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Your Legal Corner - Client Alert Blog

Compensability of Travel Time and Off-The-Clock Work

Written By: Melissa C. Marsh, Esq., California Attorney, October 2010 Add to Favorites
In March of 2010, a distinguished three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its opinion in Rutti v. Lojack Corporation and issued a replacement decision. In Rutti the Court was asked to determine whether an employee is entitled to compensation for time spent commuting in a company vehicle, and for time spent at home after work entering data into the company’s computer.

Initially, the Court held that Rutti was notentitled to compensation for time traveling to and from work in the Company vehicle, nor for time spent before work to acquire his assignments and to map his route, but that Rutti was entitled to compensation for time spent "after-work" to upload company reports.

Time Spent Before Work Acquiring Assignments and Mapping Locations is De Minimus and Not Compensable.

Upon revisiting the case, all three judges unanimously agreed that Rutti was not entitled to compensation for time spent before work to acquire his assignments and to map his route as such work is deemed de minimus under both California and Federal law.

Time Spent After Work Transmitting Records to the Company may be Compensable.

Two of the three appellate court judges, Callahan and Silverman, held that under California law Rutti was entitled to compensation for the time spent transmitting Company reports "after work," which routinely took 15 minutes per day. Although all three judges agreed that this activity was an "integral and indispensable part" of Rutti's job, Justice Hall believed the work was de minimis and not compensable under federal law.

Time spent Commuting to and from Work in the Company Vehicle is Compensable under California Law.

In the revised opinion, the Court held that while Rutti's commute time was not compensable under federal law pursuant to the Employee Commuter Flexibility Act("ECFA," 29 U.S.C. § 254(a)(2)), Rutti's commute time was compensable under California law.

The Court based its ruling on how California law defines "hours worked." Pursuant to California's Industrial Welfare Commission's Orders, hours worked is defined as "the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, [which] includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so." See, DSLE Opinion Letter 1998.12.23 (Dec. 23, 1998). The Appeals Court also cited the California Supreme Court decision in Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal. 4th 575, 586 (2000) in which the Court held that waiting and travel time in a company provided bus from a pick-up place to the employer's worksite is "compulsory travel time" because the workers were "subject to the employer's control" and "could not drop off their children at school, stop for breakfast before work, or run other errands requiring the use of a car." In the instant case, the majority of the Court held that under California law Rutti was entitled to compensation for the time he spent commuting because as in MorillionRutti was "subject to the employer’s control" in that he was similarly required to use a company vehicle and was not permitted to run a personal errand, or to engage in any personal activities while driving the company vehicle.

Conclusion

Needless to say, as this case clearly shows whether "off-the-clock" work is compensable or not is difficult to assess as there is no clear line as to what is and is not compensable time. The Court's analysis and rulings in Rutti does, however, set forth some general rules for California employers.

A California employee's commute to and from work is generally not compensable unless the employer requires the employee to use a company vehicle and prohibits the employee from engaging in personal activities during the commute.

Rutti also provides some clarification as to when off-the-clock work may become compensable time under California law. Pre- and post- incidental work activities are generally not compensable if the time spent is de minimus (e.g. briefly checking work schedules, email, or voicemail). However, off the clock work activities that are directly connected to the employee’s job duties are compensable unless the work is deemed de minimus. Whether the work will be deemed de minimus remains a grey area but largely depends on the regularity and duration of the tasks performed off the clock. If the tasks take more than 5 minutes, California employers should err on the side of caution and compensate their employees for the time spent performing any such incidental tasks.


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Located in Los Angeles, California, the Law Office of Melissa C. Marsh handles business law and corporation law matters as a lawyer for clients throughout Los Angeles including Burbank, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Valley Village, North Hollywood, Woodland Hills, Hollywood, West LA as well as Riverside County, San Fernando, Ventura County, and Santa Clarita. Attorney Melissa C. Marsh has considerable experience handling business matters both nationally and internationally. We routinely assist our clients with incorporation, forming a California corporation, forming a California llc, partnership, annual minutes, shareholder meetings, director meetings, getting a taxpayer ID number (EIN), buying a business, selling a business, commercial lease review, employee disputes, independent contractors, construction, and personal matters such as preparing a will, living trust, power of attorney, health care directive, and more.