Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a staffing firm did not have to compensate its employees for the time they spent waiting to undergo and actually undergoing security screenings. The staffing firm, Integrity Staffing Solutions, required its hourly warehouse workers, who were employed to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package them for delivery to Amazon.com customers, to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse each day.
A group of former employees sued Integrity claiming that the Fair Labor Standards Act required Integrity to compensate them for the roughly 25 minutes per day they spent undergoing the security screening.
The former employees argued that Integrity required the screenings, that the screenings benefited Integrity and its customers, and that Integrity could have taken reasonable measures to significantly decrease the amount of time the employees spent waiting each day.
The Supreme Court was not persuaded by these arguments and held that Integrity did not have to compensate its employees for time spent on the screenings. The Court relied heavily upon the Portal-to-Portal Act which exempts employers from payment for “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to” the “principal activities” which the employee is hired to perform. “Principal activities,” which an employer must compensate an employee for performing, include those activities which an employee necessarily must do in order to safely or effectively perform the duties he was hired to perform.
For example, a butcher in a meat packing plant must be compensated for the time spent sharpening his knives because dull knives lead to accidents and damage the product, and employees at a battery factory must be compensated for time spent changing into gear that protects them from toxic chemicals used to manufacture batteries.
These activities are indispensable to the performance of the duties which the butcher and battery line worker were hired to perform and are, therefore, included in the category of “principal activities” for which the employees must be paid. The Supreme Court held, yesterday, that the security screenings Integrity required were not compensable “principal activities.” Instead, they were postliminary to these principal activities.
Integrity’s workers were hired, not to undergo screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package them for shipment. Unlike sharpening knives in the case of the butcher and donning protective clothing in the case of the battery line worker, going through a post-shift security screening was not an intrinsic part of what Integrity’s employees were hired to do.
Employees could have skipped the screenings without impairing the safe or effective completion of their principal activities. In fact, the Court pointed out that Integrity could have done away with the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.
The bottom line is that an employer does not have to pay employees for all activities simply because it requires employees to participate in them, the activities directly benefit the employer, or the employer could reasonably have reduced the amount of time spent on the activities. Instead, whether an employer must compensate an employee for time spent on an activity which occurs at the beginning or end of a work day depends on whether the activity is an intrinsic and indispensable part of the productive work which the employee is employed to perform. If it is not, it is preliminary or postliminary, and non-compensable.
The case is Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, et al., and can be located here.