Is a California employee who works consecutive overnight shifts entitled to split shift pay simply because the shifts span two separate workdays, resulting in two shifts during the same workday separated by a number of hours? On July 7, 2011, in Securitas v. Superior Court, the California Court of Appeal held split shift pay is required only when an employee's actual work shift is split, and not simply because an employee's shift carries over from one workday to the next.

Plaintiffs' Complaint

Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order No. 4 entitles employees to a potential additional hour of pay at the minimum wage for any workday they work a split shift. The Wage Order defines "split shift" as "a work schedule, which is interrupted by non-paid non-working periods established by the employer, other than bona fide rest or meal periods."

Seeking to exploit a literal definition of this language, the plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against Securitas Services USA, Inc., alleging they should have been paid a split shift premium because they worked consecutive overnight shifts, with the result that they would be working during two periods in the same calendar day, separated by many hours. In other words, looking at one calendar day in isolation during a sequence of consecutive overnight shifts, there would be the appearance of a split shift.

In concocting this argument, the plaintiffs sought to exploit Securitas's definition of "workday" as running from midnight to midnight. According to the plaintiffs, a security guard would work a split shift of two nonconsecutive periods on the same workday because one shift would end in the morning and the next shift would begin in the evening. Plaintiffs also alleged that Securitas failed to pay split shift pay not only when the employee worked shifts spanning midnight on consecutive days, but also when the employee worked nonconsecutive periods in the same workday, without working through midnight.

Trial Court Adopts the Plaintiffs' Definition of Split Shift

Securitas moved for summary adjudication on the plaintiffs' claim for split shift pay, arguing that a split shift as defined by Wage Order 4 does not include a consecutive, uninterrupted shift that spans two workdays. The trial court denied the motion, finding that a split shift occurs whenever an employee works two nonconsecutive periods in the same workday. Accordingly, the trial court denied Securitas's motion. Securitas sought and obtained immediate appellate court review through the avenue of a petition for a writ of mandate.

Court Of Appeal Holds That a Split Shift Occurs When a "Work Schedule" is Interrupted

The Court of Appeal agreed with Securitas's interpretation of the Wage Order's split shift provision. The court interpreted "work schedule" to mean "an employee's designated working hours or periods of work," and, based on this definition, found that work schedules were not "interrupted" simply because they spanned two workdays.

The court also found that the timing of the employer's "workday" did not by itself create a split shift for work periods spanning two workdays. The court found the term "workday" to be absent from the Wage Order's definition of "split shift" or "work schedule," and recognized that workday is defined elsewhere in the regulations as "any consecutive 24-hour period beginning at the same time each calendar day." In this case, Securitas scheduled the plaintiffs to work consecutive uninterrupted overnight shifts. As these work schedules were not interrupted, they were consistent with the purpose of the split shift provision of the Wage Order.

The court nevertheless agreed with the trial court that Securitas's motion for summary adjudication should be denied because the plaintiffs also alleged they were required to work interrupted shifts during the same workday.

What Securitas Means for Employers

Securitas applies common sense to an interpretation of split shift in the context of a work shift that spans two workdays.

After Securitas, employers need not be concerned about paying split shift premiums to employees scheduled to work regular overnight shifts. Instead, the focus should be on whether the employees' actual work shifts are interrupted.