Today, the Supreme Court overturned a decision from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and held that warehouse workers who were required to stay after normal hours on the job to undergo security screenings were not entitled to pay while they wait for and go through the screenings. The decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk is available here. The workers – who retrieved products from warehouse shelves and packaged them for shipment to Amazon customers – spent roughly 25 minutes each day to undergo the screenings, which were conducted to prevent employee theft.
Plaintiffs had argued, and the Ninth Circuit had held, that under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), postshift activities that would ordinarily be classified as noncompensable are nevertheless compensable if the postshift activities are necessary to the principal work and performed for the employer’s benefit. The Ninth Circuit explained that the screenings were “necessary” to the employee’s primary work, since the warehouse employees were required to undergo the screenings, and waited in security lines many hours a year for the employer’s benefit.
Overturning the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court ruled that the security screenings were noncompensable. To support this conclusion, the Court explained that: (1) the warehouse workers were hired to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package them for shipment, not to undergo security screenings; and (2) the security screenings were not “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ duties, as the employer could have “eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.” The Court faulted the Ninth Circuit for focusing on whether an “employer required a particular activity” and not on whether an employer is performing work that the employee is “employed to perform.”
It should not matter that the employer could have eliminated the screenings, or that the employees were not hired to undergo security screenings. Apparently, the employer felt that maintenance of the security of the warehouse was an integral and indispensable part of the employees’ jobs – the employer required the workers to undergo a long security check, every single day. The Ninth Circuit had taken a fairer approach, which comports with our basic understanding of what deserves compensation. You should be paid for the time you spend doing whatever the employer requires you to perform, while you are under the employer’s control, and acting for the benefit of the employer. It should not matter whether certain job responsibilities the employer has given you could be altogether eliminated by the employer, because in fact, the required activities prevent you from going home and doing the things you want to be doing.
Employees are not entitled to get paid for their ordinary commute time: they could detour to take a child to school, stop for a drink with a friend after work, pick up dinner or drycleaning – or do whatever might interest them. This time is not under an employer’s control. California’s Labor Code takes the right approach – and California wage claims are unaffected by Integrity Staffing Solutions. As discussed in a previous blog post, under California law, an employer must compensate employees when an employee is “subject to the control of an employer” with no personal freedom to “use the time effectively for their own purposes.” For example, an employer must compensate employees for travel time if the employees are required to travel in a company-provided transportation, or if the employer subjects employees to restrictions during their commute via company vehicles, such as not permitting personal stops, forbidding them from picking up passengers, and forbidding the use of a cell phone except to answer calls from company headquarters.
Once a worker submits to his or her employer’s control, foreclosed from doing activities in which he or she might otherwise engage, the time should be compensated. Why shouldn’t people get paid to work, if their time is encumbered by their employers?
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