Q: I WORK as a “team member” in the service industry in Los Angeles. Before we clock-in for our shift, we are required to attend a “huddle,” or a meeting where we discuss events during prior shifts, our assignments, etc. These “huddles” last 15 to 20 minutes every day. Should we be paid for these meetings even though we are not clocked in and the meetings are not part of our main job?
A: Your “huddle” sounds like “hours worked” and must be paid. “Hours worked” is the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer. This includes all the time that you are required to be present at the workplace. It also includes any “off-the-clock” time you spend performing job-related activities which benefit the employer.
Under California law, “off-the-clock” hours are considered “hours worked.” “Off-the-clock” hours are hours worked by employees before or after their regular scheduled hours, even if the employer has not directly required or authorized that the off-the-clock activities be performed. Off-the-clock hours may include coming to work early to work before the shift’s official starting time or continuing to work after one has clocked out for one’s official end time.
Off-the-clock work may also include preliminary or preparatory activities that employees do before they do their main tasks. For example, employees may spend time putting on a special uniform or gear before they start work. Or employees may spend time cleaning equipment after the close of a shift. Some employees may take work home or are contacted at home by telephone for work-related reasons or are “called back” to work. All of these post-shift activities fall within hours worked and should be paid.
If any of the activities above caused the employees to work overtime hours, then California law requires that the employees be paid at the premium rate of 1 ½ times the employee’s regular rate if the employee worked more than 8 but less than 12 hours in a work day. If the employee worked more than 12 hours in a work day or in excess of 8 hours on the seventh day in a work week, the employee is entitled to double the employee’s regular rate.
An employer’s failure to pay its employees for work hours incurred in excess of the employee’s scheduled hours may result in an expensive employment lawsuit against the employer. Consider the case of employees at a sheriff’s department in San Francisco as reported by the Daily Journal:
A group of San Francisco Sheriffs Supervisors sued the city and county of San Francisco, on behalf of themselves and other employees, claiming that they were not paid for conducting or attending “muster time” prior to the start of their shifts. “Muster time” is a kind of meeting where deputy sheriffs were given instructions regarding the upcoming shift. Aside from not being paid for attending muster time, the employees also complained about not being paid for putting on and taking off their uniforms and equipment before clocking in or out for their shift.
Rather than proceed to trial, the parties agreed to settle the case. The employer agreed to pay $1,035,000 to about 103 sheriff supervisors, and an additional $250,000 for the employees’ attorney fees and costs. An additional $5,000 in service awards will be paid to the three employees who had come forward to sue. The case settlement totaled $1.3 million.
In determining whether additional wages are due, employees should not be discouraged if the work performed was “off-the-clock” and not recorded. They should also not simply accept that they’re not entitled to additional wages just because the work performed was “voluntary,” “unauthorized” or “unapproved.” Work performed voluntarily, or without authorization or approval, may still be compensable if the employer knows or should know work is being done and permits the employee to do it.
In addition, all the time spent performing work-related activities for the benefit of the employer, whether “required” by the employer or not, would still be hours worked. These would include work performed at the employer’s premises or work performed “at home” or at another place that is not the usual work site. Employers who accept the benefits of the work performed by its non-exempt employees must pay the wages due to these employees.
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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com.
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C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully obtained significant recoveries for thousands of employees and consumers. He is named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently Aselected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a member of the Million Dollar-Advocates Forum.