The Employer's Legal Resource: Mandatory Five-Minute Pre-Shift Briefings are Compensable Work Time Under the FLSA
A recent Tenth Circuit case, Jimenez v. Board of County Commissioners of Hidalgo County, reminds us that mandatory pre-shift briefings are compensable work time under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Per the County's written policy, 911 dispatchers were required to be at work five minutes before their shifts began in order to be briefed by the outgoing dispatcher, but the County did not pay them for that time.
The Court determined that it was "integral and indispensable" to obtain this information about what was happening countywide for first responders at the start of their shift. Though the same information could also be obtained from reading the outgoing dispatcher's desk notes, both the oral and written briefings would require pre-shift time in order for the incoming dispatcher to perform the job.
The Court ruled that the County could not disregard this five minutes each shift as de minimis because the regulation allowing an employer to disregard insubstantial and inconsequential amounts of time "applies only where there are uncertain and indefinite periods of time involved of a few seconds or minutes duration." The applicable regulation further provides that "[a]n employer may not arbitrarily fail to count as hours worked any part, however small, of the employee's fixed or regular working time or practically ascertainable period of time he is regularly required to spend on duties assigned to him."
Here, the County's written policy required Jimenez and other 911 dispatchers to be at work five minutes before every shift. The specified five-minute period was considered a "fixed or regular working time" and a "practically ascertainable period of time [s]he is regularly required to spend on duties." Thus, the County owed her overtime compensation for the five minutes she was required to be at work before her shift began in order to obtain information about what was occurring at the time with the County's first responders.
This is a reminder for all employers that any definitive mandatory pre-shift time required for employees to perform their job duties, even if it is only five minutes, must be paid at the applicable hourly or overtime rate.
By Rebecca D. Bullard, RBullard@dsda.com