A split shift, as the name implies, is a shift that is split into two. Generally, an employee works a split shift where they have two work periods in a given day, which are separated by a long break. The break must be more than just a meal break, and one where they have no work tasks to complete. It also must be a break that is instituted by the employer, and not by the request of the employee. (See Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders 1-15, Section 4.)
What does this look like? Let’s say your business is open from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., but it closes for 2 hours in the middle of the day, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. This means that your employees are working for 3 hours, followed by a mandated 2-hour break, and finally, 5 hours of work at the end of the day. Their shift is split into two. Depending on the employee’s rate of pay, they may be entitled to a split-shift premium for their time spent off the clock, during the long between-shifts break.
What Industries Typically Utilize Split Shifts?
Split shifts are particularly common in the restaurant and salon industries due to the nature of these businesses’ operations. Restaurants regularly assign shifts to their primary cooks which require them to work all day but take 2 hours off in the middle of the day when business slows down. Similarly, some restaurants close altogether for a couple of hours, dividing some employee’s shifts into two.
The salon industry is similar in that there may be nothing for employees to do for a couple of hours during the day. The salon owner’s initial reaction is to have their employees clock out until they can expect another client. After all, why would you pay your employees if there is no work to be performed? In fact, our office has guided several salon owners through the complicated process of ensuring that their employees are being paid appropriately and lawfully with respect to their split shifts.
What is the Purpose of a Split Shift Premium?
The split shift premium was instituted to ensure that workers are paid adequately, and at the very least, a minimum wage, for their full day’s work. The purpose behind the split shift is to ensure that employers are not taking advantage of their employees in order to decrease overhead costs. An employer may want to assign split shifts to avoid paying employees in between peak business hours, but this can negatively affect the employee. Their workday is just as long, but they are accumulating fewer work hours or overtime.
That’s not to say that split shifts are always a bad thing – some employees may look forward to a 2-hour break. University students may prefer this extended break in their workday in order to catch up on assignments, parents may like to leave in the middle of the day to pick their kids up from school, and those who work long hours may appreciate the down time to simply relax. Regardless of employee preference, where an employer requires their employee to work a split shift, California Law requires them to the adequately compensated for their time. This can include the payment of a split shift premium.
How is a Split Shift Premium Calculated?
The split shift premium ensures that employees are paid at least the California minimum wage rate, or if applicable, the local minimum wages, for each hour worked, and then compensated for one additional hour for having worked a split shift. First, you take the total number of hours worked, plus one, and multiply the total by the applicable minimum wage. If this number exceeds the wages the employee would earn based on the actual hours worked, the employee must receive a split shift premium. Accordingly, employees who are paid significantly more than the minimum wage generally will not be eligible to receive a split shift premium.
A Common Restaurant Example
Line cooks earn $15 per hour.
The applicable minimum wage is $14 per hour.
Line cooks work 3 hours in the morning, then have a 2-hour break and then work 5 hours in the afternoon and evening.
Line cooks, therefore, work a split shift (two shifts separated by a break of more than one hour set up for the benefit of the employer).
But are line cooks entitled to a split shift premium?
If paid for 8 hours at $15 per hour = $120
Extra split shift hour: 8 hours + 1 extra hour = 9 hours
9 hours x $14.00 per hour (minimum wage ) = $126.00
$126 is greater than $120
Line cooks are entitled to $6.00 extra each shift as a split shift premium.
If you have questions about compensation under California law, please let us know.