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Answering a question in a federal case, the California Supreme Court said employers must pay hourly workers for time spent "off-the-clock" doing company work.
In Troester v. Starbucks Corporation, a manager sued for time spent closing his store, locking up and making sure employees found rides home. It took him about 10 minutes a day after clocking out.
The California Supreme Court said that is enough to be paid, setting the stage for a major shift in wages for California. Now the case goes back to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had asked for the state court's opinion.
Writing for a unanimous panel, Justice Goodwin Liu said those "off-the-clock" minutes "add up." For Troester, 10 minutes daily over his 17 months at Starbucks meant $102.
"This is enough to pay a utility bill, buy a week of groceries or cover a month of bus fares," Liu wrote.
The Ninth Circuit had asked the California court to weigh in because federal law does not require payment for "de minimus" work. Starbucks argued that its employees should not be paid for those minor minutes.
It's different under state law, the justices said. California wage laws "do not allow employers to require employees to routinely work for minutes off-the-clock without compensation," they said.
In a concurring opinion, however, Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar said that businesses should not be expected to "measure every last morsel of employees' time." He said there is no de minimus rule that applies in California, but there must be "a rule of reason."
Bryan Lazarski, who represents workers in employment disputes, told the Los Angeles Times that the ruling will have a big impact on California businesses.
He said many employers require workers to spend time on small tasks before or after their workday starts or ends. "There are a lot of places that have policies like Starbucks," he said.
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