California Labor and Employment Defense Blog

Employers Cannot Avoid Overtime by Dividing A Single Worshift Between Two Different Days or Weeks -- Seymore v. Metson Marine, Inc.

Unlike federal law, California requires premium overtime pay for all hours worked in excess of eight per day and all hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of work.  This sets up a potential anomaly for employees who work long graveyard shifts. 

For example, consider an employee who is scheduled to work from 6:00 p.m. Monday night to 6:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.  Despite working twelve straight hours, his employer's payroll system may pay for only six hours of straight time on Monday and another six hours of straight time on Tuesday.  By contrast, a co-worker who pulled a similar twelve-hour shift from 6:00 a.m. Tuesday morning to 6:00 p.m. Tuesday evening would get credit for eight hours of straight time plus four hours of daily overtime.

In Seymore v. Metson Marine, Inc. the same problem existed for purposes of calculating seventh-day premium pay.  Metson's employees were stationed on oil spill recovery ships and worked two-week "hitches" that began and ended on Tuesday.   But -- like most employers -- Metson used a Monday-to-Monday workweek.  As a result, the employees who worked seven days in a row would get credit for six days worked in one week and one day worked in the next week -- with no seventh-day premium pay for the last Tuesday in their "hitch," which fell into the next workweek.

The First District Court of Appeal found, however, that the accounting convention of a fixed workday and workweek could not be allowed to override the purposes of California's overtime law.

Plaintiffs contend that premium pay must be calculated based on the “fixed and regular” schedule actually worked and that Metson should not be allowed to subvert the employee protections of section 510 by designating an artificial workweek that does not correspond with the period actually worked. Asserting that their workweek actually began and ended on Tuesday, plaintiffs argue that Metson was required to pay overtime wages for work performed on the seventh and 14th day of each hitch. We agree.

In light of the Metson decision, employers should carefully review their payroll practices to make sure that they are not inadvertently dividing consecutive workshifts or workdays when calculating overtime.  By the same token, employees who work graveyard shifts or extended "hitches" of seven days or more should carefully review their wage statements to ensure that they are receiving credit for all overtime due.




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