The Supreme Court Decides on the FLSA and We Listen

Warehouse workers wanted pay for the time it took to go through security.
Warehouse workers wanted pay for the time it took to go through security.

Many of you probably already know this as the law firms jumped on this decision right away. There had been a lot of press about the Amazon workers complaining they were not getting paid for the time it took them to go through security at the end of their shifts. They filed a lawsuit and lost. The appealed (in the 9th circuit in California) and won. The company appealed to the Supreme Court which has made a determination.

Some facts

Although this case was touted as being Amazon workers, in reality they were not. They were workers for a company called Integrity Staffing, which had a contract with Amazon to provide warehouse workers. These workers had to go through a security check when they left work to insure they were not pocketing goods from the shelves at Amazon. This security check took 25 minutes between waiting and being screened. The workers argued this was compensable time.

“Preliminary and postliminary” activities

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act employers are required to pay nonexempt employees for all work performed. Sometimes there are things that need to be done before and after they start their work for which they must be compensated. These activities, which sometimes includes “doffing and donning” clothing and equipment, are known as “preliminary and postliminary” activities. The standard that has been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is that these activities must be “integral and indispensable” to the “principal” duties of employment. Thus a steel worker donning a protective suit would be integral to them protecting themselves and conducting the work. Walking from their car in the parking lot to the time clock would not be.

The decision

Integrity Staffing argued that the security screening is a classic postliminary activity that is neither integral nor indispensable to the work of the warehouse employees. Fisher & Phillips in their notice said “It argued that because the screening process has no relationship with what the employees ordinarily do while on the job, it is not related to a principal activity and is not compensable. Integrity Staffing asserted that the screening is simply a logical part of the exit process and is similar to a requirement that an employee clock out after finishing a day’s shift, an activity which is not compensable.”
The U.S. Supreme court unanimously agreed with Integrity Staffing’s argument. Fisher & Phillips said “the Court agreed with Integrity Staffing that, the act of going through a security screening is not sufficiently related to the duties of a warehouse worker to make the time spent doing so compensable. The Court reasoned that Busk and Castro were hired to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment. The security screening process could have been eliminated without impairing the employees’ ability to do their work. Therefore, the time spent going through the security screening cannot be considered an intrinsic element of the work and is not compensable.”

Good news for employers

While this is good news for employers who have similar screening processes in their business it does not mean that they now have free rein in eliminating all other activities. If something meets the standard of being “integral and indispensable to the principal duties of employment” nonexempt employees still have to be paid for the time spent in those activities. So be careful about making any wholesale changes, they may cost you more in defending them than they cost you to abide by them.
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