WHEN DOES THE WORKDAY END? « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


U.S. Supreme Court Finds An Employer Need Not Pay Wages for Mandatory End-of-the Day Security Checks

Under federal law, employees may or may not earn wages for preliminary actions at the beginning or “postliminary” activities at the close of a work day. The issue is determined on close attention to the context on a case-by-case basis. For example, earlier in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court absolved employer U.S. Steel from having to pay workers for the time spent donning specific articles of clothing and protective gear at the start of the day. See our article: The Devil Is in the Details, U.S. Supreme Court Turns to History and Webster’s Dictionary to Defeat a Class Action (Devil Article).

In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 2014 Westlaw 6885951, 574 United States Reports (U.S.) __ [December 9, 2014]),  the Supreme Court addressed an end-of-the-day work situation, whether the Amazon warehouse workers earned wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for the roughly 25 minutes spent waiting for and receiving daily security screenings after clocking out.

As we explained in the Devil Article, whether an employer has wage obligations under federal law for start-of-the-day “wind-up” activities or day’s end “wind down” actions is determined by the interplay of 1938 FLSA (which imposed near-blanket responsibility for payment for all time workers spent at the job) and the 1947 Portal-to-Portal Act (which exempted certain start and end activities from wage payments).

The key consideration is whether the starting or ending actions are part of a job’s “principal activities” because they are “integral and indispensable” to a worker’s performance of productive work. In one case (Mitchell v. Meat Packing, 350 U.S. 260, 262 (1956)), the Court found that time meatpacker employees spent sharpening their knives was compensable because dull blades would slow down production. In a more recent decision (IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U.S. 21, 42 (2005)), the Court found that time poultry-plant employees spent waiting to put on protective gear was noncompensable because this waiting was “two steps removed from the productive activity on the assembly line.”

In the December, 2014 Integrity Staffing decision, the Supreme Court found the Amazon warehouse employees’ “productive work” was the location and movement of goods on the floor of the work site. The workers’ time waiting in line and going through security screenings (to check at the end of the day for possible theft from the workplace) was not integral and indispensable to their principal duties and could have been eliminated without affecting the workers’ ability to perform their jobs. Thus, employer Integrity Staffing did not owe those employees wages for that time.

While the federal standards thus limit compensable work time in certain contexts, California law is more favorable to employees. Generally, businesses in this state must count the time workers spend at the work site changing clothes, cleaning up or performing other preparatory actions as part of payable “hours worked.” However, California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) enforcement guidelines do recognize some limited exceptions.

The Integrity Staffing case again illustrates that the question of whether employees earn wages for the time they spend on actions to start and/or end the day comes down to the specific circumstances in each situation. Particularly where management seeks to exclude such time from the paid workday, consulting with experienced employment legal counsel is a good idea.

If you have any questions about these issues, feel free to contact one of our attorneys, Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth, or Helena Kobrin.

Helena Kobrin, May 13, 2015