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George Howard Jr. and Jessika Russell Write Daily Journal Article About California Supreme Court Ruling Addressing Hours Worked for Nonexempt Employees


George Howard Jr. and Jessika Russell, both San Diego-based Quarles & Brady Labor & Employment attorneys, wrote a Daily Journal article discussing a recent California Supreme Court ruling in Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors regarding compensable work hours.

They discuss how the court emphasized the importance of employer control over employee activities in determining compensable hours, highlighted by various previous examples. Additionally, Howard and Russell address ongoing legal debates regarding meal periods and time rounding practices in the context of labor law.

An excerpt:

The court also considered a claim that employees at the remote site were denied a compliant meal period when allegedly required to remain "on the premises" or to eat at a designated location (and, presumably, no other location). The court held the meal periods would not be compliant if the employees "could not engage in personal activities they would otherwise have been able to engage in." However, the mere fact that the employees could not "leave the premises," alone, did not destroy the compliant nature of the meal period. The Huerta opinion is unremarkable in many respects because the court for many years has interpreted the relevant provisions of the Labor Code and Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders broadly "so as to promote employee protection" and to "benefit employees."

So, after Huerta, what can an employer do to avoid claims it improperly "controlled" employees and therefore failed to compensate them? First, as the court noted, ordinary commuting time is not compensable under either federal or California law. In Huerta, there was no claim the time spent entering the jobsite should have been compensable although it involved a similar stop at the security gate. As long as the employer does not "control" the commute, such as requiring the employee to stop en route to pick up supplies, materials or equipment, the commuting time, both to and from the workplace, should be noncompensable. Next, the court suggested in Huerta that simply going through a security gate, or "flashing" a badge to enter a high-rise building, does not constitute "control" to trigger the requirement to provide compensation.

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