Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., unanimously holding that time warehouse employees spent waiting to go through security checks and undergoing those checks at the end of their shift was not compensable time.  The decision overrules a contrary conclusion that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reached earlier in the case.

The employees at issue in Busk were hourly warehouse employees whose job was to retrieve products off shelves and package them for Amazon customers.  Their employer required them to undergo an anti-theft security check at the end of their shifts before allowing them to leave for the day.  During this process, employees had to remove items such as belts, keys, and phones from their persons and go through a metal detector.  The employees were not compensated for the time they spent waiting in line for the security checks and undergoing the checks, which they alleged took up to 25 minutes each day.  The employees filed a class action lawsuit seeking to recover unpaid wages for this time.  The trial court dismissed the employees’ claim, holding that the security check time was not compensable time under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The employees appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which reversed the district court’s ruling and held that the employees could proceed with their claim because the security checks were required by the employer and if they actually took as much as 25 minutes per day, that time would not be de minimis but instead would be compensable under the FLSA.  The U.S. Supreme Court granted Integrity Staffing Solutions’ petition for review.

In reversing the Ninth Circuit’s decision and holding that the security check time was not compensable, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the claim was governed by the standards set forth in the Portal to Portal Act and the reasons that the Act was initially enacted.  The Portal to Portal Act was enacted after several court decisions came out interpreting the FLSA to broadly require payment for preliminary and postliminary activities (including a plaintiffs’ counsel fave – Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery), which in turn resulted in a flood of litigation by employees seeking pay for such activities.  In response to these decisions expansively interpreting the FLSA, Congress enacted the Portal to Portal Act to define “work” that is compensable and activities that are not compensable under the FLSA.  The Portal to Portal Act thus expressly excludes the following activities from compensable time:

  1. Time spent walking, riding or traveling to and from the actual place of performance of the principal activity or activities which such employee is employed to perform; and
  2. Activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to said principal activity or activities which occur either prior to the time on any particular workday at which such employee commences, or subsequent to the time on any particular workday at which he ceases, such principal activity or activities.

The term “principal activity or activities” means activities that are an “integral and indispensable” part of the principal activities the employee is hired to perform.  Based on these definitions, the Court held that time Integrity Staffing’s employees spent undergoing security checks was non-compensable postliminary work.  The Court reasoned that end of shift security checks were not the employees’ principal activity because the employees were not employed to undergo security checks; rather, they were employed to retrieve products in the warehouse and package them for customers.  Furthermore, the security checks were not an “integral” or “indispensable” part of the employees’ packaging activities.  The security checks were not necessary in order for the employees to perform their packaging duties, and the mere fact that the employer required the screenings does not change the nature of the screenings as being separate from the employees’ principal activities.  Indeed, the employer hypothetically could eliminate the security check requirement and this would have no impact on the employees' ability to perform their principal activities, thus demonstrating that the security checks were not an integral or indispensable part of the employees' duties.  The Court contrasted this type of activity from different types of preliminary or postliminary activity that would be compensable under the FLSA, such as time an employee spent donning required protective gear needed to perform job duties or removing contaminated clothing at the end of a shift in order to safely leave the worksite. Finally, the Court held that the Ninth Circuit erred in focusing on whether the time was de minimis or not in assessing whether it was compensable under the FLSA.  The Court held that the Portal to Portal Act definitions focus on the nature of the activity and its relation to the employees’ principal activities – not on how much time the activity takes the employee to complete. 

The Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions decision is a great one for employers fighting wage and hour lawsuits based on unpaid preliminary and postliminary activities brought under the FLSA.  California employers are cautioned, however, that the Busk decision is based solely on the FLSA/Portal to Portal Act and is not an interpretation of California law.  California courts interpreting California’s Labor Code and Wage Orders have applied a much broader definition of compensable work time to include all time that an employee is subject to the control of the employer.  Thus, even though an employer may be able to defeat a claim for compensation for preliminary/postliminary work under the FLSA, the result may not be the same under California law.  Employers seeking guidance on whether preliminary or postliminary activities performed by California employees are compensable should consult California employment law counsel.

The Busk decision is available in full here.