I live in California. Soon I will hire a household employee to cook meals for me in my home.

Per California OSHA law the employee must be given and read a kitchen safety manual.

Must I pay the employee for the time spent reading the kitchen safety manual?

  • 2
    Just a comment, because I don't know California law: In general, any activity required for working is part of work and paid, so probably yes. At any rate, how much time do you expect the reading to take? An hour? Is it really worth bothering about that?
    – sleske
    Mar 1, 2017 at 9:38
  • 1
    You might indicate how long the manual is, and whether it was written in a language or a style that the employee can easily comprehend. E.g. requiring an employee to read and comprehend federal OSHA regulations is unconstitutionally cruel and inhuman punishment.
    – user6726
    Mar 1, 2017 at 17:04
  • @sleske, because it seems employees are taking advantage of me. I expect it takes 15 minutes to read the manual, but they take 2 hours.
    – davidjhp
    Mar 3, 2017 at 15:16
  • 5
    @davidjhp: Everything is easy to those who don't have to do it. Try reading the manual, understanding it, to the point where you will always and at all times be able to follow the advice in the manual. It's not just reading. It's reading, understanding, and incorporating it in your daily work.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 5, 2018 at 14:03

1 Answer 1


Executive Summary

Yes, you must pay your employee (if the person is indeed an employee) to read the manual.

This is because, (1) as you note in your question, reading the manual is a state OSHA required part of the job, and (2) hourly employees must be paid at least minimum wage for all hours they work and there is no exception for time spent reading safety manuals.

Furthermore, household cooks who are employees who are paid by the hour are not exempt from the minimum wage. There is no really plausible exception to the requirement to pay a minimum hourly wage that would apply to someone who is an employee in this position. For example, this person could not plausible be classified as a salaried employee or manager in this scenario for FLSA purposes.

You could, of course, set a reasonable expectation regarding how much time should be allocated to reading the manual, so long as the expectation you set is indeed reasonable - five minutes would be unreasonably short, but 20 hours to memorize it would be unreasonably long.

Is The "Employee" An Independent Contractor?

It is conceivable that the person you describe as an employee is really an independent contractor, rather than a employee, and hence not subject to minimum wage laws.

For example, you do not have a duty to determine that a catering company that serves many customers and is its own business providing food for you on an irregular basis, or a third-party restaurant that delivers either itself or through a third-party delivery service, is paying minimum wage or complying with work safety laws like OSHA, because they are independent contractors.

But, there is nothing in your question that suggests that this is the case. (Note that if this person is an "employee" and not an "independent contractor" that it is also important that you obtain worker's compensation and pay withholding taxes for your domestic employee; often this is done via a third-party payroll service.)

Applicable Law

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., requires you to pay every hourly employee the federal minimum wage, plus overtime if applicable, from "Portal to Portal" (i.e. from showing up to work until leaving work, because commuting time is not counted as work for purposes of the FLSA).

Hours worked is defined as follows by the FLSA at 29 U.S.C. § 203(o), contains no exception for time spent reading a safety manual:

In determining for the purposes of sections 206 and 207 of this title the hours for which an employee is employed, there shall be excluded any time spent in changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday which was excluded from measured working time during the week involved by the express terms of or by custom or practice under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement applicable to the particular employee.

This states with respect to employees in domestic service at 209 U.S.C. § 206(f):

Any employee—

(1) who in any workweek is employed in domestic service in a household shall be paid wages at a rate not less than the wage rate in effect under subsection (b) of this section unless such employee’s compensation for such service would not because of section 209(a)(6) of the Social Security Act 42 U.S.C.A. § 409(a)(6)constitute wages for the purposes of title II of such Act [42 U.S.C.A. § 401 et seq.], or

(2) who in any workweek—

(A) is employed in domestic service in one or more households, and

(B) is so employed for more than 8 hours in the aggregate, shall be paid wages for such employment in such workweek at a rate not less than the wage rate in effect under subsection (b) of this section.

The referenced Section 206(b) is the currently effective federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour). The cross-reference to the Social Security Act states that employment taxes paid by the employer (such as the employer part of FICA taxes) do not count towards paying the minimum wage.

California has a parallel state minimum wage of $10 in 2017 which is substantially similar except in amount.

  • 1
    In the last sentence of the exec summary — you meant unreasonably, right?
    – Michael
    Mar 1, 2017 at 21:01
  • @Michael Fixed much later than your comment but eventually.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 8, 2018 at 3:01

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