Employees lose wages when employers round down or shave work hours
Moises Negrete worked at Conagra Foods, Inc.’s food processing facilities located all over California. Moises and other workers sued their employer in a class action, alleging failure to provide them lawful meal and rest periods but automatically deducting time for meal periods, even when employees did not take a meal break. Employees also alleged employer failure to pay correct wages due to improper rounding of employees’ clock-in and clock-out times; and failure to pay for the off-the-clock time employees spent putting on and removing protective gear as required by the employer.
Under California law, employees must be paid for all hours worked. When time entries reflect that an employee is on the job a few minutes more than the shift time, questions arise as to computation of the work hours. Federal law allows “rounding” employee’s hours to calculate the number of hours worked. Following the de minimis doctrine, any insubstantial period of time beyond the scheduled working hours (for example 5 minutes of going through a bag check) may be disregarded. Such time may be rounded out to the nearest 5 minutes of the employee’s start or end time.
In contrast, California law mandates that employees should be paid “for all hours worked.” Hours worked means “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.”
Related to the principle of compensating employees for all time worked, is the concern that small amounts of time that may, over the years, add up. Thus, courts may decide that the de minimis doctrine does not apply if employees regularly spend anywhere from 4 to10 minutes of their time each shift doing unpaid work. Rounding down or shaving minutes off the actual hours worked violates California law.
In a rounding down practice where several minutes are disregarded and unpaid, the loss to the employee may add up. An employee who clocks in an extra 5 minutes per day, 5 days a week, every week for 4 years has clocked in 5,200 minutes (or 86.67 hours) of unpaid time, which when paid at the California minimum wage of $15.50 per hour, entitles the employee to back wages in the amount of $1,343.39.. This is not de minimis. This is enough to pay a utility bill, buy weeks of groceries, or cover bus fares [or help cover a monthly apartment rental].
Though an extra couple of minutes here and there that are beyond the work hours may be unavoidable and can be disregarded, major discrepancies should be investigated since they raise doubts on the accuracy of the records of actual hours worked.
The same strict adherence to the law is required by meal and rest periods.
California law sets precise time requirements for meal periods. Each meal period must be “not less than 30 minutes,” and no employee shall work “more than five hours per day” or “more than 10 hours per day” without being provided with a meal period. Under the law, meal break violations against an employee can occur if the employee 1) was not provided an actual break; 2) was prevented from taking the break within the first 5 hours of work; 3) was interrupted by work during break; or 4) took a shortened break, as the case here. If any of these violations occur, the employee should be paid an additional one hour at their regular hourly rate.
As to rest breaks, an employer must authorize and permit all employees to take at least 10-minute rest breaks, for work of every our (4) hours or major fraction thereof. The ten minutes must be consecutive, and the rest period must be “duty-free.” Where an employee is not provided any of their 10-minute rest period, the employee should be paid an additional one hour at their regular hourly rate.
Rather than proceed to trial, the parties reached a settlement where the employer will pay a gross settlement amount of $18 million to benefit approximately 8,200 food-processing workers in California.
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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.
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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. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine for 11 years, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]