December 11, 2014 / Law Alert

Employment law perspectives: U.S. Supreme Court unanimous wage and hour decision: employee security screening time not compensable

Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, et al., No. 13-433, decided December 8, 2014

On December 8, 2014, in a short opinion authored by Chief Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court ruled, 9-0, that time spent by warehouse workers waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings is not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act.  The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision, and agreed with district court’s original analysis, as well as the rational in cases from the Second and Eleventh Circuits.

The Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s test which focused on whether an employer required an employee to engage in a particular type of activity.  Rather, the Court found that the time was not compensable because the security screenings were not the principal activities the employees were hired to perform.  The Court explained that Integrity Staffing did not hire employees to go through security screenings; they were hired to retrieve products from the Amazon warehouse shelves and package them for shipment. The security screenings were not integral and indispensable to the “performance of productive work,” as the FLSA regulations require for time to be compensable.  Unlike in the pre-shift donning and doffing of protective gear cases, if the employer eliminated the security screenings, it would not impair the safety or effectiveness of the employees’ principal activities.

For employers, the Court has squarely answered the question of compensable time for employee security screenings.  This decision ends the many class and collective action lawsuits brought after the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  For employers and employees, the broader question will be what constitutes “integral and indispensable” employment activities.  The more narrowly defined an employee’s principal activities are, the more certainty for employers regarding compensation for pre- and post-shift employee activities.