Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling finding that employees of a staffing company who worked an Amazon.com warehouse were not entitled to compensation for time spent going through a mandatory post-shift security screening under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The decision, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, No. 13-433 (December 9, 2014), reverses a lower court’s ruling that such time was compensable under the Act.
Pre- and Post-Shift Activities under the FLSA
In general, pre- and post-shift activities are not considered part of the work-day and are not compensable under the FLSA, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act. However, such time is compensable if those pre- or post-shift activities are considered “principal activities” (e.g., the employee is actually performing work) or “integral or indispensable” to those principal activities (e.g., the employee is doing something that’s necessary in order to perform the work).
Security Screenings for Employees
Integrity Staff Solutions staffed employees for several Amazon.com warehouses across the country. Their employment duties consisted of retrieving products from warehouse shelves and packaging them for shipment. At the end of each shift employees went through a theft-detection screening. The screening took approximately 25 minutes to complete, and employees were not compensated for this time.
The employees sued, claiming they were entitled to wages, under the FLSA, for this 25-minute period. The employees argued that the time was compensable because the screenings were mandatory and solely for the benefit of their employer — namely, to prevent theft.
The Ninth Circuit agreed with the employees that the time was compensable, relying on the fact that the screenings were mandatory and therefore necessary to complete the employee’s principal work.
Supreme Court Finds Screening Time is Not Compensable
In a unanimous, 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the security screenings were not compensable because they were not “principal activity” nor were they “integral or indispensable” to principal activity.
The security screenings were not principal activity because Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings. Thus, the screenings were not compensable as a principal activity.
As to whether the activities were “integral or indispensable” to principal activity, the Court first noted that, in order to be integral and indispensable to an employee’s principal work activities, the activity must be required in order to actually perform the employee’s actual job duties. Activities such as putting on and taking off specialized protective gear, preparing tools and showering after working with hazardous chemicals have all been found to be necessary in order to complete a work related task and therefore compensable under FLSA.
In this case, however, the Court noted that the screenings were not necessary for the employees to perform a principal work activity. Simply put, the screenings had nothing to do with being able to retrieving products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.
While determining what constitutes a principal activity of an employee is relatively straight forward, figuring out what is “integral or indispensable” to those activities is often a more difficult question. A helpful way to determine if an activity is integral is to do as the Court did here—look at what the work duties are and work backwards to determine which activities are required in order to initiate, perform or complete those duties.
Finally, today’s decision makes one other important clarification that is helpful to employers facing this situation—simply because a pre- or post-shift activity is mandatory or required by the employer, it is not automatically compensable under the FLSA.