Earlier this month, the California Court of Appeal found that workers may be entitled to pay and reimbursements for time commuting to and from their workplaces. Typically, time commuting is not compensable, but, time commuting that also is in service of the employer or under the employer’s control might be another story.
In the class action at issue, Oliver v. Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. (CA6 H045069 6/2/20), the California Sixth District Court of Appeal found that triable issues of material fact existed as to whether service technicians can be paid and reimbursed for commuting to and from their non-office locations of the day. The court reversed summary adjudication in favor of the defendant and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
The technicians sought wages for time spent commuting to and from the first and last work location and reimbursement for the mileage accrued during such commutes. The technicians rarely drove to an actual branch location for work—instead, they usually began their days by driving from home to the first customer location of the day and ended their days by driving from the last customer location home. The Court held that the key to deciding if the technicians were entitled to be paid for commute time was whether the technicians were “required during the commute to carry a volume of tools and parts” that restricted them from using their time effectively for their own purposes. The technicians drove their personal vehicles containing their employer’s tools and parts to customer sites to make repairs to copiers and other machines. Such tools and parts included a laptop, small vacuum cleaner, a hand cart, a service case containing hand tools, and around 150-250 expensive replacement parts for machines. Although the technicians were not required to carry their employer’s tools at all times and could use “field stocking locations” to store parts between service locations, most technicians carried smaller tools and parts in their cars as “field stocking locations” were either inconvenient or unavailable. Technicians were also required to have at least 25 cubic feet of lockable cargo space in their cars for the tools, which, according to the employer’s “Field Parts Inventory Practice Guide,” should have been “easy to locate” and were subject to random audits.
The trial court found for the defendants, determining that the commute time was not compensable as “hours worked” under Industrial Wage Commission Order No. 4-2001, which defines hours worked as the time which an employee is subject to control of an employer. The trial court also found that the service technicians were not entitled to reimbursement for the mileage under Labor Code § 2802. Labor Code § 2802 requires an employer to reimburse its employees for all duty-related expenses.
The Court of Appeal, relying on Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., found otherwise. See 22 Cal. 4th 575 (2000). In Morillion, the California Supreme Court found that commute time to and from work is generally not compensable, but “compulsory travel time” is required to be compensated. Id. at 587. Under this analysis, the “level of the employer’s control over its employees . . . is determinative.” Id. In other words, if an employee cannot use their commute “time effectively for [their] own purposes,” such as dropping off their children to school or stopping for breakfast before work, the employee is subject to their employer’s control. Id. at 586. Therefore, in this case, if the service technicians were required to carry their employer’s tools and were not able to use their commute time “effectively for [their] own purposes,” then the technicians were subject to the control of their employer and Konica Minolta would have to pay the technicians for their commute-time wages and mileage reimbursement. The Court of Appeal found that this analysis involved two factual disputes that needed to be determined at the trial court: (1) whether service technicians were required to commute with tools and parts in their personal vehicles, and (2) the volume of tools and parts service technicians were required to carry in their vehicles while commuting.
The level of control an employer has over its employees is often determinative in wage cases. As Bryan Schwartz Law as written about before here, the Supreme Court in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles held that workers in California are presumptively employees of those for whom they labor. See 4 Cal. 5th 903 (2018). Among other factors, they must be free from the control and direction of the hiring entity to be considered an independent contractor in wage and hour cases.
With commute times in California being some of the worst in the nation, being properly compensated for time commuting that is under the control and in the service of the employer would make a big difference in workers’ paychecks.