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Can employers demand work before and after shifts?

Companies often look for new ways to demand more from their workers in the interest of maximizing profits. They may increase sales quotas even though the business is profitable. They might change policies and refuse to grant overtime to eligible workers. Sometimes, companies even manipulate and trick their workers to avoid paying them in full for the work that they have performed for the business.

Hourly workers deserve full compensation whenever they perform job functions. Some employers have used a legal loophole in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), as a means of sidestepping their financial responsibility to their employees and demanding certain work without paying them in full. However, California actually has better protections for workers because the state courts have ruled against such practices. Employers should not require that California workers do any of their job functions off the clock.

How does the California rule differ from federal standards?

Under the FLSA, there is a rule that allows employers to require a small amount of work off the clock from employees as long as it doesn’t require a large amount of time.  Asking a worker to lock up and arm the security system after clocking out might only mean five minutes of unpaid time at work. However, five minutes of unpaid labor at the beginning and end of every shift adds up to many hours of uncompensated employment for a worker who deserves pay for their time. The California courts have found that it is unfair for employers to routinely require uncompensated work from their employees.

It is not appropriate for a business to ask an hourly worker to answer emails or handle social media accounts for the business on the weekend without pay. It is also inappropriate to ask workers to do certain job tasks, like cleaning or prep work, before or after their shifts. If employees have proof that companies have asked them to do work before they start their job or after they clock out, they may be in a position to bring a wage claim.

Such practices often affect numerous employees simultaneously, and they can partner with each other to bring a more compelling and effective claim against their employer in many cases. Recognizing that work done before or after a shift is work that an employer should pay for may inspire some hourly workers in California to pursue a wage claim.

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