The decades-long battle for pay during down time or time employees prepare to work, wait to work, or wait to leave work continues. Whether working to wait before leaving for the day or waiting to work before clocking in are instances of paid time is the issue. U.S. Supreme Court justices expressed doubts recently during arguments over whether federal law requires that workers be paid for the time they take to go through security checkpoints to prevent employee theft at Amazon. Previously, the Supreme Court held that employees must be paid for the time they take to put on protective gear, but not for the waiting time associated with taking it off. Also, the Court has ruled that butchers must be paid for the time it takes to sharpen their knives as it is an essential duty to working at a meatpacking plant.
This most recent dispute involves two former employees at a Nevada warehouse who claim that their employer, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., required them to wait up to 25 minutes in security lines at the end of every shift. Integrity provides workers who fill customer orders for Amazon at warehouses. The intermediate appeals court had ruled that the work was payable as the anti-theft screenings were necessary to the workers’ primary work at the warehouse, and it was done for the employer’s benefit. However, certain Supreme Court justices disagreed with the workers’ attorney who argued that the work was compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), as walking through security was a principal activity of the employees’ job duties.
Chief Justice Roberts responded, “But no one’s principal activity is going through security screenings.It may be part of that… but that doesn’t make it a principal activity.” Justice Scalia opined that the security check “is not indispensable to [the warehouse work].” In reply, the workers’ attorney argued that the screening was a “discrete act” that only occurred after the workers had clocked out and handed in their tools. He stated, “It’s work because you are told to do it.”
The Obama administration is siding with the employer. The Justice Department attorney argued that the security screenings were not “integral and indispensable to the workers’ jobs.”
It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court decides this hot-button workplace wage issue. Stay tuned.
Should you have wage and hour questions or issues, please contact the Gilbert Law Group: 631.630.0100.