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The term “de minimis” is a legal concept. It basically means that the legal system does not deal with “trifles”, or trivial things. That’s what Starbucks argued when a former Starbucks employee, Douglas Troester, brought a class action lawsuit for a few minutes of unpaid “off the clock” work. The California Supreme Court did not think his claim was trivial at all and clarified a few important legal points for employees in California.
First, the court ruled that California’s wage and hour laws have not adopted the “de minimis” rule that exists under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) .
The California Supreme Court also concluded that the “de minimis” rule does not exist as a general principle based on the facts of the Starbucks case, where Starbucks required the employee to work “off the clock” several minutes per shift. The key here is that it was undisputed that Mr. Troester’s closing tasks required him to work 4 to 10 additional minutes each day, among other tasks. Over a span of his 17 months of employment, this “off the clock” work added up to $102.67 of unpaid time. Not exactly a “trifle.”
The California Supreme Court said “the de minimis doctrine has no application under the circumstances presented here. An employer that requires its employees to work minutes off the clock on a regular basis or as a regular feature of the job may not evade the obligation to compensate the employee for that time by invoking the de minimis doctrine. As the facts here demonstrate, a few extra minutes of work each day can add up.”
The California Supreme Court recognized that “Troester is seeking payment for 12 hours and 50 minutes of compensable work over a 17-month period, which amounts to $102.67 at a wage of $8 per hour. That is enough to pay a utility bill, buy a week of groceries, or cover a month of bus fares. What Starbucks calls ‘de minimis’ is not de minimis at all to many ordinary people who work for hourly wages.” (Amen!)
While the Court did not rule out that there may be other situations where a de minimis argument could apply, they left that question open for another day.
If you think you have not been paid properly at your job, speaking to an experienced employment attorney can help you determine what rights you may have. It may turn out to be more than just a “trifle.”