By Jennifer Lippi, JD, SPHR, PHRca

In March of this year, the Supreme Court of California in Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors clarified when an employer’s control over an employee’s activities constitutes ‘hours worked.”  The court addressed three main questions involving different types of working time.

Question #1

“Is time spent on an employer’s premises in a personal vehicle and waiting to scan an identification badge, have security guards peer into the vehicle, and then exit a security gate compensable as ‘hours worked’?”

In answering this question, the court concluded that employee time spent in regular exit procedures, such as opening doors or badging out of a parking lot, is not compensable.  However, employers must pay for time spent on the employer’s premises if they are awaiting and undergoing employer-mandated and employer-controlled vehicle inspections.

Question #2

“Is time spent on the employer’s premises in a personal vehicle, driving between the security gate and the employee parking lots, while subject to certain rules from the employer, compensable as ‘hours worked’ or as ‘employer-mandated travel’?”

In answering the second question, the court held that ordinary on-premises travel is not compensable time.  Time spent in a personal vehicle driving between a security gate and the employee parking lot is compensable only if the security gate was the first location where the employee was required for an employment-related reason other than accessing the worksite. 

Question #3

“Is time spent on the employer’s premises, when workers are prohibited from leaving but not required to engage in employer-mandated activities, compensable as ‘hours worked’ when that time was designated as an unpaid ‘meal period’ under a qualifying collective agreement?”

In answering the final question, the court held that employers do not need to pay employees for meal periods merely because the realities of the workplace prevent employees from leaving during a meal period.  Employers must pay for meal periods only if they require employees to remain on the premises or require employees to eat at a designated location.

Key Takeaways

While it is important to note that the court analyzed the issues involved in the case under the construction industry and Wage Order #16, the court’s rulings have implications for employers across a wide variety of industries.  Based on the Huerta decision, employers should analyze their practice to determine the level of control they are exerting over employee travel and meal periods and adjust their pay practices accordingly.  Employers should ensure employees are paid for all hours worked, regardless of incidental.