Supreme Court Holds Post-Shift Security Screening Is Not Compensable Under FLSA
In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v Busk, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the time that employees spent waiting to undergo antitheft security screening before leaving work was not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The employer, Integrity Staffing, provides warehouse staffing to Amazon.com. The warehouse employees retrieve products from the shelves and package them for delivery to Amazon customers. Before leaving the warehouse each day, the employees are required to undergo a security screening, in which they remove wallets, keys, belts, and other such items, and then pass through a metal detector. Two employees filed a class action against Integrity Staffing, claiming that the warehouse employees were entitled to compensation under the FLSA for the time they spent waiting for and undergoing the security screening each day, which because of the long line could take as much as 25 minutes.
Lower Courts’ Holdings
Under the FLSA, employees must be paid for each hour worked, but the statute did not define what is “work.” Therefore, Congress passed the Portal-to-Portal Act, specifying that activities that are preliminary or postliminary to the employee’s principal activity or activities are not compensable. Under prior Supreme Court caselaw, the term “principal activity or activities” embraces all activities that are an “integral and indispensable part of the principal activities.” What is meant by “integral and indispensable” was the question presented.
In this case, the district court dismissed the claims, holding that the security screening was not an integral and indispensable part of the employees’ principal activities, and was therefore noncompensable postliminary activity. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling. The 9th Circuit held that post-shift activities become integral and indispensable to an employee’s principal activities if they are necessary to the principal work being performed and done for the benefit of the employer. In this case, because the screening was being done to prevent employee theft, the 9th Circuit found that screening was necessary to the employees’ work and being performed for Integrity Staffing’s benefit, and therefore the time spent waiting for and undergoing the screening was compensable.
The Supreme Court’s Ruling
The Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit’s holding. According to the Supreme Court, an activity is integral and indispensable to an employee’s principal activities “if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform this principal activities.” The Supreme Court also provided examples of when it found pre- or post-shift activities to meet this test. For example, the clothes changing and showering activities of battery plant employees were integral and indispensable because the chemicals in the plant were toxic to human beings. Also, the time meatpacking employees spent sharpening knives was compensable because dull knives would slow production, affect the appearance of the meat, cause waste and pose a safety hazard. In contrast, the time that poultry plant employees spent waiting to don protective gear was not compensable because such waiting was “two steps removed from the production line.” In the present case, the Supreme Court found that the employees’ principal activity was to retrieve products and package them, not to undergo a security screening. The screening could have been eliminated altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.
The Supreme Court stated that the 9th Circuit had applied the wrong standard for determining whether an activity is integral and indispensable by focusing on whether the activity is required by the employer. The Supreme Court noted that the 9th Circuit’s test would encompass “the very activities that the Portal-to-Portal Act was designed to address.” As described in the Department of Labor’s regulations, such noncompensable activities include, under normal circumstances, checking in and out or waiting to do so, changing clothes, washing up or showering, and waiting in line to receive paychecks.
The Supreme Court also rejected the employees’ argument that the time spent waiting for the screening was compensable because it could have been reduced to a minimal period, if Integrity Staffing had taken other actions, like staggering shift-ending times or having more screening stations open. The Supreme Court noted that whether the time could have been reduced does not change the nature of the activity or its relationship to the principal activity.