On October 24, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Cadena v. Customer Connexx LLC holding that the time employees spend booting up their computers is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”). The decision reverses a 2021 Nevada district court’s decision that came to the opposite conclusion, holding that time spent initiating computers was not compensable.
In Cadena, a group of call center employees brought an action for unpaid wages under the FLSA against their employer for failing to pay them for time spent booting up and turning off their computers at the beginning and end of shifts. In order to answer calls, the employees had to start their computers and log into the phone program. The employees estimated that it took anywhere from six to twelve minutes to boot up the computers, log into the phone program, and clock in to begin their shifts.
The Portal-to-Portal Act, which amended the FLSA, contains an exception to the FLSA’s general compensation standards which provides that employers are not required to pay employees for time spent on preliminary or postliminary activities. The Nevada district court hearing this case initially ruled that the employees’ activities at issue here were subject to the Portal-to-Portal Act’s exception, reasoning that starting up and turning off computers were not principal activities for which the employees were hired and, therefore, were not compensable.
The United States Supreme Court has previously analyzed the Portal-to-Portal Act’s exception, determining that preparation of equipment necessary for an employee to perform his or her principal activities is compensable. The Supreme Court also determined, however, that activities such as waiting in line to clock in or out and undergoing security screenings are not compensable because they are not integral elements of the job.
The Ninth Circuit, in its opinion, found that the district court erred in focusing on whether the computer boot-up time was a principal activity for which the workers were hired and should have instead focused on whether booting up the computers was necessary for the call center employees to be able to perform their job duties. Emphasizing this concern, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the employees’ duties could not be performed without turning on and booting up their work computers. Accordingly, the court concluded that the time employees spent booting up their computers was integral to the employees’ job responsibilities and, therefore, compensable under the FLSA.
The court clarified that its holding was limited to turning the computer on at the beginning of an employee’s shift, reasoning that shutting down the computer at the end of a shift was not integral to the employees’ job duties and, accordingly, not compensable under the FLSA. Further, the court addressed that its holding should not be considered to apply to all pre-shift or post-shift tasks employees may be asked to perform. Instead, each of these tasks must be considered on a case-by-case basis to determine whether a task is integral to an employee’s principal activities. Any tasks not satisfying this standard may be excludable from required compensation under the Portal-to-Portal Act’s exception.
In the aftermath of this decision, employers should be cognizant of employees’ pre-shift and post-shift duties and consider the relationship between those duties and the employees’ principal job requirements. At a minimum, this decision establishes that employers will be required to compensate employees for time booting up computers in jobs where computer access is necessary for the employee to fulfill his or her duties. More broadly, however, this decision could open the door for employees to seek and obtain compensation for other regularly performed pre-shift and/or post-shift duties that employers have traditionally not considered compensable.