US Supreme Court Issues Important Wage/Hour Decision

December, 2014


There are several major employment law cases before the US Supreme Court this term, and on December 9, the Court issued a decision on wage/hour law. The case, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, asked whether employers are required to compensate their employees for waiting in line for anti-theft security checks after their shifts had ended. The Court unanimously held that Integrity was not required to compensate the employees for their waiting time.

Here is a little more detail on the facts of the case. The employees in the case were hired to retrieve items from warehouse shelves and package the items for shipping. At the end of their shifts, employees were required to wait in line for an anti-theft security check. The employees alleged that, depending on when an employee’s shift ended and their spot in line, they would sometimes be required to wait as many as 25 minutes before they were allowed to leave Integrity’s premises. Integrity did not compensate the employees for their time spent waiting in line or undergoing the security check.

The employees filed suit, arguing that the time spent waiting was solely for Integrity’s benefit and that Integrity could have hired more screeners to cut down on the security screening time so that it was de minimis.

In analyzing the issue, the Court discussed the 1947 Portal-to-Portal Act, which states that activities that are preliminary and postliminary to an employee’s principal activities are non-compensable. Several subsequent cases have clarified this rule and held that when an activity is “integral and indispensable” to the employee’s principal activities, the time spent conducting the preliminary or postliminary activity is compensable. For instance, meatpackers who need to sharpen their knives must be compensated for that time because it is integral and indispensable to the principal activity of carving meat.

The Court held that the security line checks in this case were not integral to the actual task of retrieving and packaging goods, and the security checks were not indispensable to the work because if Integrity had abolished the security checks, the employees could have still retrieved and packaged the goods.

The Court rejected the employee’s argument that the time should be compensable because it was solely for Integrity’s benefit. In doing so, it approved of the reasoning in a 1951 Department of Labor letter that found no distinction between a preliminary screening that was for worker safety (i.e. for the employee’s benefit) and a postliminary anti-theft screening (i.e. for the employer’s benefit); both were found to be non-compensable. The Court also rejected the employee’s argument that the employer could have provided more screeners and cut down on the screening time, finding that issue to be appropriate for the bargaining table but not a wage/hour claim.

Even if your organization doesn’t conduct security screenings, this is an important case because it helps clarify the rule about when preliminary and postliminary activities are compensable. If you have any questions about how you are compensating your employees and whether this case affects your practices, Contact Cascade today.

 

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