May 30, 2024

California Supreme Court Rules Works Must Be Paid Waiting at Security Checks and More

California Supreme Court Rules Works Must Be Paid Waiting at Security Checks and More

On March 25, 2024, the Supreme Court for the state of California clarified an important aspect of workers' rights, ruling that hourly paid employees who spend time in security checks on their employers' premises are entitled to be compensated for their time. This ruling was the outcome of a 2018 class action lawsuit, Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors Inc., filed on behalf of construction workers and electricians who worked at the Californian solar plant. 

According to the lawsuit, the solar plant is home to two endangered species. Due to the presence of the endangered species, biologists were needed to inspect the roads each morning before workers could enter the site. The daily inspections would lead to significant wait times for the workers waiting to enter the premises. In addition to the road inspections, workers entering the solar plant were also required to use only one access road while driving no more than 20 miles per hour. 

Coupled with the road inspections and driving restrictions, workers claimed long lines formed at the security checkpoint each morning when they arrived and when they left at the end of the day. At the security checkpoints, all employees were also subject to vehicle inspections for stolen tools or potential stowaway endangered species, which created even longer daily wait times for the security checks. 


The California Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Paid Security Checks and Lunch Breaks

As a result of the lawsuit, the Californian court clarified its stance on three elements of its applicable wage order: unpaid time for travel, unpaid time in security checks, and unpaid lunches in answering the following three questions:


Question 1: "Is time spent on an employer's premises in a personal vehicle and waiting to scan an identification badge, have security guards peer into the vehicle, and then exit a Security Gate compensable as 'hours worked' within the meaning of . . . Wage Order No. 16?" 

The court ruled that an "employee's time spent on an employer's premises awaiting and undergoing an employer-mandated exit procedure that includes the employer's visual inspection of the employee's personal vehicle is compensable as "hours worked" within the meaning of Wage Order No. 16, section 2(J)." 


Question 2: "Is time spent on the employer's premises in a personal vehicle, driving between the Security Gate and the employee parking lots, while subject to certain rules from the employer, compensable as 'hours worked' or as 'employer-mandated travel' within the meaning of . . . Wage Order No. 16?"

The court stated, “the time that an employee spends traveling between the security gate and the employee parking lots is compensable as "employer-mandated travel" under Wage Order No. 16, section 5(A) should the security gate be the first location where an employee's presence was required for an employment-related reason other than the practical necessity of accessing the worksite.”


Question 3: "Is time spent on the employer's premises, when workers are prohibited from leaving but not required to engage in employer-mandated activities, compensable as 'hours worked' within the meaning of . . . Wage Order No. 16, or under California Labor Code Section 1194 when that time was designated as an unpaid 'meal period' under a qualifying collective bargaining agreement?" 

The courts claimed "when an employee is covered by a collective bargaining agreement that complies with Labor Code section 512, subdivision (e) and Wage Order No. 16, section 10(E), and provides the employee with an "unpaid meal period," that time is nonetheless compensable under the wage order as "hours worked" if the employer prohibits the employee from leaving the employer's premises or a designated area during the meal period and if this prohibition prevents the employee from engaging in otherwise feasible personal activities."

The courts also ruled that the employees may bring an action under Labor Code section 1194 against their employer to enforce the wage order, which will allow them to recover unpaid wages for that time.


How This New Ruling Will Affect Hourly Workers

Hourly workers in California can now expect to recover any unpaid time when they undergo security checks or other requirements to enter and exit the workplace. Hourly employees will also find they are entitled to compensation for their unpaid lunch breaks that require them to continue to work, monitor conditions, or be unable to move or leave the premises freely. Any hourly workers who do not receive pay for hours worked are eligible to receive their missing pay, benefits, overtime, liquidated damages of the same amount, and collect any attorney's fees and expenses incurred. 

Additional penalties occur in California for employers when they fail to provide correctly itemized paychecks, resulting in penalties of $50 or $100 per paycheck or up to $4,000 per employee. As the courts clarified, any unpaid meal breaks that are violated, such as when an employer requires a worker to stay on-premises or otherwise continue to maintain duties of the job, California requires the employer to compensate its employee with an additional hour of pay.  


What Can an Attorney Do To Help Workers Who Have Not Been Paid?

Hourly paid workers in California who believe their employers have not adequately compensated them for their time during security checks or lunch breaks may be able to recover compensation. If you believe your employer is refusing to pay you what you are owed, we encourage you to speak to a qualified attorney who can walk you through the state laws and best determine your next course of action. For more information, you can connect with a Morgan & Morgan attorney today to receive a free case evaluation.