In its recent opinion in Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors, the California Supreme Court addressed three inquiries posed by the 9th Circuit. These inquiries specifically relate to the definition of “hours worked” within the context of the California wage order applicable to the construction, drilling, logging, and mining industries, as well as the California labor code.

In the underlying action, employees were working on a solar power facility located on privately owned land that had limited access on and off the highway.  As a result, the employees’ entry was sometimes delayed, with having to go through gates, security checkpoint (s) (which moved during the scope of the project) and having to drive slowly to protect endangered species in the area.

The first question from the 9th Circuit was: Is time spent on an employer’s premises in a personal vehicle and waiting to scan an identification badge, have a security guard peer into the vehicle, and then exit the security gate compensable as “hours worked”?

To this question, the California Supreme Court held that time spent on an employer’s premises awaiting and undergoing an employer-mandated exit procedure was compensable as “hours worked.”

The second question: Is time spent on the employer’s premises in a personal vehicle, driving between the security gate and the employee parking lots subject to certain rules from the employer “hours worked”?

The California Supreme Court stated to the second question that travel time from the security gate to employee parking lots is compensable if the security gate was the first location where the employee was required for an employment-related reason. However, this travel time is not counted as work hours because an employer’s standard rules during employees’ drive to the worksite in a personal vehicle do not establish sufficient employer control.

The Court stated in its opinion, “We decline to reduce the control test to a categorical rule of compensability for any time that an employee spends traveling on work premises. Rules designed to ensure safe, lawful, and orderly conduct while traveling on an employer’s premises, such as the general Site rules and the ‘rules of the road’ at issue here, do not impose a level of control that renders the time compensable. … Because an employee’s drive on the access road is not a form of exertion that a manager would recognize as work on the Site, the drive time is not compensable under the suffer or permit clause.”

The third question: Is time spent on the employer’s premises, when workers are prohibited from leaving but not required to engage in employer-mandated activities, hours worked when it is designated as an unpaid meal period under a qualifying collective bargaining agreement (CBA)?

For the final question, the California Supreme Court held that when an employee is covered by a CBA that complies with Labor Code section 512 and the wage orders and provides the employee with an unpaid meal period that time is nonetheless compensable as “hours worked” if the employer prohibits the employees from leaving the employer’s premises or designated area during the meal period and if the prohibition prevents the employee from engaging in otherwise feasible personal activities.  

However, the Court stated “[w]e interpret Wage Order No. 16, section 10(D) and (E) to permit employees to bargain for a voluntary paid on-duty meal period. In other words, an exemption from section 10(D) permits workers to negotiate a contract for on-duty meal periods even when “the nature of the work” does not “prevent[] the employee from being relieved of all duty.”

If you have questions about the application of the California Supreme Court’s decision or related issues, contact a Jackson Lewis attorney to discuss.