The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a complex federal law, and it affects millions of workers every single day. In essence, the FLSA requires statutorily-defined employers to pay employees the minimum wage for all hours worked and to pay employees time and a half for all hours worked over 40 per work week, unless the employee is exempt from coverage (for example, professionals, administrators, and executives who are on salary).
The “all hours worked” aspect of the FLSA is important to nail down. It generally does not cover the time spent driving to and from your job, if that time is your regular commuting time. Nor does it cover time spent performing incidental tasks before and after clocking in. But how do you determine if those tasks are merely incidental to your job performance or are integral and indispensable to your job performance? The general rule requires that for the tasks to be integral and indispensable, the preliminary and postliminary activities must be (1) “necessary to the principal work performed” and (2) “done for the benefit of the employer.”
The U.S. Supreme Court will be deciding just such a case this term. In fact, the Court heard oral arguments on that case earlier in October and will be issuing an opinion in the coming months. The last court to hear this case prior to the Supreme Court’s involvement was the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal appellate court whose jurisdiction includes Nevada.
The case, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, U.S., No. 13-433, involves employees at an Amazon.com shipping facility in Nevada. The employees are required to submit to a security screening after they clock-out at the end of a shift. The search is intended to prevent employees from stealing merchandise. Employees are not given a choice; they MUST submit to the screening before they can leave. They have to wait up to 25 minutes to be searched, which includes removing their wallets, keys, and belts, and passing through metal detectors. During the entirety of this search process, the employees are not compensated.
The employees bringing the suit allege that the search process was “integral and indispensable” to their job, and as such, they should be compensated for that time. The Ninth Circuit court agreed, stating that because the security screen was required of all warehouse employees and conducted solely for Integrity Staffing’s benefit, it could be found “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ primary job activities of picking and shipping merchandise to Amazon.com customers.
The federal Department of Labor (DOL) does not agree with the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation. The DOL filed an amicus curiae brief (a written argument submitted by a person or entity not a party to the lawsuit), arguing that the “integral and indispensable test” requires “a closer or more direct relationship” between an employee’s principal work activities and the post-shift activity. The screening procedure, the DOL stated, does not meet that standard.
As I stated earlier, the Supreme Court will be deciding this case in the coming months, and I will provide a summary of the case and its practical effects once it is issued.
As an employee, it’s important for you to know your legal rights, so if you or someone you know has a question about the FLSA and whether it applies to your employment situation, please give our office a call.