By: Rudman Winchell Attorney Matthew Cobb
On December 9, 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that workers at an Amazon.com warehouse were not entitled to payment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the federal law governing minimum wage and overtime pay, for time spent waiting to undergo and actually taking part in security screenings at the end of each work day. The case, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, involved employees of a staffing agency who worked in warehouses retrieving products from shelves and packaging them for delivery to Amazon.com customers. At the end of each day, before leaving the workplace, the employees were required to undergo antitheft security screenings. The employees claimed that they spent up to 25 minutes each day waiting to undergo and undergoing the security checks, they were not paid for this time, and such time was compensable “work” time under the FLSA.
The Supreme Court disagreed that time spent at security checks was compensable. The Court explained that “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary” to an employee’s principal work activities are not compensable under the FLSA. The term “principal activity or activities” includes those activities which occur before or after an employee’s scheduled work shift that are nonetheless an “integral and indispensable part” of an employee’s principal activities and therefore compensable. To illustrate the point, the Court discussed prior decisions in which pre-shift or post-shift activities constituted an “integral and indispensable” part of an employee’s principal work activities. For example, the Court had concluded in an earlier case that battery-plant employees should have been paid for time spent showering and changing clothes because the chemicals in the plant were toxic to humans and the showering and clothes-changing activities were necessary for the employees to perform the work for which they had been hired. Likewise, the Court reasoned in another case that the time meatpacking employees spent sharpening their knives before their shifts began was compensable because dull knives slowed production, affected the appearance and quality of the meat, and lead to accidents.
Unlike those prior examples, however, the Court concluded that in this case, the time the employees spent waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings was not compensable because those activities were not “integral and indispensable” to their principal work activities in retrieving products from warehouse shelves and packaging them for shipment. The Court observed that the employees had not been hired to undergo security screenings and that taking part in those screenings in no way affected their ability to retrieve and package consumer products. It noted that the staffing agency could have dispensed with the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to perform their jobs. Thus, the employees were not entitled to compensation for the time spent at security checks.
Although the Court determined that the postliminary activities in this case were not compensable, the decision serves as an important reminder to employers that certain time prior to or after an employee’s scheduled shift may still be compensable under the FLSA. Employers should pay close attention to their employees’ preliminary and postliminary activities and be mindful as to whether those activities could be considered “integral and indispensable” to the work an employee has been hired to perform. If so, employees may be entitled to compensation for such time, and employers could face liability for unpaid wages if their employees are not being compensated for such time.
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