SCOTUS: No pay for 25-minute post-shift security screening

Unanimous. Security screenings are noncompensable postliminary activities. Integrity Staffing employs warehouse workers who work in Amazon.com warehouses. At the end of each shift the employer requires these employees to empty their pockets and go through a metal detector, and it's claimed that it takes 25 minutes to wait for and go through this process.

The employees sued to get paid for this post-shift time, citing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Although the 9th Circuit decided this time must be paid for, the US Supreme Court unanimously held that the time that the employees spent waiting to undergo and undergoing security screenings is not compensable under the FLSA. Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk (US Supreme Court 12/09/2014).

The Portal-to-Portal Act exempts employers from FLSA liability for claims based on "activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to" the performance of the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform.

The Supreme Court previously held that the term "principal activities" includes all activities which are an "integral and indispensable part of the principal activities."

Keeping to this narrow view of what is compensable, the Court decided that --

An activity is therefore integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.

Examples of compensable time: the time battery-plant employees spent showering and changing clothes; the time meatpacker employees spent sharpening their knives.

Example of noncompensable time: the time poultry-plant employees spent waiting to don protective gear.

These ideas as applied in this case:

  1. Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.
  2. The screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment.
  3. The 9th Circuit improperly focused on the fact that the employer required this activity. That kind of analysis would swallow up the whole rule.

And, in a bow to collective bargaining (even though these workers are not represented by a union), the Court said that any argument that the employer could have drastically reduced the amount of time involved is "properly presented to the employer at the bargaining table, . . . not to a court in an FLSA claim."

[For a list of current employment law cases, see Supreme Court Watch.]