Can my employer cut my shift early and send me home without pay?

Question:

I work as a bartender at a nightclub in California. Our schedules are usually posted a couple weeks in advance. Last week, I showed up on a Thursday night and my shift was supposed to be from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. At around 8:00 p.m., my manager told me to go home early because it was a slow night. I only got paid for a three-hour shift. Can my employer just cut my shifts short like that?

Answer:

Yes, your employer can cut your shift short, but it comes at a price. In California, when an employee shows up to work, but is given less than half of his or her shift, the employer must pay what’s called “reporting time pay.” Reporting time pay is half of your regularly scheduled shift, but not less than two hours and not more than four hours.

In your case, you were scheduled for eight hours but were only allowed to work three. Because this was less than half of your scheduled shift, you are owed reporting time pay. Your employer must pay you for half of your scheduled shift, which is four hours.

The idea behind reporting time pay is that employers should give sufficient notice to employees if work isn’t available, so that they can find work elsewhere. Based on this reasoning, there are a few situations where the reporting time pay rules do not apply, including, among others:

  • when the employer gives notice of the change in shift ahead of time
  • when there is a natural disaster, failure of public utilities, threats to employees or company property, or other circumstances outside of the employer’s control, and
  • when the employee shows up unfit to work (for example, under the influence of drugs or alcohol).

Reporting time pay must also be paid when an employee is required to report to work for a second time in one day and is given less than two hours of work. In these situations, the employer must pay the employee for at least two hours of work. For example, if your boss called you later that night asking you to come back in for an hour at closing, you would be entitled to two hours of pay (even though you only worked one hour).

NOLO-web2:DRU1.6.12.2.20161011.41205