Employers should be relieved to know that they are not required to pay employees for security check time. In a unanimous opinion issued Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that workers are not entitled to be paid for time spent waiting for and undergoing post-shift anti-theft screenings under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as amended by the Portal to Portal Act.
The case involved workers at an Amazon.com warehouse who were employed through a staffing agency, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., to retrieve inventory and package it for shipment to customers. The workers argued that the time should be compensable because it was “to prevent employee theft” and thus occurred “solely for the benefit of the employers and their customers.” Rejecting this contention, the court found that a test that turns on whether the activity is for the benefit of the employer is overbroad.
The court explained that under the FLSA an activity is compensable if it is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform. In order to meet this test, the activity must be an intrinsic element of the activity and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he or she is to perform the principal activity. The integral and indispensable test is tied to the productive work that the employee is employed to perform. Because the productive work involved in this case involved retrieving inventory and packaging it for shipment, the court held that the post-shift screening was not an intrinsic element of that activity and therefore not compensable.
The court’s ruling is consistent with prior precedent which distinguishes between activities that are essentially part of the ingress and egress process, on one hand, and activities that constitute the actual “work of consequence performed for an employer” on the other hand. Activities that are part of the ingress and egress process are referred to as “preliminary” or “postliminary” to the work to be performed and are not compensable. The Code of Federal Regulations explains that time spent clocking in and out of work, waiting in line to do so, changing clothes, washing up or showering, and waiting in line to receive pay checks constitute “preliminary” or “postliminary” activities and employees are not entitled to compensation for the time spent engaged in those activities.
On the other hand, the court has held compensable time battery-plant employees spent showering and changing clothes because the chemicals in the plant were “toxic to human beings” and the employer conceded that the “the clothes-changing and showering activities of the employees were indispensable to the performance of their productive work and integrally related thereto.” Similarly, in another case, the court held compensable the time meatpacker employees spent sharpening their knives because dull knives would “slow down production” on the assembly line, “affect the appearance of the meat as well as the quality of the hides,” “cause waste,” and lead to “accidents.”
As every situation is different, it is best to consult with counsel to ensure compliance with the FLSA and local labor and wage laws.
If you have any questions about your company’s policies, or how this case could impact your business, please contact: