The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that an employer was not required to pay its non-exempt employees for time spent waiting to go through security screenings at the end of the workday. In Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, et al., the Supreme Court found that the screenings were not "integral and indispensable" to the employees' "principal activities" and therefore, the time spent waiting for these screenings was not compensable under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and Portal-to-Portal Act.
Integrity Staffing is a temp agency that provides warehouse staffing to Amazon.com. The plaintiffs were hourly Integrity Staffing employees who retrieved products from warehouse shelves and packaged those products for delivery to Amazon customers. In order to prevent theft, Integrity Staffing required all of its warehouse employees to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse at the end of each day but did not pay them for this time. The plaintiffs filed a class action against Integrity Staffing alleging that they were entitled to be paid for the roughly 25 minutes they spent each day waiting to undergo and actually undergoing the security screening.
Under the FLSA, employers must pay non-exempt employees a minimum wage and overtime compensation for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours in each workweek. Congress later enacted the Portal-to-Portal Act to clarify that employers are not required to pay employees for "activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to" the employees' "principal activities" (i.e., those activities that occur before and after the workday). Earlier Supreme Court cases have described "principal activities" as all activities which are an "integral and indispensable" part of the employee's job. For example, the time battery-plant employees spend showering and changing clothes is compensable because the chemicals in the plant are toxic to human beings and these activities are integrally related to their work. By contrast, the time poultry-plant employees spend waiting to don protective gear is not compensable because waiting is two steps removed from the protective activity on the assembly line.
In Integrity Staffing, the Supreme Court ruled that the warehouse employees were not entitled to be paid for the time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing the security screenings because the screenings were not the employees' principal activities. The employees were not employed to undergo security screenings, but rather to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment. The Supreme Court also found that the screenings were not integral and indispensable to those activities as their employer could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees' ability to complete their work.
The Supreme Court rejected the test performed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which had focused on whether Integrity Staffing had required the activity. Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that the focus must be on whether the activity is integral and indispensable to the productive work that the employee is actually employed to perform. The Supreme Court also decided that it would be overbroad to apply a test turning on whether the activity benefited the employer.
While the Supreme Court in Integrity Staffing ruled that the time these employees spend waiting to go through security screenings is not compensable under federal law, it is important to note that some state wage and hour laws may apply different tests in determining whether employees must be compensated for certain activities. Therefore, it is important to review any activities that occur before and after the workday under both state and federal laws.