In another blow to employers, last month, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in Troester v. Starbucks refusing to hold that the de minimus doctrine is applicable to wage and hour claims. 235 Cal.Rptr.3d 820. The de minimus doctrine is a principle of law which holds that employers do not need to compensate their employees for insignificant amounts of time spent on performing certain work tasks that are difficult to track. This doctrine exists because it is simply too difficult for employers to account for every last second of an employee’s time.
The Court admitted that the de minimus principle was previously endorsed and applied both in Federal and California state courts, as well as by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. However, confusingly, the Court refused to hold that it was applicable to the facts presented in this case.
The plaintiff, a shift supervisor for Starbucks, filed a class action lawsuit in California state court alleging that his employer had failed to compensate him and other employees for store-closing tasks. Plaintiff’s “close out” procedure consisted of tasks such as activating the alarm, exiting the store, and locking the front door. Plaintiff also indicated that he would often walk his co-workers to their vehicles in compliance with Starbucks’ policy. The Court found that it was undisputed that plaintiff had to spend an average of 4-10 minutes on these tasks after he had clocked out.
The Court rejected the doctrine’s application in this context based on its conclusion that there was no indication in the text or in the history of California’s wage and hour statutes and wage orders of such an adoption. Specifically, the Court held that the de minimus doctrine cannot be used by an employer to avoid paying for certain tasks that, on average, take 4-10 minutes.
However, the Court also stated that it was not going to hold a bright-line rule that the doctrine could never be applied under California law. The Court conceded that in certain situations the doctrine may be applicable where the time spent is too small or sporadic. Unfortunately, such a ruling makes things confusing for employers who do not have clear guidance on what is considered de minimus and what is not. Out of an abundance of caution, California employers are urged to keep track of all time worked or risk liability.