On December 9, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously held that warehouse employees were not entitled to be compensated for time spent at the end of their shifts in security screenings. The Court held that the post-shift screening activity was not compensable because it was not “integral and indispensable” to the principal activities the employees were hired to perform.
The employer, Integrity Staffing, provides warehouse employee staffing to Amazon.com in various locations throughout the U.S. The Plaintiffs were hired to locate products in a warehouse and prepare them to be shipped. Id. at 1-2. Integrity Staffing required that its warehouse workers undergo security screenings at the end of their shifts to protect against employee theft. These screenings involved employees removing items like wallets, keys and belts, and passing through metal detectors. This process sometimes took up to 25 minutes. Id. at 2.
The Plaintiff/employees argued that they were entitled to be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for time spent waiting in line to undergo security screenings. They argued that the security screenings were solely for the benefit of the employers (to prevent theft) and, thus, constituted compensable time. The employees also argued that this time could have been reduced by the employer to a de minimis amount by hiring more security screeners or by staggering the end times of shifts. Id.
The lower court dismissed the complaint, holding that the time was not compensable work time. The Ninth Circuit disagreed and held that it was compensable time because it was “necessary to the principal work performed and done for the benefit of the employer.” Id. at 3. The 2nd and 11th Circuits, on the other hand, had held that time spent in security screenings was not compensable because the time was not “integral and indispensable” to employees’ principal job activities. The employer appealed and the question the Supreme Court had to decide was : “Whether time spent in security screenings is compensable under the FLSA, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act.”
The FLSA provides minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek (with some exceptions not applicable here). FLSA did not define “work” or “workweek” and those terms were initially interpreted broadly by the Court after FLSA was enacted. The broad reading of what the Court considered to be compensable time resulted in a flood of litigation about whether activities that occurred before and after shifts were compensable. Id. at 3-4.
Congress reacted swiftly to this flood of litigation in 1947 with passage of the Portal-to-Portal Act. The Act amended the FLSA to exclude as compensable time “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to” principal activities that the employee is hired to perform. Id. at 5. The Supreme Court later held that “principal activities,” and, thus, compensable activities, includes those that are “integral and indispensable” part of the principal activities. Id. at 5. Therefore, an activity is either noncompensable preliminary/postliminary work or it is pre/post shift work that is integral and indispensable to the employee’s principal activities that an employee is employed to perform.
Several earlier Supreme Court decisions provided some guidance as to what activities were “integral and indispensable” to principal activities. One case held that time spent by meatpackers sharpening their knives was compensable because, although sharpening knives was not the principal activity, it was integral and indispensable to the principal activity of cutting meat. On the other hand, another case held that time spent waiting to don protective gear in a poultry plant was not compensable because it was two steps removed from the employee’s principal activity on the production line. Id. at 6. A DOL regulation had defined integral activities as those that were closely related and indispensable to its performance. See 29 C.F.R. § 790.8(b), (c). Although these cases and the regulation are helpful, there has never been a clear test to determine the parameters of what activities are integral and indispensable.
In Integrity Staffing, the Court finally provided lower courts and employers some guidance on these terms. The Court held that an “activity is … integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform 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.” Id. at 6 (emphasis added).
Utilizing this standard, the Court held that Integrity Staffing did not “employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.” In addition, the screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment.” Id. at 7. The Court explained that the employer could have eliminated the screenings completely and it would not have impaired the employee’s ability to complete their work. Id.
Finally, the Court rejected the Plaintiffs arguments and made it clear that just because an employer requires an activity does not necessarily mean that the activity is “integral and indispensable.” The Court also held that it does not matter if the employer could have compensability issue.
Based on Integrity, the test for whether pre and post shift activities are compensable is two-part.
- First, is the pre/post shift activity in question the principal activity which the employee is employed to perform?
- If no, then is the pre/post shift activity “an intrinsic element of those [principal] activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform those[principal] activities.” Id. at 7. If it is, then the pre/post shift activity is compensable and should be paid by the employer.
Hopefully this test will clear up confusion in the lower courts and provide some guidance to employers facing these issues.
The Court’s opinion is available here.