In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court once again addressed the issue of whether time the employer requires an employee to do something is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Integrity Staffing required its warehouse workers whose job it was to retrieve inventory and package it for shipment to undergo an antitheft security screening before leaving the warehouse each day. During the screening, employees removed items such as wallets, keys, and belts and passed through metal detectors. Employees filed suit for unpaid wages arguing that the time spent waiting for and being screened was compensable, in part because they were required by the employer to do so.
The Court held that the time was not compensable because the screenings were not the “principal activity or activities which the employee is employed to perform” and they were not “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ duties as warehouse workers. Integrity Staffing employed its workers to retrieve products from warehouse shelves, not to undergo security screenings. In addition, the security screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment — the company could have eliminated the screenings without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.
Supporting the fact specific nature of this issue, the Court gave several examples of precedent that did satisfy the test. The Court has held that time spent showering by battery-plant employees and changing clothes because of the chemicals in the plant was compensable. Similarly, time spent by meatpacker employees sharpening knives was compensable. However, time spent by poultry-plant employees waiting to put on protective gear was not compensable because that waiting time was “two steps removed from the productive activity on the assembly line.”
While this decision appears to make a bright-line rule, employers are well advised to consult with legal counsel about time employees spend pre and post-shift performing required activities – it still may be compensable time.