Should sheepherders — and by extension anyone whose job requires them to live on the premises and be on call 24/7 — be paid minimum wage for...

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Should sheepherders — and by extension anyone whose job requires them to live on the premises and be on call 24/7 — be paid minimum wage for the hours they work?

This is the question the state Supreme Court will decide in Berrocal v. Fernandez, a potentially precedent-setting case.

The high court heard arguments May 12, although at times the justices seemed as curious about sheepherding as the legal debate. (“Do the herders ride horses?” “Do the dogs keep away wolves?”)

Under the common interpretation of the law, workers in certain job categories — motel managers, apartment managers, home-care aides or sheepherders — are exempt from the minimum-wage rules because their job duties and personal activities often overlap, making it difficult to track the hours they work.

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Columbia Legal Services argues that while Max Fernandez shouldn’t have to pay for on-call time, he should have paid at least the minimum wage for the hours his sheepherders worked.

Under that interpretation, Heriberto Berrocal and Rafael Castillo would have earned at least $1,040 a month in 1999, instead of the $650 approved by the Department of Labor.

The Court of Appeals thought Columbia’s argument had merit, and overturned a previous decision from Klickitat Superior Court, which had dismissed the case.

If the high court sides with the sheepherders, the case will go to trial. And live-in, on-call workers earning below the minimum wage might have a cause of action.