State wage-and-hour laws don’t apply for offshore oil workers, U.S. court rules

The U.S. supreme court has ruled that state laws don’t apply for offshore oil workers employed on the U.S. outer continental shelf, as these are governed by federal laws.

Justice statue, Image source: Pixabay
Justice statue, Image source: Pixabay

The ruling was related to a claim by offshore oil worker Brian Newton who worked for Parker Drilling on drilling platforms off the coast of California from January 2013 to January 2015.

Newton’s 14-day shifts involved 12 hours per day on duty and 12 hours per day on standby, during which he could not leave the platform.

According to the court document, Newton was paid “well above” the California and federal minimum wages for his time on duty, but he was not paid for his standby time.

He filed a class action in California state court alleging violations of several California wage-and-hour laws and related state-law claims. Among other things, Newton claimed that California’s minimum wage and overtime laws required Parker to compensate him for the time he spent on standby.

The original lawsuit alleges that time during which a worker cannot leave his or her worksite, even sleeping time, is considered hours worked under California law.

The parties agreed that Parker’s platforms were subject to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).

Their disagreement centered on whether the relevant California laws were “applicable and not inconsistent” with existing federal law and thus deemed to be the applicable federal law under the OCSLA.

According to the court, the OCSLA gives the Federal Government complete “jurisdiction, control, and power of disposition” over the Outer Continental Shelf, while giving the States no “interest in or jurisdiction” over it

Justice Thomas delivered the following opinion on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court: “Some of Newton’s claims are premised on the adoption of California law requiring payment for all standby time.”

“Because federal law already addresses this issue, California law does not provide the rule of decision on the OCS. To the extent Newton’s OCS-based claims rely on that law, they necessarily fail. Likewise, to the extent his OCS-based claims rely on the adoption of California’s minimum wage, the FLSA already provides for a minimum wage, so the state minimum wage is not adopted as federal law and does not apply on the OCS.”

The court has cited federal law according to which “an employee who resides on his employer’s premises on a permanent basis or for extended periods of time is not considered as working all the time he is on the premises.”

Therefore, this California law does not provide the rule of decision on the OCS, and to the extent, Newton’s OCS-based claims rely on that law, they necessarily fail, the court said.

Likewise, the court said, to the extent Newton’s OCS-based claims rely on the adoption of the California minimum wage (currently $12), the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] already provides for a minimum wage, so the California minimum wage does not apply.

The court said: “Newton points out that the FLSA sets a minimum wage of “not less than . . . $7.25 an hour,” ibid. (emphasis added), and does not “excuse noncompliance with any Federal or State law . . . establishing a [higher] minimum wage,”  But whatever the import of these provisions in an ordinary pre-emption case, they do not help Newton here, for the question under the OCSLA is whether federal law addresses the minimum wage on the OCS. It does. Therefore, the California minimum wage is not adopted as federal law and does not apply on the OCS,” the court said.

“Newton’s other claims were not analyzed by the Court of Appeals, and the parties have provided little briefing on those claims. Moreover, the Court of Appeals held that Newton should be given leave to amend his complaint. Because we cannot finally resolve whether Parker was entitled to judgment on the pleadings, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” the court said.

Offshore Energy Today Staff


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