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Court strikes a blow for California retail workers

Time spent opening and closing stores must be compensated

Photo (c) bensib - Getty Images
The California Supreme Court has ruled that the way in which nearly every retail store operates violates wage and hour laws.

In most businesses, employees who arrive on the job early to open the store, and those who stay a few minutes after they clock out to close the business are not compensated for those extra minutes on the job.

The California court, in a unanimous decision, has ruled that employees must be paid for that time. The case was brought by a shift supervisor at a Starbucks, who said he should be paid for the time spent after work closing the business and walking other employees to their cars.

Plaintiff Douglas Troester filed the original complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of himself and all non-managerial California Starbucks employees who performed store closing tasks from mid-2009 to October 2010.

Starbucks had the case moved to federal court and asked for a summary judgment, arguing Troester’s uncompensated time was so minimal that the company was not required to compensate him. A federal district court ruled in Starbucks' favor but Troester appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the California Supreme Court to clarify state law before it proceeded with Troester's class action suit.

Can't be required to perform tasks without pay

"California law does, in short, make some allowances based on considerations of practicality and reasonableness," the court ruled. "It does not, however, permit an employer to require an employee to regularly work for nontrivial periods of time without providing compensation."

The court established that over the 17-month period of his employment, Troester’s unpaid time totaled approximately 12 hours and 50 minutes. At the then-applicable minimum wage of $8 per hour, this unpaid time added up to $102.67.

The effect of the ruling outside California isn't clear. However, it may cause some national retailers to reexamine their policies for employees who routinely open and close facilities and who are not compensated for that time.

National chains like Starbucks might be affected most. A Starbucks spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times the company is disappointed with the ruling and "will await further disposition of the case before the 9th Circuit as the appeal process continues.”

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