THE SUPREME COURT SPEAKS: Time Spent by Workers at Employer Security Checkpoints is Not Compensable Under the FMLA

By: Kathleen Connelly, Esq.

In its rare unanimous, pro-employer ruling in  the United States Supreme Court held that under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are not obligated to compensate employees for time spent undergoing employer-mandated security checkpoints after normal working hours.   The ruling resolved a split between rulings from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and all other federal appeals courts considering the issue – The Ninth Circuit Court ruled employers were obligated to compensate employees for this time, while other federal courts concluded the time was not compensable time worked within the meaning of the FMLA.

The Facts:  Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. (“Integrity), a storage and order-filling facility for, implemented security procedures requiring workers to pass through security checkpoints for up to 25 minutes before leaving the facility. Employees challenged the practice, claiming that Integrity was obligated to compensate employees for these mandated post-shift activities under the FLSA.  In the proceedings below, the District Court found that the time was postliminary and not compensable under the FMLA.  The Ninth Circuit reversed in part, holding that these activities were compensable if they were necessary to the principle work and were performed for the benefit of the employer.

The Holding: An undivided Supreme Court held that the time spent by workers clearing security was non-compensable postliminary activity not subject to the FMLA.  Is so doing, the Court pointed to the Portal-to-Portal Act, which exempts from the FLSA’s wage requirements those activities which are pre or postliminary to the performance of principal activities the worker is employed to perform.   “Principal activities” are those that are an “integral and indispensable” element of the employees work activities. 

Turning to Integrity’s security checkpoints, the Court reasoned that the workers were employed to retrieve products from the warehouse and prepare them for shipment. Therefore employee’s principal activities were to pick, sort and ship products. Undergoing security screenings was not a principal activity nor was it “integral and indispensable” to the completion of their job. The Court found that Integrity’s workers could undertake their warehouse duties if they were excused from the security check.

The Court pointed to several examples of pre and post work activities that did satisfy the “principal activities” test, such as the time spent by battery-plant employees showering and changing clothes because the chemicals they are exposed were toxic; time spent by meatpackers in sharpening knives utilized on the assembly line; and time spent by chemical plant workers changing clothes if they are unable to perform principal activities without specialized garments.   

The Takeaway:  In light of the holding, employers can take comfort in the fact that merely requiring employees to engage in pre and postliminary activities is immaterial to the question of whether they must be compensated for time spent engaging in these activities.  The sole focus will be on the extent to which the employee could successfully engage in primary job duties if they were not mandated to engage in these added activities.  If the activities are not intrinsic to accomplishing the job at hand, compensation is not required regardless of how much time is spent engaging in these activities. 

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