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California Supreme Court Rejects De Minimis Doctrine for Compensable Time Claims

BY: APA Staff | 08/02/18

The California Supreme Court determined that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA’s) de minimis doctrine does not apply to claims for unpaid wages under California’s wage and hour statutes or regulations, including Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders. The court determined that the relevant wage order and statutes do not permit application of the de minimis rule when the employer required the employee to work “off the clock” several minutes per shift [Troester v. Starbucks Corp., No. S234969 (Calif., 7-26-18)].

Federal courts have applied the de minimis doctrine to excuse the payment of wages for small amounts of otherwise compensable time upon a showing that the time worked by an employee after regular working hours is so insignificant that it cannot be definitively measured or is administratively difficult to record (29 C.F.R. §785.47).

In the recent case, Starbucks’ timekeeping computer software required the nonmanagerial shift supervisor to clock out before performing certain store closing tasks, including initiating the software’s “close store procedure” on a separate computer terminal in the back office, which transmitted daily sales, profit and loss, and store inventory data to headquarters.

According to the state supreme court, the de minimis principle does not apply when an employer regularly requires its employees to work minutes off the clock on a regular basis or as a regular feature of the job. It also stated that it should not be applied solely because it is difficult to keep track of time worked, especially as technological advances enable employees to track and register their work time via smartphones, tablets, or other devices.

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