The US Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, affirmed that unionized employers do not have to pay employees pursuant to FLSA Section 203(o) for time changing clothes when the “clothes” are not integral to the employees’ job performance and when the amount of time employees spend changing non-clothes is de minimis.
In Sandifer, employees, subject to a collective bargaining agreement, spent a majority of their time changing in and out of clothes (flame-retardant jackets, pants, hoods, hardhats, snoods, wristlets, work gloves, leggings and steel-toed boots) which fell within the meaning of the term “clothes” and was, therefore non-compensable time. However, the Court said that glasses, earplugs and respirators did not fall within the definition of “clothes,” but because the time the workers spent changing into those items was de minimis, it was not compensable.
It is important to note that U.S. Steel was following the terms of its collective bargaining agreement when it did not pay its employees for time spent changing clothes, triggering the application of FLSA Section 203(o). Non-unionized employers cannot rely on the provisions of FLSA Section 203(o) and must pay their employees time spent changing into protective gear if that gear is integral to their principal work activities. This case is a good reminder for employers to review their policies and procedures to confirm they are paying employees properly.