The California Supreme Court has clarified an important issue regarding wage and hour claims under California law . In Troester v. Starbucks Corporation (2018) 5 Cal.5th 829, as modified on denial of reh’g (Aug. 29, 2018), the Court addressed the question of whether the de minimis doctrine applies in claims brought under the California Labor Code. Critically, the Court held that it does not. As a result, California employers must pay for all off-the-clock work, even when it does not add up to very much money.
The de minimis doctrine, as developed under federal law, has been something of a “get out of jail free” card for employers. In Latin, de minimis refers to the phrase, “de minimis non curat lex,” or “the law does not concern itself with trifles.” In the modern world, the doctrine has been used under federal law to allow employers to avoid paying wages for small amounts of otherwise compensable time based upon a showing that recording that time would be difficult to do.
In Troester, for example, Starbucks sought to use the de minimis doctrine to avoid paying wages for short periods of time spent closing the store and transmitting daily sales, profit and loss, and store inventory data to Starbucks’s corporate headquarters. Starbucks also sought to avoid paying for time spent activating the store’s alarm.
All in all the plaintiff estimated that he was owed about $100. That may not sound like a lot, but give the number of Starbucks in California it is clear that Starbucks was saving itself a significant amount of money in unpaid wages through its practices.
The California Supreme Court divided the Troester case into two separate holdings. First, the Court found that California’s wage and hour laws and regulations had not adopted the federal de minimis doctrine. That is a critical difference between the California Labor Code and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (also known as FLSA).
Second, the Court held that where an employer requires an employee to work “off the clock” the de minimis doctrine does not apply to claims brought under California law.
In conclusion, the Court recognized that it might be difficult for an employer to track small amounts of time for the purpose of calculating payroll. However, employers are in a far better position to structure work so that employees are paid for all time spent working. Indeed, it appears that after Starbucks was sued it figured out how to organize its employees’ work so that they did not have to perform work before they punched in and after they punched out.
Troester reaffirms California’s strong commitment to ensuring that workers are paid for every minute that they work. If you are being forced to work off-the-clock, or have questions about your rights in the workplace, feel free to contact us at email@example.com or (510) 444-4400 for a free and confidential initial intake.