[Update: The California Supreme Court issued its ruling on July 26, 2018.  Analysis of the Supreme Court’s decision can be read here.]

Douglas Troester filed suit alleging that Starbucks violated the California Labor Code by failing to pay him for short periods of time he spent closing the store.  He alleged that Starbucks failed to pay him for time spent walking out of the store after activating the security alarm, for the time he spent turning the lock on the store’s front door, and for the time he spent occasionally reopening the door so that a co-worker could retrieve a coat.  Based on these allegations, Plaintiff filed a class action under the California Labor Code for failure to pay minimum and overtime wages, failure to provide accurate written wage statements, and failure to timely pay all final wages.

Starbucks filed a motion for summary judgment asking the court to dismiss Plaintiff’s case based upon the de minimis doctrine.  The trial court agreed with Starbucks and dismissed the case, but now the California Supreme Court has agreed to review the ruling based on Plaintiff’s argument that the de minimis doctrine is not applicable to California law.  The Supreme Court’s decision could have major ramifications for California employers.  For today’s Friday’s Five, here are five issues about the de minimis doctrine employers should understand:

1. The de minimis doctrine: What is it?

In granting Starbucks motion for summary judgment, the trial court explained:

Under this doctrine, alleged working time need not be paid if it is trivially small: “[A] few seconds or minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours … may be disregarded.” Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 692, 66 S.Ct. 1187, 90 L.Ed. 1515 (1946), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U.S. 21, 25–26, 126 S.Ct. 514, 163 L.Ed.2d 288 (2005).

2. What factors do courts look to in determining whether time is de minimis?

The factors courts look to in determining whether time is de minimis include (1) the practical administrative difficulty of recording the additional time; (2) the aggregate amount of compensable time; and (3) the regularity of the additional work.  The trial court noted that numerous courts have concluded that daily periods of about 10 minutes are de minimis.

3. What does “administrative difficulty” mean when applying the de minimis doctrine?

The trial court held that the “administrative difficulty of recording the additional time” also supported Starbucks’ de minimis defense.  The court explained that “this factor weighs in favor of the defense when the employer’s timekeeping system cannot be practically configured to capture the alleged off-the-clock work.”  The court cited cases holding that time employees spent submitting to bag checks upon leaving store was de minimis, rejecting plaintiff’s argument that employer should endeavor to record that time by “repositioning the time clock close by the exit door”), and case that held time spent waiting for computer to boot up in order to log into time clock software was de minimis, and that the employer was not required to capture this time by installing a time clock at front door.

The trial court in Starbucks concluded:

The brief moments that Plaintiff spent in and around the store after clocking out are an inevitable and incidental part of closing up any store at the end of business hours. There will always be some unaccounted-for seconds spent on setting an alarm, physically leaving the store, locking the door, and walking out at the end of a closing shift. But not every second can be or need be recorded and compensated. Through the de minimis defense, the law recognizes that “[s]plit-second absurdities are not justified by the actualities of working conditions.” Anderson, 328 U.S. at 692.

4. Generally, how much time can be considered de minimis?

The Plaintiff testified that his time spent conducting closing activities after he clocked out generally amounted to less than four minutes, and was almost always less than 10 minutes.  The court therefore held that the time Plaintiff complain he was not paid for was de minimis.

The trial court in Starbucks noted that in applying these standards, “numerous courts have held that daily periods of approximately 10 minutes are de minimis.”  The court cited cases holding the following:

  • Court concluding that five minutes daily spent passing through security clearance on way to lunch break was de minimis (Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., 713 F.3d 525, 532–33 (9th Cir.2013)
  • Court rejecting a plaintiff’s claim for unpaid wages because the six minutes that it took each day to log in to a computer program was de minimis and would be “arduous” to monitor and record) Gillings v. Time Warner Cable LLC, 2012 WL 1656937, at * 1, 4 (C.D.Cal. Mar.26, 2012)
  • Court holding that the plaintiff was not entitled to compensation for time spent waiting for security checks at the end of closing shifts because the “several minutes” that the plaintiff had to wait to be let out of the building was de minimis) Alvarado v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 2008 WL 2477393, at *3–4 (N.D.Cal. June 18, 2008)
  • “Here, it is undisputed that donning and doffing protective gear … takes less than 10 minutes…. Therefore, time spent donning and doffing safety gear is de minimis and non-compensable as a matter of law.”) Abbe v. City of San Diego, 2007 WL 4146696, at *7 (S.D.Cal. Nov.9, 2007)

5. The California Supreme Court will review if Starbucks’ de minimis defense is applicable under California law.

Plaintiff has filed an appeal, and the California Supreme Court has agreed to review the lower court’s application of the de minimis doctrine in the case.  Plaintiff argues that the trial court’s reliance on the de minimis doctrine was inappropriate because that doctrine is based on federal law and does not apply to California wage claims.  However, courts have routinely applied the de minimis doctrine to California wage claims.  In Corbin v. Time Warner-Advance/Newhouse, the Ninth Circuit applied the de minimis doctrine and upheld a dismissal of employees’ wage case alleging that the company’s timekeeping system failed to pay them for all time worked because it rounded to the nearest quarter of the hour.  Similarly, the California Court of Appeal Fourth Appellate District in See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court applied a federal standard permitting employers to round employee’s time entries to the nearest 5 minutes, one-tenth, or quarter of an hour as long as that the result over a period of time results in a failure to pay the employees for all of their work.  While the court in See’s Candy Shops did not specifically apply the de minimis doctrine, the court applied a similar federal legal doctrine to California law.  The California Supreme Court’s decision in the Starbucks case could provide clarification on whether the de minimis doctrine (and potentially other federal wage and hour doctrines) have any place in interpreting California law.