No Snooze Button On California Wage And Hour Laws: “On Call” Hours Count

According to a new ruling by the California Supreme Court, employees on call must be paid even during “sleep time.” 

Many occupations and industries require unusual hours. Healthcare, transportation, security, and many other industries involve work hours during which the majority of the population is asleep. Some of these positions may involve “on call” hours, in which an employee may not be actively engaged in work activity but must be available to do so at a moment’s notice.

Under California law, whether on call hours are “hours worked” for purposes of wage and hour violations depends on the amount of control the employer has over the employee during on call hours. Factors include whether the employee must live or be on-site during on call hours, the freedom of the employee to engage in private activities, and whether there are geographical restrictions on the employee.

EMPLOYERS CANNOT EXEMPT SLEEP TIME

A recent California Supreme Court decision answered the question of whether employers and employees could agree to exempt sleep time for employees on call from calculations of hours worked. In Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions, Inc., a guard who provided security for construction sites alleged he was not paid minimum wage or overtime, since his significant time spent onsite and on call was unpaid.

In its decision, the court held that:

  • The guard’s on call time did constitute hours worked; and
  • The employer could not contractually exclude sleep time when calculating hours worked.

In its analysis, the state’s highest court found that on call shifts are not excludable from hours worked requirements unless specifically allowed by California law. There is no state law that allows employment contracts to dismiss on-call work hours for purposes of paying minimum wage. Therefore, the court held, the employer did not properly pay its employees the minimum amount required by law. This decision reversed an earlier lower court ruling on the matter.

RAMIFICATIONS FOR WORKERS 

With this decision, the California Supreme Court has added wage and hour protections to many workers. The decision is part of a larger trend in California to crack down on wage theft and protect workers who may not be paid minimum wage. Wage theft is a significant problem in the state, with employees losing millions every month to employers who are not following California wage and hour pay requirements. While California state officials are attempting to crack down on wage theft, the pervasive problem is difficult for state authorities to combat.

That is why civil lawsuits alleging wage theft play such a vital role in preventing employer abuses. Workers who have experienced wage theft may be entitled to back pay and overtime. In addition, civil lawsuits can hold employers accountable and prevent future employment law violations. Employees concerned that their employer is not paying minimum wage should contact the experienced law firm of David Yeremian & Associates to discuss their legal options.