Security Checks Gain Renewed Attention
The California Supreme Court will soon decide if employees must be compensated for time spent waiting in their cars to pass through an employer’s security check. Specifically, the California Supreme Court will decide:
- whether time spent in a personal vehicle waiting to scan an identification badge, have security guards look into their vehicle, and then exit a security gate is considered hours worked;
- whether time spent driving between a security gate and an employee parking lot is considered hours worked; and,
- whether collectively bargained-for meal-time, when workers cannot leave the premises but are not required to engage in employer-mandated activities, count as payable work hours.
In this case, Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors, Inc., the named plaintiff, Huerta, claims that his employer required him and other putative class members to arrive at a security gate entrance controlled by his employer, wait in vehicle lines for the employer’s biologists to approve the road for travel, then wait in the vehicle to have their badges swiped by people employed or controlled by the employer. Huerta further alleges that once they cleared security, employees then drove to the parking lots, but during the drive, they were subject to a broad range of job site rules and restrictions for which employees could be suspended or terminated if they did not comply.
The key question here is whether this security process rises to a sufficient level of employer control such that the time constitutes hours worked, triggering compensation. Unsurprisingly, Huerta argues that because he and the other employees were subject to the employer’s control this entire time, they should be compensated for the time spent undergoing these procedures. From the employer’s perspective, however, this time is not compensable because employees are not required to exit their cars— they simply hold up their badges for scanning (analogous to scanning a badge to enter a facility), and the drive time is essentially a continuation of their commute, as employees can take their own cars or carpool (as opposed to riding in employer-mandated transportation, which is compensable under Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal.4th 575 (2000)). Further, the driving rules are akin to general workplace requirements and are not burdensome, but rather reflect the nature of the property.
While it will be interesting how the California Supreme Court ultimately rules, one thing is clear: this is just another example of how increasingly common lawsuits for time spent undergoing security checks have become. There is no shortage of enterprise plaintiff’s counsel ready to capitalize on ways to challenge employer’s policies by expanding or creating new precedent. California employers would be wise to evaluate their wage and hour policies to avoid being the next target.
Contact your favorite CDF attorney if you need assistance evaluating your policies and procedures.