California Supreme Court Ruling Could Lead to Revival of Off the Clock Work Starbucks Suit

by Norman B. Blumenthal on September 5, 2018

blumenthal nordrehaug & bhowmik, california employment law, california employment law attorney, California labor law, California labor law violation, off the clock work, off the clock pay, overtime pay, wage and hour suit, overtime lawsuit, overtime suitIn a recent ruling, California’s top state court said that employers must pay their workers for time spent working on job related tasks after they clock out. The ruling will likely lead to a revival of the related lawsuit against Starbucks.

The California Supreme Court found that the rule that excuses companies from paying workers for small amounts of time spent on off the clock work was a federal wage law that did not apply under California law. Under federal wage law, small amounts of time that are difficult to record excused companies from tracking the time and providing the requisite payment. This decision could be an expensive one for a lot of companies, but especially retailers and restaurants with a lot of hourly staff. Since California is home to close to 40 million people and an estimated 10% of the U.S. workforce, the state’s businesses could feel this ruling deeply.  In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce went on record warning that this move could encourage workers to file lawsuits to seek pay for what they referred to as “trifling absurdities.”

Legal representation of Douglas Troester, former Starbucks employee who filed a suit against the company in 2012 (Troester v. Starbucks, California Supreme Court, No. S234969), stated that this ruling would force a lot of companies to alter their employment practices and policies. The “off the clock” work referenced in Troester’s lawsuit included: transmitting sales data, setting an alarm, bringing in patio furniture, and walking other coworkers to their vehicles. These tasks could take an estimated 10 minutes per day that workers were not being paid to work. Troester alleged he worked for Starbucks for 17 months and completed around 13 hours of unpaid “off the clock” work.

His case was dismissed in 2014 by a San Francisco federal judge that found it to be impractical to require Starbucks to record these brief periods of time workers spent preparing to leave the store. Troester appealed the ruling seeking clarification from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the “de minimis rule” applied under state law.

The recent ruling stated that according to California law, employers must pay workers for any time they are required to be on the company’s premises. They did note that there could be instances when tasks were so irregular or brief that companies would not be required to provide payment. This decision must now be applied to Troester’s case – which many feel will lead to a revival of the Starbucks lawsuit.

If you have questions regarding what constitutes off-the-clock work or if you feel you aren’t being paid overtime as required by law, please get in touch with one of the California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

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