Employment Law Alert

Time Spent In Security Screenings Does Not Have To Be Compensated – The U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision in Integrity Staffing v. Busk

January 1, 2015

The question of when an employee’s compensable work for the day begins and ends is one which can be more complicated than it seems at first glance.  Does an employee who checks email before driving to work have to be compensated for that time?  Will an employer have to pay an employee for the time it takes to park in a remote lot and take a shuttle bus to work? 

The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on this subject in its recent decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, No. 13-433 (December 9, 2014), where it ruled unanimously that employees did not have to be paid for the time they spent waiting to undergo and then undergoing security screenings before leaving the workplace each day.  In this class action case, the employees were hourly workers who worked in two different warehouses.  Their duties involved retrieving products from shelves and packaging the products for delivery to Amazon customers.  At the end of the day, the employees were required to undergo a security screening which included removing their wallets, keys and belts, and going through a metal detector. 

The employees complained that they were forced to spend up to twenty-five minutes a day in this screening process, and argued that under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) they should be compensated for this time.  The legal question at issue is governed by the amendment to the FLSA known as the “Portal to Portal Act,” and focuses on whether the security screening process is an activity which is “preliminary or postliminary” to the principal activities which the workers are employed to perform, in which case the time would not be compensable, or whether the security screening process is an “integral and indispensable part of the principal activities,” in which case the time would be compensable.

In a decision which will be welcomed by employers, the Supreme Court found that the security screenings were not the “principal activity or activities which [the] employee is employed to perform.”  The Court went on to explain that “Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screening, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.”  Further, the security screenings were not an integral and indispensable part of the employees’ duties; they could be eliminated without impairing the employees’ ability to do their work.

The Court contrasted the time spent on security screenings with time spent on tasks which have been found to be indispensable in previous cases, such as time battery-plant employees spent showering and changing their clothes because the chemicals in the plant were “toxic to human beings” and so removing the chemicals from their bodies was indispensable to their performance of their duties, and the time meatpacker employees spent sharpening their knives because using dull knives would impair their ability to do their work effectively.

The Court’s decision is a big victory for retailers, who often require security checks like the one analyzed in this case.  The decision raises the question, however, of how far this rationale can go.  If employees were required to spend three hours in security screenings, would the same reasoning still apply?  At some point, would the time spent on the postliminary activity become so great that it would turn into a principal activity?

Employers who currently require employees to engage in preliminary or postliminary activities, such as undergoing security screenings, changing clothes, donning protective gear, or preparing equipment, may want to review their policies to make sure they are consistent with the Court’s decision.  If you have questions about when your employees’ compensable work days begin and end, please contact a member of Morse’s Employment Law Group.

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