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A Publication of WTVP

The exact beginning and end of the workday is a common issue in staffing industry. With varied customers and their evolving requirements, knowing the start and end times of the work day are one of the many t’s to cross and i’s to dot by the staffing specialist. In most cases, the answer is apparent. Some questions have come up, however, when the utilization of safety gear is in the mix. Late last year, the Supreme Court clarified the situation.

Employers must now pay their workers for the time it takes them to walk to and from the production floor after putting on (donning) and before taking off (doffing) required safety gear, the Supreme Court ruled. The ruling affirmed the opinions of two federal appeals courts that workers must be considered on the clock when they’re in the process of donning and doffing their safety gear. Although two federal appeals courts agreed on the issue, they were split on the issues of compensation for walking and waiting times. The two lawsuits reached the Supreme Court as one consolidated case.

The Supreme Court decided workers must be paid for post-donning and pre-doffing walking times, because such times aren’t excluded by the Portal-to-Portal Act and, therefore, are covered by the FLSA. The high court also ruled workers must be compensated for the time they spend waiting to doff safety gear, but concluded workers are off the clock when waiting to don the first piece of safety gear at the beginning of the workday.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the opinion, pointed to a 1955 Supreme Court ruling that reached a similar conclusion. In the 1955 case, the high court determined that the principal activities of the job encompass any activities that are an integral and indispensable part of those principal activities, including the donning and doffing of safety gear “before or after the regular work shift, on or off the production line.” In other words, any activity that’s integral and indispensable to the principal activity of the job is itself a principal activity under the Portal-to-Portal Act.

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao called the Supreme Court decision “a tremendous victory for low-wage workers across the country and the Department of Labor.” The Service Employers International Union (SEIU) lauded the opinion as “a victory for American workers” and “for upholding the protections and pay standards that workers are entitled to under the law.”

The Supreme Court rulings are, for the most part, a victory for workers in Washington and Maine who filed two similar lawsuits against their respective employers contending they should be paid for the time it takes to don and doff safety gear, as well as the associated walking and waiting time.

Though the rulings focused on lawsuits from the meat processing industry, it’ll be applied to all industries. Chances are, most companies are already in compliance or must make minor modifications to be in accordance with the rulings. Just remember, the rulings will be applied the same to both staffing and permanent employee under similar conditions. IBI

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