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May 04, 2010
Time Spent Changing In and Out of Uniform, Officers Want Compensation
A group of Arizona police officers charged that their employer was violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by refusing to pay them for the time they spent putting on their uniforms and other gear at shift start and taking it all off again after their shifts. They sued.

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What happened. City police for Mesa were given the option of "donning"—or putting on—their uniforms, nametags, badges, holsters, batons, portable radios, handcuffs, service weapons, chemical spray, and sometimes body armor and "doffing"—or removing—all that either at home or at the police station. At the station, each officer was provided with a locker and facilities for changing. But the officers firmly believed that their wearing of all that gear was integral to their jobs, supporting their professional appearance and helping them to serve the public effectively. Therefore, they also believed that federal labor law required that they be paid for the time they spent donning and doffing.

However, because they could perform these tasks at home, a federal district court judge ruled against them. He pointed to a 2006 memo from the U.S. Department of Labor specifying that employees with such a choice are not entitled to pay for donning and doffing. The reason is the Portal-to-Portal Act, which says an employee's work time generally begins when he or she enters the employer's premises and ends when he or she leaves. The only exceptions would be for further work performed after leaving the premises.

But the police officers pointed to a variety of reasons that virtually all of them chose to don and doff at the police station rather than at home. Among them were avoiding guest and family member access to uniforms and gear and safety concerns about conducting weapons tests at home. So they appealed the district judge's ruling to the 9th Circuit, which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

What the court said. Appellate judges found the district judge's ruling sound. They further pointed out that the 9th Circuit uses a three-factor analysis of such compensation issues: Whether the donning and doffing are work, whether the activities are an "integral and indispensable" duty, and whether the time involved is so small—de minimis—as to be insignificant. They decided that the activities are not work, are not suitably indispensable, and take very little time. Bamonte et al. v. City of Mesa, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, No. 08-16206 (3/25/10).

Point to remember: The key here was not whether the uniform and gear are indispensable to the job, which they are, but that they can be donned and doffed at home.

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