CA Supreme Court: employers must pay for off-the-clock work

The California Supreme Court declined to apply a federal rule which holds that employers need not compensate workers for small amounts of time worked before or after a shift. The July 26 decision rejected the so-called “de minimis” rule from the federal Fair Labor and Standards act, arguing it does not coincide with state law.

The decision stems from a case against coffee-giant Starbucks by a former shift supervisor, Douglas Troester. His case hinged on the state’s interpretation of whether the de minimis rule applied to the California Labor Code and other wage-related orders.

The case made it to the state Supreme Court at the request of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. With this decision, the circuit court will need to re-examine Troester’s previously-dismissed case.

The circuit court can decide the case knowing what the state’s highest court interprets the de minimus rule to mean within the context of California law.

Impact of the decision

The appeals process is far from over with Troester’s case against Starbucks. It will take time to know the applicable extent of the state Supreme Court’s decision in the context of that case. However, business litigation may increase from this case if other workers bring suits against companies in the state with this new understanding of the law in place.

The court made a point to clarify that not all potential cases may utilize the de minimus exception. Some instances of off-the-clock work may be brief and irregular enough that they would not qualify as reasonable amounts of time for employers to compensate.

The full impact of this decision can’t be foreseen until Troester’s case restarts or other litigation begins. For now, this decision stands as a new guideline for employers and workers to better understand what kind of work qualifies for compensation in California.