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November 09, 2005
Supreme Court Clarifies Wage and Hour Law

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to compensate workers for the time they spend walking to and from the production floor after donning and before doffing required safety gear.

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The court also said the time spent waiting to doff the required safety gear is compensable under the FLSA. However, the court ruled that federal law excludes from the FLSA's scope the time employees spend waiting to don the first piece of gear that marks the beginning of the workday.

The court issued the rulings in two consolidated cases that raised questions about whether the time employees spend walking between the changing area and the production area is compensable under the FLSA, as amended by the by the Portal-to-Portal Act. One of the cases also challenged whether the time employees spend waiting to put on the protective gear is compensable under the FLSA.

In one case, employees at Barber Foods, Inc., sought compensation for walking and waiting time associated with the donning and doffing of required protective gear at a poultry processing plant in Maine.

"Because donning and doffing gear that is 'integral and indispensable' to employees' work is a 'principal activity' under the statute, the continuous workday rule mandates that the time the [employees] spend walking to and from the production floor after donning and before doffing, as well as the time spent waiting to doff, are not affected by the Portal-to-Portal Act, and are instead covered by the FLSA."

The court rejected the employees' argument that they should be compensated for the time they spend waiting to don the first piece of safety gear that begins their workday.

In the other case, workers at IBP, Inc., were seeking compensation for time spent donning and doffing required protective gear and walking from the locker rooms to the production floor of a meat processing facility in Washington.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the workers, affirming a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

"The time the employees spend walking between changing and production areas is compensable under the FLSA," the Supreme Court ruled.


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