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Unpaid Wages–Court Rules Employers Need Not Compensate For Time Spent Undergoing Security Screenings

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk that an employer need not compensate for the time that employees spend passing through security screenings at the end of a shift. Integrity Staffing’s employees gathered items for Amazon’s customers. The employees were required to undergo mandatory security screenings before leaving each day that took 25 minutes.   The employees sued under the FLSA for unpaid wages for the 25 minutes spent undergoing security checks.

 

The Supreme Court ruled that the time was not compensable and no wages were due. The Portal-to-Portal Act exempted employers from FLSA liability for claims based on “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to” the performance of the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform. “principal activities” includes all activities which are an “integral and indispensable part of the principal activities.”  “Integral and indispensable” are those that are an intrinsic element of the employee’s principal activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.  The Court found that the screenings were not the principal activities the employees performed—rather their job was to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package them for shipment.

 

The Supreme Court distinguished prior cases that it held was compensable. These included the 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 clothes-changing and showering activities of the employees [were] indispensable to the performance of their productive work and integrally related thereto.” It also 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.” The court, however, has held as noncompensable the time poultry-plant employees spent waiting to don protective gear because such waiting was “two steps re- moved from the productive activity on the assembly line.”

 

Given the fine line between what constitutes compensable wages, it is surprising that this ruling was unanimous.   As employees continue to sue for unpaid wages, it is expected that lower courts and employment lawyers will continue to wrestle with what constitutes compensable preliminary and postliminary activities.

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