Supreme Court Issues Important Ruling Regarding Compensable Work Time

Kegler Brown E-mployment Alert

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in IBP Inc. v. Alvarez, unanimously ruled that time an employee spends walking to his job after the first primary work activity and before the last primary work activity of the day is compensable time under the Fair Labor Standards Act. While the particular facts of this case are somewhat unique, the Court's ruling could impact employers' pay policies.

The employees in question worked in meat and chicken processing plants and were required to wear protective safety gear. The issue in the case involved the time employees spent walking from the employee locker rooms after they had donned their protective safety equipment but before they had actually begun work. The Court held that the locker rooms where the special safety gear is donned and doffed are the "relevant place of performance of the principal activity that the employee was employed to perform within the meaning of section 4(a)(1) of the FLSA." In making this ruling the Court relied on precedent which holds that employees must be compensated for any activity that is "integral and indispensable" to the "principal activity" of the workplace. In this case, the Court ruled that donning and doffing safety equipment was "integral and indispensable" to the principal activity of the workplace, and under the "continuous workday theory" any time spent after the donning of the protective equipment, as well as time spent before removing the protective equipment, is compensable time under the FLSA.

The Court also held that time spent waiting to pick up safety equipment prior to putting on uniforms is not compensable time. The Court ruled that the time spent "waiting to don" safety equipment is time that elapses before the principal activity of putting on indispensable gear is not compensable time.

The lesson is that if you require your employees to wear protective equipment in order to work, they must be compensated from the time they put on the equipment until they take it off.