The little things employees end up doing while getting ready for work can add up to a big overtime bill later. That’s because courts often see such preparatory work, even if it benefits the employee, too, as work that must be compensated. Consider this recent case involving making the morning coffee and breakfast before the start of a shift.
Recent case: Jarrod Tomassi worked as a probationary firefighter in Los Angeles. He sued the city on behalf of himself and other probationary firefighters, claiming their supervisors had told them to show up half an hour to an hour before their official shift began to set up for the day.
As part of their preliminary tasks, they made coffee for the firehouse and also prepared a breakfast of scrambled eggs to go with the brew for everyone at the station.
The city argued that making breakfast only benefited the firefighters and not the fire department itself.
The court didn’t buy that argument. It said that, because the probationary firefighters were told to show up and get the firehouse ready for the rest of the firefighters, their work benefited the employer, which would have had to hire cooks to do the work if the new firefighters didn’t make breakfast. (Tomassi, et al., v. City of Los Angeles, No. 08-1851, CD CA, 2010)
Final note: Remember, just about anything that an employee does that benefits the employer must be paid for. There are very few exceptions. If an employee stays late or arrives early to do extra work, you’re obligated to pay for that work even if you didn’t request or require it.