In Huerta v. HSA Electrical Contractors, Inc., the Supreme Court today answers three Ninth Circuit questions about employee entitlement to wages for various times at the worksite. All times either are or might be compensable under a California Industrial Welfare Commission wage order, the court holds. Wage orders, the court says, “ ‘ “have long been viewed as part of the remedial worker protection framework” ’ [citation], [and] we interpret these orders ‘so as to promote employee protection’ [citations] and to benefit employees [citation].”

The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Goodwin Liu concludes an employee is owed wages for “time spent on an employer’s premises awaiting and undergoing an employer-mandated exit procedure that includes the employer’s visual inspection of the employee’s personal vehicle.” The procedure itself, the court states, “could take up to a minute or more per vehicle.” This finding follows up on the court’s decision in Frlekin v. Apple Inc. (2020) 8 Cal.5th 1038, which, answering another Ninth Circuit question, ruled that employees are entitled to be paid for the time they spend “waiting for, and undergoing, required exit searches of packages, bags, or personal technology devices voluntarily brought to work purely for personal convenience.” (See here.)

Other time spent is compensable only under some circumstances, the court decides.

An employee gets compensated for unpaid meal periods if certain collective bargaining agreements are in force, “if the employer prohibits the employee from leaving the employer’s premises or a designated area during the meal period[,] and if this prohibition prevents the employee from engaging in otherwise feasible personal activities.”

For traveling between an employer’s security gate and the employee parking lot, an employee is owed wages “if the Security Gate was the first location where the employee’s presence was required for an employment-related reason other than the practical necessity of accessing the worksite.” But, the court says, the travel time is not otherwise compensable “because an employer’s imposition of ordinary workplace rules on employees during their drive to the worksite in a personal vehicle does not create the requisite level of employer control.”

The Huerta decision seems to somewhat reinforce the view of at least one Ninth Circuit judge, who said at oral argument in another case five years ago that “plaintiffs who lose in the district court are just dying to get to the California Supreme Court and the defendants who lose in the district court don’t want to get anywhere near the California Supreme Court.” (See here.)