Supreme Court rules employees not entitled to pay for time spent in security screenings

Supreme Court rules employees not entitled to pay for time spent in security screenings

Summary

The U.S. Supreme Court recently found that warehouse employees were not entitled to compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act for time spent waiting to pass through anti-theft security screenings after their shifts ended because the security screens were not “integral and indispensable” to their “principal work activities.”

What Happened?

On December 9, 2014, the United States Supreme Court added another chapter to its analysis of “compensable time” under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  In Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, 574 U.S. _ (No. 13-433, 12/9/14),  the Court unanimously held that time spent by warehouse workers waiting to pass through anti-theft security screenings at the end of their work shifts was not compensable.  In reversing the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Court discussed several specific concepts under the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 (an amendment to the FLSA), which exempts employers from FLSA liability for “travel” to and from the place of performance of the employee’s principal activities, as well as activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to the employee’s principal activities.

Here, the Court looked to prior opinions in which it had consistently interpreted the terms, “principal activity or activities” and “integral and indispensable.”  Justice Thomas, writing for the Court, noted that the security screenings were not the principal activity or activities the employees were employed to perform; rather, they were hired to “…retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.”  Further, the security screenings were not integral and indispensable to their duties because they “…were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment.”  Indeed, the employer “…could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.”  Although the workers alleged that in some cases, they spent as much as 25 minutes waiting to undergo the security screenings, the time was not compensable under the FLSA.

This case follows on the heels of  Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., 134 S. Ct. 870 (2014).  In Sandifer, the Court held unanimously that time employees spent donning and doffing their protective gear constituted time spent “changing clothes” and was therefore not compensable for purposes of the collective bargaining agreement between U.S. Steel and a union representing certain of its production employees. Section 203(o) of the FLSA provides that an employer and a union may agree to make time spent changing clothes noncompensable under the FLSA.  In Sandifer, the union claimed that the time employees spent donning and doffing protective gear which they were required to wear by the employer was compensable time; however, the employer argued that the time qualified as “changing clothes” under the CBA and was therefore noncompensable.  After extensive analysis of the meaning of “clothes” and “changing clothes,” the Court held that time spent putting on and removing protective gear did qualify as “changing clothes” under the circumstances and was noncompensable. 

What Does This Mean for Employers?

Based on the Court’s ruling in Busk, employers generally should not have to pay employees for the time they spend  in security screenings prior to leaving the workplace, unless the security screenings are integral and indispensable to the principal activity or activities the workers are employed to perform.  Even so, employers should attempt to ensure that such time spent waiting is not extensive.  In addition, employers with collective bargaining agreements may wish to review and assess whether their agreements cover donning and doffing of protective gear as changing clothes under the FLSA. 

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