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California Employees Entitled to Off-the-Clock Compensation

The Supreme Court of California has ruled that employers must pay employees for minutes worked off the clock before or after their regular work hours, rejecting the federal "de minimis" doctrine. Troester v. Starbucks Corp. (2018) S234969. Since 1946, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co. (1946) 328 U.S. 680, 692, and later codified by Congress, the "de minimis" doctrine has been used to excuse the payment of wages for small amounts of compensable work time where upon a showing of administrative difficulty in recording the time.

At issue in Troester, the employee claimed that as part of closing procedures, he regularly activated the store's alarm after clocking out, would walk coworkers to their cars, and on some occasions had to allow coworkers back into the store or bring in patio furniture that he forgot to collect before clocking out. Each closing required approximately four to ten additional minutes of the worker's time. Over a 17-month period, his unpaid time totaled approximately 12 hours and 50 minutes. Starbucks Corp. argued that the federal "de minimis" doctrine applied, and that it was sufficient that employee's time was rounded up or down in relation to their punch times.

The California Supreme Court rejected the "de minimis" doctrine, finding that it did not apply under California statutes and wage orders, and, among other reasons, modern technology "enable[s] employees to track and register their work time via smartphones, tablets, or other devices." The Court also noted that Starbucks had changed its time-keeping procedures, thus avoiding such a consideration, and that the ostensible trivial nature of the work performed and claims was a procedural underpinning for class status.


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