The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday of this week that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) does not require an employer to compensate employees for time spent waiting in line and then going through security screenings at the end of their work shift each day. The case, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, involves employees of a company that provides warehouse space and staffing to Amazon.com for online order fulfillment. Plaintiffs alleged that their employer required the security screenings as a way to prevent employee theft and that the process of waiting and going through the screenings took up to 25 minutes each day.

In a unanimous opinion by Justice Thomas, the Court ruled that the security screenings fit within the exemption Congress added to the FLSA in 1947 in a statute called the Portal-to-Portal Act. Under that exemption, an employer is not required to compensate employees for:

activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to [the employee’s] 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.

29 U.S.C. § 254(a). The Court held: “The security screenings at issue here are noncompenable postliminary activities.” Slip op. at 7.

The decision reverses the Ninth Circuit’s judgment that the screenings could be compensable because they were required by the employer and were for the employer’s benefit. The Supreme Court said that those circumstances were not dispositive and would make compensable many of the activities that Congress sought to exempt in the Portal-to-Portal Act. Id. at 8-9.

The number of FLSA lawsuits alleging uncompensated work time has skyrocketed in recent years – as current and former employees in many areas (e.g., health care, retail, food service, manufacturing, financial services) allege that employer practices or policies have undercompensated them for required activities. With Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, the Supreme Court has signaled that expansive interpretations of what is compensable work may be inconsistent with the general parameters Congress set in the statute.