Are Unpaid Trial Shifts Illegal?

Posted by Sessions & Kimball |

Trial shifts are extensively across various industries as a tool for employers to assess a prospective employee’s skills under real-world conditions. You may have experienced or heard about unpaid trial shifts that usually last several hours but could extend over multiple days or even weeks. It’s essential to understand your rights and whether these unpaid trial shifts are permitted.

Unpaid Trial Shifts Are Sometimes Illegal in California

In California, employees are to be compensated for all hours worked. The California Labor Code plays a critical role in safeguarding these worker rights. 

According to this law, any time you spend performing tasks that benefit your employer – which may include during a period referred to as a “trial shift” – must be compensated at no less than minimum wage.

Exceptions to Unpaid Trial Shift Rules

While California’s wage and hour laws firmly advocate for employee compensation, there are nuanced exceptions when it comes to unpaid trial shifts.

If the primary purpose of the trial shift is purely evaluative, aiming to assess an applicant’s skills for a position, this period may not require compensation.

When an applicant engages in tasks that do not yield productive output for the employer but rather serve as a competency examination, payment may not be required in this situation as well. 

Additionally, the testing period must be reasonable under the circumstances, meaning that any unpaid trial shift used to evaluate a candidate’s skills should align with customary industry standards and reflect an appropriate duration for skill assessment without imposing undue burden on the applicant.

What About Unpaid Training in California? 

In California, the standard is clear: an employee must be compensated for their labor, which includes attending training sessions or meetings outside of regular working hours. This reflects a broader commitment to ensuring that workers are fairly paid for all the time they dedicate to job-related activities. 

California’s wage and hour laws are designed to protect employees from exploitative practices by requiring payment for any work performed

“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.

Unpaid training periods rarely meet the legal exceptions allowed under state law, such as situations involving legitimate internships where educational rather than economic benefits define the relationship between employer and worker.

What To Do If You’re Not Being Paid For Your Trial Shift or Training

If you find yourself not being paid for your trial shift or training period, and believe you’re entitled to compensation, here’s what you can do:

Speak Up: Approach your employer or HR department first to discuss the oversight. Sometimes, non-payment might result from a misunderstanding rather than an intentional violation.

Document Everything: Keep detailed records of hours worked, the nature of the work performed during these hours, and any communications with employers regarding unpaid shifts.

Review Employment Agreements: Look over any paperwork or agreements signed to understand the terms of your training or trial shifts. Pay particular attention to any clauses related to compensation.

The best way to determine if your training or trial shift should be paid is to speak with an Orange County employment attorney as soon as possible. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.