“I have to go to work.”  “Work was tough today.”  “I don’t get paid enough for the work I do.”

We make these or similar statements and we’ve all heard them.  But what do they mean?  What is “work”?

Recall that the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to compensate employees for “work.”  As set forth in the Portal-to-Portal Act, employers need not compensate employees for preliminary and post-liminary activities unless such activities were “integral and indispensable” to a worker’s main activities.

Clear, right?  Wrong.

But employers should not despair.  In March, the Supreme Court agreed to consider a case that could provide some much needed clarity regarding the definition of “work.”

A putative class action brought by Amazon.com Inc. warehouse workers seeks compensation for time spent going through security clearances.  The security screenings occurred after the employers clocked out for the day and required up to 30 minutes of waiting time per day.

The workers argued, and the Ninth Circuit agreed, that the time spent waiting for and going through security was compensable.  In response, the Amazon contractor that employs the warehouse workers argued that going through security checks was indistinguishable from other activities that the courts have found to be non-compensable such as waiting to punch in and out at the time clock, walking from the parking lot to the workplace, waiting to pick up a paycheck, and waiting to pick up protective gear before donning it.

Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the case, the decision will likely give employers needed guidance on what is “work” and what is not.