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Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors: California Supreme Court Again Clarifies What Counts as Paid Work Time
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
In Huerta v. CSI Electrical Contractors, Case No. S275431 (Mar. 25, 2024), the California Supreme Court made several holdings relating to when non-exempt employees must be paid, including for time spent undergoing mandatory vehicle searches.

Factual Background

The facts of Huerta are somewhat unique, and the holdings of the case must be understood, and perhaps limited, based on those facts. At this particular workplace, all employees had their vehicles checked when they arrived at work. The security checks included scanning the employees’ badges and a thorough visual inspection of the vehicle. The inspections allegedly took up to 30 minutes because employees had to wait in line for their turn.

After the security check, employees then had to drive an additional 15 minutes on the employer’s premises before reaching the employee parking lot. During this drive, employees were required to comply with certain employer-mandated rules, including a speed limit, drug and alcohol policies, and anti-discrimination and harassment policies. Any violation of these rules could result in disciplinary action.

Moreover, under an agreement between the employer and the relevant union, employees were required to remain on premises during their off-the-clock meal periods. The employees, however, were not paid for their meal period time.

Huerta sued, alleging that time spent during the security checks, the drive to the employee parking lot, and during his meal periods must be paid. The court agreed with some, but not all, of Huerta’s arguments.

Employees’ Time at Mandatory Security Check is Compensable

Under the specific facts at issue, the court held that time spent waiting for and undergoing a mandatory vehicle security check was compensable, even though employees did not leave their cars. The court found similarities between the vehicle inspections and mandatory bag checks, which the court had also found must be paid. Importantly, the court noted that requiring employees to simply scan a badge to enter or exit a parking garage would not be sufficient “employer control” to require compensation. It was the high level of control present in the particular circumstances before the court that required payment.

Drive Time Not Compensable as Hours Worked

The court then turned to the plaintiff’s argument that time spent driving from the security gate to the parking lot was compensable because employees were subject to employer-enforced rules during the drive. The court held the travel time was not compensable as “hours worked,” stating: “if the general Site rules were sufficient to establish control, then the control test would boil down to a categorical rule of compensability for any time an employee spends on the employer’s premises, including the time it may take to find a parking space at the start of the work day, to walk between a parking lot and worksite at the beginning or end of the day, or to wait for an elevator in a tall building.” The court refused to apply such a broad and unworkable standard.

However, even though the court found the drive time did not have to be paid as “hours worked,” the time might need to be paid as “employer-mandated travel” under the unique rules set forth only in Wage Order No. 16, which applies only to employees in the construction, drilling, logging, and mining industries. The court held that further proceedings at the trial court level would be needed to determine if the employer-mandated travel provisions applied. Given that very few California employers are covered by Wage Order No. 16, this portion of the court’s ruling may be of less significance.

Reinforced Meal Period Requirements

The court’s next holding, relating to meal periods, is not particularly novel. Under Labor Code section 512(e), employees in certain industries (including construction) are exempt from certain state meal period requirements if they work under a qualifying collective bargaining agreement. Here, the union and employer agreed that employees would be required to remain on-site during meal periods, but would not be paid.

Relying on longstanding precedent, the court held that employees must be permitted to leave the premises during off-duty meal periods. Otherwise, the meal period is considered hours worked and must be paid. The court held that unions and employers have some flexibility to alter state meal period laws in their collective bargaining agreements, but they do not have the power to pay employees less than the minimum wage for hours worked.


For those employers with a mandatory security check that includes an inspection, it would be wise to consult with counsel to ensure that employees are being appropriately paid for their time. Furthermore, employers with a unionized workforce should review their meal period policies and procedures to ensure they do not overly restrict employees during meal periods.

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