Can I send employees home early if there is not enough work or for disciplinary reasons? If I can, should I just pay them for the amount of time that they actually worked or is there some minimum pay requirement?
Sending nonexempt employees home before they have completed their full scheduled shift is perfectly legal. California, however, does impose reporting time pay requirements when employees are not permitted to work their full shift.
Reporting Time Pay
Those reporting time pay requirements vary depending on how long the shift was to have been, and how soon into the shift an employee was sent home. There also are some exceptions where an employer is excused from paying reporting time pay.
The basic reporting time pay requirement is found in Section 5 of the Industrial Welfare Commission Orders. Under the reporting time pay requirements, when an employee reports to work as scheduled and is given less than half of the usual or scheduled day’s work, the employee must be paid for half of that usual or scheduled day’s work.
For example, an employee scheduled for a standard eight-hour day who is sent home after working three hours would be entitled to four hours of pay.
In all cases, the minimum reporting time pay due is two hours and the maximum is four hours.
So for example, if an employee was scheduled for a three-hour shift and is sent home after an hour, he would still be entitled to the two-hour minimum pay, even though it is more than half of the three-hour scheduled shift. If an employee was scheduled for a nine-hour shift and is sent home after three hours of work, he would be entitled to just four hours of pay, even though that is less than half of the scheduled nine hours.
Reporting time pay may not be owed every time an employee is sent home early. Some examples of exceptions to the rule are:
• Reporting time pay is owed only when an employer ends the shift before it is halfway completed. If the employee has worked more than half the scheduled shift, then the employee is simply paid for whatever hours have been worked.
• Reporting time pay is not owed if an employee asks to leave early, such as when he or she goes home sick.
• Reporting time pay is not owed when there are threats to your business or property; when closing down is recommended by civil authorities; when public utilities fail, such as water, gas, electricity or sewer; or when work is interrupted by an act of God or other causes not within your control, such as an earthquake or tornado.
It also is important to note that reporting time pay wages do not count toward overtime pay obligations since the wages are not paid for hours actually worked. Thus, if an employee is paid for 42 hours for a week, but three of those hours are reporting time pay and the employee actually performed work for just 39 hours in the week, no weekly overtime pay is due.
Be sure the reporting time pay is separately noted on the employee’s itemized wage statement, and not shown as hours worked, so there is no confusion as to why overtime was not paid.
The Labor Law Helpline is a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.