Court Recognizes Minnesotans’ Right to Wages for All Hours Worked

Posted by Sam Kramer

Seemingly small changes in the law can sometimes have big impacts. And sometimes those big impacts don’t become clear for some time. So it is with the Minnesota Payment of Wages Act.

A provision of the MPWA has said for decades that employers must pay their employees all wages and compensation that they have “earned.” For almost as long though, the courts interpreted this to only regulate the timing of an employee’s pay. That meant that if an employer failed to pay its workers their agreed-upon wages, those workers typically could not sue to recover those wages under the MPWA.

In 2019, the state legislature amended that MPWA provision when passing a suite of new protections intended to curb wage theft by employers. The statute was amended to state, “This section provides a substantive right for employees to the payment of wages.”

Four years later, the impact of those 13 words is coming into clearer view. For the first time, a court has conducted a thorough analysis of the 2019 amendment and found that it has a significant impact on the rights of workers. In Deutsch v. My Pillow, Inc., a group of call center workers alleges they were not paid wages for time they spent booting up their work computer and logging into the call software at the beginning of each shift. They claim that the employer’s failure to pay them for that time violated the MPWA because they earned wages by completing work duties.

The U.S District Court for the District of Minnesota agreed, finding that under the amended MPWA provision, the time the plaintiffs spent at the beginning of each shift is compensable, and that they can therefore recover unpaid wages for that time. The court looked to other state laws and dictionary definitions and concluded that the term “wages,” means compensation that is due to an employee for completing work, and that the requirement to pay earned wages is a requirement to pay employees for all the hours they work. In the case of the call center workers, that means that because the boot-up and log-in procedures are connected to their work, the employer has to pay them for that time.

Importantly, the court acknowledged that this is a different state of affairs than existed before 2019, when the only way for employees to sue for the payment of their agreed-upon wage for all the hours they worked was to identify a specific contractual term that said they would get paid for the specific work in question. Most employees could not do that, so their claims died on the vine. Now, under the court’s reasoning in this recent case, employees have an inherent right to get paid their hourly wage for any work they do that is connected to their work duties.

The case could prove to be a watershed decision for Minnesota workers. Employers in many industries have for years required their workers to arrive to work early, stay late, or work through breaks to do unpaid work like setting up or cleaning workstations, logging into computer software, donning and doffing safety equipment or uniforms, travel to different worksites, or going through company security screenings. Applying the court’s interpretation of the MPWA in the call center case would allow employees to sue for this unpaid “straight time,” even if they don’t have a contract that promised payment for those specific tasks.

Employees deserve to get paid for all hours they work. The MPWA and other state and federal statutes give employment lawyers tools to ensure that when employees don’t get paid what they’re owed, they can recover those wages, and often more. The Minneapolis Office of MacDonald Hoague & Bayless helps Minnesota workers who are seeking their unpaid wages. If you haven’t been paid all the wages you earned, please call us at 612.349.2720.

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