The electronic giant, Best Buy, has requested that a judge approve a $900,000 settlement in a New York State wage-hour class action in which the plaintiffs sought payment for time worked “off-the-clock.” That working time was the minutes spent going through security clearings at the end of the work day, assumedly to ensure that employees did not steal anything during their shifts. The case is entitled Turner v. Best Buy Company, Inc.

Although the case was filed in state court, the employer had removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. After going through a great deal of discovery, the parties decided to settle the action, although they maintained their respective positions. The company maintained that it properly paid all employees for all time worked, while plaintiffs took the view that going through the security check was an employer instigated “activity” that required compensation.

Interestingly, and significantly, the employer has agreed to modify its operating procedures to allow all employees to remain on the clock until their manager allows them to leave the store. Thus, although the employer denied any culpability, the remedial action it took suggests that it knew that there was an issue here.

The key to determining whether preliminary or postliminary activities are compensable is the element of employer compulsion or the lack thereof. I equate this activity to the employer ordering a retail cashier to report ten minutes early to balance out the cash drawer or to stay ten minutes after the shift ends to do the same. It is a safe bet that where employer ordering, or direction or compulsion of an activity related to the main job is involved, the activity is working time and compensable. The other benchmark is how integrally related to the main job is the side activity.

I have often commented on these preliminary and postliminary issues. They are a real danger to the employer because oftentimes, the employer may not even appreciate that this “little” activity or routine or inconvenience to employees is actually “work,” which can then lead to a single employee filing an action (as was done here) and everybody else coming on board. The proactive approach is to analyze every non-exempt job and ascertain if there are preliminary or postliminary activities involved or related to it and then apply the above-referenced analysis and make the call on whether it is or is not working time.