Underscoring California’s strong labor laws, the Supreme Court of California has ruled against Starbucks for not compensating a supervisor for “off the clock” closing duties.
The decision could set a precedent in California, as federal labor laws do not protect employees in similar cases. The Fair Labor Standards Act follows the “de minimis doctrine,” which prohibits employees from making claims over small chunks of unpaid time.
But California’s high court said that rule does not apply in California. In reviewing the case, the court said there are times when aspects of the federal doctrine could be applicable when the tasks being performed are trivial. However, in the Starbucks case, they found the claim made by plaintiff Douglas Troester, a former shift supervisor in Los Angeles, “involves nontrivial, regularly occurring periods of work.”
Troester sued Starbucks six years ago this summer. His original complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, accused the Seattle-based chain of not compensating him for performing store closing tasks from mid-2009 to October 2010, when he was a shift supervisor. He said Starbucks required him to “clock off” before performing regular closing tasks such as initiating store closure procedures using a computer in the back office. The procedure transmitted daily sales, profit and loss, and store inventory data to the cafe chain’s corporate headquarters.
He would then activate the alarm, exit the store and lock the front door. He also submitted evidence that he walked his coworkers to their cars in compliance with Starbucks’s policy. He also often returned to the café to open the door for employees who forgot personal items.
“Over the 17-month period of his employment, Troester’s unpaid time totaled approximately 12 hours and 50 minutes,” according to the high court’s ruling.
The court said California law does make allowances for trivial work done off the clock, such as requiring employees to remotely check schedules for updates, but the Starbucks case was different.
“It does not, however, permit an employer to require an employee to regularly work for nontrivial periods of time without providing compensation,” the high court stated.
Dana Kravetz, an employment attorney at Michelman & Robinson LLP, said the ruling could spell big trouble for employers in California.
“Employers would be wise to take a closer look at any off-the-clock tasks that non-exempt employees are expected to perform – no matter how fleeting – and determine if the time dedicated to those tasks can be captured or otherwise recorded,” Kravetz said.
Starbucks said it plans to appeal.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision. We will await further disposition of the case before the 9th circuit as the appeal process continues,” the company told Nation’s Restaurant News in a statement.
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