CWS 3.0: December 10, 2014

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US Supreme Court rules no pay for security screening time

In a unanimous decision, the US Supreme Court ruled companies do not have to pay workers for time workers spent waiting to go through security screenings.

In Integrity Staffing v. Busk, staffing firm workers sought payment for the spent waiting in security screening lines when leaving the warehouse of staffing client Amazon.com after each shift. The case was filed in 2010. A federal court in Nevada ruled in favor of Integrity in July 2011, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 reversed the lower court’s decision related to time spent in the security line, ruling it was an integral part of the employees’ work.

The Supreme Court heard the case in October and issued its ruling yesterday, rejecting the Ninth Circuit’s decision, saying the screenings were not an integral part of the worker’s jobs, and therefore are noncompensable.

“An activity is not integral and indispensable to an employee’s principal activities unless it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform those activities,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in his opinion.

The court cited a 1951 opinion letter from the US Department of Labor stating that preshift security screenings were noncompensable.  

Among plaintiffs arguments was the time should be compensable because Integrity could have reduced the time it took for them to undergo screening, which would take up to 25 minutes, according to the lawsuit. The court rejected that claim as well, saying, “These arguments are properly presented to the employer at the bargaining table, not to a court in an FLSA claim,” according to the opinion.

“This decision of the Supreme Court will be a huge relief to all employers who require their employees to undergo security screenings; but it is also an important decision because it clarifies the correct test to be applied by employers when deciding whether an activity is compensable or not under the FLSA,” says Fiona Coombe, director of legal and regulatory research, Staffing Industry Analysts. “The court said that the test is whether the particular activity was tied to the productive work that the employee was employed to perform, and not that the particular activity was required by the employer.”

The opposite ruling could have had a significant financial effect on contingent workforce buyers like Amazon, including the federal government, which filed a brief with the court in Integrity’s favor: “The United States also employs many employees who are covered by the FLSA … and requires physical-security checks in many settings,” according to the federal brief. “The United States accordingly has a substantial interest in the resolution of the question presented.”

The National Federation of Retailers also filed a brief arguing against making screening time compensable.

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