California Supreme Court Clarifies ‘Hours Worked’ Questions

California Supreme Court Clarifies ‘Hours Worked’ Questions

Recently, the California Supreme Court answered the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ certified wage-and-hour questions, determining, among other things, that the time workers spend in their personal vehicles waiting to clear an employer-mandated security check before leaving the employers’ premises counts as “hours worked” under California law and must be compensated.

As previously reported, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sent questions to the California Supreme Court in Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors, Inc., et ala wage and hour class action lawsuit in which plaintiffs are seeking unpaid wages and meal period premiums.

In the lawsuit, to get to the worksite, employees had to pass a guard shack on the property’s perimeter before driving several miles to a security gate — after which the employee parking lot was another 10-to-15-minute drive. At the security gate, a line would form in the morning and at the end of each day so the wait at the security gate could range from five to 30 minutes. Additionally, the security guards could search vehicles, including visually inspecting the bed of the Huerta’s truck. Huerta and the other employees weren’t paid for the time spent waiting to pass through the security gate.

Huerta argued that the employer had sufficient control of workers during the time spent at the security gate as well as driving between the gate and the parking lots such that it counts as “hours worked” and should compensable under California law. Additionally, Huerta argued that because he and other workers were required to be on the premises during their meal periods, they were owed meal premiums.

Since this federal case involves California law questions, the Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court for help, certifying three questions.

Is time spent on an employer’s premises in a personal vehicle waiting to scan an identification badge, have security guards peer into the vehicle and then exit a security gate after a shift compensable as hours worked?

Yes, according to the California Supreme Court. In Frlekin v. Apple, Inc. — a similar case involving Apple employees waiting for and undergoing security checks at the end of their shifts — the court determined that Apple had sufficient control over their employees during that time that it should be compensated.

Here, the court came to the same conclusion. The fact that the employees were waiting in their personal vehicles doesn’t necessarily transform that time into commuting time. “An employee in his personal vehicle may be subject to his employer’s control within the meaning of the wage order if sufficient indicia of control are present,” noted the court.

In Huerta, the company’s exit procedure, including visual inspection and badge scanning, was strictly required, and employees remained confined to the premises until they completed the procedure. As such, employees were subject to the company’s control during that time, making it “hours worked” under California law, which must be compensated.

Is time spent on an employer’s premises in a personal vehicle, driving between the security gate and the employee parking lots before or after shifts while subject to employer rules compensable as hours worked?

No, the court concluded that the time spent driving between the security gate and the employee parking lots was not “hours worked” because — even though employees were subject to certain safety rules while driving on the employer’s premises — the company didn’t have enough control over employees during that time. However, the court concluded that the time may be compensable as “employer-mandated travel.”

Employer-mandated travel depends on whether the employer mandates travel to a second location after the first location where the employee’s presence is required for an “employment-related reason” other than the practical necessity of reaching the worksite.

Whether the security gate was the first location within the law’s meaning depends on whether Huerta’s presence was required by CSI for an employment-related reason other than the practical necessity of accessing the worksite. In this case, the court declined to determine whether the security gate was the first location but noted that relevant considerations include what purpose is served by the employee’s presence at the location, what activities occur there and how much time is spent there.

Is time spent on an employer’s premises during a designated unpaid meal period when required by employer policy and a valid collective bargaining agreement (CBA) compensable as hours worked?

Yes, the court found that meal periods count as “hours worked” if the employer prohibits the employee from leaving the employer’s premises or a designated area during the meal period and if the restriction prevents the employee from otherwise engaging in personal activities.

The court rejected the company’s argument that the CBA allows workers and employers to bargain away employees’ rights to be paid for an on-duty meal period, saying that would “run afoul of the well-established principle that the right to a minimum wage … is unwaivable.” Even under a qualifying CBA, an employee must be paid a minimum wage for meal periods during which the employer restricts the employee from leaving the premises.

This opinion is consistent with the California Supreme Court’s recent decisions in these areas. Employers should review their security procedures, travel time/requirements, and meal and rest break policies to ensure they’re compliant and consult their legal counsel with any specific questions.

James W. Ward, Employment Law Subject Matter Expert/Legal Writer and Editor

CalChamber members can read more about Travel Time and Security Screening in the HR Library. Not a member? Learn how to power your business with a CalChamber membership.

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