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February 24, 2005
Supreme Court to Decide What Time is Compensable

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether meatpacking plants and other employers must compensate workers for the waiting and walking time associated with donning and doffing safety gear, the Associated Press reports.

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The Supreme Court agreed to decide:

  • Is time employees must spend walking to and from stations where required safety equipment is distributed compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act?
  • Do employees have a right to compensation for time they must spend waiting at required safety equipment distribution stations?
  • Whether walking that occurs between compensable clothes-changing time and the time employees arrive at or depart from their actual work stations constitutes non-compensable "walking . . . to and from the actual place of performance of the principal activity" under the Portal-to-Portal Act.

The high court consolidated two cases that were heard separately by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The cases involved employees who were unpaid for time spent donning and doffing gear but also challenged whether time spent walking to and from areas where they retrieve and return safety and sanitary gear should be compensated, notes.

Both courts agreed that donning and doffing of specialized gear required by the company and/or government regulation was compensable, according to

In the case decided by the 1st Circuit, former and current employees at Barber Foods in Maine argued the company was required to compensate them for the time they spent walking to retrieve and return gear, but the appeals court rejected their argument.

In addition, the Barber Foods employees argued that their time spent waiting at the time clock to punch in and waiting in line for gear was compensable. The court rejected these arguments as well. The court said there was no evidence presented that the employer controlled any of the time spent waiting at the time clock. The court also ruled that waiting time associated with donning and doffing of clothes would qualify as a preliminary or postliminary activity under the Portal-to-portal Act and therefore would be excluded from compensable work.

"We find that a short amount of time spent waiting in line for gear is the type of activity that the Portal-to-portal Act excludes from compensation as preliminary," the court said.

In the case heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, employees in Washington argued that IBP, Inc., is required to pay them for pre-shift and post-shift activities, including the time it takes them to walk from lockers rooms, where they don and doff safety gear, to their work stations. The company considers the period in which its employees are performing compensable work to begin with the processing of the first piece of meat and to end with the processing of the last.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that: "'donning and doffing' and 'waiting and walking' constitute compensable work activities except for the de minimis (that is, so minor as to be disregarded ) time associated with the donning and doffing of non-unique protective gear."


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