Split Shift News for 24-Hour Employers

August 4, 2011  |  From HRCalifornia Extra

California law defines a split shift as a work schedule that is interrupted by non-paid working periods, set by the employer, other than meal and rest periods. For example, a restaurant server works lunch and dinner shifts on Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then reports again from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

A recent case from the California Court of Appeal clarifies what is and what is not a split shift. The court ruled that consecutive overnight shifts that are not interrupted by unpaid, nonworking periods are not split shifts.

The case involved security guards who sometimes worked night shifts beginning on one workday and ending on the next. The security guards filed a class action lawsuit, alleging that the company failed to pay them mandatory split-shift pay. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., v. Superior Court, No. B227950 (Cal. Ct. App. July 7, 2011).

For California employers with 24-hour operations, the decision is welcome news.

Overnight Shift Not a Split Shift

The security guards sometimes worked night shifts beginning on one workday and ending on the next; for example, a guard would work from 10 p.m. Monday to 6 a.m. Tuesday and then return to work Tuesday at 10 p.m. for his next scheduled shift.

The security guards argued that a split shift occurs whenever an employee works two nonconsecutive periods in the same workday, such as when a shift begins on one workday and ends on another, and the employee then returns to work several hours later on the second workday.

It’s an important argument because if more than one hour separates the shifts, employers must pay an additional one hour of pay at no less than the minimum wage rate. Employers do not need to count the compensation that is paid between split shifts for overtime purposes since it is not compensation for hours actually worked.

In this case, the employer argued that an uninterrupted work shift that continues through midnight and thus falls into two calendar days and two workdays is not a split shift. The employer, in this case, defined the workday as beginning at midnight and ending the following midnight.

The court agreed with the employer, emphasizing that "the fact that a single continuous shift happens to begin during one 'workday' and end in another does not result in a 'split shift.'" Employees working consecutive uninterrupted overnight shifts are not working split shifts and are not entitled to split-shift pay.

According to the court, a split shift only occurs when an employee’s designated working hours are interrupted by one or more unpaid, nonworking periods that are not meal and rest periods.

Best Practices

If your employees work split shifts remember the following:

  • Pay the employee one hour of pay at no less than minimum wage if there is more than one hour between shifts.
  • If the employee earns more than minimum wage, you may use the amount over the minimum wage to offset, or reduce, the split shift payment, for example:
    • Hourly wage: $8.15 (15 cents above the current minimum wage of $8.00 per hour)
    • Hours worked: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. - 9 p.m. (total of eight hours)
    • Split shift wage: One hour at $8.00
    • Offset: 15 cents x 8 hours = $1.20 (therefore split shift partially offset: $8.00 - $1.20 = $6.80)
    • Wages due: Eight hours worked ($65.20) plus partially offset split shift hour ($6.80) = $72.00
  • HRCalifornia provides examples of how to calculate split shift pay.
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