Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Whether Employees Must be Paid for Time Spent in Security Screenings

Garrett Wozniak
Garrett Wozniak

In January, the Supreme Court affirmed a decision of the Seventh Circuit, which held that steel workers were merely changing clothes when they were “doffing and donning” protective gear and, therefore, that time was not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., 2014 U.S. LEXIS 799 (Jan. 27, 2014).  Sandifer was discussed in a recent post here at the Employment Brief.

Little more than a month after it decided Sandifer, the Supreme Court has decided to review another FLSA case.  On Monday, the Court agreed to review whether workers may be entitled to compensation under the FLSA for the time spent going through security screenings at the end of a work shift.  Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, U.S., No. 13-433, cert. granted 3/3/14.

Integrity, a firm which provides staffing solutions for warehouses that fulfill orders, petitioned the Supreme Court to review a Ninth Circuit decision holding that the FLSA may require Integrity to pay warehouse employees for the time spent going through metal detectors when exiting the employer’s warehouse after a shift.

The Ninth Circuit held that employees may be entitled to pay for the  time (which could be as long as 30 minutes)  they spend going through the security gate at the end of a shift because the security measure is solely for the employer’s benefit.

In its petition for judicial review, Integrity argued that the Ninth Circuit ignored the plain text of the FLSA because the Act does not entitle employees to compensation for time spent in security screenings.  Specifically, Integrity argued that the screening process is nothing more than preliminary and postliminary activity, which is not covered by the FLSA.  Analogizing to Sandifer, Integrity argued that the security screenings are “indistinguishable” from activities such as doffing and donning protective gear, which the Court recently decided was non-compensable under the FLSA.

An activity is preliminary or postliminary if it is “integral and indispensable.”  Integral and indispensable means that the activity is both necessary to the principal work performed and done for the employer’s benefit.

Busk and Castro, two former Integrity employees, opposed the petition for cert.  They argued that time spent in security screenings may, sometimes be compensable under the FLSA.  This was the conclusion of the Ninth Circuit, which decided that an employee’s participation in a security screen might be integral and indispensable to the worker’s principal activities such that it is compensable under the FLSA.

Integrity also raised the specter of a flood of class action lawsuits if the Ninth Circuit is upheld.  Integrity’s petition said that resolving the issue in its favor would prevent businesses with large warehouse operations from being targeted for wage and hour class actions.

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