Getting paid for sleeping at work



California workers who spend the night as part of their job won a big victory last week. According to our state supreme court, an employer that makes its employees spend the night on the job must pay them for sleeping.

That’s not what happens under federal law. Employees who work a 24-hour shift may “agree” that their employer does not have to pay them for time they spend sleeping, even though they may have to work at a moment’s notice. And employees who have to reside on the employees’ property for more than a few days may “agree” that they are not working the whole time that they are on duty, even though they can’t leave. They can still, the argument goes, sleep, eat, watch TV, and do all the other things people do at home (except go to a neighbor’s, drink a couple beers, or have friends over). Some California courts said that employees here can agree not to get paid, too.

CPS Security Solutions, Inc. learned that California workers actually can’t. CPS provides guards for construction sites, deterring theft and vandalism when the contractors have stopped work. Weekdays, its guards spend eight hours in uniform and another eight on call, and then get eight hours off. Weekends, they spent sixteen hours in uniform and eight on call. When on call, they stay on-site in house trailers.

CPS said it didn’t have to pay its guards for the time they spent sleeping while on call, but the California Supreme Court put its foot down. CPS makes them stay on the property so that they can be ready if anyone comes around who shouldn’t. CPS’s  customers, in turn, pay it to have guards on site constantly. It has to pay the guards for doing what CPS gets paid for making them do.

Even in California, not all employees have to get paid for sleep time. The Industrial Wage Commission, which is the California agency that sets wage-and-hour rules, specifically says that ambulance drivers and attendants don’t have to get paid for sleeping at work. Nor do healthcare workers who spend the night in an employer’s or client’s home. And if you just work swing or graveyard, sleeping on the job will still get you canned.

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