EDGAR Orozco was an electrician working as an hourly employee for Ardent Companies, Inc., which provide services to drilling operations off the California coast, including on fixed off-shore oil platforms. Ardent Companies employees work on these oil platforms and travel between them. The workers are assigned to work in “hitches.” During their hitch, employees also spend their time either on vessels traveling to, from, and between oil platforms or being on the oil platforms themselves.

The employees’ hitches begin on California soil, where they wait for a vessel to transport them to an oil platform. While they wait, they are required to attend safety briefings. The employees then board their vessel and travel to an oil platform. Some employees travel to and from the platform by helicopter. Regardless of how the employees travel to the oil platform, they must use the transportation provided by the employer.

The employees cannot realistically leave their vessel, helicopter, or oil platform. Their confinement ends only upon their return to California soil, when they disembark from the vessel or helicopter.

The employer’s policy and practice is to pay their hourly employees for twelve hours each day, regardless of the amount of time they actually spent during the hitches. Therefore, employees are not paid for controlled stand-by time (e.g., time spent on the platform between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., and relieving employees who worked the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift), even though this entire time was considered on-call time and even though the employees were deprived of several freedoms during this time.

Orozco sued the employer in a class action, alleging, among other things, that the employer violated California law by not paying them all hours worked during the time they were confined to the workplace, i.e., on the employer’s vessels and platforms.
In their complaint, the employees asked to be paid for:

a. Time spent on the employer’s premises due to the reasonable inability to leave;
b. Time spent on-call on the employer’s premises and engaged to wait;
c. Time spent wearing, taking off, and retrieving job-related protective gear before and after working their 12-hour shifts;
e. All time spent traveling to and back from shore; and
g. Time spent sleeping on the employer’s premises during a required shift.
Under California law, employees must be paid for all hours worked. Hours worked means “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.” An employee who is subject to an employer’s control does not have to be “working” during that time in order to be paid.

Whether on-call time should be paid depends on the extent of the employer’s control. When an employer directs, commands or restrains an employee from leaving the work place and thus prevents the employee from using the time effectively for his or her own purposes, that employee remains subject to the employer’s control. According to the definition of hours worked, that employee must be paid.

The employees of Ardent argued that even though they were not technically working during hitches, they were restrained to their workplace for the entirety of their hitches and were not free to leave. They could not use the time effectively for their own purposes and always remained subject to the employer’s control.

Rather than proceed to trial, the parties reached a settlement with the employer agreeing to pay $2,325,000 to the class. This case illustrates that employees’ right to wages does not only depend on their actual performance of work. The employers’ obligation to pay arises also in those other occasions when they exercise control over employees that restrict the latter’s ability to leave the work premises.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]

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