supervisor alleged he was required to clock out before starting the "close store procedure" on the store's computer. Each closing required about four to 10 minutes of the worker's time.
- The state supreme court concluded in the unpublished opinion that California statutes and wage orders have not adopted the federal de minimis standard and that the rule is not applicable as a matter of California law. The court noted, however, that it did not decide "whether there are circumstances where compensable time is so minute or irregular that it is unreasonable to expect the time to be recorded."
Troester may have serious implications for California employers. While the state's high court noted that the de minimis doctrine was aimed at addressing the practical administrative difficulty of recording small amounts of time for payroll, it also noted that "advances in technology and changes in behavioral norms are constantly shaping our understanding of what fractions of time can be reliably measured, and what counts as too trifling a moment to measure in the wage and hour context."
The court also noted that some practical steps — from restructuring work to estimating the time it takes employees to perform work — could potentially address this administrative difficulty, employment attorney Anthony Zaller wrote in his California Employment Law Report.
Zaller also recommended that employers review whether their time keeping system or payroll company is rounding employees' time. While rounding can be legal under California law, employers must still meet certain requirements to be compliant, he said.