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?
Yes, your employer can cut your shift short, but in some states 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:
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).
If you're exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act—whether you receive a salary or not—your employer can send you home early, but would still owe you a full day's pay.
Note that salaried workers who earn at least $684 per week are generally exempt from the FLSA. (Learn whether you're covered by the FLSA.)
Several states and the District of Columbia require reporting time pay, although the specifics vary. Those states include:
If your employer has failed to pay reporting time pay to which you're entitled, your first step should be to point this out to your employer. If it still refuses to pay you, consider contacting an attorney to discuss your options.