The California Supreme Court recently ruled that employers must pay their workers for small amounts of time they spend on tasks related to their positions after they’ve already clocked out of their shifts. The ruling is likely to revive a lawsuit against Starbucks Corp. regarding this matter. The court said the federal wage law that excuses companies from paying workers for small insignificant amounts of time post-shift does not apply under California state law.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned that such a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court would encourage workers to file lawsuits seeking pay for “trifling absurdities” and Shaun Setareh, who represents former Starbucks employee Douglas Troester in a 2012 lawsuit against his employer, said many companies will need to revisit their standard practices.
Troester had claimed Starbucks required employees to transmit sales data, set an alarm, and often, bring in patio furniture or walk co-workers to their vehicles after they had already clocked out. He said this could result in staying at the store an additional ten minutes after every shift and they should have been compensated for this time.
Troester alleged that in the seventeen months he worked at Starbucks, he spent an additional 12 hours and 50 minutes working after punching out. At $8 an hour, that amounted to $102.67 in back pay owed to him under the state’s current wage law.
“That is enough to pay a utility bill, buy a week of groceries, or cover a month of bus fares,” Associate Justice Goodwin Liu wrote in the decision. “What Starbucks calls `de minimis’ is not de minimis at all to many ordinary people who work for hourly wages.”
Troester’s case was dismissed by a federal judge in San Francisco back in 2014. The court alleged it would be impractical to require Starbucks to record each small, incremental amounts of time employees spent doing such tasks. Employees would also need to estimate the additional time they were at the store, which could lead to inaccurate reporting.
Troester appealed the decision, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court to decide whether the “de minimis rule” under federal law also applied under state law, leading to the most recent decision.
The state’s Supreme Court specified, as a disclaimer, there could be cases involving tasks “that are so irregular or brief in duration” that companies are not required to pay for them. The 9th Circuit must now apply the court’s decision regarding wage law in Troester’s case.
“The court is saying, `We haven’t really drawn a line with regard to what is trivial and what is not trivial, but in this case, the time that the employee was not compensated was significant,” said Veena Dubal, a labor law expert at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Bryan Lazarski, an attorney in Los Angeles, said he expects the ruling to open the door to additional lawsuits but he also expects lawsuits that “test the boundary of what this case says” to determine how much time spent doing work off the clock is enough to warrant compensation.