In December 2014, the United States Supreme Court rejected a Ninth Circuit decision that improperly focused on the benefit conferred on the employer by certain postliminary activities, and found former employees placed at an Amazon.com warehouse were not entitled to pay for time spent passing through anti-theft security screenings.

The plaintiffs in Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc. v. Busk et al., were employed by Integrity Staffing Solutions and placed in Amazon warehouses to fill orders placed by Amazon.com customers. At the end of each shift, workers were required to pass through anti-theft security screens that took up to 25 minutes due to long times spent in line. The plaintiffs argued that this time was compensable as hours worked under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and Nevada labor laws.

The FLSA does not define the term “work,” and the United States Supreme Court has sought to provide guidance to employers on what time is compensable, finding that an employee’s time is compensable if he or she is performing any activity that is pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer and his business. Congress later passed the Portal-to-Portal Act, which limited employer liability for certain activities, such as (1) walking, riding and traveling to and from the actual place of work; (2) clothes changing in certain circumstances; and (3) other activities that are preliminary to or postliminary to principal work. These activities were deemed excluded from compensable work.

The District Court concluded that the security screenings at issue were “postliminary” activity under the FLSA and Portal-to-Portal Act, and thus not compensable. After the Ninth Circuit reversed in relevant part because it found the screenings to be “necessary to the principal work performed,” the Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the screenings were “integral and indispensable” to the warehouse employees’ principal activities. 

In its decision, the Supreme Court found that the Ninth Circuit’s focus on the benefits derived by the employer was erroneous, and that the focus should instead look to whether the activity was “integral and indispensable . . to the productive work that the employee isemployed to perform.” Because the security screenings could be eliminated in their entirety without impairing the employees’ abilities to perform their principal activities, the Supreme Court ruled that the screenings were not compensable time.