In order to perform their work effectively, many employees are required to wear special clothing, such as hats, boots, aprons, and other equipment. Depending on the job, it can take over 10 minutes to put on and take off required clothing before and after each shift or breaks. In some cases, employers may insist that this “donning and doffing” be done on the employee’s own time.
However, California employers can be compelled to pay workers for any pre- or post-shift activities that take place in service of the employer, even if the employee has not begun his principal work activities. Any tasks that are considered to be essential to the employee’s principal work activity should be compensable as part of an employee’s weekly pay, including:
Police officers, doctors, mechanics, and other professionals who are required to wear uniforms should be paid to do so on-premises, especially if their work activities require a change of clothes mid-shift.
Some workers need to wear safety gear for the full duration of their shifts, such as food service workers or biochemical engineers. In many cases, the protective equipment needed takes several minutes to put on and take off, and doing so at home could compromise both the safety and sterility of the uniform. Any changing of clothes that cannot be done at home without posing a threat to the worker or work environment must be paid for by your employer.
Some employees are required to report earlier than their scheduled start times in order to orient themselves about the day’s events. Nurses may be required to talk to the previous shift nurse to document medications taken by each patient, while waiters often arrive early to memorize daily specials and taste dishes to describe them to customers. Employees are often told that this time is required, but is not paid—leading to hundreds or thousands of lost wages over the course of an employee’s career.
There are occasional instances where an employer will require a worker to be on the premises early in order to unlock doors, sign for a delivery, or meet a visitor. If you arrive earlier than your usual shift to “open up,” make coffee, answer e-mails, take calls, schedule appointments, or anything else for your employer, your paid time begins when you begin work—regardless of when others arrive.
Donning and Doffing Can Lead to Overtime Violations
A full-time employee who has been docked pay for pre- and post-shift work could be entitled to a significant amount of overtime pay. Learn more about California wage violations in our free guide, The Ultimate Straight Talk Guide To Getting Your Hard Earned Wages Back.