SAN FRANCISCO – The California Supreme Court will give a case based on the established doctrine de minimis on the recommendation of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The de minimis doctrine is usually one used by the defense and falls under the Fair Labor Standards Act. De minimis non curat lex means, “the law does not concern itself with trifles.” In other words, if an employee claims that he should have been paid for time and wasn’t, courts will decide if that work is de minimis. Usually the times in question are 10 minutes in less.


For this particular case, Troester v. Starbucks, the plaintiff filed a suit against the coffee behemoth that claimed he wasn’t compensated for off-the-clock duties that revolved around closing up the store. The claims included: failure to pay minimum and overtime wages, failure to provide accurate, written wage statements, failure to pay all final ages and unfair business compensation.


A federal court ruled in favor of Starbucks; it decided the plaintiff’s off-the-clock work was de minimis and that he wasn’t owned any additional money. The plaintiff took the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


“The court found that the amount off-the-clock work was not substantial,” Dinsmore partner Adriana Cara told the Northern California Record. “Under the federal de minimis rule, work of 10 minutes or less in the duration each day is considered so minimal that the administrative cost of recording it outweighs the benefit of tracking and paying those amounts to employees.”


In four other cases where the de minimis doctrine came into play with California law, the court ruled in favor of the employer. However, the plaintiff still opted to appeal his case. The argument was that this doctrine isn’t a defense to wage claims asserted under the California Labor Code. After hearing the plaintiff’s argument, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opted to ask the California Supreme Court to determine if the federal Fair Labor Standards Act’s de minimis doctrine also applies to claims for unpaid wages in California.


“The California Supreme Court may emphasize that California’s wage and hour laws have traditionally been much more stringent than federal law, and that such a rule would be contrary to California’s strict policy of ensuring the payment of wages,” Cara said. “Such a policy is reflected in California’s recently enacted Wage Theft Prevention Act. The Court may argue that mere administrative inconvenience is just not enough to deprive an employee of his or her wages."


History indicates that the California Supreme Court will run in favor of Starbucks as well, but in the event that the plaintiff wins his appeal, employers everywhere, not just Starbucks, will have some adjustments to make in regards to handling employee wages.


“Employees would be well advised to change their wage and hour policies to reflect that all hours worked, no matter how minute, will be compensated,” Cara says. “Employers must train their staff accordingly. If employers do not wish to track these small increments of time, then they will need to determine whether eliminating duties that give rise to de minimis is achievable; if so, they will need to eliminate those duties.”





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