U.S. Supreme Court: Time spent for anti-theft security screenings is not compensable
Posted on 12/09/2014 at 03:54 PM by Melissa Schilling
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employees are entitled to compensation for work or work time. However, the type of activities that constitute work or work time is a contentious issue between employers and employees. For instance, if an employee changes his clothes and showers at work, does that constitute work or work time? Similarly, if an employee is required to put on protective gear prior to performing work, does that constitute work or work time? In an attempt to answer these questions and to clarify the meaning of work and work time, Congress passed the Portal-to-Portal Act. The Portal-to-Portal Act clarifies that activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to an employee's principal work activity or activities is not compensable. 29 U.S. C. § 254(a). The United States Supreme Court has interpreted the term principal activity or activities to embrace all activities which are an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities. An activity is integral and indispensable if it is an intrinsic element of the employees principal activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is perform his principal activities. By way of example, the Court has held that time spent by battery-plant employees to shower and change clothes was compensable because the chemicals in the plant were toxic to human beings and the employees could not perform their work safely without donning the proper protective gear. Similarly, the Court has held that time spent by meatpacker employees to sharpen their knives was compensable because even though the employees might be able to cut meat without having sharpened their knives, they could not do so effectively. On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, the United States Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision which further clarifies the meaning of work and work time under the FLSA. See Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk., 574 U.S. ____. In Integrity Staffing Solutions, the plaintiffs worked as warehouse employees. They retrieved products from shelves and packaged those products. Before leaving the warehouse at the end of each day, the plaintiffs were required to undergo security screenings, which required plaintiffs to remove their wallets, keys, belts and pass through metal detectors. The plaintiffs claimed that they spent approximately 25 minutes each day waiting to undergo and actually undergoing the security screenings. According to the plaintiffs, the screenings were conducted to prevent employee theft and thus occurred solely for the benefit of the employers and their customers. For these reasons, the plaintiffs claimed they were owed money for time spent waiting for and undergoing the security screenings. The Supreme Court, however, disagreed. To reach this conclusion, the Court applied its interpretation of principal work activity or activities. The Supreme Court first held that the security screenings were not compensable under the FLSA because Integrity Staffing Solutions did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings. Instead, it employed its workers to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers. Next, the Court found that the security screenings were not integral and indispensable to the employees duties as warehouse employees. The Court reasoned that the screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment and Integrity Staffing could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees ability to compete their work. On this issue, the Court noted that its finding was consistent with the Department of Labors position that pre-shift security searches of employees in a rocket-powder plant are noncompensable. In conclusion, the Court held that an activity is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform and thus compensable under the FLSA if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities. Because the time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings did not meet these criteria, the Court found that the plaintiffs were not owed money for this time. There are three additional aspects to the Courts decision that are important for employers. First, the Court held that an activity is not compensable simply because the employer requires that activity. In other words, the focus is not on whether an employer requires a particular activity; rather, it is on whether the activity is tied to productive work that the employee is employed to perform. Second, the Court held that an activity is not compensable simply because the activity is for the benefit of the employer. Lastly, the Court held that the fact that the employer could reduce the time spent on the screenings to a de minimis amount is not dispositive. Take Aways: The Courts decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions provides guidance for employers as to what types of pre-shift and post-shift activities are compensable under the FLSA and Iowas Minimum Wage Law, Iowa Code Chapter 91D.1. Because Iowas Minimum Wage Law does not specifically address what constitutes work or work time, Iowa looks for guidance from the regulations and case law under the FLSA. Under Integrity Staffing Solutions, Iowa employers must ask two main questions when deciding whether a pre-shift or post-shift activity is compensable: (1) is the activity an activity that the employee is employed to perform? and; (2) is the activity integral and indispensable to the employees productive work? If the answer to either one of these questions is no, an employer may not be required to compensate the employee for time spent engaging in the activity. For unionized employers, employers could use this standard to bargain so that the time spent engaging in certain pre-shift or post-shift activities, such as security screenings, is not compensable. Because this is a mandatory subject of bargaining for private sector employers, Iowa employers cannot make unilateral changes to their pay practices without bargaining with the union first. With respect to the public sector, the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board has not specifically addressed whether this is a mandatory subject of bargaining. However, given recent decisions by the Iowa PERB and the fact that hours and wages are included as mandatory subjects of bargaining under the Iowa Code, Iowa public employers should also treat this issue as a mandatory subject of bargaining. If you have any questions regarding how Integrity Staffing Solutions may impact your employment practices or your bargaining strategies, or questions regarding pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, please contact a member of Dickinson's employment law group.
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