Case: Sandifer v. United States Steel Corporation

Background:  As a general rule, the FLSA requires employers to pay their employees for time spent changing into required protective clothing/gear at work.

Statutory Exception: Section 203(o) of the FLSA provides that time spent changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday may be excluded from compensable time if it is treated as non-work time by a collective bargaining agreement.

Key issue in the case: does protective gear constitute clothing subject to the statutory exception?

Monday's Supreme Court decision: In construing section 203(o), the Court came up with its own definition of clothes, finding protective gear falling within it:   "Dictionaries from the era of §203(o)'s enactment indicate that 'clothes' denotes items that are both designed and  used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as articles of dress."

Limitation of decision: opinion interprets FLSA provision that applies only to union employees under collective bargaining agreement. Further, many  state laws do not include a  provision comparable to the exclusion under the FLSA so the potential benefit of the decision will not even be available to all unionized employers.

So, be careful of headlines that suggest a broader reach than the decision itself.