California Supreme Court Expands Compensable Work Time for Construction Workers

April 9, 2024 Advisory

Recently, the California Supreme Court issued an important decision regarding the compensability of certain pre-work activities and travel time under Wage Order No. 16 pertaining the construction, drilling, logging and mining industries.

Key Questions Regarding Compensability

In Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the California Supreme Court to determine whether the following activities are considered “hours worked” under Wage Order No. 16 such that employees must be paid for it: (1) time spent on the employer’s premises in a personal vehicle waiting to undergo required entrance/exit security checks; (2) time spent in one’s personal vehicle driving from the security checkpoint to the parking lot, while subject to certain employer-mandated rules; and (3) time spent during an unpaid “meal period” when employees are prohibited from leaving the employer’s premises.

The plaintiffs in this case claimed they were required to pass through a security gate as they entered and exited the employer’s premises each day where their vehicles would be visually searched. According to the plaintiffs, this could cause delays of up to half an hour, after which time the employees would drive 10-15 minutes farther to the employer’s parking lot.

Additionally, under the applicable collective bargaining agreement, the employees were also given one 30-minute unpaid meal period during the day, although they had to stay on site.

The Court Sides with Employees (mostly)

The California Supreme Court determined that time spent waiting to undergo required exit procedures, including the employer’s visual inspection of the employee’s vehicle, was compensable as “hours worked” similar to bag checks. Additionally, a meal period is considered “hours worked” if the employee is prohibited from leaving the premises, which in turn prevents them from engaging in personal activities. (Note that employees must actually be prohibited from leaving the premises, not just practically impeded based on the site’s remote location or distance from surrounding roads.)

On the other hand, the California Supreme Court ruled that the drive time between the security checkpoint and the employer’s parking lot was not compensable as “hours worked” because there was insufficient employer control during that time. However, the drive time may still be compensable as “employer-mandated travel” so long as the security gate is the first location at which the employee’s “presence” is required, for a reason other than merely entering the worksite.

Takeaways for California Employers

The California Supreme Court’s decision has significant wage and hour implications for employers in the construction, drilling, logging and mining industries—especially those with security entrance and exit procedures. Employers in these industries are encouraged to review their policies to ensure they comply with the expanded interpretation of “hours worked” under Wage Order No. 16. If you have any questions about your company’s practices and the impact of this decision, please reach out to your regular Armstrong Teasdale lawyer or one of the listed authors.

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