You, The Law, and Unpaid Sleep Time

You, The Law, and Unpaid Sleep Time

The California Supreme Court in Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions clarified an employer’s ability to use unpaid sleep time for workers who work overnight shifts or shifts lasting longer than 24 hours, and significantly limited the exemptions permitting employers to not pay wages for sleep time.  In Mendiola, a security guard sued his employer on behalf of a class of security guards who were required to stay at a job site and work 16 hours on patrol, and 8 hours on-call.  During “on-call” time, guards stayed in a trailer that had some basic home amenities and remained available for emergency calls.  Guards conducted their own activities during on-call time, but were subject to limitations on having visitors, and had to call dispatch and wait for a replacement before they could leave the job site.  They were paid for on-call time only to the extent they responded to emergencies.

Federal regulations allow for sleep time to be unpaid under certain conditions, and those regulations have been used by a variety of industries in California to avoid paying residential or on-site workers during time they spend sleeping during shifts.  However, unpaid sleep time is only explicitly allowed for workers in the health care industry subject to Wage Orders 4 and 5, ambulance staff subject to Wage Order 9, and certain residential/live-in employees subject to Wage Orders 5 and 15.  In the past, California courts have applied the federal sleep time regulations to other industries.  The California Supreme Court changed all that in Mendiola and held, among other things, that those federal regulations could not be applied to security guards who work under Wage Order 4 but are not health care workers, because the language in Wage Order 4 excluding sleep time from wages paid only applies to employees in the health care industry.  The Court stated, therefore, that sleep time was actually “hours worked” and the security guards were owed wages for those unpaid hours.

Although this case interpreted Wage Order 4, we anticipate the reasoning will be extended to other industries and occupations, because the definition of “hours worked” in several other wage orders is identical to the definition of “hours worked” in Wage Order 4 that applies to security guards.  The reasoning could also be extended to certain types of on-call time not spent sleeping.  The central question to determine whether sleep time must be paid will be the extent of the employer’s control over its employees during “sleep time,” which is a legally complicated question.  If your business is in an industry with overnight or on-site workers, we strongly recommend that you closely re-examine your practices and consult counsel to ensure that you are in compliance with the law.  It is important to note that Mendiola will not be extended to certain residential health care workers, ambulance drivers, and certain other specified live-in workers, because those workers work under Wage Orders that contain language specifically allowing sleep time to be excluded from wages paid.

By:   Brian E. Ewing, Esq.
Landegger Baron Law Group, ALC