MOISES Negrete has worked in Conagra Foods, Inc. food processing facilities located throughout California. Moises and other workers sued their employer in a class action lawsuit, alleging that it failed to provide them with legal meal and rest periods, but automatically deducted time for rest periods. meals, even when employees were not taking meal breaks. Employees also alleged that the employer failed to pay the correct wages due to improper rounding of employee clock-in and clock-out times; and non-payment for time spent by employees putting on and taking off protective equipment required by the employer.
Under California law, employees must be paid for all hours worked. When the time entries indicate that an employee is at work a few minutes longer than the shift time, questions arise as to the calculation of the working hours. Federal law allows employees’ hours to be “rounded off” to calculate the number of hours worked. Following the de minimis doctrine, any non-substantial period of time beyond scheduled working hours (e.g. 5 minute pass through baggage check) may be disregarded. This time can be rounded up to the nearest 5 minutes of the employee’s start or end time.
In contrast, California law states that employees must be paid “for all hours worked.” By hours worked, we mean “the time during which an employee is under the control of an employer, and includes all the time that the employee undergoes or is authorized to work, whether or not he is obliged to do so”.
Related to the principle of compensating employees for all time worked is the concern that small amounts of time can, over the years, add up. Thus, the courts may decide that the de minimis The doctrine does not apply if employees regularly spend 4 to 10 minutes of their time each shift performing unpaid work. Rounding up or reducing the minutes of hours actually worked violates California law.
In a round-down practice where several minutes are skipped and unpaid, the loss to the employee can add up. An employee who works 5 minutes overtime a day, 5 days a week, every week for 4 years has accumulated 5,200 minutes (or 86.67 hours) of unpaid time, which when paid at the California minimum wage of 15 $ per hour entitles the employee to back pay in the amount of $1,300.05. It’s not de minimis. As the Supreme Court of California once said, that’s enough to pay a utility bill, buy weeks’ worth of groceries, or cover bus fares. [or even cover a monthly apartment rental].
Although a few extra minutes here and there that exceed working hours are unavoidable and can be ignored, major discrepancies should be investigated as they raise doubts about the accuracy of records of actual hours worked.
The same strict observance of the law is required for meal and rest periods.
California law sets specific time requirements for meal periods. Each meal period must be “at least 30 minutes” and no employee must work “more than five hours a day” or “more than 10 hours a day” without a meal period. Under the law, meal break violations against an employee can occur if the employee 1) did not receive an actual break; 2) was prevented from taking the break within the first 5 hours of work; 3) was interrupted by work during the break; or 4) took a shorter break, as is the case here. If any of these violations occur, the employee must be paid an overtime hour at their normal hourly rate.
As for breaks, an employer must authorize and allow all employees to take breaks of at least 10 minutes, for work of all our (4) hours or a major fraction thereof. The ten minutes must be consecutive and the rest period must be ‘tax free’. When an employee does not benefit from any of his 10-minute rest periods, the employee must be paid an overtime hour at his normal hourly rate.
Rather than proceed to trial, the parties have reached a settlement in which 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 Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries on this topic. All inquiries are confidential and free of charge. 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, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]