WASHINGTON D.C. — The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to provide workers with an accurate accounting of all the individual’s hours spent on the job, wages earned, and other compensation earned. However, like many laws, there are even minor exemptions to this policy, most notably the “de minimis” doctrine for insignificant time spent performing very minor tasks. This exemption is not precisely codified, but is instead a doctrine upheld by the courts for many years and relies on a common sense approach from employers.
According to the Department of Labor, “In recording working time under the FLSA, infrequent and insignificant periods of time beyond the scheduled working hours, which cannot as a practical matter be precisely recorded for payroll purposes, may be disregarded. The courts have held that such periods of time are de minimis (insignificant).”
Common examples of the di minimis doctrine include the time it takes for an employer to turn off the lights and lock the door behind himself or herself at the end of a shift, since workers cannot do this and then clock out if time cards are used. Another would be shutting off your computer at work, if the operation were simple and took only a few seconds or minutes to complete.
However, it is not always clear cut what constitutes de minimis activities on the job site and workers have filed lawsuits to resolve the issue. One doctrine being taken up by several Courts of Appeal include the principle of “donning and doffing” where workers need to darn special protective gear and clothing to perform their essential job duties.
In California, a Starbucks worker filed a class action unpaid overtime lawsuit against his company over the time it took him to close down the store at the end of the day. That suit was recently dismissed by a federal court as an application of the de minimis doctrine. However, the California Supreme Court may take up the case itself, potentially setting up for a major shake up of overtime laws in the state.
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