Skip to Content

Does My Employer Have to Pay Me for Prep Work Before My Shift?


For many employees, the working day doesn't start when they clock in—it begins with a series of tasks that they must complete before their shift begins. This is considered prep work, an essential and often unpaid segment of an employee's daily routine. But is your employer legally obliged to compensate you for this time in the state of California?

The answer can be complex, as it involves navigating the labyrinth of state labor laws. In this guide, we’ll take a broad look at the legal situation surrounding prep work compensation in California and provide insight for employees who seek fair compensation for their labor.

What Is Considered Prep Work, Anyway?

In California, prep work is generally defined as any activity or task undertaken by an employee before their shift starts. These tasks could include setting up workstations, organizing tools, reviewing schedules, or participating in briefings and training. While the nature of prep work can vary vastly depending on the industry and specific job, the key aspect is that it is necessary to start performing duties or to do them more effectively.

The crux of the matter lies in whether preparatory tasks qualify as “hours worked” under the law. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictates that under federal law, prep time may be considered hours worked, but states have the power to enforce their own, more stringent regulations. Therefore, California's labor laws are what ultimately govern if prep time is compensable.

California Employees Must Be Paid for Prep Work

California labor laws are among the most employee-friendly in the country, often setting the bar higher than federal requirements. The state's Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Orders provide that an employee must be paid for all hours worked, including any work time that the employer knew or should have known about.

The important distinction here is the phrase "suffered or permitted to work," which indicates that if the employer requires an employee's presence and engagement in activities for the benefit of the company, this time is compensable.

Factors Determining Compensation

California law does not provide an exhaustive list of what prep work activities are compensable.

However, several factors can influence whether prep time is paid:

  • Necessity of Prep Work: If the tasks are essential and required by the employer for work to be performed effectively or at all, they are more likely to be considered hours worked.
  • Control Over the Employee: An important factor is the level of control the employer has over the employee during prep work. If the employer dictates what must be done and the method by which it is accomplished, the time is more likely to be compensable.
  • Location and Circumstances: The place and circumstances under which prep work occurs can also affect compensability. For example, if an employee is required to undergo security checks before or after work, this time may be considered hours worked.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Understanding the intricacies of prep work compensation can be daunting for employees, yet it’s essential to ensure fair pay and work conditions. In California, labor laws protect employees by requiring employers to compensate them for all hours worked.

Employees should always advocate for their rights and ensure they are being fairly compensated for all time worked, even if it’s before their scheduled shift. If you are having difficulty resolving a wage dispute with your employer, you can seek legal assistance.

Contact K2 Employment Law today to learn more about how we can help.

Share To: