Work Hours Beyond Scheduled Shifts Compensable: A Reminder

April 14, 2024

A recent decision from the California State Court expands the definition of ‘hours worked’ and may require California employers to review and reconsider how pay practices surrounding various mandatory tasks and pre- and post-shift activities.  

Huerta v CSI Electrical Contractors 

In Huerta, each morning, employees waited in their cars in long lines outside a security gate, where guards scanned each worker’s badge and sometimes peered inside vehicles and truck beds. At the end of the day, employees again formed long lines, where the exit procedure took place, which could take a minute or more per vehicle and caused delays of five to over 30 minutes. Employees were not compensated for the time on company premises before and after their shifts, which  was the issue before the court.  

Off-the-clock claims are not new in California. In July 2022, Apple settled an off-the-clock suit brought by Amanda Frlekin, related to the time spent on site waiting for mandatory bag checks. The legal issue in Frlekin is analogous to Huerta – were employees under the control of their employer while they waited for mandatory screenings. While Frlekin  was ultimately settled – it cost Apple $30.5 million to resolve the bag check claims.  

In Huerta, the company argued that – unlike in Frlekin where employees were on site waiting for security checks – employees in Huerta were in their cars, and this made the screening time part of their commute, which is not compensable.  The court did not find this argument compelling and disagreed.  

“We thus hold that when an employee spends time on his employer’s premises awaiting and undergoing an exit security procedure that includes a vehicle inspection causing delay and that is mandated by the employer for its own benefit, the employee — even when in his personal vehicle — is subject to the employer’s control, and the time is compensable as “hours worked.””  

What This Means for California Employers 

The Huerta decision highlights the strong public policy in California to find in favor of employees when they are required to undergo screenings or perform small tasks after their scheduled shifts. Huerta is yet another reminder that, in California, “hours worked” means any time where an employer exerts any control over its employees during pre- or post-shift mandatory activities, and benefits from it.  

Next Steps for California Employers  

While the decision in Huerta may not have far-reaching consequences because the facts are specific, it should prompt employers to review any mandatory work activities that benefit the employer either before or after the employee’s scheduled work hours.  

As a result, employers should:  

  • Audit pre- and post-shift activities. Do you require employees to arrive early to undertake certain tasks or screening, or to clean up afterwards? If so, this time is  compensable, and employees should always be clocked in and paid for this time.   
  • Minimize unnecessary pre- or post-work activities. To reduce legal risk, it is important to have policies and practices that ensure employees are not performing any work before or after their scheduled shift.  
  • Update time tracking mechanisms. If you require your employees to undergo mandatory screening or complete other pre- or post-shift tasks, you will need to update your time tracking mechanisms to allow for team members to track this time.  

If you’re uncertain whether your employee’s pre- or post- shift activities are compensable in California, reach out. Our employment attorneys would love to work with you.  


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