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A Latin phrase stating a common law principle that judges will not sit in judgement of extremely minor violations of the law. It can be roughly translated as "the law does not concern itself with trifles".


There was a young law student named Rex
who had very small organs of sex.
When charged with exposure
he said with composure
de minimis non curat lex

This is a story of how I learned the phrase "de minimus non curat lex", and an example that would be very relevant to modern readers.

Under the employment law of the United States, non-exempt ("hourly") workers are required to be paid for all the work they do for their employer, or indeed, any labor that their employer "suffers or permits them" to do. There have, in fact, been multiple Supreme Court cases about whether workers putting on special clothing for work was to be paid, starting with Anderson v Mt. Clemens Potter Co. in 1946. The answer is basically "yes", especially in construction or manufacturing, where this takes a substantial amount of time.

These laws were written in the time of industrial labor, and in some ways have had a hard time adjusting to the new information economy (and yes, I did cringe a little writing that). Curious about "all work must be compensated", I wondered about what this meant for workers who check their e-Mails while not at work. While many of these workers would be exempt, not all of them would be. And indeed, there have been a few cases where workers who were working for hours outside of work did indeed win cases for back wages.

Now, in general, I am pretty in favor of workers rights and labor protection, but I am also an overly digitally connected millenial (I cringed writing that, too) and I check my e-Mail about every 30 minutes. What would be the legal consequences of every employee who spent one minute reading e-Mails on Saturday night were to suddenly sue their employers for the lost wages of spending their time reading:

"Hey just a head's up they are working on the plumbing Monday so the third floor bathroom is closed use the second floor bathroom instead :( :("
And this brings us to the matter at hand: the legal principle of "de minimis non curat lex", which means that below a certain level of material measure, the law does not concern itself. This is kind of a common sense sanity check on the written law: the letter of the law still has to be placed into a real life context of when something is legally actionable. In a modern day context, "de minimis non curat lex" is why you don't get paid for glancing at an e-Mail...and also why you can absently minded carry a pencil home with you without it being considered theft.

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