As a general rule, employers must pay non-exempt employees for all time that they work (broadly defined) and that includes getting ready for work (preliminary activities) and finishing work (postliminary activities). As discussed below, there is a de minimis exemption under federal law (FLSA).
In a recent case involving Starbucks, the California Supreme Court held the de minimis exemption was not available under California state law under the facts of the case. If and when the de minimis exemption may be available under California state law will be decided in future litigation.
Some of the legal summaries of the Starbucks case suggest that the federal de minimis exemption is broader than it is. It is very narrow.
The following statement comes from the website of the United States Department of Labor:
Insignificant Periods of Time
In recording working time under the FLSA, infrequent and insignificant periods of time beyond the scheduled working hours, which cannot as a practical matter be precisely recorded for payroll purposes, may be disregarded. The courts have held that such periods of time are de minimis (insignificant). This rule applies only where there are uncertain and indefinite periods of time involved, a few seconds or minutes in duration, and where the failure to count such time is justified by industrial realities. As noted below, an employer may not arbitrarily fail to count any part, however small, of working time that can be practically ascertained….
Notice some key concepts from the DOL’s enforcement position: (a) short (few seconds or minutes); (b) uncertain (cannot be regular occurrence;) (c) indefinite (which generally means not predictable amount of time each occurrence) and (d) cannot be precisely recorded (vague enough?)
Employers should draft their policies, train their managers, and review their practices to minimize the possibility that there will be any work for which an employee is not paid. Think of the de minimis exemption only as last resort for litigation.
Employers need to consider work not only at beginning and end of the day but also any work that may be done during an unpaid meal period. Another issue that needs to be considered is any work that may be done remotely, such as by telephone or e-mail.
The possible case scenarios go beyond this blog but employers need to think them through in drafting compliant policies, training managers and reviewing actual practices. Failure to do so may result in off the clock cases with off the clock judgments.
This blog is not legal advice, should not be construed as applying to specific factual situations or as establishing an attorney-client relationship.