Amazon warehouse employees can’t seem to catch a break. A few years ago, the media was abuzz with the stories about the grueling conditions inside the company’s warehouses. This year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the warehouse employees are not entitled to overtime pay for the time spent waiting to undergo and going through the required security screenings after the end of their normal work hours.
In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. required its hourly warehouse workers, who retrieved products from warehouse shelves and packaged them for delivery to Amazon.com customers, to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse each day.
The employees argued that they spent roughly 25 minutes each day waiting to undergo and undergoing the screening that was meant to prevent employee theft and that since such screening was conducted for the sole benefit of the employer and its customers, the employees had to be paid for their time under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA).
The employees’ argument was based on the Portal-to-Portal Act (PPA), which provides that employers do not have to pay their employees for (1) “walking, riding, or traveling to and from the actual place of performance of the principal activity or activities which such employee is employed to perform,” and (2) “activities which are preliminary to postliminary to said principal activity or activities.” The employees argued that the screening time was an integral and indispensable part of their principal activity – retrieval and packaging of Amazon products – and, therefore, was compensable time under the PPA.
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the employer after finding that the security screening was neither the principal activity for which employees were hired, nor the “integral and indispensable” part of the employees’ duties as warehouse workers. The Court explained that it did not matter whether a particular post- or pre-shift activity was required by an employer, but whether such additional activity was indispensable to the performance of employees’ work. In this case, the security screening, although required by the employer, was not integral part of the work for which the warehouse employees were hired – packaging of Amazon products. Thus, the employer did not have to pay for such time.
Compensable Pre- and Post-Workshift Activities
Here are some examples of what pre-shift and post-shift activities the Court has previously held to be compensable because they were indispensable to the main work activities:
- The time battery-plant employees spent showering and changing clothes because the chemicals in the plant were “toxic to human beings” and the employer conceded that “the clothes-changing and showering activities of the employees [were] indispensable to the performance of their productive work and integrally related thereto.” Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U.S. 247, 252-253 (1956).
- The time the meatpacker employees spent sharpening their knives because dull knives would “slow down production” on the assembly line, “affect the appearance of the meat as well as the quality of the hides,” “cause waste,” and lead to “accidents.” Mitchell v. King Packing Co., 350 U.S. 260, 262 (1956)
Non-Compensable Pre- and Post-Shift Activities
On the other hand, the Department of Labor regulations explain that the following post- and pre-workshift activities are generally non-compensable:
- When performed under the conditions normally present, activities including “checking in and out and waiting in line to do so, changing clothes, washing up or showering, and waiting in line to receive pay checks” See 29 CFR Sec 790.7(g) (2013).
Those employers who have facilities where employees must pass through gates, security checks, or take other steps before entering or leaving the workplace, should apply the test that the Court formulated in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk to any such activities to determine whether they should be compensable or not. If the activity is a “principal” activity or is an “integral and indispensable” part of such “principal activity,” then the employer should pay employees for the time they spend performing such activities. Additional guidance as to what is considered compensable post- and pre-work activity is provided by the Department of Labor here.