Is an employer required to pay its workers for the time they spend waiting to go through anti-theft security checks when leaving the worksite? In a decision published yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously said "no," and rejected a claim for unpaid time under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In so ruling, the court overturned a decision by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had ruled in favor of the workers and contrary to other Courts of Appeal considering this specific issue.

The appellant employer, Integrity Staffing, provided warehouse workers to Amazon.com who retrieved products from warehouse shelves and packaged them for delivery. Integrity Staffing required those warehouse workers to pass through metal detectors each day on their way out of work to prevent theft, removing their wallets, keys, belts, and other personal items in the process, which (according to the plaintiffs) took roughly 25 minutes each day. The court was called upon to decide whether, under the Portal-to-Portal Act (an amendment to the FLSA), the workers' time passing through security was "integral and indispensable" to their principal work activities and therefore compensable, or merely noncompensable "postliminary activity."

The question was not a close one for the court. In a succinct opinion, Justice Thomas concluded with little discussion that the security screenings were simply not an "intrinsic" element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves and preparing them for shipment, and that the employer "could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employee's ability to complete their work." The court cited Department of Labor regulations and the court's own precedent on these issues. Justice Thomas critiqued the Ninth Circuit for focusing so heavily on the fact that Integrity Staffing required the security checks and that they were solely for the employer's benefit, concluding that such a test for compensability was overbroad. "If the test could be satisfied merely by the fact that an employer required an activity," Justice Thomas opined, "it would sweep into 'principal activities' the very activities that the Portal-to-Portal Act was designed to address," such as walking to and from a time clock.

It is worth noting that the District Court had dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint, concluding that the challenged security checks were not compensable under the FLSA as a matter of law. The Supreme Court's ruling strengthens the appeal of employing such early attacks on class action pleadings with similar failings. The decision also provides some instruction for plaintiffs looking to artfully plead similar allegations and avoid premature defeat.

The entire decision, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk et al., Case No. 13-433, can be found at 

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-433_5h26.pdf