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California Supreme Court Rejects de minimus Doctrine

On July 26, 2018 the California Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Fair Labor Standard Act’s de minimus Doctrine does not apply to claims for unpaid wages under the California Labor Code. The de minimus doctrine is an application of the maxim de minimus non curat lax, which means, “The law does not concern itself with trifles.” Federal courts have applied the doctrine in some circumstances to excuse the payment of wages for small amounts of otherwise compensable time upon a showing that the bits of time are administratively difficult to record.

The facts before the court showed that, on average, the Plaintiff engaged in closing tasks that required him to work 4-10 additional minutes each day “off the clock.”

First the court noted that there is no indication in the text or the legislative history of the relevant statutes and Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) wage orders that California has adopted the Fair Labor Standards Act rule. The court next stated that even though some version of this doctrine has been applied in California state law, the facts of this case do not permit application of that de minimusrule where the employer required the employee to work “off the clock” several minutes per shift. The court based its decision on the facts of this case. In this writer’s opinion, the court’s majority seemed hostile to apply the de minimus rule under any circumstances but the opinion says it is limited to the facts.

In a separate concurring opinion, two justices wrote, “The law also recognizes that there may be some periods of time that are so brief, irregular of occurrence, or difficult to accurately measure or estimate, that it would neither be reasonable to require the employee to account for them nor sensible to devote judicial resources to litigating over them.” In fact, the concurring opinion uses as an example the time that is involved for employees to turn on their computers and log into an application in order to start their shifts.

“California law does, in short, make some allowances based on considerations of practicality and reasonableness. It does not, however, permit an employer to require an employee to regularly work for non-trivial periods of time without providing compensation.”

Like the court’s Dynamex decision in April, this decision is pro-labor and anti-employer.

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