Court of Appeal Limits' Employers' Discretion to Set the Workweek/Workday

The employees at Metson Marine, Inc. worked 14-day straight "hitches," during which they slept on their ships and had to remain within 30-45 minutes of the ship during downtime. These 14-day hitches started on Tuesdays. But the workweek was set as Monday at 12:01 a.m. through Sunday at 11:59 p.m.  As a result, Metson claimed that employees worked a six-day week, followed by a 7 day workweek, and then a two day workweek. 

The plaintiffs challenged the employer's designation of the workweek because it resulted in a less favorable calculation of overtime and of seventh day pay.  The employer relied on certain rulings by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, which basically say that the employer can designate any workweek or workday that it wants to, as long as it's consistent.

Surprise, Metson! The Court of Appeal, reversing summary judgment, held that the DLSE's interpretations are entitled to no respect. Rather, a workweek must coincide with the beginning of the work period actually worked:

Plaintiffs contend that premium pay must be calculated based on the "fixed and regular" schedule actually worked and that Metson should not be allowed to subvert the employee protections of section 510 by designating an artificial workweek that does not correspond with the period actually worked. Asserting that their workweek actually began and ended on Tuesday, plaintiffs argue that Metson was required to pay overtime wages for work performed on the seventh and 14th day of each hitch. We agree.
Relying on a federal district court opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the employer cannot set a workweek that differs from the workweek that employees actually work.

Much like the case before this court, the employer in In re Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. relied on the DLSE‟s interpretation of section 500 that " „[t]he beginning of an employee‟s workday need not coincide with the beginning of that employee‟s shift, and an employer may establish different workdays for different shifts.‟ " (In re Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., supra, 505 F.Supp.2d at p. 617.) The court rejected the DLSE interpretation, noting that "the California Supreme Court has held that interpretations contained in the DLSE Manual are non-binding and are entitled to no deference. (Tidewater Marine Western, Inc. v. Bradshaw, supra, 14 Cal.4th at p. 568.) Therefore, to the extent that the DLSE‟s opinion . . . is inconsistent with the Labor Code‟s goal of promoting employee protection, this opinion should be ignored." (In re Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., at p. 617.)

But it's unclear whether the Court of Appeal intends its holding to apply to worksites where employees work from week to week and have different work different days off every week. If an employer sets the workweek from 12:01 a.m Monday to 12:00 p.m. Sunday for all employees, what happens when some employees have Mondays off? What if employees sometimes have Mondays off, and sometimes Tuesdays? Does the employer have to set a different workweek for each employee each week? Also, what happens when employees report to work at different times? When does the workday start? What if the employee is late to work on the first day? Must the workday begin late just to ensure that the employee receives the maximum potential overtime pay? Hopefully, the court will re-consider the breadth of its holding in a petition for re-hearing, or maybe will be depublished..

The court also dealt with "on call" pay. The employees were on for 12 hours and off for 12 hours during the hitches. They rarely were called back to work for emergencies. However, they had to remain within 30-45 minutes of the ship, and could not drink. They also were required to sleep on the ship. On those facts, the court decided that the requirement of sleep on the shift turned all of the down time (less an 8-hour period for sleeping) into hours worked. The court excluded the 8 hours of sleep time on the basis of an agreement between the employer and employees. Unless your business requires employees to sleep on premises, this case probably won't result in a change in the law on this point. However, if you want to exclude sleep time from hours worked when employees are required to sleep on premises, have an agreement.

 The case is Seymore v. Metson Marine, Inc. and the opinion is here.